Burning Sensation (9/22)

The second series of the compelling US legal drama continues. In this instalment, a spate of brush fires across the city unearths a complex web of arson, deceit and murder.

When the fourth wildfire in two weeks rips through an LA township, a man is killed and a firefighter dies trying to save him. It is thought that arson is to blame for the rash of fires, so Stark is put in charge of finding the person responsible. “Spread the word,” he tells his team. “I’m going to nail this freak, and anybody that gets in my way is toast.”

A suspect emerges in the form of one Deno Orr, who appeared in news footage taken at the scene of all four fires. During questioning, Orr claims to be a video artist who had been chasing and filming the fires for the sake of art. With only circumstantial evidence linking him to the crimes, he is released. However, when Reyes and Isaac later visit his house to conduct a search, they find him trying to burn down a shed full of incendiary equipment. The flames get out of control and Orr is injured.

Convinced he has his man, Stark visits Orr in hospital and coerces him into making a confession. Orr admits starting all of the brush fires and points the prosecutors to a stash of videos he recorded at the scenes which cement his guilt. Glad to have tied up the case so quickly, Stark tells Reyes to arrest Orr and charge him with arson and two counts of murder, but Reyes delivers some shocking news. The ME’s report shows that the man who died in the house – one George Hadley – was actually killed by blunt-force trauma before being dumped in the path of the fire. “Which means we’ve got another murderer on the loose?” asks Stark, incredulously. “Exactly,” responds Reyes.

Though he did start the fires, Orr has a cast-iron alibi for the time of Hadley’s death, so Stark and his team set about finding the real killer. CCTV footage shows Hadley entering a nearby store shortly before his death, but it also shows that fire captain Joseph Stevens – the man in charge of tackling the brush fires – was in the area at the same time. “So our hero firefighter was at the blaze where Hadley’s body was found and also at the place where he was last seen alive,” says Devlin. “That’s a pretty big coincidence,” adds Madeleine.

Devlin questions Stevens and learns that he made the decision to steer the fire towards the house where Hadley’s body was found – but he claims that this tactic was all part of controlling the blaze. However, when traces of Hadley’s blood are found in Stevens’s car boot, he is arrested and charged with murder.

A motive for the murder and attempted cover-up emerges when footage is discovered showing Stevens and Hadley’s wife, Diane, at a hotel bar together. Diane is questioned and eventually admits that she and Stevens had been having an affair, but insists that she had no idea her lover intended to kill her husband.

As the trial gets underway, Stark demands to see the fire department’s reports, which he hopes will confirm that Stevens had no professional reason to change the course of the fire. But the defence lawyer reveals that the reports have been destroyed, meaning that the prosecution must fight the case without vital evidence.

Using an old contact, Devlin learns that Don Alston, chief of the LA fire department, gave the go-ahead for the reports to be destroyed. Stark visits Alston and threatens to bring charges to him if he refuses to testify against Stevens, but Alston makes a shocking revelation. He claims that Stevens committed murder not because of an affair, but because Hadley had sexually abused Stevens’s son, leading to the boy’s suicide just weeks earlier. The fireman’s death was an accident, explains Alston, but Stevens murdered Hadley for what he did to his son. “As God is my witness,” adds Alston, “I would have done the same thing.” This new evidence puts Stark in something of a moral dilemma: should he push for the maximum punishment for Stevens because of his crime, or should he treat him leniently owing to the mitigating circumstances?

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