After The Irrational’s Emotional Reveals For Alec, Episode Director Shares Secret Behind Jesse L. Martin’s ‘Rock Star…
Jesse L. Martin as Alec Mercer in The Irrational Episode 3



(Image credit: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC)

Warning: spoilers are ahead for Episode 3 of The Irrational Season 1, called “The Barnum Effect.”

The Irrational delivered the biggest disaster yet for Alec Mercer and Co. when he was brought onto the case of a passenger plane crash, which involved more destruction and loss of life than the first two episodes. Alec and his team had to find a way to clear the name of the pilot being blamed for the crash while also cracking a conspiracy. In the process, Jesse L. Martin’s character also had to deal with an emotional blow thanks to the reveal that his ex-wife Marisa is dating her colleague. The episode’s director, John Terlesky, spoke with CinemaBlend about what went down and finding a “rock star vibe” for Alec despite everything. 

About halfway through “The Barnum Effect,” Alec figured out a way to prove how a piece of “evidence” against the pilot wasn’t at all what the FBI and investigators believed. He just needed a classroom of students to participate in an experiment to pull it off. The experiment involved the students listening to the same audio multiple times while looking at different visual cues, leading to them interpreting that audio differently each time. He made the point that everybody has their own version of reality, and he was able to get what he needed to begin exonerating the pilot and searching for the real person responsible for the plane crash.

As somebody who has been having fun playing along with Alec’s experiments from my couch, I took the opportunity to ask “The Barnum Effect” director John Terlesky about the sequence. Terlesky, who already had a number of NBC directing credits (including the 200th episode of The Blacklist) before The Irrational, confirmed that the scene already had the audio for the experiment when filming and explained why he gave Alec the rock star treatment. The director shared: 

This was only the third episode, so there wasn’t a lot established as far as what that room was supposed to look like. But I remember on one of the location scouts, one of the things [that] was really important to me was the sense that I wanted to give. Usually they play these classrooms a little bit lighter, but we had two things going on. Number one, we had this gag with everyone looking at their screens at the same time, and I wanted the screens when you were in the audience, when you were in the audience’s point of view looking down at Alec, I wanted you to just be able to see sort of a sea of laptop screens that were very visible like they are in a concert or something when people hold up their phones.

After Alec’s life-or-death moment in the previous episode, the stakes in the classroom scene were less harrowing, but no less important to the case of the week. John Terlesky approached a scene that otherwise could have just moved the plot along in a way to give it a “concert” feel. The director went on:

Then speaking of concert, I asked the DP to put one spotlight at the far back of the audience on Alec because I wanted to create a rock star vibe for him. I wanted to pump up the feeling that he was kind of a rock star in his own way. And so we decided to darken the room a little bit more than had been done in the pilot and we went with this kind of pin spot on him so that it just gave more of – the best thing I can use to describe it – just this rock star vibe.

Jesse L. Martin may not be singing in The Irrational like he did in Rent or the musical episode of The Flash, but Alec was still putting on a show for his students in this particular scene. The Irrational continues to prove that Martin isn’t just playing another version of Law & Order‘s Ed Green, who he portrayed for long enough that he ranks on the list of Law & Order franchise actors who have appeared in the most episodes. On the whole, seeing Martin’s Alec in “rock star” mode with his students was a fun part of the episode, especially since so much of the story was so heavy. 

Alec did catch a break when it comes to the latest clue about the explosion that left him scarred. The logo that he’d sketched from a memory that finally resurfaced is leading Marisa in a promising direction, even though that investigation had to be put on pause in “The Barnum Effect” due to the crash. So, even though finding out that his ex is dating another FBI agent isn’t exactly what he wanted to hear, hopefully they’ll still be able to partner up on cases professionally. 

The promo for the next episode suggests that he may not be able to let go of her entirely, and it seems safe to say that Kylie will have some words for him on it. Take a look: 

Keep tuning in to NBC in the 2023 TV schedule on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET for new episodes of The Irrational with Jesse L. Martin. If you’ve missed any so far, you can catch up streaming with a Peacock Premium subscription. Plus, the director for the previous episode of The Irrational had worked with Martin on The Flash, and you can check out his thoughts on The CW’s Arrowverse ending with The Flash earlier this year!

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Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She’s not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).

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