[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Season 5 premiere of Bull, “My Corona.”]
Is Dr. Jason Bull (Michael Weatherly), as a trial consultant, extinct in a world going virtual as a result of the coronavirus pandemic? That’s the question for the Season 5 premiere (and beyond).
In “My Corona,” we catch up with TAC in the early days of the pandemic and through May and June before landing in September, where they finally land a client, albeit one they don’t want to necessarily take on: the owner of a company whose background checks have led to landlords rejecting applicants based on computer errors. But Jason knows they need the money (he’s been continuing to pay everyone’s salary).
It just gets worse when he learns that things are different in court: the public isn’t allowed in, so no mirror jurors in the gallery, and the jurors themselves are at a convention center (Jason can’t even see them!). But things really take a turn — and a musical one! — when he sees himself lip-syncing. It’s after he meets with one of the jurors (and she’s his ex-wife, Izzy, played by Yara Martinez) that the pieces fall into place. He’s been home, sick, in his bed, since the night he received an email about a client. Everything after that was in his head.
And then the cast treats fans to another musical treat to end the premiere. Here, showrunner and executive producer Glenn Gordon Caron breaks it all down.
How early on in discussions about the season did you know Bull would get sick in the premiere? Why did you decide to frame the first case back we saw him tackle — but not really, as we learn in the end — in this way?
Glenn Gordon Caron: Like a lot of people, in mid-March, we shut down out of concerns for the pandemic and the safety and health of everybody who works on the show and my sense was that we were probably looking at a four- to six-week situation, and I was asked, maybe by the network, maybe by the studio, sometime in May, “Are you going to deal with the pandemic?” And I said, “No, I don’t think so. Hopefully it’ll be in the rearview mirror by then and people will want the comfort of that familiar show that they left.”
But as the pandemic dragged on and on and it was clear we weren’t going back to our normal July 1 shooting, I started to wonder if we’d ever shoot again. I started having conversations with Michael Weatherly and sharing my concerns, and I realized my concerns were becoming his concerns and the more I talked to people over the phone and on Zoom, there was a general sense of fear and anxiety. People who had families were starting to wonder, will I ever be able to send my child back to school? When will that happen? Will I be able to go to work? Will I have a job to work at? All those sorts of things.
I realized this was going to be a much more impactful situation than I had originally given it credit for and we needed a way to bring the audience to that, and I started to think about Bull’s state of mind and it really grew out of that. It all happened organically. In many ways, it was very much a reflection of my state of mind, my anxieties, my concerns, my fears.
I’m lucky: In Michael Weatherly, I have someone who’s kind of fearless. There’s nothing you can throw at him that he shies away from. We did an episode at the end of Season 2, I believe, I said, “You’re going to have a heart attack on the steps of the courthouse,” and I fully expected him to go, “No, I’m not,” but he was totally game, so when I called him and said, “Listen, I’ve got this episode I’m sort of putting together in my head. You’re going to be doing a lot of lip sync,” his reaction was, “Cool.” And I said, “There’s a moment where you sing to yourself,” and he said, “I’m there.” When you know you have a collaborator who’s as game as you are, it’s very freeing.
Speaking of the musical elements of the premiere, from what we saw in Bull’s head to the end of the episode — it’s not the first time you’ve had a musical number — but did you always know you wanted all of it?
I knew I wanted to end it that way. I knew it meant so much to me, and then when I would talk with other people connected with the show that it meant as much to them, that we were being given the gift of going back to work. While we were shut down, myself, [executive producer] Kati Johnston, Michael Weatherly, and, at a point, [producing director] Eric Stoltz would send out a weekly newsletter to everybody who worked on this show, the entire cast and crew, to say, “Here’s what we know, here’s what we think, here’s what we’ve heard about so-and-so’s grandfather, who had COVID,” so we stayed in constant touch.
And when we finally got the go-ahead from the state of New York and from CBS that we could start filming again, it was this genuine sense of relief but also gratitude and really gratitude towards the audience and this sense of, “We really appreciate the fact that we get to do this for you and we’ve missed you and we are grateful for your continued interest in the show.” That’s, to me, what that number’s about: the cast literally looking at the people who care about them and watch them and saying, “We are so grateful for you and so happy to be doing this work.”
Near the end of the episode, Benny (Freddy Rodriguez) mentions he got a tour of what court will be like, but he didn’t mention anything about the mirror jurors. What can you preview about what else will be different in court from what Benny mentioned? What’s going to be the biggest challenge for Bull and the team going forward?
You’re really astute. It is that. There are no mirror jurors because they’re not letting the public into the courtroom, so that’s going to force them to work a little bit differently, at least in the near future. And additionally, I think, just the challenge of — I don’t know how you feel, because I don’t know the ins and outs of your work, but for me, while I’m grateful to have the opportunity to work, it’s different doing it this way. There is some pleasure to be gotten from working with 50 people in a room, 100 people, 200 people in a room, but we don’t do the work that way, even when we shoot now. There are very few people on the set. When we edit, we do it remotely, over computers, scoring, all the things we used to gather to do, we don’t do that way. It’s the same in court. The court becomes a more stripped down environment, and that presents certain challenges to everybody, and it presents challenges to people in their personal lives.
Speaking of court, Chunk (Christopher Jackson) — or rather Chester (his first name was revealed in the premiere) — has passed the bar, and he and Benny are on opposite sides of the case in Episode 2. What can you preview about that match-up as the team has to work both sides of the case?
I just find it both funny and enlightening to see those guys go at each other, and frankly, it ultimately deepens their friendship, which is a nice thing because I think they truly do care about each other. But also, things start to change because the relationship up until now, the Butch and Sundance of it all, has always been Bull and Benny, and suddenly there’s this third guy, so that changes the alchemy a little bit and it’s going to be interesting as the season progresses to see how that works.
Marissa (Geneva Carr) has tough times ahead, with her divorce trial and an arrest! How are we going to see her handling that and how will we see the others rally around her?
Actually, the fourth episode, the Christmas episode, is all about that. And I think it’s going to surprise people how it all turns out. The first surprise being that she ends up in court, and TAC ends up representing her, but not in the way you think, and while it has an enormous impact on her divorce, it’s not a divorce trial, per se.
You’ve teased that Danny (Jaime Lee Kirchner) is going to be going through “unexpected family challenges.” What can you say about that and meeting her family?
I can say that Danny’s going to go through some unexpected family challenges. We’re still working on all that.
Can you say anything about who she’ll be talking to the most from the team about it?
That’s a really good question. I think the two people she feels the closest to are probably Taylor [played by MacKenzie Meehan] and Marissa, but again, since frankly that story’s still in the embryonic stage, I don’t want to suggest that’s where that story lives. I just don’t know.
What’s next for Bull and Izzy? Getting married again? First continuing to figure out how to be around each other again while also raising a child?
All of the above, yes, which also, by the way, comes up in the Christmas episode in a meaningful way.
Are we going to see Bull’s experiences — even just in his head in the premiere — have any effect on him moving forward, in his personal or professional life?
Oh yeah, I think the big takeaway is, when he has this sort of — I was going to say epiphany, I’m not sure that’s the right word — but he becomes convinced, of course, that he’s extinct, that he doesn’t matter, because he can’t do his job, he has no value. And of course, then he’s surprised to discover when he goes to the café to try and talk to that juror that that juror is in fact his ex-wife and the mother of his child — which suggests that she looms large in his psyche — and she’s the one who gives him this really important pearl of wisdom which is, “You’re not extinct. As long as there are people on the planet like your family who depend on you and that you depend on, you’re not extinct. You are forever.”
I think he wakes up and certainly to a greater extent thinks, “OK, I need to pay some attention here, that is to say, to my home, to my family,” and I think it’s one of the reasons that he becomes — and this comes out, too, in the episodes that are coming right up — more determined than ever to marry Izzy. In the past, when he’s brought up the subject of marriage to Izzy, she’s the one who said, “I think I’d rather not. We did that once, I’m not anxious to rush in and fail again,” so that becomes a really interesting storyline that we explore for the first few episodes of this season.
Any other character-centric storylines you can tease?
There’s a big, big, big, big arc for Benny coming up. He gets an unexpected surprise in his life and he has some tough choices to make.
Bull, Mondays, 10/9c, CBS
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