Riddle me this: Was the real crime of this episode underusing a phenomenal actor like Neal McDonough?
Maybe excitedly seeing McDonough brought back memories of his superb character on Justified - a criminal with pizzaz, kick and presence - but playing Dafoe on Perception, the actor was on a very tame leash. In reality, Dafoe was there, but he wasn't anywhere near memorable.
And maybe it would have been too predictable to have McDonough play a crazy killer instead of just a businessman focused on money, but his role on the episode ultimately wasn't one that was meant to draw away from Eric McCormack's Daniel Pierce. Of course, McCormack still nailed his role as the schizophrenic doctor with a passion for puzzles.
I digress on a small complaint, because for the most part, "Cipher" was a decent episode.
Rather than Kate Moretti coming to Daniel with a case, Pierce's penchant for seeing hidden meanings took charge, leading him on a quest to find a killer with a knack for ciphers.
Thankfully, his hallucination (Cary Elwes as a World War I code breaker) didn't ride bicycles backwards or even tell him exactly what he needed to know, other than that Pierce just had to look closer.
Pierce was able to do the heavy lifting of work and his frenetic pace at trying to solve the code, with his certain level of excitement, was enjoyable to watch. There was a real sense of him actually trying to figure things out without it simply and brilliantly popping in his head.
Even the fact that Pierce ended up being wrong about the killer's intent made him feel more realistic and less like a superhero detective. It was also nice seeing that his failure didn't deter him, but rather made him more tenacious and focused. There is more to the character than solving things.
This episode also allowed the people around Pierce to catch glimpses of him talking to himself. They may think he's just a little insane in the brain now, but they clearly don't know the full extent of his problem. I hope they continue to explore others recognizing Pierce's disorder because it could add an interesting layer to the overall story.
As for the plot, there's something exciting about trying to crack a code and even watching someone do it, but toward the end it felt a little preachy about big business, although I understood the whole point of the killer's motive.
Lewicki certainly had motive to go on strike and while it only lasted for a little bit, the idea was funny and allowed Pierce to recognize their relationship isn't him telling Lewicki what to do.
Like always, the episode ended with a Dr. Pierce lecture to the class that focused on another query of the mind and divulging in its complexities. Nothing is ever black and white, no such thing as just good guy or bad guy, or much less easily explained answers. Life is clearly its own riddle.
After four episodes, the show remains reasonably good, but the real code to crack will be finding a way to take Perception from standard procedural to a hit that breaks the mold and becomes something of its own.
Sean McKenna was a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. He retired in May of 2017. Follow him on Twitter.