I am sorry this commentary on the final program in this year’s season is so late. I was in Europe vacationing when it was shot, unable to see it until I returned. Quite apart from being a very entertaining program, setting the stage for how the increasingly complicated relationships among the actors will unfold in the next season, there were two points briefly made that I believe are very, very important.
Lightman disagreed with Deputy Messler, the woman who was interrogating the suspect Hamza Ali. She was certain that Ali’s fearful facial expression proved he is a terrorist, “he’s scared because he’s been caught.” Lightman told her that Ali could be scared because “you’ve thrown him in a cell and threatened to render him.” In Paul Ekman’s book Telling Lies (1985/2009) I called such a failure to recognize that emotions can look the same even though their cause is very different, Othello’s error. In Shakespeare’s play Othello correctly recognized the fear on the face of his wife Desdemona, when she learned that Othello killed the man he mistakenly thought was her lover. Othello believed her fear was about being caught, proof of her infidelity, not considering that it could be a faithful wife’s fear of being disbelieved by an enraged jealous husband. Just like Deputy Messler, Othello didn’t understand that emotions don’t tell you what triggered them. The fear of being caught looks just like the fear of being disbelieved – it’s fear.
When Torres is upset that she failed to recognize a man who was about to become a suicide bomber, Lightman tells her “we all miss things.” In 1986 he let a man go who soon afterwards walked into a pub and shot six people. I am very glad that the program acknowledged that you can’t always spot lies from demeanor. Sometimes there are no clues in face, body, voice or speech; or even if there are signs in behavior, you miss them. One of my concerns about the “Lie To Me” series has been that Lightman always caught the liar. I don’t. I sometimes miss. There is no perfect, foolproof way to catch liars, and I bet there never will be, whether you look at their demeanor or at their brain activity.