A murder is committed in cold-blood in an unknown house by an equally unknown man. He turns out to be a professional acquaintance of the FBI agents. Upon meeting the man, Jane’s curiosity is aroused and the team is soon on his tail.
‘The Silver Briefcase’ is a bit different from the usual structure of more classic episodes, since we know beforehand who the killer is and therefore we’re able to follow more closely the logic of the investigation. This time, the mystery is elsewhere: indeed, at the end Jane doesn’t know who the actual killer is between the two accomplices, plus the main focus of the plotline lays of the big question raised by him in the previous episode. Will Lisbon agree to quit law enforcement or will she convince her lover to stay to keep catching bad guys? All in all, the change of pace is intriguing, many scenes amusingly endearing and Baker’s director skills only enhance the quality of the episode.
Detailed AKA Humongous Review (spoilers galore)
VIS# 1: double introduction of the killer
The very first character viewers get a glimpse of in the opening may be a murderer: that much is implied he’s seen washing his hands. This detail reminds of Lady Macbeth’s obsession with bloodied hands and consequently the recurring focus on hands going through the series (Jane washing his hands when dating Erica, Lisbon washing her bloodied shirt while lamenting Bosco’s death because of her case, Jane shaking hands with RJ, McAllister giving him a hand when he’s falling from a roof, his bloodied hands when running away in the cemetery and so on). From the start, the unknown man is therefore linked to guilt; nevertheless he seems remorseless as he calmly puts things into place before leaving the room. On the floor, the only sign of violence is a bloodied foot and it greatly contrasts with the man’s composed demeanor. The image is shocking since showing only feet had been used in some classic movies as a euphemism to show that there’s a corpse: here, the dripping blood makes the brutality even more blatant.
On the other end, violence is shown in the FBI immediately afterwards as Cho and Lisbon are teaming up in a rapid response like intervention. Jane is playing the hostage and the whole thing ends up being actually a training session perceived as a game: Jane asks “we son?” and Abbott has been making a friendly bet with a colonel Raymond… who happens to be that same calm killer. From the start, thus, the man is dimmed as something special: not only are viewers privy to his identity from the get go, à la Columbo, meaning that the plotline will focus more on the method and teamwork to catch him than in the mystery, but some details hint at an implied similarity with good ol’RJ. Like him, he’s somewhat part of law enforcement, since he’s training with FBI agents, he’s friendly and he’s probably killed a woman. More than introducing a new serial killer, though, the parallel probably allude of Jane’s past and his consequent fear of losing Lisbon, which is one of his primary reasons for wanting to quit. Even more since the man’s first name is Aaron: in the Bible (the Book of Exodus), Aaron was Moses’ older brother and helped him to lead their people out of Egypt (like Jane wants to get out of law enforcement); but they had a disagreement after Moses received God’s laws at Mount Sinai, because Aaron had meanwhile built an idol, the Golden Calf, which made God and Moses angry even though the latter forgave his brother (Exodus 32, 1-35). It may be a hint about Jane and Lisbon disagreeing about “what feels right” concerning their actual professional status, to quote Jane’s words after Pike asking him about future plans.
Indeed, soon Lisbon and Jane are unwinding and talking about his offer to run away in the sunset. Jane stresses that the world is infinite in its possibilities but he’s careful not to press her: like in the airstream he amended that his words were “just thoughts”, now he’s half joking to take the edge off what he knows is an issue with Lisbon. He even indirectly remind her of their little discussion about her mysterious musical skills in ‘Red-Colored Glasses’ with the possibility that she “might enjoy Paris or learning pedal steel guitar” as much as her work now… given that his suggestions involve leaving on a trip or finding a hobby (like he mentioned in the island in ‘Blood and Sand’), one might wonder how much money he still have staked to finance them or what he’d be planning to do for a living. But down-to-earth Lisbon also has some tricks up her sleeve and whereas he tries to make her dream, she mentions “it’s not gonna be as easy to walk away as you think” because “you enjoy the mental stimulation far more than you let on”. She’s playfully attacking him under the same angle that he tried to use in ‘Blue Bird’ to get her to stay: they make a good team and have fun investigating.
That’s when shady colonel Raymond comes into the scene… he greets Lisbon whom he already met and immediately something about the man sets up red flags in Jane’s mind. While the colonel congratulates Lisbon and tells her that if she gets tired of the FBI, he’d “have space” for her –another allusion to leaving her job-, Jane observes him and is obviously unsettled. His first explanation for his unease involve his primary focus at the moment, Lisbon: he wonders if she was ever involved with the other man but she denies it. She brushes off his “strange” impression by telling him that his wife was murdered eight months ago… meaning that the coldness and maybe guilt he felt emanating from the colonel might be compared to grief. Interesting implied comparison, given Jane’s past.
The openness between the still secret and bantering couple contrasts with the chillingly quiet murder at the beginning, since viewers understand that the victim was the colonel’s wife. Their happiness is put forward, which is reassuring after the uncertainties left by Jane’s question, but the comparison also brings a measure of shadow above their lightness, because the talk might end up leading to a serious disagreement. The darker tone of this beginning is cleverly stressed out by Blake’s Neely’s more dramatic music for the opening.
VIS# 2: talking to Abbott
The next step of Jane’s growing suspicions towards the colonel is to get Abbott’s help and authorization. Under Lisbon’s influence, the unruly consultant’s more by the book than he ever was… When their boss gently chides them, Jane’s a bit hurt (“so you are not interested in my theory?” even though he admits that he doesn’t have one). This emotional reaction is even hinted further when he gets from Vega an ironic “curiosity killed the cat’: Jane is taken aback and it takes a beat before he mutters “also cured polio”. Whatever are his reasons for wanting to solve crimes now, it doesn’t revolves around wanting to show off his great mind and manipulating people like it had once. Once again, Lisbon has taught him to become a part of a team and as such, he expects the others to take him seriously.
This whole scene reminds of their first investigation under Luther Wainwright’s supervision in ‘Ring around the Rosie’ and the differences between those two episodes get an even deeper meaning. Back then, Jane’s intuitive theory was in direct opposition of what was visible, but Luther had no qualms letting Jane have free rein in his apparently non-existent case, while he frowned at Lisbon’s parallel investigation. Now, Abbott trusts both; he asks for Lisbon’s opinion and follows her lead when she replies that she trusts Jane. His instructions for discretion are directed at both: “no interrogation, so searches, if you want to talk with anyone use a cover story”. As a result, Jane is not trying to get Dennis into mind games and troubles, like he did with young inexperienced Luther; on the contrary, he’s pleased, shakes Abbott’s hand exchange smiles with Lisbon, then bumps fists with Abbott. The progression between those two moments in Jane’s career in law enforcement subtly brings on the underlying question about what he really finds in this job he’s willing to quit. ‘Ring around the Rosie’ is later also reminded of with a detail: the man who had arrested for the murder was homeless, just like back then. Later, the main evidence was found in a homeless encampment, which is how Lisbon’s personal investigation had ended in the other episode.
When the investigation takes its first steps, Cho finds himself asking questions about the killed Mrs. Raymond and this old case is not the only one inconspicuously hinted at: the cop who investigated the murder explains that things were wrapped up fast, “slam dunk”… an allusion at a game that would have been fitted for the symbol-filled RJ era. Plus, the particular status given to the murderer this time reminds of Jane’s spontaneous suspicions when meeting Panzer (and the now defeated Erica Flynn too) as well of Volker’s struggle with Lisbon –especially since he too was shown committing a murder in the opening of ‘Little Red Corvette’, a quite unusual fact in the show. The main suspect nailed by the police is in jail and his lawyer states that “it looks bad” but he “didn’t do this. He’s probably gonna get the needle’, just like the framed innocent convict in ‘Silver Wings of Time’, which setting also involved a “Silver” title, an adulterous husband and a murdered wife, not to mention the countdown at the end of both episodes. African art as a clue in an office is a nod at Dr. Wagner’s in the pilot. In all those past cases, Jane had been mostly working on his own, clueing Lisbon on what he needed from her when he deemed it necessary, while this time they’re investigating together from the very first tinges of doubt in his mind. They’ve made huge progress and they’re leading a far more balanced life/partnership that way…
We also have to thank Simon Baker’s always intriguing directing for the subtle impression of secrecy brought by the shots in many scenes: when Cho talks to the police, everything is in dull colors (such grayish or unobtrusive black and whites) except for a bright pencil holder flashing spots of blue, yellow and red. Same with the cop in front of him: when the camera focuses on him, a partial view of the same object along with a poster in the background bring a startling dichotomy. The trick is used again later: when Wylie is scurrying through corridors to spot African art in an office in order to identify the lover who might have helped the colonel, there are a bright fuchsia blouse, a neon green exit sign, the red from the American flag or just a green potted plant in the background to lighten up the tedious grayish environment. Even when the young agent finds his suspect, a lively colored “Candy Pilot” came played on the woman’s screen adds a cheerful touch in the serious office. Later again, when Jane teases Vega about Wylie’s transparent interest in her; the young woman’s red blouse and the bright green apple on her admirer’s desk make two bright spots in the dry FBI.
Jane and Lisbon Partners
VIS# 3: Lisbon and Jane go house shopping
Lisbon and Jane finally decide to visit the crime scene, which is how the episode should have started had Jane not been sticking his nose in yet another cold case. That’s the opportunity to get the usual undercover show on the road since Jane calls the real estate agent in charge of selling the house and makes her believe his “girlfriend” and he might be interested in buying it. The same ruse was used in ‘Black Cherry’, but now it involves them as a couple instead of him going alone then pulling her in. Lisbon is unaccountably pleased by the mention of house shopping; in spite of the hesitations about where the future will lead them, their relationship is moving forward rather smoothly and speedily…
And their little prospecting couple act looks effortless: they pull the con seamlessly, playing their part and rotating questions about that shocking murder that they are not supposed to know about. When they’ve managed to make their mark leave them alone, they work on deducing the killing method together and come to the mutual conclusion that the murderer messed up temperatures to make it look like the murder took place earlier than it did. When real estate agent Judy is on the phone, they keep talking low about the case. Their domestic life is mostly about investigating, after all… which leads Lisbon to bring up her main argument against leaving the FBI: “you have too much fun”… Again, private and professional lives are amusingly intertwined when Lisbon’s excuse for leaving is that the house has “not enough closet space”.
But Jane shields Lisbon from a direct confrontation with the colonel: it’s him who goes into his office to chitchat with the man in a power play reminiscent of his little incursions in Bertram’s office back in the CBI… Their talk about plans, adversaries, war and Napoleonic strategy comes to an abrupt end when the consultant blurts out “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard”. His adversary correctly surmises that he’s trying to provoke him to get a reaction out of him. Eyeing the man’s detached demeanor, Jane simply thanks him for his time and leaves. When he gets back at headquarters, he’s debriefed on what he found out by Vega and Cho: there was a Masai object in the office, which doesn’t match the decoration of the house. They quickly deduce that it must be from another woman in his life whom he must have met at work because most affairs start there. That little off-handed remark, added to his cheeky comment later in front of Lisbon that “love springs up in the unlikeliest of places” hints that both secret couples are implicitly compared, giving that he and Lisbon are also having a love affair in a workplace and that their feelings were unlikely to develop considering his grief and obsessive thirst for revenge when they met.
After Wylie has spotted lover Denise Sparks during yet another undercover job, Jane and Lisbon drink a coffee and talk about what Lisbon has observed when buying it at the same time as Denise. Jane encourages Lisbon to draw her conclusions, cold-reading her prey. She concludes that she may be the killer, because “everything about her, it just seemed like she was wearing a mask”, which gets her an approving “very nice, agent Lisbon”. It looks like Jane is still playing her mentor, which is in hindsight a rather futile task if he wants her to leave law enforcement…
VIS# 4: the trap
Meanwhile, the colonel must have understood that Jane’s maneuver to get on his nerves was fishy when the cop called him about the investigation, because he comes to the bullpen to talk with Lisbon. He’s a threat (that much is emphasized by his reflection on the window when he looks at her darkly before entering). Jane is immediately protective of her: as soon as he spots the other man, he leaves his tea on a desk and comes to her rescue. Raymond’s bold move reminds a lot of Volker walking into the office to threaten her in a falsely sweet voice: his intent is the same, stating that if they think he’s murdered his wife, then they just arrest him. When Abbott intervenes, the colonel expresses his disappointment in him in an oddly detached and emotionless tone (“well, that’s a damn shame, I liked you”). His parting shot is directed at Jane: “you seem like a smart person. Know when you’re overplayed your hand”… The man knows who’s really after him and he uses a poker-related metaphor which brings us back to the deadly game Jane used to play with his nemesis.
This convinces Abbott to drop the case, even though he thinks that they did some nice work, but they still don’t have solid evidence to make an arrest. For Jane, that means that they need to wriggle a confession out of the suspects.
This is when the comparison between the two couples becomes even more blatant: as the colonel and his lover are seen walking towards the same place but separately, in different shots, Jane and Lisbon walk together, smiling. Jane even waits for her to catch up to him and they hold hands for a brief moment. They’re all heading towards the place the FBI pair chose to set their trap: they’ve cornered their two opponents by using a fake message and from the first sentences the partners are aiming to drive an edge between the others, planting the seeds of mistrust (« he didn’t tell you we were investigating you?»), manipulating and using mind tricks. As they don’t have solid evidence, they faked some in a silver briefcase identical to the colonel’s and try to pressure them into confessing under the threat of revealing what’s inside, assuming that it contains something incriminating. To stress them more and keep them from thinking clearly, Lisbon sets a countdown on her phone. That’s pretty much the same trick that they used to force a confession out of the murderer in ‘Not One Red Cent’.
The growing edge between the co-conspirators is skillfully widened by the doubts Jane and Lisbon instill in their minds (“you should stay. I don’t think you understand how much he hasn’t told you”), while themselves present an united front, with almost identical positions side by side, in quite similar suits (minus the vest for Lisbon who was earlier wearing a white blazer and a red blouse), him taking the man (daring him to “go”) and Lisbon the woman. While the others try to desperately reassure themselves (“I love you”/ “you know I would never-“), Lisbon and her partner finish each other’s sentences. The power balance in completely reversed compared to the colonel’s outburst in the bullpen and Jane can’t resist turning the man’s parting words against him: “if either of you was smart, this game would be over by now”, alluding once again to the game theme. They conclude: “time waits for no man… or woman”, but what really makes the woman willing to talk is Raymond’s harshness when he snaps “stop talking. Woman, I tell you” then ““don’t be stupid”, which gets Jane humming in disapprobation. They managed to enlighten the power play behind the illicit affair: this brings viewers back to the notion of taking decisions in place of the other, which has been introduced by Abbott’s domestic problems and Jane’s fateful question.
Problem is, once the two criminals decide to talk, confessions are flowing a bit too freely and each starts charging the other in such a way that it makes it very difficult to ascertain which one is telling the truth. They wave roughly the same tale with the other playing the worst part: Denise tells that he promised her a “bad day” for a “lifetime of happiness”, convincing her that they’d be dragged through the mud otherwise, threatening her with the discreditable label of home wrecker. Aaron claims “she said it’d be quick. She was a different person”, while in her tale, he let her in “it was so hot. He took a knife off the rack. He… smiled.” Both versions are shown on screen with the man or the woman alternating in stabbing the victim, either in a sudden attack or a deadly embrace and the common detail of blood dripping on the beige shoe. The horror is emphasized by her adding that he said something under his breath when he killed her, “I don’t know why”, whereas the colonel repeats that she was a “different person”. As if whoever was the real murderer, their lover couldn’t recognize their hunger for violence at the fatal moment. Which maybe be why the outside part of the door is bloody red, a blatant color in the discreetly colored interior when they both exited the crime scene: whoever did it had become a monster, hiding under either the detachment that Aaron presented to the world (even in the opening of the episode after he came back alone to put the finishing touches to the crime scene) or under the “mask” Lisbon was able to perceive on Denise’s true nature.
Again, this contrasts with the way Jane and Lisbon banter once the case it out of their hands. She tells him that he enjoyed himself and that he loves this job as much as she does, which he does denies. He counterattacks by remarking that he loves eggs too, but that doesn’t mean that he “wanna eat nothing but omelets for the rest of [his] life”. They’re able to discuss pleasantly serious topics with respect, understanding and humor. For once, they talk about his worry about her getting killed in the job, like his family was taken away from him (“Well, I am happy for the first time in you know how long, but I’m scared. –Jane, one of us could get run over by a bus tomorrow… -Not if we’re on a beach in Polynesia, buses can’t go on sand. –You could get eaten by a shark… -Not if you don’t go in the water!”). Amusingly, the “sunsets” he mentions among “palm trees and hammocks and cocktails” in his little dream island might refer to the half-confession he offered her as a goodbye before leaving her hanging in ‘Fire and Brimstone’ and her responding litany about “endless boredom, sunburn, bugs the size helicopters” might be a veiled reminder of her uneasiness in nature (in front of a deer in ‘Red Moon’) or of her fainting in front of flesh-eating bugs in ‘Red in Teeth and Claw’…
They also talk about what they could do afterwards if they really decide to quit: after Jane admits once again that he doesn’t have a plan “as yet” but that he’s willing to quit, sit and wait until “a plan takes seed”, they go over some – pretty amusing- options that somehow are also laced with meaningful subtext: they could buy a boat and sail around the world, because he “always wanted to do that”, alas she’s seasick (which reminds of their similar disagreement about boats in ‘Red Lacquer Nail Polish”) and she doesn’t look forward to “whales and storms and pirates” (whale Moby Dick, someone?). She goes as far as to mention “scurvy” which is a cute echo to Jane’s curiosity which killed the cat “but also cured polio”, another nowadays much rarer illness… In spite of their divergences, both are trading ideas through the same wavelengths and share a deep bond forged through a rough common history, hence the plethora of references to past cases.
Still, the funnier reference is Jane’s offer to start “beekeeping”, insisting that she’d look very cute in one of those suits when she mocks him about coming up with the best ideas. Beekeeping is Sherlock Holmes’ primary activity after he retired (‘His Last Bow’), which makes Jane a crime solver even in his plans for quitting… As she asks him in disbelief how beekeeping might be romantic, he puts one arm around her shoulders and his answer becomes indistinct, making their getting home together a sweet and intimate moment, matching the ending of the season premiere when they sped away in a classy old car.
Vega’s love life
A happy Jane amounts to a matchmaker Jane, as it is. Just like romantic Abbott tried to talk him into finding love again during the Pike debacle and like Jane himself used to tease Rigsby for his hopeless admiration for Grace when he started caring for his new team, he now has his eyes set on the budding feelings between his youngest coworkers.
The previous episodes focused on Vega’s hardships in dealing with Cho with Wylie coming forward as an eager support. Now that part of her work life seems to be settling nicely so far. As promised, Cho took her to the firing range; as they put together their guns, side by side, they get along well and he assumes a mentor role in teaching her to go faster.
Jane has not interfered with this problem, but he starts taunting her with Wylie’s interest after they talk about how most affairs bloom in the workplace… He tells the unsuspecting young woman « can you do me a favor ? Next time Wylie steals a glance at you, can you wave him in?” The poor young man is busted in front of his sweetheart, like Wayne was in the pilot, and like him he’s only watching her from afar without yet daring to make a move… which of course makes him even more of a target for the cunning consultant. When they reenact the killers’ performance at a red light to get a photograph of the lover posing as the already dead wife, it’s up to the teased pair to check the timing of the trick. And it gets awkward, particularly when the young male agent steals a glance when his female colleague is undressing and when he’s gulping as he sees her in a bra.
Later, Jane needles the second potential couple in line into looking into the briefcase by telling them he doesn’t know who the killer is and by letting the object right next to them. They’re like children, encouraging each other to take a look (“aren’t you at all curious about all about what’s in that briefcase?”). They’re as eager to know as the old team was when holding LaRoche’s mysterious Tupperware… some things just don’t change. Of course, as soon as they do open the case, Jane blurts out a loud “meow!”. He’s been watching with Lisbon, hidden behind the door with their heads only visible comically. He got at Vega twice for mocking him with her meddling “curiosity killed the cat”, once by starting his mockery about Wylie, the second time by making her and her friend/admirer team up into falling for his trick in order to prove her own curiosity. And coincidentally, that proverb is an adaptation from a quote from Shakespeare (“care killed the cat” in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’), an all time favorite of the cheeky Jane. In that respect too, some things don’t change…