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The Truth About What Happened to Jesse L. Martin's Character on The Irrational

In The Irrational, Jesse L. Martin plays Alec Mercer — someone who can help solve cases, but is haunted by a tragic one from his past.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

In the new NBC drama The Irrational, Jesse L. Martin plays Alec Mercer, a professor of behavioral science who’s a renowned expert at untangling the twisty mysteries of human behavior.

How to Watch

Watch The Irrational on NBC and Peacock

But it turns out that Alec, who uses his expertise on high-stakes cases, is something of a mystery himself. That puzzle relates to his visible wounds, including burn scars on his face, as well as memory issues.

What happened to Jesse L. Martin’s character on The Irrational?

Alec wastes no time in bringing up his scars as students file into his Applied Psychology 101 class.  

“If you’re wondering about what happened to my face, that wasn’t one of my experiments,” he says. “I was burned many years ago and over 60% of my body.”

When a student asks him exactly what happened, Alec pauses. The scene flashes back to a chaotic scene and Alec on a stretcher. Then the professor says, “Drag racing. I ran right off the road and the gas tank exploded. Anyway, let's get started.”

It’s pretty clear he’s being evasive, and his research assistant Phoebe (Molly Kunz) calls him on it: “Drag racing? Why not just tell them the truth?”

“When I remember all of it, I will,” says Alec.

RELATED: How to Tell If Someone Is Lying, Just Like Jesse L. Martin in The Irrational

It eventually emerges that Alec’s scars are from a church bombing nearly 20 years ago. He survived, but 13 people died.

Alec Mercer sitting at a table and looking down with his hands folded.

That past comes urgently rushing back because the supposed “lone wolf” bomber who was convicted of possessing explosives and building the bomb is up for parole. The bomber wasn’t convicted of the murders — and Alec feels responsible for that.

“I couldn't place him at the scene,” he says to his sister Kylie (Travina Springer), who knows all about her brother’s traumatic past.

“Alec, it's been almost 20 years,” she says. “You have to stop holding on to that.”

“It left a rather lasting impression,” says Alec.

Alec Mercer and Marisa, with her arms crossed, standing together looking at a character.

While working on a murder case that has ties to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, Alec reveals the truth about his injuries.

“I’m Alec. If you're wondering about my face, I don't talk much about how it happened. Because the truth is I don't remember it — not the important parts, anyway.”

Alec goes on to share that he usually makes up stories to explain the scars: “Car accident. Cooking incident. Oil burner mishap. But it's just a way to avoid the truth. I can still hear the blast. I can still smell the explosives. I can still feel the searing scorching pain of fire on my skin but I can't recall a single damn thing about the bomber.”

It becomes clear that Alec harbors deep guilt.

“All those people died,” he says. “I should have died. The person responsible could walk because I can’t remember.”

Will Alec ever find out who was behind the bombing that changed his life forever? Watch The Irrational, airing Mondays at 10/9c on NBC and the next day on Peacock to find out.