Back in season 5, Psych tackled the It’s A Wonderful Life motif with “The Polarizing Express”, in which Shawn (James Roday) gets a glimpse of what life for his friends and colleagues would have been like had he chosen not to return to Santa Barbara. “Right Turn or Left for Dead” is similar in that it explores what might have happened had Shawn not offered his coat to Juliet (Maggie Lawson) at Lassiter’s (Tim Omundson) wedding.
Like “Polarizing”, this episodes takes place mostly inside of Shawn’s head, but fortunately, “Right Turn” is more Twilight Zone than It’s A Wonderful Life, so the characters are shown in parallel universes anchored by the photograph of Shawn and Jules at the wedding.
In one picture, she is wearing Shawn’s coat and his world falls apart shortly thereafter; in the other, Jules is wearing Chief Vick’s (Kirsten Nelson) wrap and the couple continues in their cheery soap bubble world where Shawn’s secret ruse is safe. Screen cuts, a la Sliding Doors and (500) Days of Summer, move the audience back and forth between the two.
Like any good split-reality show, the writers and directors give the audience some visual clues to be able to track the story back and forth between alternate realities. The lighting, for example, is more subdued in world 1, where Juliet knows his secret, where in world 2, it has almost a rosy glow about it. Also, in world 1 Shawn wears a red shirt, versus his bloodstained white shirt in world 2 which follows him home from the wedding. Also, in world 2, the still-happy couple give Lassie a puppy as a wedding gift who helps them with the case, where in world 1, Shawn doesn’t pick up the dog from the rescue shelter and must muddle through on his own.
The biggest difference, however, centers around a blonde, Swedish girl named Elin (Laurian Gillieron). In world 1 she is alive and in 2 she’s dead, but in both worlds there are a series of murders that surround her. Where the beginning of the episode lags a bit and the end is a tangled mess of emotions, the middle is tight, snapping back and forth the two worlds and their subtle difference before merging seamlessly at the end. This is an interesting way to handle a very dramatic situation between the two leads. The sunnier version of reality allows the show to have the same comedic moments as usual, but there’s always this sense lurking in the background that it could burst at any moment.
The beauty of the writing, however, is that by the time the realities merge into the real world, both Shawn and the audience have come to the same conclusion: it wasn’t his jacket that was at fault, but his deceiving her all along. No matter how he tries to deny it, his whole professional world is based on a lie and since he and Juliet have been involved that lie has bled into his personal life. Gus (Dule Hill) and Henry (Corbin Bernsen), of course have always known Shawn is more hyper-observant than psychic but their reputations have been on the line as much as Shawn’s as the lie grew so they’ve kept quiet.
What’s refreshing is that Shawn, the ultimate man-child, is now being held accountable for his actions. He’s having to answer for lying to the woman he loves. Had the episode ended in Shawn’s fantasy world where he passes off the lie as if it were nothing and they kiss and make up, the show would have been paler, more cliche, for it. The reality is far more nuanced. Here, Juliet sees Shawn for who he is and while she can now respect him for the skilled investigator that he is, she has to come to grips with his deception and he has to live – alone – with the consequences of lying to a conman’s daughter. No doubt more of these pros and cons of her finding out will come to light as the remainder of the season plays out and it might upset a few die-hard shippers along the way. But complex journeys are always better in the long run and this seems to be a more that will make the show richer for its characters and its fans in the long run. Hang in there!
Psych returns next Wednesdays with “Juliet Wears the Pantsuit” @10pm on USA. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below: