Law & Order SVU “Bully” should have been called Law & Order SVU “WTF?” because I kept muttering "WTF?" while watching it. It had everything but a dog-napping; there was an apparent sex crime and murder, harassment, suicide, a hit and run, and a workplace bully. If they could have worked a dog-napping into this case they I'm sure they would have done so. There was also something oddly comedic about this episode but I can't quite put my finger on why. It could be because the bullying boss bears a striking resemblance to a toxic boss I had in the early 1980s (she made this episode's boss look as innocent as a lamb).
The initial case appeared to be a special victims case, although ME Warner waffled on that issue throughout the episode. The SVU team proceeds as if it were a special victims case, and along the way they stumble into a truly toxic workplace with a bully of a boss. Enter the red herring: a business owner who was harassing the murder victim. While SVU is arresting him, he gets shot by a man whose wife (who suffered from early Alzheimer’s) spent a lot of money at the harasser's business. She died from the stress of the business owner's harassing phone calls because her husband wanted his money back and the business owner wouldn't return it. The business owner was hoping they would make negative comments about his business on the internet and he was also harassing the murder victim for the same reason, in order to increase his Google ranking. This scenario seemed like a complete waste of time in order to make a statement about Google’s search algorithms and subsequent rankings. By the way, I wonder why SVU usually invents fake web sites like FacePlace (rather than say Facebook) yet they mention Google by name in this episode?
All signs point to the bullying boss as the murder suspect after Stabler uncovers a flash drive at the victim’s apartment showing web cam video of the boss going on many crazed tirades. Stabler finds the flash drive with the videos in a matter of seconds, yet it seemed to have completely eluded the CSU and TARU teams when they initially searched the crime scene (the fact that the flash drive was disguised as a panda bear should not have fooled them). But the detectives found the flash drive too late - the murder victim sent the videos to the news media before her death, allowing the episode to insert a plug for MSNBC.
The story goes from bad to worse when the bullying boss decides to hold a press conference to defend her behavior. She points the finger of blame on the victim, the NYPD, her colleagues, etc. and then pulls out a gun and kills herself. Later, we find that ADA Hardwicke (who doesn’t make an actual appearance in this episode, my guess this is a money saving move) decides that she is taking the bullying boss’ comments as a confession of murder. Well, I am not sure what press conference she was listening to but I didn’t hear what I thought was a solid confession. The fact that the boss singled out the murder victim in her tirade doesn’t mean that she actually killed her. And again, no John Munch (Richard Belzer) in this episode, plus there was no Captain Cragen (Dann Florek). I dread to think what SVU will look like next season – if there IS a next season – if they can only afford a partial cast now.
Despite the invisible ADA Hardwicke determining the case was solved, when SVU hears one of the company employees was in the hospital due to injuries from a hit and run, SVU investigates. Why? A hit and run is not an SVU case. Of course, had they not checked on the accident, they would never have exposed the identity of the real murderer.
Stay tuned for a possible sequel, Law & Order SVU "Woof" where the dead bully's dog, who inherited her estate, is dog-napped and held for ransom. Maybe they can get Ice-T's dog Spartacus for the role, that is, if they can afford him.
Here is the recap:
At an art gallery, Cindi (Luanne De Lesseps) and the artist Andreas Hemming (Brendan Donaldson) discover that what Cindi thinks is artwork is really blood from a dead body from the floor above. Detectives Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) are called to the scene, along with ME Warner (Tamara Tunie). The dead woman is Ellen Sazelin, CFO of Luscious Grape Distributors, a pricey wine company; she bled out from a severed carotid. There are signs of anal trauma but no DNA. A broken champagne bottle is on the floor. The art show was called “Dollars and Death, the Politics of Blood.”
The detectives check her computer and see a company promotional video of Annette Cole (Kate Burton), the president and CEO of Luscious Grape, and Ellen is also in the video. Bruce Clarkson (David Costabile), head of the advertising department, new staffer Corrine Stafford (Emily Meade), Justin Jennings (Shane McRae ) star salesman, and David Watson (Michael Siberry) , wine buyer, also appear in the video. Everything seems to by idyllic at the company. The detectives also speak to the three other tenants in the building, and one, Maureen, who tells them to talk to Andreas, the artist who owns the gallery, who once tried to rape her.
They speak with Andreas, and Cindi is also there, dressed only in a sheet. Stabler sees what looks like blood and it appears that Andreas was painting with it. They take him in to SVU for questioning, but he has an alibi for the time of Ellen's murder; he was being interviewed on line for a blog. Later, Benson and Fin (Ice-T) see the video interview which confirms Andreas’ story. Fin says Ellen is an only child and never married. She also appeared to have no social life, so they wonder if she knew the killer from work. They look at some of the testimonials for the company and think it sounds too nice. They decide to talk to CEO Annette Cole.
Benson and Fin speak with Annette, who seems to be upset over Ellen’s death and says the company is more like a family than a business. There aren't any disputes with customers. Ellen seemed friendly with Bruce, but the detectives are told Bruce is gay. Benson and Stabler speak with Bruce and he describes Ellen in glowing terms. He said Ellen socialized in his gay circle, and also said she had a drinking problem. He said he saw Ellen working late years ago and she was bombed, and they later went to AA together. He seems shocked she was drinking the night she was killed. He said last week he heard her on a call screaming at someone.
Back at SVU, Fin goes over Ellen’s call logs with Benson and Stabler, and one person called her 63 times at all hours of the day. They hear a voice mail to Ellen threatening to kill her unless she gives him what he wants, and the call came from a business called “My Leather Fantasy” which sells high end leather goods. It is owned by Edward Ross Stanton but the phones come from a “two-time hump” called Juan Alvarez.
Fin and Stabler go to the warehouse of My Leather Fantasy, and when Alvarez tries to run, Fin nabs him. Alvarez swears he threatened no one. But as they walk him out, a man comes up and shoots Alvarez point blank, and the man says Alvarez killed his wife.
Later, at SVU, the shooter, Mr. Gilchrest, is being questioned by Fin. He claims Alvarez murdered his wife Peggy but Fin tells him there are no records of this murder. Gilchrest said she had early Alzheimer’s and started shopping at lot at My Leather Fantasy. Stabler, meanwhile, speaks with Alvarez who is in the hospital, and he said Gilchrest was mad because Alvarez would not give him his money back. Gilchrest describes the repeated harassing calls and said this cause his wife to die from the stress. Alvarez says he told her if she was unhappy to post negative stuff about him on the internet as the more comments he gets on his web site, good or bad, the higher his Google ranking and this translates to more sales. Stabler talks to him about Ellen’s death and he denies having anything to do with it. He says he was busy scaring someone else. Later, Stabler returns to SVU and tells Benson and Fin that Alvarez’s alibi checks out. ME Warner enters and says Ellen’s death may not be murder, she is ruling the manner of death as undetermined. There was no DNA or fingerprints and she wonders if she was drunk and fell on the vase, which cut her. She may have been pleasuring herself with the bottle of champagne. She also had bald spots she was hiding with hair extensions, from trichotillomania, where people pull out their hair as a reaction to stress. She may have been under stress for months. Benson wonders about what is really going on at Luscious Grape.
Benson speaks with Bruce, then later David, Stabler speaks with Corrine, and Fin speaks with Justin, and they all seem to think that things at the company were fine. As Stabler speaks with Annette, Benson, and the other employees approach, and Bruce tells Annette it is time - they are going to the memorial service.
Back at SVU, they note the employee responses all seemed as if someone told the them what to say. Benson gets a phone call from Andreas saying he heard loud noises in Ellen’s loft. Later, at the loft, the crime scene seal had been broken and the loft is in complete disarray. When the patrol officer arrived she saw a figure exiting the loft using the fire escape. Stabler finds a flash drive on Ellen’s desk.
Back at SVU, Morales (Joel de la Fuente) opens the files and they are video files from a web cam, showing Annette going on an enraged rant, and Ellen appears terrified. Annette really rants on Ellen, saying she has been carrying her for years. Annette wants to take her into her office, but Ellen refuses to go until Annette lowers her voice. Annette slaps her. Stabler comments, “Luscious Grape on the outside, poison on the inside.” It seems the employees are terrified of Annette.
Later, with Annette in SVU interrogation, the detectives play the video back for her, and she says she and Ellen were friends and she was just having a little disagreement. She says someone is trying to make her look bad. She denies breaking into Ellen’s apartment for the video. They tell her there are 20 recordings, all starring her. She says she pushes everyone hard like she pushes herself, but Stabler says she is a bully. Annette places the blame on Ellen, who threatened to buy her out. The detectives tell her a waiter said Annette threw a coffee cup at Ellen, but Annette says he is lying. She said she went home after dinner that night and she denied hurting her. Annette called Ellen a recluse and a drunk, and Stabler says Annette is a pissy tyrant and Ellen was the perfect victim because she never fought back. When Stabler admits they are not charging her yet, she leaves.
After Annette leaves, Benson, Stabler and Fin discuss the next steps. Stabler will ask Hardwicke to get the company’s financials and get any of Ellen’s disability and medical claims. Fin wonders if they can get someone else to talk.
Later, Stabler speaks with Bruce about the truth of Annette’s behavior and Bruce’s expensive car, which he said was a bonus. Fin speaks with Corrine, but she said Annette is a great boss. Stabler speaks with Justin who also has nothing bad to say about the company, and his mother calls from upstairs for her juice. He says his mother is disabled and he takes care of her. He says Annette’s generosity is a godsend. David tells Fin working for Annette is a dream job. He says none of them will ever say a bad word about her. Fin asks, “What’s wrong with you people?”
Back at SVU, Dr. Huang (BD Wong) says this is a form of Stockholm syndrome, where they are bonded to her emotionally so they can survive. Benson wonders if it is good old fashioned greed. Stabler finds out a company is ready to buy Luscious Grape for $500 million. Next month the company is coming out with a premium vodka. Huang says Annette’s hold over the employees will only get stronger and subpoenaing them as hostile witnesses won’t get them anything. Fin tells them that the videos of Annette’s behavior just hit the news, and MSNBC reported that the information came in a package from Ellen herself. The story is also all over the internet.
Later, as Annette arrives at work, news crews are waiting, along with Benson and Stabler. Annette says she thinks they leaked the tape, there is no way Ellen sent that, and she is going to sue the NYPD for emotional distress. As the press hounds her, she asks SVU to protect her it is their job, but Stabler calls her a bully and says she should show them who’s boss. Annette screams at the press to get out of her way.
Back at SVU, the story is on the cover of the local papers, and also on television. The offer to buy the company has been withdrawn. Benson says Annette’s lawyer set up a press conference for the next day to explain her actions on that tape and she wants Benson and Stabler to be there.
At the press conference Annette says she never meant to harm anyone and is mortified at how she looked on the tape. She says to her business partners: screw them for abandoning her in her time of need. To her customer who cancelled their orders and left hateful messages: they can all go to hell too. Bruce is shocked and asks her to stop. She also says to the press and NYPD who hounded her: they are all scum. She calls her family at Luscious Grape – a lying, backstabbing and ungrateful family – that they are all fired. She says they are dragging her down. She wants them to remember one thing – they made her do this. She pulls out a gun, places it under her chin, and shoots, killing herself to the shock of all.
Back at SVU, Huang says it's Annette’s final act as a bully, feigning contrition to draw in her victims and then traumatizing them by saying they made her do this. Benson said it worked, and Huang says when you mix a sociopath and a narcissist you get a ticking time bomb. Stabler enters and says that Hardwicke will take Annette’s rant about Ellen as an admission of murder, and that Annette’s attorney has petitioned a judge on behalf of her estate to leave every penny of it to her dog. Fin tells them that Bruce is also having a bad day, he got nailed by a hit and run.
At Mercy General Hospital, Bruce explains how he was hit by a car, saying he did not look when he crossed the street. He says it was an accident. A witness said the car never stopped but Bruce said it was his fault. Stabler says they will find out who did it.
Back at SVU, they look at surveillance footage, but they see Bruce speaking with the driver of the hit and run car. The car backs up and hits him. They wonder why Bruce lied. They also have a clear picture of the license plate on the car.
Benson and Stabler speak with the owner of the car who tells them someone backed into his car. He says he doesn’t drive anymore and that his granddaughter borrowed the car and told her someone backed into it.
At SVU, his granddaughter – Corrine – is in interrogation with Stabler. She denies running over Bruce. Stabler shows her the photos from the surveillance camera. Benson brings Bruce in to watch the questioning and he tries to get Corrine to stop talking. She says Bruce killed Ellen. He storms in the room and says Ellen was dead when he got there and says Annette did it. The two of them argue and Corrine said Bruce killed Ellen and ruined their plan. Benson asks what plan, and Corrine says they had a plan to keep Ellen from revealing their secret at work. Bruce said the bullying and the bonuses and payouts were to keep them all quiet about Annette. They had a lot to lose if the buyout did not go through. Bruce said Ellen was always weaker than the rest of them but she was coming unglued. Corrine told the others – Bruce, Justin, David - that Ellen was losing it. Annette never knew about the tapes. Benson said they all killed Ellen with their greed. Bruce said she was already dead when he got there. Corrine admits David broke back in to find the flash drive, but Ellen had already sent it to the TV station. Corrine said they just wanted to be rich.
As Benson and Stabler leave the room, Warner tells them Ellen’s death was not an accident. Ellen was intoxicated but someone else got her drunk. She found no alcohol in her stomach. She found cells only found in the anus on the rim of the bottle. Taking the alcohol in that way gets it into the system faster.
At Justin’s, he admits bringing champagne to Ellen’s but Benson said it was not a Luscious Grape product, he got it from a liquor store down the street from Ellen’s apartment. Stabler tells him that Bruce and Corrine’s sworn statements put him on the hook for murder. Justin laughs it off as his mother calls for more juice. They tell Justin they think Justin was called in as the man for the job as he knows how to close a deal with a woman. Justin says when he got there that Ellen was crying over Annette and Justin told her to get over it, bitch, she’ll be worth a fortune. He tried to give her champagne but she said she was sober. He admits she rejected his attempt to kiss her and she slapped him. He pushed her, not hard, and she fell against the coffee table and a vase broke. He leaned down to help her up and saw the glass in her neck. He freaked out, and he thought he had to make it look like an accident, like she was drunk. Stabler cuffs him and arrests him. He asks how did they know it was him, and Stabler says Justin’s mother was an operas singer and he needed to save those vocal chords so she downed her booze through the back door. Justin says mother is very clever, she taught him a lot of things. As Justin’s mother calls out for him, they take him away and we fade to black.
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