Has Law & Order hit its stride?
Law & Order Season 21 Episode 4 featured cops making sarcastic comments, a case with a ton of twists, and a story ripped from the headlines.
It wasn’t exactly what the series was years ago, but it was making an effort, though its attempt to take on the issues surrounding pop star Britney Spears’ lawsuit to terminate her father’s guardianship was strange.
The police side of things seemed to go more smoothly than they had.
Bernard: Looks like our D.O.A. was a judge.
Cosgrove: Not the verdict he was looking for.
Cosgrove’s attempt to channel Jerry Orbach’s Briscoe with a few sarcastic one-liners aside, there was some solid police work. The cops did their best to untangle clues and work through a long suspect list to figure out what happened to Judge Keating.
Their first suspect was the wrong one, of course — they weren’t going to solve the case ten minutes into the hour — but they kept putting one foot in front of the other and following the clues wherever they led.
Judge Keating’s gambling problem seemed like the most promising motive, which was why it was so bizarre when the killer instead turned out to be a tennis star who seemed to have nothing to do with anything.
There was this running joke about Bernard being into tennis that struck me as unnecessary throughout the hour, but it did help him crack the case.
Bernard’s reasoning for why Lucy was the most likely suspect made sense, especially when he factored in her tennis skills giving her the ability to swing a fire extinguisher at the judge’s head.
And once forensics found her hair on the murder weapon, it didn’t seem likely it was anyone else.
Still, it was clear that her father was a controlling ass even before the episode drifted toward a story about mental illness and guardianship. I expected the big twist to be that he did it and put his daughter’s hair on the fire extinguisher to frame her.
The prosecutorial side of things began in the usual manner, with Price believing they didn’t have a strong enough case and McCoy overruling him.
Tell the jury what you have and don’t have or the defense will. Be upfront with them. Otherwise they won’t believe another word that comes out of your mouth.
While the case would have been stronger had the prosecution had a clear idea of Lucy’s motive from the get-go, motive isn’t required to make a murder case.
That hair on the fire extinguisher wasn’t circumstantial, either. It was a definite match to the defendant, and there was no other plausible explanation for how it got on the murder weapon beside Lucy being the one to wield that weapon.
So the defense would have to use insanity or some other type of argument other than straight not-guilty because that evidence was going to be tough to overcome even without a clear idea of motive.
Ironically, that’s what led to the prosecution discovering that Lucy was being victimized by her father and that she snapped after he blamed the judge for his refusal to allow her to marry her boyfriend.
You’re not saying that everyone with bipolar disorder is criminally insane, are you?
After that revelation, the story drifted far off-course. It’s not that it wasn’t a worthwhile story to tell, but it didn’t fit the homicide investigation and prosecution motif that Law & Order is famous for.
If the franchise wanted to do a story about a celebrity’s father abusing a guardianship and using false claims of mental illness to control her, it probably would have been better suited to SVU. Those detectives would realize their victim was being controlled by her father, and abuse falls under the SVU umbrella.
Instead, the writers tried to fit that issue into a murder trial, which didn’t work nearly as well.
As the judge pointed out, arguments over guardianship didn’t belong in his courtroom. Nor did Price and Marhoun have any business getting involved in that side of things.
Their job was to prosecute a murder, period. They had two choices: withdraw the murder charge and instead charge Lucy with manslaughter, or gt Lucy to take a deal.
No matter how right they were that McDaniel was abusing the guardianship, that wasn’t in their purview. They should have at least consulted with SVU if they wanted this to be at all realistic!
The other big issue with this was Bernard visiting Lucy to make her aware that her father was keeping important info from her.
Not only did that not seem like something a homicide investigator would do, but it could be seen as unduly influencing a criminal defendant. If McDaniel and his lawyer wanted to, they could have argued that Lucy was coerced into making this plea and renouncing guardianship.
That would not have gone well for Bernard.
Lucy turned out to have a ton of inner strength once she learned what her dad was doing to her. She quickly decided to change her plea, stood up to him, and asked for her guardianship to be terminated.
That wasn’t realistic either — someone who had been under her father’s thumb for so long wouldn’t have changed just like that — but at least it led to a happy ending.
Your turn, Law & Order fanatics. Did you like this loosely ripped-from-the-headlines story, or was it too far removed from reality for you?
Hit the big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know!
Law & Order doesn’t air another new episode until April 7, 2022, but in the meantime, you can watch Law & Order online to catch up on anything you missed.
Law & Order airs on NBC on Thursdays at 8 PM EST / PST. The next new episode airs on April 7, 2022.