Alec Mercer is a psychology professor with a tortured past who is intrigued by why people make the nonsensical choices they do. And if that doesn’t sound like the perfect main character for a primetime procedural… you must not have been watching TV for very long.
Indeed, we see Alec (played by The Flash‘s Jesse L. Martin) doing his thing right at the beginning of NBC’s The Irrational, which premiered Monday. “People are irrational, but predictably so,” he voiceovers, adding that many of us make choices based on instincts that are “almost always wrong. Sometimes, dangerously wrong.” Cut to Alec, flanked by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, outside a building where an armed man is holding hostages; the gunman has one hostage’s infant child in his arms, using it as a shield. Via phone, Alec introduces himself to the guy as an FBI consultant, genially lying that the FBI is going to grant his request for a helicopter, then overwhelms him with asking about his plans.
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When the man eventually realizes that it’s not going to end well, he drops his weapon out the window and surrenders. An FBI agent named Marisa (Maahra Hill, Delilah), whom we soon learn is Alec’s ex-wife, wonders how Mercer knew his tactic would work. He says he used the paradox of persuasion, in which “I overly embraced his idea to force him to think it through enough to realize it was a terrible idea.”
The next day, as Alec introduces himself to his new Intro to Applied Psychology class, he gestures to the burn scars on his face and deals with the students’ unvoiced question right away: Years ago, he explains, he was burned on most of his body and spent the better part of the subsequent three years in the hospital. During his convalescence, he started to think that maybe research could help people change their patterns of incorrect choices. (There’s a whole thing with how that relates to the nurses in the hospital, but it doesn’t make much sense, so let’s just skip it.) When a student wonders how his injury happened, Alec quips, “Drag racing.” (That’s a lie.) Later, a research assistant gently presses about why he didn’t just tell them the truth. “When I remember all of it,” he says, “I will.”
We later find out that Alec’s fuzzy memories of the day he was a victim of a church bombing — the only one to survive; 13 others died — were insufficient to send the bomber to jail for life. The arsonist is up for parole on his current sentence, and Alec feels guilty that he can’t recall the details that would keep the man in prison forever; both Marisa and Alec’s sister Kylie (Travina Springer, Ms. Marvel) lovingly encourage him to try to put the incident behind him, but he just can’t.
But let’s get back to the case of the week! Alec gets a call from the mayor (Lauren Holly, NCIS) who wants him to investigate the death of a young woman named Jasmine who allegedly was killed by her ex-boyfriend, who’s also a senator’s son. The ex, Dylan, is overcome with guilt as he admits he shot her during a night in which he’d fallen off the wagon and blacked out while drunk. But Alec doesn’t think Dylan did it, and he’s stymied as to why the young man would confess to a murder he didn’t commit.
Police find a five-year sobriety chip on the floor at Jasmine’s — though it didn’t belong to her or Dylan. And after Dylan tells Alec that Jasmine had talked about another guy hitting on her in a creepy way at her Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, Alec and one of his assistants attend that meeting and realize that Dylan’s sponsor is the only person there with more than five years of sobriety. He’s got to be the killer!
So Alec stalls with the sponsor until Marisa and the rest of the FBI can get there. But he talks a little too much about how Dylan can’t remember killing Jasmine, and the sponsor knows he’s been found out, so he pulls a gun on Alec and makes him get in his car. The guy admits that he killed her because she was going to tell the world that he was a predator. And when the police start following them, the sponsor shoots at them… until Alec crashes the car on purpose to thwart the killer’s plan. The sponsor is arrested. Dylan is released. And the district attorney asks Alec if he’d like to work with her office in the future, so there’s that.
At the end of the episode, Alec and Marisa attend the bomber’s parole hearing. The bomber is contrite as he speaks in his own best interest. But then he sees someone in the hallway who scares him so much that he immediately does an about-face and talks about how he’ll likely do more crimes if released. Alec and Marisa run outside to get a glimpse of who Wes saw, but the person disappears before they can see anything. Banning, they realize, didn’t undertake the bombing alone.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the premiere? Grade it via the poll below, then hit the comments with your thoughts!
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