"Fill It Up" cuts away the first layer of Life's central mystery. Why exactly did Charlie Crews wind up in prison 12 years ago for the murder of his friend and business partner Tom and his family? The actual killer is a man named Kyle Hollis (Titus Welliver, a Deadwood alum and longtime member of the Steven Bocho repertory company), who before undergoing a religious conversion had been an informant and muscle for the very, very dirty cop Jack Reese. Tom was laundering money for Reese through the bar he owned with Crews; the murder was an attempt to "straighten Tom out" gone awry.
I can't recall an episode of a TV series this side of HBO that allowed its protagonist to behave as unsympathetically as Crews does here. All of the "interview" segments cut into the main story were really asking the same question. Yes, Charlie is innocent, but how did prison affect him? The answer appears to be: not for the best. Picking up where the last episode left off, Charlie reaches out to Rawls, a convict we met in the pilot (Michael Cudlitz) for information on where to find Hollis. Learning he's now a minister in a rural community, Charlie bails on Dani Reese at a crime scene to find the man he believes has all the answers.
Damian Lewis has been terrific throughout the season, and in "Fill It Up" he shows he's more than capable of going deeper as Charlie discovers the truth about his setup. Lewis shows more range than usual this week. With Rawls he's hard, a fellow con. But when he arrives at the Hollis place and discovers his daughter wounded, he's a comforting presence as he waits for the ambulance to arrive. Things quickly take a turn, as the woman realizes her father has more than one set of pursuers. She blames Charlie for wounding her, forcing him to flee from the fast-arriving cops. Hollis makes contact by phone, wanting money and protection from Crews in exchange for information. (Everyone seems to know everyone's cell number in this episode). Charlie has no intention of paying Hollis off; the extended sequence during which Hollis is a captor in the trunk of Crews' car is the point at which Crews must decide whether or not to give in to his anger. Events take a turn when a couple of gun-toting goons ram Charlie's car in pursuit of Hollis. Charlie manages to shoot them while being suspended upside down in the wreckage of his car; if he had any doubt that his setup goes beyond the murders he certainly doesn't now.
The squadroom ovation that Charlie receives at the end of "Fill It Up" would seem to indicate he's back in the full good graces of his colleagues. Most importantly, he has the trust of Dani and his ex-uniform partner Stark. The two bond at a crime scene in search of a gun-eating giant snake (I'm not going to take time to explain), and Stark's blames his not backing up Charlie at his murder trial on Internal Affairs pressure. When Charlie asks for their help once he's gotten Hollis's confession, both are ready to back up their partner.
Jack Reese remains elusive. We know who killed Tom and his family, but who set Charlie up and why? Who were the men Charlie shot working for? Reese refuses Charlie's invitation to turn himself in and drops one final bombshell: the wounded girl Charlie found is actually Rachel, Tom's daughter and the survivor of the murders. (She's vanished from the hospital) While I thought "Dig A Hole" was bloated and choppy, the lean and tense "Fill It Up" bodes well for the future of this show and one of TV's most unusual leading men. The episode's most significant scenes? An angry Charlie tosses his Zen tape out the window, but later returns and (improbably) finds it by the roadside. He keeps it but doesn't put it back in the player. Life returns in 2008. Stay tuned....