Bull is Back!
The episode started the way Bull often did: a cold opening into the crime or situation that introduces us to the client of the week.
The scene of a happy family in a car abruptly plunging into the water because the bridge gave out was startling. It then went from one shock to another: Marissa (Geneva Carr) is married.
“Everything feels new…”
The season of Bull started with the introduction of new things. Marissa now has someone (and a ring) in her life. Chuck (Christopher Jackson) is pushing in a treadmill into Bull’s office. Benny Colon (Freddy Rodríguez) broke his winning streak and lost the last two cases. Bull stopped drinking and avoids bars by riding around in taxis. Bull was also now “It’s a business; not a charity.” Marissa no longer worked long hours and devoting her life to Bull’s company. And Cable was nowhere to be found.
Our Jason Bull (Michael Weatherly) was MIA for three months recovering from his heart attack from last season. The team discussed how this changes a person. Are we to expect a kinder, warm and fuzzier Dr. Bull? As we later discover: not really.
“You know he’s not going to be the same guy.”
Bull arrived back to rows of people applauding his return. On the one hand, bravo for mirroring what I (and many fans) wanted to do when the doors opened to Bull. On the other hand, was it wise to surprise a man who recently recovered from a heart attack?
The episode slipped back into the routine we’re accustomed to: a cold opening, Bull introduces the client, we sympathize, we win, the end.
“He’s not back yet.”
This time however, Bull presented a client who’s hard to dredge up sympathy: the big company insurance. When Bull first explained the company’s refusal to pay for a liver transplant, the team assumed their client was the insured plaintiff. It wasn’t.
Bull flipped our (and the team’s) expectations around: they’re not representing the plaintiff. This week, the victim (victim?) was the insurance company EquiSafe.
“When do we get to meet our client?”
Admittedly, I reacted just as the team did: were they really going to battle alongside with the insurance company, not against? Instead of the ubiquitous us helping the little guy versus the big evil insurance company, Bull is siding with the big money.
The opportunity this plot presented was both cringe-worthy and intriguing. Witnessing the team defend and rationalize the insurance company’s refusal to cover the cost of a liver transplant was hard to see. There were moments I inwardly winced at how the team did their best regardless to help a company we’ve demonized in popular media.
“Do we go after the mother?”
The rationale of cost and life expectancy was a cold reality that’s not easy to hear. The episode did not avoid using the reasoning the insurance company used to deny the claim. Despite myself, I wanted to see how far the episode would run with this.
Sadly though, as with previous episodes, the show backtracked from fully exploring the issues. The episode skimmed through other topics about transplants and status (although Marissa’s volley about Bull being rich felt abrupt and out of nowhere) but it didn’t present all the viewpoints completely. It left the episode feeling anemic.
“What is insurance for, if not for that?”
After presenting the viewers the insurance’s side of the story, the episode veered off to safer ground: sympathizing with the plaintiff instead. To the team’s credit, they did their jobs regardless, without an inch of rebellion or sabotage and to their surprise—and to many, their dismay—they won. The problem was no one felt like a winner.
It’s understandably a tough position to be in. On one side, the team was helping the ‘enemy’ or at least the institution we came to see like one. On the other side, there was the plaintiff whom the team really wanted to help. I wanted to see what else they could come up with to defend the insurance company, but it felt like the show balked towards the end. Granted, I was grateful Bull and his team appeared to be back on the side of the good guys, I was also disappointed at what felt like a cop-out ending. There was time enough to explore the issue of insurance versus medical need yet the episode breezed through the subject.
Where we go from here…
I’ve always enjoyed Bull and the camaraderie. Last season, we caught a glimpse of cracks in their veneer with what happened with Cable. It was an interesting tension that got resolved, I felt, too quickly and too neatly. I had hoped Bull would try this again.
Monday’s episode hinted more of the same, but at the last act, it snapped back to a comfortable resolution by way of Bull giving up the check to the defendant. Both sides essentially won in a neat and pat solution. Bull won his case and the plaintiff would still be able to get her liver after all.
Missing but There
Speaking of Cable (Annabelle Attanasio), who was absent throughout the episode, she was still present in a way. Throughout the hour, the team voiced concern about her disappearance. Danny (Jaime Lee Kirchner) even went to her apartment—where we are introduced to the super in an awkward scene where he tried to pick up Danny while she searched Cable’s apartment.
News of Cable’s death was a shock, even if you already came across spoilers about the actress not returning this season. Danny’s reaction to the news mirrored mine; stunned, gut-punched and unprepared for this as a possibility. It looped back to the cold opening of the bridge collapse and without showing Cable at all, still effectively showed us her horrific demise.
Welcome back, Dr. Bull
The show used Cable’s death as the catalyst for Bull, pulling him back from the new detached attitude he desperately tried to maintain. Although staying detached clearly wasn’t working given how many times Bull checked his pulse during stressful moments. In the end, the loss of Cable brought him in front of the plaintiff with the two million dollar check. And he walked away from it, a grin on his face after a quick check of his pulse. Throughout the episode, everyone welcomed Bull back, but here, it finally looked like he was.
While I welcome the return of Bull, I was hoping the third season would bring new things; at least more than just a new husband and Dr. Bull’s new taxi-surfing quirk.
The series often played with touchy topics like assisted suicides and death penalties, only to scramble back to safer topics to finish the case. Every episode was always chocked full of team feels and witty banter, but it often felt like the show was holding back.
Bull has the potential to push the envelope, use their emotionally barbed courtroom drama to attack issues and get conversations going. The problem is that they do, to a certain extent, before they rein it back in. The show is a little cautious, too cautious, in the storylines they present, often leaving the conclusions feeling a little lopsided and lacking. I hoped the new day and later hour would give them license to go, but based on the first episode, it appeared Bull was still putting out feelers on how far they can push their episodes.
Don’t get me wrong; I love this show. The cast has some of the best chemistry around, and Michael Weatherly has time and time again proved why he earned the spot to headline his own show. But it’s time to take the training wheels off, let the stories get grittier, the conflicts tougher. I firmly believe the cast can pull it off. Bull‘s a great drama, always a must-see for me.
But maybe it’s time for Bull to stop checking its pulse and just run with it.
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