Dr. Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack) springs to the defense of a train-loving autistic teenager accused of committing murder by locomotive as TNT’s unconventional crime drama Perception returns tonight for its winter season.
At least initially, it’s a fairly satisfying episode with a few nice twists, but less than halfway in, it’s easy to see the plot hinges on one of the hoariest devices in all of mystery literature.
Then again, that’s sort of how it usually is with Perception, a series that’s as erratic as its main character: a brilliant but maddeningly quirky neuroscience professor whose perception of human behavior is oddly enhanced by his own paranoid schizophrenia. When he isn’t lecturing to college classes, Daniel is assisting FBI Agent Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook), a former student, who has enlisted his help in getting a fresh perspective on baffling cases the bureau is facing in the Chicago area.
As we watch most of the cases unfold, we witness Daniel’s cognitive process manifest itself via a series of hallucinations that help his subconscious mind work through details in the case that may not be immediately apparent. In tonight’s winter season opener, that’s baseball Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown (guest star Brad Beyer), but previous episodes have included hallucinatory guest appearances by Joan of Arc, among other historical biggies.
To enjoy Perception, you have to buy into the premise of the show, which posits that a very unstable personality who frequently goes off his meds is regarded as an even vaguely credible asset by the FBI. That’s why the most engaging episodes find Daniel working in a somewhat peripheral capacity, as in an upcoming hour that revolves mainly around Daniel’s overworked teaching assistant Max Lewicki (Arjay Smith). Although Daniel does play a key role in helping clear Lewicki’s kid brother (guest star Chris Meyer) of a murder charge, the more compelling parts of that episode actually find Lewicki forced to examine his all-consuming professional relationship with Daniel. When Dean Haley (Levar Burton) offers Lewicki a chance to study abroad, Lewicki asks himself for the first time whether he is sacrificing his own life and career for the sake of his mentor. It’s one of the best episodes of Perception I’ve ever seen.
TNT sent out only tonight’s winter premiere and the Lewicki episode for review, so I don’t know whether the welcome absence (mostly) of Kelly Rowan’s hallucinatory sidekick Natalie is by design or just coincidental. I hope it’s the former, because that character only gets in the way of the other, far more interesting relationships elsewhere on the show.