In the penultimate episode (Dec. 11) of the first season of USA’s “Eyewitness,” Helen (Julianne Nicholson) offers Ryan (Warren Christie) a friendly warning: “You can go as far away as you want, but trust me: You can’t ever outrun who you are.” That cautionary advice is more threatening to Ryan then she realizes — she’s yet to realize he’s the killer, but he’s well aware that that discovery is looming ever closer.
In fact, the warning proves true faster than either of them probably imagined. Ryan spends the episode trying to outrun Helen’s investigation, struggling to cover up his tracks, as she becomes increasingly adamant that the suspect has connections inside the FBI. One click away from booking a flight to Maui, that warning serves as a roundabout reason for him to see his coverup through, rather than flee the state — but even after more deceitful footwork, Ryan fails to avoid being found out, with Helen ultimately connecting the dots of the case in the last minute of the episode.
For Helen’s part, her past is just as inescapable — and she knows it, which is why this episode sees her finally coming clean to Gabe (Gil Bellows) about it. While Gabe assures her that “the past isn’t important,” Helen insists that “in this case, it is” — and rightfully so (with that “case” pun quite possibly intended).
Helen’s past is what led her to Tivoli, prepared to commit suicide until a chance encounter with Gabe set her straight. Finally revealing the case files she has held onto from her traumatic investigation in Buffalo, she tells her husband, “When I met you, it was the first time I thought that maybe this box didn’t exist. And I loved that feeling.”
This was an important concept for Gabe to learn, not only in that it provided the foundation of their relationship, but also because it provides a context for the couple’s current marital struggles. What Gabe had perceived as Helen growing distant and addicted to work was actually something worse and unavoidable: When the Tivoli murder case fell onto her lap, that box from Buffalo came back with it. Try as she might have to outrun her past, it caught up to her — and this time, her love for Gabe wasn’t strong enough to dull the pain.
But while Helen has reconciled her trauma with Gabe, she hasn’t done so with herself — and it soons comes back to her in a big way. Hiding in a closet during an impromptu sting operation to capture the killer, Helen is again plagued by flashbacks of Buffalo ’07, where she hid from a murderer in a closet with a crying baby, only to accidentally suffocate the baby while trying to silence it. Back then, the result was a breakdown that nearly resulted in suicide. This time around, the past manifests itself as a debilitating PTSD attack that cripples her setup.
The bigger parallel at play here, though, is that of Helen and Lukas’ (James Paxton) respective situations. Just like Helen, Lukas’ troubles started as he hid in a closet — from where he became the series’ titular eyewitness to the cabin murders. Of course, Lukas’ own closet predicament has its own double-meaning here, serving as a likely (if not blatant) metaphor to his situation as a closeted gay man, which motivated him to lie and subsequently put himself and Philip (Tyler Young) in danger.
At the end of the day, Helen and Lukas could have learned a lot from each other’s pasts. And someday soon, they might.
When first revealing her Buffalo trauma to Gabe, Helen makes a remark that she herself probably doesn’t believe: “As long as the lid is on this box, I’m safe. It’s pretty convenient, right?” Safe? Convenient? Probably not. But one thing is for sure: You can’t control exactly when that box is opened and the truth is uncovered.
“Eyewitness” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on USA.