Professor T airs Sundays at 7:00 pm and is available to stream via the PBS app and wttw.com. Recap the previous and following episodes.
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Professor T has to administer oral exams to his entire lecture class. Looking for an excuse to avoid this tedious task, he shows up at the police station to see if there are any cases Lisa and Dan need help with, even though they have been told by their boss Christina—Professor T’s onetime fiancée—not to bother him with cases. All they have right now is a fire in a building rented by college students. It’s not exciting enough for Professor T, but it does give him an idea for his exams.
Rather than simply listen to his students recite memorized definitions, he asks them a philosophical question, hoping they will draw on his lecture about utilitarianism to answer: you can only save either your mother, a cleaning lady, or a doctor who will cure cancer from a burning house—whom do you choose? Nearly everyone stutters and fails the exam.
The dean, at least, has a good answer when he comes to ask Professor T about the complaints he has received about the exam. Save your mom, because anyone who would let their own mother burn doesn’t deserve to be cured of cancer, he says. Professor T likes it.
Professor T’s complicated relationship with his mother Adelaide is certainly why. As a child—on his birthday, no less—he witnessed his father being violent towards his mother, and drew a gun on his father. We don’t know what happened after that, but the day still haunts Professor T in nightmares. So he has decided to see a psychotherapist, to his mother’s trepidation.
Adelaide believes that her son is doing this on behalf of Christina, and so she goes to warn Christina not to toy with Professor T’s affections—or she’ll face a mother’s wrath.
Wilf Ransome also has a close relationship with his mother, Lizzie, the landlady of the building that burned. He’s very bright, but his mother couldn’t afford to send him to an illustrious school like the one her tenants attend. Plus, she’s in a wheelchair, so he lives at home to help her out.
Wilf does odd jobs for his mother’s building: he was painting the apartment of Valerie Peters when he smelled smoke. Valerie had just moved out, but didn’t return her key or pay last month’s rent. Wilf helped four people to safety from the burning building, as Lisa witnessed—she arrived at the scene and took pictures of the crowd that gathered, in case their identities proved useful later. But Wilf regrets not being able to save one young woman, Amity Roberts, who survived but is now in a coma.
It turns out the fire wasn’t an accident: a flammable solvent is found in the building. And Amity’s injuries might not be simple misfortune: she had a date rape drug in her system, but there was no sign of any sexual abuse, so it seems that someone just wanted to knock her out.
Valerie Peters hated Amity, but she has an alibi: she was at a ball all evening.
Christina is receiving pressure to solve the case of the fire since it involved university students, and so she asks Lisa to involve Professor T. Arson is more interesting than a simple fire, so he immediately cancels the rest of his oral exams for the day to take on the case.
Those exams have a connection to someone who lived in the building: Joss Jones is one of Professor T’s few students to pass his oral exam, but when the professor looks at photos of the building residents, he realizes that Joss paid someone else to take the exam in his place.
Joss says he was studying alone when the fire broke out, and that he heard women arguing a bit beforehand. He recognizes Louis Dennis, Amity’s ex-boyfriend, from Lisa’s pictures of the crowd outside the building.
Louis has “dodgy” photos of Amity, but he claims that she sent them to him, and their classmates—he didn’t take them as some form of revenge porn. He thought their email must have been a mistake, and so went to see Amity when she didn’t pick up her phone. He found her building on fire.
Louis has heard that Amity is already sleeping with someone else: Joss.
Turns out that Joss was also served an eviction notice by Lizzie Ransome, after drugs were found in his room. But Joss’s father is rich and powerful, and paid Lizzie to make the notice go away. (He’s also a major donor to the university, and accompanies the dean to try to convince Professor T to not fail Joss, after the professor discovered Joss cheated on the exam. Professor T refuses and rips into both Joss and his father for their intellectual limitations.)
Among the drugs Lizzie found in Joss’s room was a date rape drug. Joss says that Victoria, whom he used to date, ordered it—they used it for clubbing. He also says that he only slept with Amity once.
Joss’s fling with Amity is why Victoria hates Amity. CCTV footage at the ball Victoria claims to have attended the night the building burned shows she wasn’t there. She admits to confronting Amity—the argument Joss overheard—drugging her, taking nude photos, and sending them to Louis and classmates. But she didn’t set the fire.
Lisa isn’t anywhere near as jealous as Victoria, but she does feel a little pang when she sees social media posts of Dan with his new girlfriend, Dina, even though Lisa is the one who stood Dan up and set him up with Dina, because of the time she has to spend taking care of her father, who has dementia.
Dan has his own parental obligations. He lent money to his father, he tells Dina when he awkwardly asks her to split the dinner bill after initially offering to pay it. He later gets a coffee with Rabbit, the leader of his team, and asks if there might be an opportunity to be promoted and get a raise.
Professor T has told Dan to survey recent fires near the site of the arson, lest they reveal the pattern of an arsonist or pyromaniac. At every one, some unmemorable man came to warn nearby people of the fire. This must be the arsonist—he has an inferiority complex, and sets fires so he can play the hero.
Wilf—a bright boy with frustrated potential who spent time around university students whom he couldn’t join—is the culprit, a suspicion bolstered by his home’s location at the midpoint of all the fires. When he is brought in for questioning, he has just left the house to pick up medicine for his mother.
He’s anxious under questioning, having given his mom something to help her sleep and also set a timed bomb to light his home on fire so that he could save her—not that he tells the police this. Wilf is so worked up that Dan has to forcibly remove him from the interrogation. Professor T realizes what is happening. He sends Lisa to save Lizzie.
Wilf wanted to save his mother; Adelaide wants to save her son, from what she believes will be the mistake of therapy. But Professor T has already made up his mind, and while he hyperventilates upon arriving at his therapist’s, he still goes in for his appointment.