S1:E14 – Riding the Lightning

Content notes: child endangerment, murder of young women, graphic discussion of death penalty and electric chair, scenes set inside a prison



I remember kind of enjoying this episode, despite its extensive amount of Insufferable Patinkin (everyone is getting Mad Max names today).  The villain is pleasingly deranged, and it has some really nice human moments, and it has a lot of complicated thoughts on bodily autonomy, the death penalty, and parenting.  I think this is going to be a long recap since there’s a lot of conversation and plot, so hang in there.  Let’s see if it holds up!

We open on Insufferable Patinkin smiling during a cello recital, then we cut to him, JJ, and Eyebrows in an SUV talking about Sarah Jean and Jacob Dawes, who murdered a series of young women over a span of years.  They are on death row, and the team is heading there to interview them.  We cut to the other SUV, where Elle is driving Cheekbones the Delicate, Genius Garcia, and Stoneface Crimesolver.  Garcia is freaking out because visiting death row is not in her job description, and Reid adorably tries to get her pumped up about how fascinating this case is.

s1e14 reid

Now wait a second.  It really ISN’T in her job description.  She’s a technical analyst.  Why on earth is she going along on this?

Anyway, they continue to exposit the case — the couple killed a bunch of teenage girls with blonde hair, and Sarah Jean killed her two-year-old son.  They were caught and confessed, and received the death penalty.  During the trial, Sarah Jean’s demeanor was icy and detached, and Gideon thinks there may be more to her story.

We cut to the prison, where the warden is speaking to Sarah Jean about what will be happening between now and her execution.  She asks the warden if she can see the full moon the evening of her execution.  She is a middle-aged blonde woman with a sad, yet stoic, face.  We cut to the SUVs arriving at the prison and learn we are in Florida (of course).  Protesters line the road to the prison — anti death penalty protesters as well as, um, pro-killing these particular people protesters, which is gross and gives me the heebie jeebies.

We cut to Jacob Dawes being led to the “death watch” cell by the warden.  He is a smug, sneering white middle-aged man, and we see he has a “Sarah Jean” tattoo on his arm.  We cut to credits.

Quote is Genesis 9:6, so you know, very subtle.

The team meet in a gray cinderblock room to review the case some more — a tip was called in by a woman about Sarah Jean and Jacob.  The police interviewed them, and something didn’t add up, so they came back later with a search warrant to find the couple’s son had vanished and the remains of a dozen young women under the yard.  Sarah Jean admitted to the murder of her son but not to any role in the other killings.  According to prison psych reports, Sarah Jean’s demeanor was that of someone who has been traumatized, while Jacob was a “sexual psychopath,” who is obsessed with “total possession” of other people.  A man interrupts to ask if they have agreed to the interviews and Elle is a total bitch to him for no reason, and it turns out it’s their lawyer.  Genius Garcia is setting up a bank of computers to monitor and record the interviews.

Eyebrows and Elle go to Sarah Jean and Jacob’s home.  CGI reconstructs the way the house used to look around them and it’s not particularly effective, and looks really terrible honestly.

Not sure if you can really tell how bad the green screen background is from this screen cap.  But it's bad.

Not sure if you can really tell how bad the green screen background is from this screen cap. But it’s bad.


Eyebrows and Elle decide to go visit Sarah Jean’s mother, whose house is covered in graffiti related to the crimes.  She answers the door clutching a cup, and is not all that interested in talking to them, but grudgingly invites them in.  Insufferable Patinkin goes to talk to Sarah Jean, who is sad and stoic.  Back at the mom’s house, we learn Sarah Jean’s mom is an alcoholic as she pours vodka into a cup at like 9 am, and she tells us that her husband was an abusive shitheap who was cruel to Sarah Jean and violent towards her.  Eyebrows compassionately (spit) asks why she didn’t leave, and she angrily tells him they had no place else to go.  Christ, Eyebrows, get educated on DV before you say anything else, ok?  The mother reveals a letter that arrived from Sarah Jean, which Elle says is a “statement of innocence.”

Back at the prison, Sarah Jean tells Reid his mom must be very proud of him, and then Jacob is walked past where she is standing.  He tells her she looks “fine” “babyface”(?) and that they will be together “forever,” while Stoneface looks on, stonily.  Sarah Jean stares at him, sadly and stoically, and tells Insufferable Patinkin that she knows he designed it to happen.  Stoneface interviews Jacob, entertainingly sociopathic, who tries to get him to participate in a card trick and asks him why he doesn’t smile, heh.  Stoneface stays focused on whether there are more bodies.

Elle calls Genius Garcia, who patches her through to Insufferable Patinkin’s earpiece.  He relays the words of the letter to Sarah Jean, who gets agitated.  The letter seems to disavow any knowledge of Jacob’s crimes.  Sarah Jean rips Insufferable’s earpiece out, and Cheekbones the Delicate picks up the letter reading.  She eventually sits down, sadly and stoically.  They ask her why she didn’t say anything in court about being uninvolved in the crimes, and Insufferable Patinkin says that the letter means an innocent woman is about to be put to death.

The letter isn’t enough to get a stay of execution, though.  Back in the monitoring room, the team explains to the audience that Jacob’s particular “love map” (WTF, also, drink) that was set during a lifetime of abuse, meant that he would need to be alone with the girls he was torturing and killing.  The theory is still not enough for a stay — they need evidence, especially since Sarah Jean admitted to killing her son.  If they can get Jacob to confess to killing the son, they could get Sarah Jean off death row.  Insufferable Patinkin notices the paintings in Sarah Jean’s cell, and wants to know what they mean to her.

Stoneface brings JJ into his interview with Jacob, who creeps like woah on her.  Ick.  She is just his “type,” ew.  Jacob offers a deal — a hand of poker.  If Stoneface wins, he gets another victim, if he loses, Jacob gets to smell JJ’s hair, and I’m SO creeped out ick ick ick.  JJ says it’s ok.  Stoneface OF COURSE gets aces and 8s, the deadman’s hand.  Jacob has a straight, so he wins, and looks creepily at JJ.  Stoneface says whoops sorry forgot about this other ace so he actually has a full house, hah.  Jacob says there are no other bodies.  Stoneface stands to go, and pretends to suddenly hear on his earpiece that Sarah Jean has been granted a stay.  This pisses Jacob right off,  and he becomes agitated, saying he will tell them where the son is buried (under a gazebo at a house he renovated) and that she did totes kill him.

Sarah Jean apologizes to Insufferable Patinkin, who smiles insufferably, and Sarah Jean tells him he has a nice smile, which he does not.  He brings in the paintings from her cell, which she says are “private,” so I’m not totally sure she understands how prison works.  He tries to guess what they mean, and tries to get Sarah Jean to explain what happened to her son, Riley.  She is sad, and stoic.  I don’t know if I mentioned that before.  Sarah Jean keeps trying to deflect the questions, asking Insufferable about his marriage and his job and his kids.  She seems to be saying she is trying to protect her son, not Jacob, by refusing to discuss her son.  She never says he is dead, though, just that she protected him and that he’s in a “better place.”

We see Eyebrows and Elle at a fancy gazebo next to a pool, where a GPR technician is scanning the ground, looking for Riley’s body.  The GPR guy turns up an extremely clear picture of a skull, and I want to say for the record as a geoscientist that this is NOT what you would see on the screen of a GPR unit if you found human remains under a gazebo.  I’ve used GPR plenty in my day and this just isn’t how it works.

s1e14 nope

Back at the prison, they get an ID on the body under the gazebo.  That seems awfully fast?  It’s not Riley, it’s another victim, a 14 year old girl.  Insufferable goes to see Sarah Jean in her cell, where she is eating a fast food burger meal as her last supper.  She is sad and stoic and deflecting.  Insufferable tells her about the new victim and she is shocked.  Also sad and stoic.  Stoneface tells Jacob he lied, and wants to know how many others there are.  Jacob declines to continue the interview, saying he only has a few hours left and would like to be alone.  Sarah Jean asks Insufferable to leave so she can spend her last few hours alone. The parallel wording is clearly intentional, but I’m not sure what we’re supposed to glean from it.

Insufferable Patinkin realizes that the paintings from Sarah Jean’s cell call back to the story of Moses, being sent down the river in a basket of reeds, and thinks that her son must still be alive.  Genius Garcia gets to digging into abandoned babies, adoptions, etc.  We cut to shots of the electric chair being prepped and see we have only two hours to go until the executions.  Sarah Jean’s lawyer gets the governor on the phone while the team tries to find the son.  Insufferable thinks she will protect Riley until Jacob is dead, and asks the warden to get into her cell for five minutes to look for evidence.  The warden takes Sarah Jean out to the exercise yard to see the moon, despite it being against regulations.  She is sad and stoic, and the warden seems to genuinely like her.  Insufferable goes through her stuff, and the warden tries to get Sarah Jean to exonerate herself.  Insufferable finds a photo on the back of one of the paintings of a young man, cut out from a newspaper!

Genius Garcia believes it is Riley, and starts to try to figure out who he is; Stoneface asks JJ to circulate the photo to the press.  Jacob, meanwhile, is being moved to the execution chamber.  He yells to Sarah Jean that he’ll be waiting for her.  He tells Stoneface he won’t be making his peace with god, that he made it 18 times (that’s four more victims than they knew about!), and yells some more at Sarah Jean.  The Catholic priest who is with them looks like the same guy from the kidnapping episode.  Sarah Jean hears Jacob yelling at her about riding the lightning (yikes) and holds the painting while her hair is trimmed for the electric chair.

Jacob is prepped and strapped to the chair, all smug and cool.  There are a bunch of people watching — a Catholic priest, as they do (this is one of only a few places the Catholic Church has things right, IMO), as well as the victims’ family members.  The warden asks for last words, and he says “bring it on.”  He is cool and smarmy until Stoneface shows up with Riley’s photo, slaps it against the window, and tells him “you lose.” Jacob screams “NO,” and then his face is covered and he is electrocuted.  It’s an incredibly taut, effective, and upsetting scene.

Insufferable Patinkin goes to see a newly-bald Sarah Jean, and hands her the photo of Riley, telling her Jacob is gone and he is safe now.  Insufferable tries to convince her to come clean and not go to her death for something that she didn’t do, to give Riley the gift of his mother.  She says she made her decision all those years ago and that THIS is her gift to Riley.  This is a fascinating bit of plot that touches on the death penalty, as well as bodily autonomy and the right to say when your own life ends.  Sarah Jean clearly thinks Riley will be better off in his life if he never knows where he came from, and wants to willingly go now to her grave protecting him.  She almost seems like she views this as her penance for her complicity in the murders of the girls, which she kind of knew about but didn’t participate in.  On the other hand, though, her method of ending her life is through the death penalty.  That seems awfully….selfish, maybe?  To be part of the dysfunctional system of state-sponsored murders of people, some of whom are undoubtedly innocent, voluntarily, as an innocent person?

Anyway, Genius Garcia finds the boy’s family, and Eyebrows and Elle speed to their house.  Insufferable tells the warden that they have found her son, and Sarah Jean insists that he is dead, and the warden tells them both that time is up, and that he can’t do anything to stop the execution.  Sarah Jean says she is at peace with her decision, that she made for her son, that she wants to protect him from the knowledge of who his parents are.  Insufferable argues with her a bit more, and she is sad and stoic, and says that her life ended the day she met Jacob, and that Jacob, even in death, is who she wants to protect Riley from.

Eyebrows and Elle arrive at the son’s family’s home, a beautiful huge mansion, but nobody is home.  Insufferable and the warden argue.  A car pulls up to the family’s house, and they talk to the father.  Elle asks Stoneface through her earpiece what to do.  Sarah Jean asks Insufferable to not let her son be Jacob’s last victim, to please let her go, let them both go.  Insufferable hugs her, which seems wildly inappropriate, and tells Stoneface to tell Eyebrows they have the wrong kid.  Eyebrows apologizes to the family, and the father thanks him in a super meaningful way that indicates he has an inkling of what this is about.

Back at the prison, Sarah Jean smiles beatifically, and asks Insufferable to be the last person she sees.  He goes into the audience chamber and watches her smile as her face is covered, and insufferably smirks.  The warden, with tears in his eyes, nods at the officers, and we cut to Insufferable Patinkin’s face.  It’s another really good, affecting scene, with a lot going on.  I’m kind of choked up actually.

Cut to Insufferable watching Riley play the cello at a recital, as a single tear rolls down his cheek, for fuck’s sake really?  This whole episode was so good and this is how we end?  A literal single tear literally rolling down his stupid, insufferable face?  Sheesh.

This episode really does have a lot going on, and I really liked it, despite the difficult subject matter.  The pacing is good, the conflict between Sarah Jean and Gideon raises some interesting questions, and the execution scenes in particular are just really exceptionally good.

Ending quote about how what we do for others and the world is immortal.


Reid’s hair floppiness rating: still holding at around a 2/10, I’m afraid.

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1 Comment

  1. When, oh when, will we get floppy Reid hair?

    I watched “Riding the Lightning” once. It was really effective TV making. So effective that I have no desire whatsoever to watch it again, because it was such a difficult watch.


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