Law & Order returned after what seemed like an endless hiatus due to NBC’s Olympic coverage with a double header, the first being a solid episode, “Steel-Eyed Death.” It opened with a gruesome murder of the Morgan family – gruesome for Law & Order but standard fare for many other crime shows like CSI, where they go out of their way each week to show stomach turning scenes. The music they were playing while Detectives Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Bernard (Anthony Anderson) were going over the crime scene reminded me a little of the 1970’s film "French Connection.” This episode was devoid of stunt casting but did include a surprise visit by Dr. Emil Skoda (J.K. Simmons) who seems to have been missing in action from Law & Order for an eternity. He’s my favorite shrink in the Law & Order universe, and J.K. Simmons is an excellent actor who does well no matter what role he’s in. It’s also nice to see that Lt. Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) seems to be coping with her cancer as her illness wasn’t even apparent. She has to get in her 2 cents about the clean shaven detectives, telling them it makes them look 5 years younger, Bernard quipping that this would make Lupo about 12. The look may take me some getting used to, as I think I like the scruffy look better on both detectives. It was a little jarring, however, for Van Buren to make the comment about the beards right after the bloody murder scenes. Likewise with Lupo in the men's room appearing worried about the look of his tie.
As I mentioned, this episode opens with the bloody murder of the Morgan family, mother, father, son, and daughter, Zoe. The investigation leads the detectives to tattoos, “juggalos," and then a girl named Bonnie (Emily Meade), an apparent runaway and friend of the murdered Zoe Morgan, and also to her boyfriend Justin Sax. Lupo and Bernard trace down Bonnie, Bernard finding himself in a stairwell defending himself against an axe-wielding Justin, while Lupo is in the apartment where Bonnie is holding a young girl at knifepoint. Bernard is able to disable Justin and Lupo uses calming words to get Bonnie to let the girl go and eventually deter her from killing herself.
It turns out, though, that Bonnie is not her real name, she’s Amanda Evans, and her parents hire a high powered lawyer to defend her. Dr. Emil Skoda (J.K. Simmons) questions Amanda about her claims of amnesia. He later tells DA Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston), EADA Michael Cutter (Linus Roache), and ADA Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) that her claims are a “crock” and she clearly still knows right from wrong.
In court, Amanda’s father tries to explain that Amanda had a concussion and was never quite the same afterwards. Cutter makes sure everyone knows that it didn’t seem to affect her ability to tell the difference between right and wrong. Later, Cutter convinces them to plead Amanda as non-responsive due to mental disease or defect, and to be sent to a mental facility until she is deemed well. Of course, he expects her to testify against Justin, but when she does so, her credibility is immediately questioned by the defense attorney, Miss Masters (Rebecca Creskoff) . But the judge doesn’t see it her way, and eventually Masters is forced to serve notice that Justin suffers from PTSD, seemingly over 9/11. Later, she also defers cross examination of Detective Lupo to a later time, something which rattles Lupo. When he confronts her outside the courtroom, Lupo seems to recover his own memory that he knows Masters from a previous multiple murder case. Without telling Cutter his reasons, Lupo begs Cutter to not let Masters stray while he is under cross.
Later, under pressure from Bernard, Lupo admits that he knew Masters when she defended a man charged with the multiple murders. Lupo was traumatized by the case and eventually turned to drinking, and not only did he show up to testify for that case while drunk, his drinking also cause his work partner to be killed on the job. (This incident was something that came up in some of Lupo’s early days at the 2-7.) Bernard reassures Lupo that he will be there for him when he testifies, and Lupo gets on the stand and tells the truth about the matter. Lupo also admits that his trauma over the multiple murder 10 years ago, besides causing him to drink, also meant he needed to be treated for several months for PTSD. Cutter, meanwhile, has done his homework and already managed to find the connection between Lupo and Masters, and deftly brings out the fact that Lupo didn’t go out of control as Justin had done from Justin’s alleged PTSD. Cutter also reveals that Masters already tried the same defense she is using for Justin on the case Lupo worked years ago, and the jury didn’t buy it then, either.
At the end of the episode, as Lupo and Bernard arrive at what may be another horrific crime scene, Bernard tells Lupo that Justin took 30 to life and they will be at every parole hearing. When Bernard asks if Lupo is OK, he indicates that he is as the episode closes.
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