Saturday, October 24, 2009
Law & Order “Dignity” Recap & Review
Law & Order “Dignity” tackles an issue where everybody has an opinion – abortion. I was going to criticize the writers for the stereotypical opinions dished out in this episode but then I gave it more thought – those dialogues sound very much how real life arguments take place on the issue. This episode tackled the even tougher issue of late term abortions, which brings on a whole host of more impassioned and emotional arguments from both sides. I thought this episode was very well done and did a good job reflecting how a single issue like this can be divisive between colleagues and have possibly lasting ramifications, not to mention how it can cause people to do irrational things like murder.
Acting somewhat out of character was ADA Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza), who is usually the most rational when it comes to finding ways to win a case. This time, she sabotages the case and sells out EADA Michael Cutter (Linus Roache) and DA Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston), going against McCoy’s explicit orders not to inform the defense of information she uncovered. She got teary-eyed during one witness’ testimony, but says that she released information to the defense against Jack’s wishes because she wanted to stay true to her ethics. I think she didn’t want to admit that she was shaken by the woman’s testimony. Cutter, who was very vocal about his opinion early on, seems to lose his desire to win by soft-pedaling with that same witness. Still, Cutter towed the line and did as Jack said, and continued to press the case despite the fact that his personal feelings on the issue of abortion supported pro-lifers. While Cutter won the case, his prosecution was poor and he didn’t seem to bring up the fact that this was a cold blooded murder until the very end during closing arguments. Cutter seemed to forget that he was prosecuting a murderer, not trying the right to have an abortion.
It seems that Anita’s (S. Epatha Merkerson) cancer was shoehorned in again this week, with the Lupo’s comment “Chemo must be a real picnic” sounding hollow and almost insensitive. Lupo is old enough that he should already know chemo is not a picnic. I would think he would have said something that showed a little more concern for his colleague. We also see a scene wedged in that Anita’s tumor is not responding to treatment and they will stronger drugs. I hope that Anita will be able to have meatier scenes in future episodes than these short references to her illness – like maybe something that involves a case? Having seen too many of my own family members die from cancer, I admit that I am a little anguished over watching even a fictional character go through treatment.
Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Bernard (Anthony Anderson) were clearly at odds about the abortion issue, but unlike Connie and Cutter, they seemed to be able to get past it to do their jobs. I laughed when Lupo said people should need a permit to have kids, and I have a tendency to agree with that thought. Of course, that is a whole separate messy argument.
McCoy is the only one who seems to have his sights clearly on the case at hand, despite his story about his own daughter and his grandchild to be. He’s fought many of these same hot button issues before and I think he realizes that if he wants to keep his sanity – and his job – as district attorney, he knows how to keep his focus.
The episode was a bit preachy but it is hard to cover the topic of abortion, especially later term abortion, without people getting on their soapbox. The issue is far more complex than just dignity, a word that was thrown around quite a bit to justify a person’s choices or opinions. I thought this episode did a great job in outlining how one issue can be divisive with friends or colleagues, and clearly a rift formed between Cutter and Rubirosa. I thought it was interesting to see Cutter's personal opinions on a controversial issue, and then watch as he got on Connie's case for her behavior. She came back with an excellent retort, and I find I am liking both Connie and Michael more with each episode. I loved it, though, when Jack put Cutter in his place at the end, saying that people weren't lining up for the "exalted position" of Cutter's second chair. That Jack, he always knows how to close.
Here is the recap:
Dr. Walter Benning (Matthew Boston) is greeting people as they enter the church. He watches as a young man walk into the church. Benning then walks inside himself, and moves to a room off the vestibule, and checks for his gun. He walks into the church where services have already begun. Benning is looking around somewhat uncomfortably, staring at the young man sitting a few pews away, and he unbuttons his suit jacket. A shot is heard, and Walter Benning is dead from a bullet in the head. The man he was staring at stands up and looks back at Benning and Benning’s wife screams.
Later, Detectives Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Kevin Bernard (Anthony Anderson) arrive on the scene. They are told by the officer on the scene that a man on a cigarette break saw a white man run out of the church and drive away in a dark blue sedan. Bernard says, ‘Thank heaven for smokers.” There is one 9mm shell casing there, but no weapon. But Bernard sees the doctor’s gun on his body, and notices he is wearing a bulletproof vest. Lupo comments that he has reason to be careful, he has taken a bullet before. Bernard adds, “It has to be said, can I get a witness?” Lupo thinks the minister was facing the congregation when the shot was fired, but the minister (Michael Hollick) says he had his eyes closed, and hit the floor upon hearing the shot. He said that he didn’t have Benning’s courage, and tells the detectives that Benning performed abortions and specialized in the toughest cases, third trimester. He adds Benning was one of the few to risk his own safety. Bernard says a lot of Christians would consider what Benning did as murder, and asks if any church members believed in an eye for an eye. The minister says that the church advocates tolerance, and that Benning has been coming to services there without incident for the last 10 years. Bernard adds, “A devout abortionist.” The minister said Benning believed he was doing the Lord’s work and he prayed to the same God as the rest of them. As they watch Benning’s body being carried out, Lupo says, “He should’ve prayed a little louder. “
On the steps of the church the detectives speak to Mrs. Benning, who indicated she begged her husband to stop with the abortions. He had a private office in Manhattan but did the abortions in Riverdale, which is where a pro lifer shot him last year, and the person is in prison. Lieutenant Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) arrives, looking ill and wiping her mouth as if she had been vomiting. She introduces herself to Mrs. Benning and says they will do everything to find his murderer. Mrs. Benning comments that these people call themselves godly but they shot a man where he prays. She leaves to begin making arrangements. After Mrs. Benning leaves, Van Buren, wiping her mouth often, asks if they are taking about the usual suspects, and Bernard says that they are the only suspects, according to the wife. She tells them to check with Benning’s staff as maybe the shooter tipped his hand. When Van Buren walks away, Lupo says, “Chemo must be a real picnic.”
At Benning’s “Woman’s Health Clinic” the detectives speak with a security guard, who is marking a tire on a parked car with a blue chalk line. He mentions that protesters we hogging the parking spots so the landlord asked them to enforce the 2-hour parking rule. He indicates the protesters “Mission for Life” just gripe and chant, but adds that security cameras were put up by the landlord and they are mostly for show.
Inside the clinic, they speak with a who seems like a head nurse or administrator, who said the Mission for Life people seemed to have a grudging respect for Walter. The person w ho tried to kill him last year was not from Mission for Life. When Bernard asks what kind of threats Benning had been attracting, she is annoyed that he made it sound like Benning is doing it on purpose. When Lupo tries to soften what Bernard just implied, Bernard continue to harp on her, saying late term abortions is a lightning rod for troubles. But she isn't having any of it, she pushed back that the law allows it, and they continue to push back and forth about the issue of late term abortions. She says she is proud to work there and unless they can find another doctor who is brave enough to step up, they will have to close the clinic. Bernard smiles smugly. Lupo asks who Jonah Leland is, seeing his name on a message list several times. She says his girlfriend is scheduled to come from Pennsylvania tomorrow for a procedure but she didn’t know what he wanted, but he did sound angry.
At the office of Dr. Valerie Knight, she is consulting with Van Buren, and tells her that her first round of chemo did not shrink the tumor. She suggests other drugs that they can try and the side effects may be worse. Van Buren says, “The nausea I can handle, dying’ no so much so bring it on, doctor. Whatever it takes. “ She smiles nervously.
Elsewhere, at a lumberyard in Yardley, Pennsylvania, Jonah Leland (Evan Enderle) says he never called Benning, his ex girlfriend Blair would have been mad at him. She broke up with him, he is a born again Christian, but there was something wrong with the baby and he didn’t have insurance. It was a genetic abnormality. She decided to have the abortion when he told her he couldn’t deal with it. When he goes back to work, we get this exchange:
Lupo: Forget the abortion debate, you should need a permit to have kids.
Bernard: Ah, in your world a kid hardly has a chance to be born
Lupo: You know what about that, not to step on your freedom of speech or anything, but we’re not here to get into arguments with witnesses.
Bernard: Hmm, I don’t know Lupes, that nurse at the clinic basically admitted that Benning was performing illegal abortions.
Lupo: That’s not the crime we’re investigating and if you think forcing an 11 year old rape victim to give birth is okay then you and I got nothing to talk about.
Bernard: You got it backwards, man! The horrible thing is the rape! Not the bringing of a life into the world.
Lupo: All I know is an unwanted child’s already got two strikes against it.
Bernard: That unwanted child could change the world. Cure cancer! Be president!
Lupo: Yeah, or put his finger on the button and blow up the world.
Bernard: It’s not for us to decide. (Lupo starts up the car but Bernard grabs the keys and shuts the car off) I was born two months premature. My mother was unmarried, poor, 7 months pregnant, she panicked, threw herself down a flight of stairs.
Lupo: So I almost had another partner.
Bernard, handing the car keys back to Lupo: That’s all I’m sayin’.
At Blair Morton’s (Jessica Varley) home, she tells them that her baby will have fragile skin disease that will mean around the clock medical care. Jonah freaked at the news and Dr. Benning said he would help her. When Lupo notices the baby things she has, she said her father got her a crib because he wanted a grandchild. She says she can’t have this baby, and who will help her now.
At the school where Blair’s father Kevin (Bill Sage) teaches, he tells the detectives about the disease which makes the baby’s skin so delicate the slightest touch will cause tearing and will require constant care. He told Blair he would work three jobs if he had to find the money. He said she is too far along and that is no fetus it is a child. He admits to calling Benning claiming to be the baby’s father. He denies doing anything to Benning. He said he just went for a long walk because things were tense at home. He wanted to take responsibility but not with a gun. When he gets called to class, the detectives decide to check faculty parking to see if his car has an EZ Pass that would help them to see if he drove to Manhattan. When they get to the lot, they see his car has a blue chalk mark on it from the lot from Benning’s clinic.
With Kevin Morton in interrogation, he denies killing Benning. One of the crazies there followed him to his car thinking he was am abortion doctor, but he told the man he was trying to prevent one. The man told him not to worry, that his grandson would be fine. They ask him to look at some videotape.
At Mission for Life, they show a woman a picture of a man that has been hanging outside the clinic, but she tells them he is not from Mission for Life. Roger Jenkins (Richard Thomas) comes up and introduces himself as the their executive legal advisor. He says murdering abortion doctors does not help their cause. When Bernard says they could help by telling them who the man in the picture is, Jenkins says it is a public space and they can’t dictate who comes or goes. Lupo says “disclaimer noted” and expects an answer. The man’s name is Wayne, and he bragged about being arrested for breaking into a nuclear power plant in Buchanan.
The find Wayne Grogan’s ex wife, who has no idea where he is. She calls to her son Will (Tolan Aman), who was with Wayne Saturday night. Wayne told Will he wanted him to know that he loved him, no matter what happens, and they are cops so they can figure it out. When Wayne’s wife asks what this is about, Bernard says it would be better to straighten these things out with him in person. She tells them when Will broke his leg a year ago she emailed him and he came to the hospital within an hour.
Later, at the Hackensack Memorial Hospital, with Lupo and Bernard dresses as an EMT and an orderly or nurse, and clearly having set up Wayne to show up, they wait for him to arrive. Instead they get Roger Jenkins, who is there on behalf of Wayne but wants to speak to the DA, he is there as his attorney and to negotiate terms for his surrender.
Back at the 2-7, Van Buren says the DA thinks Jenkins is stalling for time until he can get to Grogan. She wants to know who tipped Jenkins off to the ruse, and they think it was Grogan’s son. Later, at Grogan’s ex’s, she is yelling at Will for hacking into her email to see the email she sent to Wayne. He admits he warned Roger Jenkins as he saw him on TV. Lupo sees a picture of Will with his father and Wayne’s girlfriend, who says she cared about stuff that is important. When Lupo asks for her name, Will says his dad says never trust authority. Lupo says, “No argument here.” He adds that sooner or later his father will get caught maybe by cops who like to shoot first.
At Wayne’s girlfriend’s cabin, she says she has not see Wayne for a year. She lives off the grid and prefers the simple life. But when the detectives enter her home with her, Bernard notices a flashing light, and moving something covering it up, sees it is a computer with a low battery light flashing. Lupo calls through a locked door for Wayne to open the door, but then kicks it open as Wayne (PJ Sosko) is fleeing out the window, Bernard catches up with him outside, knocks him to the ground and cuffs him.
At a later date in prison, EADA Michael Cutter (Linus Roache) and ADA Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) hear Jenkins request for Grogan as 10 years for manslaughter. He says he was seduced by pro life rhetoric, but Cutter says no deal. Jenkins tells Wayne was he has to do now and brave men must take a stand. Grogan says Benning was killing babies and somebody had to stop him. He admits to the killing, and Jenkins says they are asserting justification as an affirmative defense. Wayne killed Benning in defense of other persons.
At the Supreme Court, there is a motion hearing, Cutter argues against the whole claim of justification for violence against clinics as they have historically been denied by the courts. Jenkins argue Wayne was only protecting one baby, the baby of Blair Morgan, who Jenkins claims was viable, and insists that he syndrome the baby had is survivable with a normal life expectancy. Jenkins will prove that Grogan was aware of this when he took action against Benning. The judge seems sympathetic and allows the defense to proceed. By Cutter says she is opening Pandora’s box, but she says it will go to a jury.
In DA Jack McCoy’s (Sam Waterston) office, they discuss the hurdles facing them with this case. When Cutter refers to the fetus as a baby, Rubirosa calls him on it, saying that won’t help matters.
Rubirosa: Referring to this fetus as a baby isn’t gonna help matters.
Cutter: An unborn child is a life and a soul to me. I…I can revert to PC in the courtroom because it’s my job, but I’m not gonna do it in my own office.
McCoy: You’re in my office, and we’re not debating the abortion issue.
Cutter: Well the jurors will be, and it’s time to face the facts. The tide has turned. Most Americans are pro-life now.
Rubirosa: Most Americans don’t live in New York. I doubt we’ll draw and anti-choice jury here.
McCoy: You might be surprised. My daughter was pro choice until she taped a sonogram of my grandchild to be on her refrigerator. Now…..
McCoy says that the crux of Grogan's defense is he was aware of Blair Morton’s abortion, so they have to prove that he intended to kill Benning before he heard of the Morton’s.
Back at Benning’s clinic, Rubirosa speaks with the nurse who says Grogan was louder than the other protesters but she was not aware of any threats. They already had one nurse quit a few months ago over the threats, she just stopped showing up to work. Later, at a neonatal ICU, Rubirosa speaks with the nurse, Jennice Morrow (Kristina Kirk) a nurse who said she did no quit over the protesters. Rubirosa says the woman left a late term abortion clinic to work in neonatal unit, wondering what changed her world view. She says a woman came in for an abortion in her 7th month when she found out the baby had generic markers for anencephaly and a sonogram confirmed a large part of the fetus’s brain wasn’t developing. During the abortion something went wrong and the baby was delivered live. When Benning asked the woman if she wanted to complete the procedure…and when Rubirosa hears this she is shocked, asking if she means terminate the baby. The woman told the doctor yes, to finish it, and he did. After that, she could not go back to work there. Rubirosa asks for the name of the patient.
Later, Rubirosa is at the front door of this woman, and she asks her about her experience with Benning, and the woman gets very upset and says the information is confidential. She says it was the hardest thing she even went through in her whole life. When Rubirosa continues to press for information, the woman gets even more upset, saying she has no right to pry into her medical history, she says to leave her alone, and she slams the door in the face.
Rubirosa is back in McCoy’s office and tells McCoy and Cutter what Benning did. She says they have to report this to the Bronx DA. But McCoy says Benning is dead and they should wait to after the trail. Rubirosa says at the very least it is Brady material and they have to tell the defense. But Cutter says it is not relevant to the trial. Rubirosa seems surprised at their response, saying Benning killed a human being, and didn’t Grogan shoot him to prevent him from doing just that? Cutter argues it is not exculpatory ad Grogan knew nothing about it when he killed Benning and if Jenkins gets his hands on it he will exploit it. McCoy tells them they both best pretend they never heard it. Rubirosa stares at Cutter, who gives her a look back as he walks out the door.
At trial, Kevin Morton is on the stand saying that he went to Benning to ask him not to give his daughter an abortion but he could not get in. Grogan approached him and Morton told him about the situation with this daughter, and adds that Grogan got red in the face and said his grandson would be okay. He took this to mean that somehow the abortion would not take place. Under cross, Jenkins gets Morton to admit that he felt Blair’s baby was viable and he had a chance at life and it wasn’t about Blair any more.
Cutter has another doctor (Mark Blum) on the stand, who say Benning was caring and heroic doctor. He concluded that Blair's child is doomed to a life of suffering and agreed it was reasonable to about the baby and it was the only responsible thing to do. But under cross, Jenkins gets under his skin, and the doctor says the life of Blair’s child is without dignity. Jenkins asks if he would have volunteered to about Blair Morton’s baby, and he says if she asked him, yes he would. He starts to get on his own soapbox about providing abortions to the women who want them, saying they won’t be stopped by the politicians who bow to the hypocrites and fools. Cutter and Rubirosa do not look happy at that comment.
As McCoy is walking in the hallway of the elevator with Cutter and Rubirosa, he says know they know there are fanatics in both camps. Rubirosa thinks Jenkins is betting he can sway enough jurors to force a deadlock, and Cutter adds if not an outright acquittal. The first defense witness is Lisa Barnett, whose child was diagnosed with a genetic disorder, but she chose against abortion. McCoy asks, “And how is that relevant” and he storms off.
In court, Jenkins argues that a person who asserts justification must prove he was acting reasonable and saw Mrs. Barnett on the talk show discussing the birth of her daughter and what he heard influenced his state of mind. Rubirosa argues this is just another attempt by Jenkins to prejudice the jury against Benning and his lawful work. The judge allows the witness but warns Jenkins if she hears any nonsense she will stop it.
Lisa Barnett (Jessica Dickey) gives an emotional testimony about the condition of her baby, which a doctor said was “incompatible with life.” She did not have an abortion and carried the baby to term, she knew the baby would die but wanted it to happen naturally and do it with dignity. She was happy when they put her in her arms and looked normal. The baby died soon afterwards in her arms after being alive for 21 hours. She did not regret not having the abortion. She and her husband were honored to have her and that she died with dignity. While all this is going on, the jury looks uncomfortable and some of the women look teary eyed. Rubirosa also looks on the verge of tears as well. When it is Cutter’s turn to cross examine, he treads carefully and tells Barnett she is a brave woman. He gets her to admit that she may have made a different choice at another time in her life, and also that doctors who perform later term abortions to women in her condition are providing an essential medical service.
Back in McCoy’s office, Cutter tells him half the jury was in tears. When McCoy says that doesn’t mean they will acquit, Cutter tells him he is deceiving himself, and all it takes is one vote. McCoy stands firm and will not offer a plea bargain. Cutter tells him to substitute slavery for abortion and John Brown for Wayne Grogan, and in it’s day Roe V Wade conformed to what we know then about human life and science. Contraception was limited and most birth defects were untreatable. Thirty five years later, birth defects can be corrected and the disabled children are protected by the bill of rights, and contraception of every kind is available. McCoy says yet people who don’t want to still get pregnant. Cutter gets angry, and asks if their rights should reign supreme, adding cats and dogs have more rights than the unborn. He says Roe V Wade can stand another look. McCoy says if the jury wants to send that message let them do it but he is not cutting any deals. Someone bring in a notice to Cutter, it seems that Jenkins found out about the woman, nurse Jennice Morrow whose baby Benning killed after a botched abortion that McCoy told them to pretend never happened. McCoy wants to know how they found out, and seem to think Cutter did, which he denies. Cutter is incredulous, saying “You’re kidding! You’re the one who thinks I like winning too much. Why would I sabotage my own case? “ McCoy thinks it’s principles, and as Cutter continues to object, Rubirosa walks in and admits she was the one who told them. She decided it was an ethical violation if the defense was informed. Cutter is livid, commenting she did this despite the explicit instructions to the contrary. She says she can’t be instructed to violate her ethics. McCoy pipes in saying they will deal with this later, and tells them to put their heads together to see how they can keep nurse Morrow off the stand. AS Cutter glares at Rubirosa, she walks out the door.
Back in Supreme Court in the hallway, Cutter argues the testimony is not relevant as Grogan was not aware of the matter. Rubirosa said the testimony violates the privacy of Benning’s patient and she also wants no part of this. The judge allows the witness but that says the patient will be referred to as Jane Doe.
Jennice Morrow outlines the botched abortion and the subsequent killing of the delivered baby. There is gasping and looks of horror or disgust on everyone faces as she testified that Benning took the surgical scissors and drove them into the baby’s skull. The child’s body was disposed of as medical waste. Under cross, Cutter confirms it was Miss Doe’s decision to terminate, and Morrow admits that the baby would have survived only a day or two after being carried to term.
Back in his own office, Cutter is hot under the collar:
Cutter: It was a rout. I don’t know what got into you to tell the defense about Janise Morrow.
Rubirosa: I felt they were entitled to know. It was up to the judge to disallow it
Cutter: Now it’s up to us to convince the jury to ignore it. (Pauses). I mean you of all people Connie, I thought you wanted to win this case.
Rubirosa: I grew up thinking Roe v Wade was gospel. And that a woman’s privacy was inviolate. But after hearing that woman on the stand talk about her baby dying in her arms….I don’t know, I don’t know where my privacy ends and another being’s dignity begins.
Cutter, coldly: You want moral clarity? How about just doing your job, put the bad guys in jail.
Rubirosa, quiet and controlled: I’m glad it’s so clear cut for you, Mike. Unfortunately, I can’t leave my soul in the umbrella stand when I come into work in the morning.
Back at Supreme Court, closing arguments are underway. Jenkins shows a picture of Blair Morgan’s newborn baby. Cutter moves to show photos in Walter Benning’s wallet when he was shot, and moves to show photos of his children and grandchildren are stained with blood.. But, he backs off, saying he can’t do this, there is too much heartbreaking testimony. He goes on to say they are dealing with greatest mystery of what is life and when does it begin. He goes on to say people want to do the right and just thing, and want reason and empathy to lead us to an answer and we struggle to find the answer. Despite all our differences, we are joined in the belief that every life is special and imbued with unalienable rights, and that belief compels them to reject the violence and the unreasoned chaos that Wayne Grogan’s act represents.
The jury comes back, and finds Grogan guilty.
Later, while Cutter sits in his office deep in thought. McCoy comes in and tells him to walk with him. They head over to Rubirosa’s desk, and McCoy tells Cutter that Rubirosa has been asked to be transferred to the white collar crime bureau. Cutter says if that’s what she wants, and she says that’s what she wants. But McCoy says it is not what he wants, and outlines all the moves he’d have to make to accommodate her. He digs a bit at Cutter, when he says that “ Then I would have to find someone to second chair with Mike. Much as you would like to believe otherwise, people aren’t lining up for that exalted position.” He adds he used to expect people to be consistent, but he doesn’t expect that any more, saying it is a big messy world. He tells them to work it out, and leave the two of them sitting there, staring at each other, as we fade to black.
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