'Presumed Innocent' Episode 5 recap: A portrait of the prosecutor as a middle-aged man (2024)

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Presumed Innocent

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To paraphrase the late, great Hannibal Lecter, I’m offering you a psychological profile of Tommy Molto, based on the case evidence.

His real name is Tommasino Molto, as he is sure to let the jury in People vs. Rozat Sabitch know. Staying true to your ethnic roots means something to people. Grown-ups, anyway. It’s the kind of thing that gets you bullied as a kid. So when he says “But I’m from Chicago, so it’s Tommy,” I hear more than “hey, I’m just American folks.” I hear a man with bitter experience at being a victim.

The thing is he’s a good lawyer, though! His opening statement, while maybe a bit too self-centered, does an incredible job of conveying both Carolyn’s essential humanity and the moral gravity — maybe even sanctity — of what the jurors have been tasked with doing. There’s a reason his boss, Nico Della Guardia, marvels at it. There’s a reason the last line of Presumed Innocent Episode 5 (“Pregame”) is a frightened Rusty mumbling “f*ck.” Dude knows what’ he’s doing!

'Presumed Innocent' Episode 5 recap: A portrait of the prosecutor as a middle-aged man (3)

But he’s a bad coworker. He bothered Carolyn, presumably with romantic intentions, so badly that she asked to no longer work with him, by name. He then revealed himself to be the type of guy who, when presented with evidence that a woman no longer wants to talk to him, immediately seeks out that woman to demand why. He bullies Eugenia (Virginia Kull), the prosecutor he plans to call to testify as an essentially hostile witness against Rusty, going so far as to accuse her of a relationship with him as well. He does this after nearly being caught ogling Carolyn’s legs in one of the surreptitious photos her son took of her and Rusty together.

Worse, in the “not a crime but a mistake” sense, is Tommy’s antagonism toward Nico “Delay” Guardia, his political and professional benefactor. When Nico — who is a very smart guy or else he wouldn’t have defeated Ray Horgan — very correctly questions whether Tommy should have followed up on imprisoned murderer Liam Reynolds’s potential involvement, Tommy has an entire conniption about how Delay is just as guilty as Raymond and Rusty in giving him his eminently well-deserved bad rap.

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And his big performative speech on the courthouse steps about Wall Street and Big Pharma fat cats getting off scot free, fueling his desire to put a rogue member of the elite away for once? It’s the one decent thing we’ve seen Tommy say or do all season, the one thing that seems like it comes from the heart. Who knows? Maybe it does.

But that’s not how he presents it to an angry Nico, who one imagines counts some of said fat cats among his donors. He says he did this to curry favor with the jury pool. “I’m the good guy in all this,” he insists. “They need to feel it.” In the end, “They need to understand that something is so because Tommy Molto says it’s so.” This “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus”–ass syntax leaves Delay completely, hilariously dumbfounded.

I recognize his reaction, because I’ve seen people react to me that way. Yeah, that’s right, call me Tommasino “Tommy” Molto, because I’ve horrified my inner circle with my self-pity. The key exchange:

TOMMY: “I’m good at what I do!”

NICO: “…Do you think I would give you this case if I didn’t think that?”

There’s a uniquely insufferable trait, and it’s one I recognize in myself, of being awarded some boon you earned from a person who respects you, yet insisting they don’t and the whole thing’s some kind of scam set up for the benefit of watching you fail. Why? Who would do this, and to what end? What is Step 2 in the Underpants Gnomes’ plan here? I don’t know! Tommy doesn’t know! But there’s a certain kind of self-pity — self-contempt is probably the right word — that insists upon this absurd premise anyway. It’s crybully behavior. It’s the mentality of a person who’s a bottomless pit.

Ah, but how bottomless? At this point it’s clear, if it wasn’t already, that Tommy is meant to be seen by us as a suspect in Carolyn’s killing. But this is kind of early to make it that obvious, right? I myself am more curious about Dr. Rush, first Rusty’s therapist and now solely Barbara’s, at the doctor’s own insistence. I’ve noticed she takes both Rusty and Barbara to task for not being wholly honest with her, a weird approach if you want your therapeutic relationship to be, well, therapeutic, rather than one of disciplinarian and disciplined. I’ve noticed the incongruously prominent casting of Lily Rabe in what is almost always the very definition of a prominent but minor role, one that any number of talented actors without her level of recognition could have played. I’m wondering, is what I’m saying.

At any rate, making Tommy the main focus of this review is a testament to the skill of actor Peter Sarsgaard (and O-T fa*gbenle, his scene partner), not a reflection of whether the rest of what’s going on is interesting. Ray Horgan has a stress nightmare that jolted me as good as any horror movie this year. Why? Take a look, y’all:

'Presumed Innocent' Episode 5 recap: A portrait of the prosecutor as a middle-aged man (4)

David Cronenberg, call your lawyer!

There’s also Ruth Negga’s Barbara, who’s inching ever closer to an affair with the handsome bartender/artist Clifton. His installation art is genuinely mesmerizing and hugely romantic; I legitimately marvel at Barbara’s self-restraint at not f*cking the guy right there under the amoebas of light. But more interesting to me are the many, many moments of decision where she’s depicted as thinking about whether or not to go forward, then deciding to go forward. In the end she backs out, but each of those moments is a locus of eroticism for the promised act to come. It’s good sh*t!

'Presumed Innocent' Episode 5 recap: A portrait of the prosecutor as a middle-aged man (5)

Finally we come to Rusty, and to Jake Gyllenhaal. Is it weird that it’s taken this and, of all things, the Road House remake to make me realize he’s one of my favorite actors of his generation? He has such an off-kilter energy to him — sweet and dangerous, sexy and unhinged, soulful and threatening. I get why Raymond and Barbara are convinced he didn’t do it; I get why Raymond’s wife and his and Barbara’s kids are less certain. That’s the whole game on a show like this, isn’t it?

Also, take a look at this magic-hour photography of Rusty and Raymond against Chicago skyline as it first lights up. I am all in, folks.

'Presumed Innocent' Episode 5 recap: A portrait of the prosecutor as a middle-aged man (6)

Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV forRolling Stone,Vulture,The New York Times, andanyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.

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'Presumed Innocent' Episode 5 recap: A portrait of the prosecutor as a middle-aged man (2024)
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