Law & Order SVU “Vanity’s Bonfire” was what I call a “bait and switch” episode; it starts as one case and ends with another. I usually don’t like this type of episode as one half of the story always feels unfinished.
The case begins as a standard child abduction – the old “I looked away for a minute and my child was gone” scenario with the standard questioning by detectives. It seemed boilerplate and I lost interest quickly. As the child was finally located and questions were raised about the child’s paternity, I felt again that I was entering familiar territory and was getting ready for the usual “who’s the daddy” type episode. I did have high hopes when it appeared that a Dean at a law school - who also had a judge for a father - was the “baby daddy” and that legal documents for adoption were falsified to help cover up his indiscretion. But, I was quickly disappointed when the story took a turn to murder, and the detectives seemed to lose interest in the illegal adoption and focused on the murder. I was more interested in the detectives tracking down the fraudulent adoption, hoping there would be some other SVU-type scandal with the judge or the dean. Maybe they can bring Scott Bakula back to reprise his role as the sleazy dean and get him for something else so I can have some closure?
There were some scenes that dragged. This was most obvious near the end of the episode in the hospital room where Benson and Amaro paused for a very long time thinking about Gillian’s request to take the fall for her daughter for the murder. And while I am on that subject, it was disappointing that Benson and Amaro let the daughter slide for the murder. No matter how sorry they felt for the family’s situation, the detectives have no right to be judge and jury.
This episode plodded along, and everyone - except the guest cast - seemed to go through the motions. Like me. maybe this episode was too dull to keep their interest?
Here is the recap:
Mariska Hargitay – Detective Olivia Benson
Ice-T – Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola
Richard Belzer – Sergeant John Munch
Dann Florek – Captain Don Cragen
Kelli Giddish - Detective Amanda Rollins
Danny Pino - Detective Nick Amaro
Tamara Tunie – Dr. Melinda Warner
Scott Bakula – Kent Webster
Jessica Hecht – Gillian Webster
Abby Quinn Jackman – Hannah Webster
Bijou Phillips – Dia Nobile
Luke Kirby – Braydon Leddy
Liza J. Bennett – Josie Leddy
Priscilla Lopez - Judge Suarez
Ami Brabson – Judge Blake
David Pittu – Attorney Linus Tate
John Patrick Driscoll – Allen Clyde
Rosal Colon – Carmen Silva
Laurine Towler - Melissa Braxton
Kelly Kirklyn - Lawyer
Dina Drew Duva – Helicopter Mom
Mackenzie Shivers - Assistant
Josie and Braydon Leddy play with Tessa at the local playground. Braydon takes photos and then asks Tessa is she wants to play as Josie says she is behind on her emails. Braydon quickly becomes distracted, making a phone call, and Tessa walks off. When Braydon returns to Josie he does not have Tessa with him and they quickly realize she is gone.
Later, Benson and Amaro are on the scene along with many police. Benson and Amaro try to get details from Josie and Braydon, Braydon having photos from earlier in the morning. Amaro spots a man in one of the photos looking towards them. Fin and Rollins later show the photos to other parents in the park in an attempt to identify the man. One woman identifies the man as someone who is not a parent and is “on the list” - she takes a picture and calls the precinct when she sees him.
Afterwards, Fin and Benson arrive at the man’s house – Allen Clyde. They press him about the missing girl and he says he didn’t do anything. Rollins reminds him he is a sex offender and was at the playground. He says he works the night shift as a janitor and was cutting through the park. Fin shows him Tessa’s photo and he says he was just trying to help her down, she was scared. He says her mother took her. As Rollins cuffs him he insists Tessa left with her mom. He says her mother had straight blonde hair with a see through dress with a black pattern. As Rollins takes him out, she reminds him he was not supposed to be in that playground.
At SVU with Clyde sleeping at the table in interrogation, Cragen, Benson and Fin discuss him. Fin explains Tessa was not in Clyde’s apartment and they checked the surrounding area. Cragen tells them to wake Clyde up and make him go over his morning and to get every detail on the mother he saw that morning.
In the squad room, Rollins and Amaro watch the video Braydon took of Tessa while he put sunscreen on her. They see a blonde woman carrying the same diaper bag and baby carrier that Tessa’s parent’s had. Rollins leaves to tell Cragen and suggests they get the surveillance video from the area.
At Josie and Braydon’s home, Josie looks at the photos on Benson’s phone and comments that it is Tessa, and then asks who is that woman. Benson explains they are trying to figure that out, they got this from a security camera on Murray Street. Benson asks if she is sure she has never seen her before and Josie says no, she is not one of the moms and wonders why she would do this. Benson tells her that sometimes when a woman takes a baby it is because she has fantasized a relationship with the child, and oftentimes they have watched the family. Josie says she would have noticed her hanging around. Benson asks if her job ever takes her out of town and does she ever leave Tessa there with her husband?
Meanwhile, Amaro is with Braydon who says Josie travels for work, and then asks Amaro what he is saying. Amaro says they just want to find his daughter, Braydon replies he would never bring another woman home. Amaro asks if anyone else has access to his place. Braydon says Tessa’s nanny is with her on weekdays.
Josie says the nanny Carmen Silva, is Guatemalan, but she had been there for 10 years, and she has her address and phone number and copy of her passport.
Elsewhere, Fin and Rollins speak with Carmen. Rollins shows her a photo of the woman and Carmen says she is the one who takes pictures in the park of the babies. For mother’s day, the woman gave her a photo she took of her and Tessa. Rollins sees the web site name “lifemomentsbydia” on the back of the photograph.
At the loft of Dia Nobile, Benson and Amaro are there with police and when the door is not answered, Benson tells the super to open it.
They enter the apartment and find Dia in another room which is decorated for a baby, and she is sitting in a rocker holding Tessa and humming. She asks what they are doing there. When Benson tells her they need to get the baby back to her mom, Dia says it is OK, she is her mom. They see the name Tessa in big letters on the bedroom wall, just as in Tessa’s room at Josie and Braydon’s. Benson and Amaro tries to coax her into giving her Tessa, and imply they will help her. Dia lets Benson hold Tessa, and Amaro quickly arrests Dia despite her protests that this is her baby and she is her mother. She says he has everything in a folder on the dresser proving it. Tessa cries for her mommy as Amaro looks at the file.
Later, at the hospital, Benson tells Josie and Braydon that the doctor says Tessa is fine. When Braydon says they will be taking her home, Amaro tells him they have to clear up a few things. Benson explains that Dia has a bedroom in her loft that is similar to Tessa’s and that the nanny did not let her in. Josie said neither did they. Braydon says the apartment was up for sale last spring. Benson informs them that Dia said she gave birth to Tessa and gave her up for adoption and Amaro says she does have a birth certificate for a baby girl. Benson asks them for a copy of Tessa’s birth certificate, and when the parents hesitate, Amaro asks them if Josie is Tessa’s biological mother. Braydon explains that Tessa was born through a surrogate, and Josie adds it was with Braydon’s sperm. It was a private surrogacy and their lawyer found the birth mother whose name was Erin and she was studying to be a vet. They agreed to pay her college bills and she helped them. Braydon insists they have all the paperwork and all is in order and they can scan the papers.
Back at SVU, the detectives brief Cragen, Benson saying that Dia claims she was tricked into the adoption and that Dia did have a file waiting for them with the birth certificate and termination of her parental rights. Rollins says the hospital confirms that Dia gave birth and no father was listed. It was the same week Tessa was born. Benson reminds them that the Leddys held out on them about the surrogacy. When Cragen asks about the Leddy’s paperwork, Amaro informs them there is a New York City birth certificate for a home birth, the mother listed is Erin Murphy and the father Braydon Leddy. There is a second birth certificate listing Josie as the adoptive mother. They also had the termination paperwork of Erin Murphy’s parental rights. Rollins alerts them to a big red flag: Dia’s adoption papers and the Leddy’s surrogacy agreement were drafted by the same lawyer – Wendell Feeney. Amaro finds one with that name out of Patchogue personal injury lawyer. Benson says with what she saw in Dia’s eyes she feels Dia has a connection with this baby, but Amaro says he saw a whole lot of crazy. Cragen says they found the baby and the kidnappers are in custody and adds they are done. Rollins says it is worth tracking the guy down just to see if he is on the up and up. Cragen agrees for them to have one conversation with the lawyer and then this moves off their plate.
At the law offices of Feeney, Braxton and Goldstein, Benson and Amaro are told by one of the partners that Wendell died a month ago. They ask about the adoption and are told they don’t do family issues but sees Wendell’s signature on the document. She wonders if someone pasted his signature on it. Nobile is also not showing as a client. Benson asks her to check for Josie and Braydon Leddy and they are not listed there either. Amaro asks her to check for Erin Murphy, and says she does have her, but for a slip and fall in supermarket.
Back at the Leddy’s, they tell Benson and Amaro that they’ve left messages for Erin but she has not called them back. They admit they never met her but they skyped. Benson says Erin is no longer registered at the college and she left no forwarding address. Braydon says when Feeney calls them back they can find out where she is. Amaro tells them he died a month ago. Josie says he is a cousin by marriage and he heard them talking at a family reunion about her fertility issues and offered to help. When Braydon asks if Feeney screwed up the papers, Benson says it could be more than just papers, and they may need DNA from Braydon. Josie tells him to just do it and make this go away. Amaro gets ready to swab Braydon.
Meanwhile, with Fin and Rollins at the jail, Dia is also being swabbed for DNA. Fin asks why she gave her up, and she explains her lover, Tessa’s father said it would only be temporary, for a few months. He wife is dying and she has a brain tumor but a few months turned into a year. Fin says they will need to talk to the father, and Dia does not answer. Rollins reminds Dia she has a bail hearing tomorrow and she will need someone to confirm her story. Dia tells them she can’t, he’d be furious. But Rollins continues to press and Dia says it is Kent Webster, the Dean at John Adams Law School. Fin asks if he is related to the old judge, and Dia says yes, Clark is his dad. She says Clark is distinguished but Kent is gorgeous. They met when she shot the cover photo for his alum magazine and it was lust at first sight.
Back at SVU, Cragen gets off the phone and tells Benson, Fin, and Rollins that Dia made bail. Benson thinks she has a silent partner – Tessa’s father is Kent Webster. Cragen comments he is on the short list for the supreme court and she is a former yoga instructor, wondering on what planet did these two paths cross. Fin explains the photo shoot and the editor who fired her still has a protection order out against her. Rollins admits Dia is unstable but thinks a lot of guys like drama. Amaro walks in and says that the Leddy’s documents and the adoption papers are all fakes and were never filed with the court. Cragen asks if baby Nobile’s birth certificate is the only legitimate document, and the rest is a scam? Cragen adds that Feeney is the Leddy’s cousin, wondering if they are in on this. Amaro says Braydon believes this is his daughter, but Benson says until the DNA comes back they can’t point fingers. Rollins reminds them t hat Dia has – at Kent Webster. Cragen tells Rollins to tread carefully and tells Benson to go with her, to the school, not his home.
At John Adams Law School, Kent Webster says the name “Dia Nobile” and then adds he meets a lot of people. Benson tells him she photographed him for Alumni Magazine. He recalls that and then asks Benson why she is asking him. Rollins says she said he is the father of her one year old daughter and that he forced her to give the baby up to another family. Kent insists he hardly knows her. When Rollins asks if he is not her baby daddy, he says absolutely not. Benson says she knows him, personal details about his career and his wife’s illness. Kent explains his father is a judge and his autobiography came out this year and their lives are literally an open book. A woman approaches and interrupts him and he asks the detectives to give him a second. He walks over to the woman and she whispers that Dia Nobile called and she will meet him at home. Benson and Rollins hear this.
Benson and Rollins accompany Kent Webster to his home, and Dia is already there talking to his wife on the doorstep. Dia runs to Kent and hugs him but he asks if she is out of her mind and asks her to get away, Benson and Rollins pull Dia away, and she scratches his arm. Kent tells his wife and daughter to get in the house.
Later, with police on the scene, Dia tells Rollins she is not a stalker and Kent had to act that way as his wife was there. Dia tells her to look at his texts, her phone is in her bag. She says they have a private phone and that he sent her pictures of “King Sebastian” adding that is what they call “it.” Dia tells Rollins she scratched him and asks if she can get DNA from that. Rollins asks the officers to get CSU.
Outside, Fin speaks with Kent. Kent denies having contact with her, adding he called her a year ago about the photos and she called back on his home phone too many times. His radar was up so he changed their number. Fin asks if he sent her any texts or pictures – and not of his face – and Kent says she is nuts, giving Fin his phone so he can check for himself.
In Kent’s home. Benson and Amaro speak with Kent’s wife Gillian, their daughter Hannah is also there. Gillian seems weak. Hannah says Dia is in her Zumba class and she went out with her a few times. She did not know. Gillian says the woman is crazy. Benson takes Hannah aside and Hannah explains they had coffee a few times and Dia said she knew her dad and he was charming. Dia talked about her mother, asking about her treatments and how she is holding up. Hannah says it has been hard with her mother sick and she felt Dia wanted to be a big sister.
Meanwhile, Amaro speaks with Gillian who says their marriage hasn’t always been prefect but since her diagnoses, Kent has been a rock. She asks if they can get an order of selection to keep her away, and Kent walks in and says she means protection. She tells Amaro it is her condition, the words get scrambled. Kent says if they get a OOP which is public, reporters will be outside the house and she does not need that. Kent says Dia is a nutcase and if she comes anywhere near his family they will press charges.
At the ME’s office, ME Warner apologizes for the delay, but custody disputes are not a priority. She explains that Dia is the biological mother. They can rule out Braydon Leddy as the father. They have enough DNA on Kent but reminds them it is not on top of their work list. Rollins asks if there is a way to hurry it up, as Dia is claiming Kent tricked her into giving up their love child. Benson says the Leddy’s believe the baby Tessa came to them through a surrogate. Warner reminds them even if it turns out that Kent is the biological father there is no way she can prove he knew about the baby. Rollins thinks he knew, mentioning the sexting and the burner cell, adding that he knocked up his mistress and dummied up a bunch of legal papers to keep her quiet. She thinks he is a sociopath. Benson explains Kent told her this would be resolved within a year, and she is trying to remind him. Rollins adds Kent did send her photos of his “king” and asks if there is any way to verify. Warner replies not without seeing the original in a similar state, asking if Rollins wants to ask for that subpoena? Benson asks how long for the DNA, and Warner asks if they are sure it’s his to bluff him.
Later, Benson and Fin are with Kent who says it is not possible he is the father. Fin tells him DNA does not lie, Benson says he might want to reconsider his answer. Kent admits that there is one possibility. After the photo shoot, he was tense and Dia massaged his shoulders. They were alone in the room and he got aroused. His wife has been ill and in a moment of weakness he let her give him a manual release, and they could see how he would think that would not father a child. Benson asks if he is saying Dia retrieved his semen and used it to impregnate herself. Fin asks if he saw her do that. He says no, when it was over he left the room immediately. He does not want this to be made public, and Benson adds or his wife to find out. She asks him how well he knows Wendell Feeney. He says he does not think he knows who that is. Benson says he faked the adoption papers for Dia’s baby and faked a surrogacy agreement to place the baby with the Leddys. Kent denies having anything to do with this and Dia didn’t even tell him she was pregnant.
At the Leddy’s home, Josie tells Amaro that Braydon gave a sample at the clinic and they can check the shipping. She insists this is a mistake, but Amaro says the surrogate did not give birth to Tessa, Dia Nobile did. Josie is shocked and Braydon says Feeney told him he handled everything and that Tessa is his child. Josie asks if they will give Tessa to the woman who kidnapped her, and Amaro says this is up to the court. He advises them on getting the best lawyer they can afford.
In court, the judge asks if Feeney is deceased, and Benson says yes. She asks if anyone from his firm can help, and Amaro says the jobs were off the books and there is no paper trail. The judge says they have a woman who gave up then kidnapped her biological daughter, and custodial parents with fraudulent papers. The Leddys attorney Linus Tate says there is no evidence his clients were aware of the fraud. Dia objects, saying that Feeney is their cousin. The judge tells her to sit down. Her attorney explains Feeney was related to the Leddys and he deceived Dia. Dia and Braydon begin to argue openly and the judge stops it. The judge reminds Dia she also used Feeney as her lawyer and she signed away her parental rights. When the judge asks how she came to know Feeney, Dia does not want to answer to protect the privacy of the father. Braydon is upset and the judge tells him this is a difficult decision. Dia continues to argue and the judge tersely says she will not warn her again. The judge tells the Leddys that since Feeney was a relative of theirs, she needs reassurance they have no culpability. She is signing a temporary order that Tessa be remanded to the ACS pending a final custody hearing. The Leddys and Dia begin to shout at each other and the judge asks the ACS officer to take custody. As Josie gets upset ACS takes a crying Tessa away.
Outside the courthouse, Braydon asks Benson and Amaro now what should they do. Benson says they have to prove they were not complicit in the fraud. Amaro asks if Feeney ever mentioned Kent Webster and Josie says no. Benson asks if they say his name on paperwork or saw a notation in a file or overheard a phone call. Braydon says the Sunday they picked up Tessa from Feeney’s office there was a quick phone call, Josie says Feeney said “It’s done, your honor.”
At Chez Dumal, Benson and Amaro have pulled Kent aside from dinner with his wife and daughter to ask him about Feeney. Amaro asks if his father Clark Webster knew Feeney. Benson explains about the phone call made to the judge, and Amaro adds that Feeney’s first year out of law school, he was up on a felony charge and facing disbarment. Clark vacated the judgment and cleaned up Feeney’s mess. Benson says 30 years later, he is cleaning up his. Kent says to feel free to ask his father and Benson says they intend to, under oath. Hannah walks up to him with her tablet computer and asks Kent to tell her this is not true. She has a video of Kent and Dia kissing at an elevator. He tries to take the tablet and they struggle for it. Gillian walks up and takes the tablet and sees the image and says this is from today. He tries to talk out of it but Gillian sees through it. Gillian gets highly agitated and accuses Kent of screwing Dia while she was in the hospital. She yells that he had a baby with her as people in the restaurant stare.
Back at SVU, Rollins says they know how the web site got the pictures; Dia called the paparazzi on her cell. LMZ got an anonymous tip that Kent was meeting his mistress at a hotel. Cragen says none of this proves that Kent set up the fraudulent placement of Tessa. Amaro thinks if he did not do it his father did, asking when do they get to talk to the judge. Cragen said it is too late; an hour ago Judge Clark Webster went into the DA’s office and he lied under oath. He swore he had not spoken to Feeney in a year – and Benson comments they believed him. Fin gets a message that a local precinct just got a call about a domestic disturbance in Dia’s loft. Cragen tells Fin to tell them they will handle it.
Fin and Rollins get to Dia’s loft and the door is ajar. They hear a noise inside and find Kent there rifling through Dia’s things. Dia is laying on the floor nearby with a healing crystal on the floor. Rollins orders Kent to put up his hands. He is breathing heavily and says Dia has been murdered. He says they can’t think he did it, but Fin says they can and orders him again to get his hands up.
At SVU in interrogation, Kent tells Fin and Rollins that Dia was dead when he got there. He got there 5 minutes before they arrived. He says he was upset about her harassment and he went to talk to her. He says he was about to call the police and Rollins sarcastically says it must have been her phone he was looking for in her desk drawer. Kent says he was looking for personal items he wanted to retrieve, and Fin asks while she was bleeding out, what could be so important?
At the Webster household, Gillian says there were sex tapes, Dia called and said she would leak them. Gillian says Kent can’t hurt her anymore but for Hannah, he begged Kent to call her and change her mine. Dia called at three; Gillian says she checked the block and then corrects the word to clock. She has never heard Kent so angry.
Back at SVU, Kent is surprised that Gillian said Dia called the house at 3, says she is confused by her tumor. He says it was 6, he was in his club locker room with the news on. Rollins says they have a 5 minute call from Dia at 3PM. Kent says he was still in his office. Kent says his wife called him at 6 and told him that Dia was threatening to release a sex tape. Fin asks to see his cell phone. Kent says Dia was dead when he got there and someone set him up. He does not know who. He asks to talk to his wife.
Benson, Amaro, and Cragen are observing and Benson wonders if he called his own cell but Amaro says his wife could have waited three hour to call, it gives her enough time. Benson says the woman is gravely ill and asks what Amaro is saying. He tells her they should go back to her. Cragen suggests that before they do, to check Kent’s alibi and see where Warner is on the timeline.
At the morgue, Warner says she could not lift prints off the healing crystal but it was the murder weapon. She estimates Dia was killed between 3 and 5. When Amaro questions it wasn’t 6, Warner says it was a warm day and the body would not have cooled that fast.
At SVU, Fin tells the others that Kent’s alibi checked out, campus security puts him in his office until 4 and the club confirms he was there from 5 to 6. Amaro has an audio file of the 911 call which was anonymous, from a pay phone, at 6:10. He plays back the call and Benson recognizes the voice, saying it is not so anonymous.
Later, with Gillian in the interview room, Amaro plays back the 911 call and it is clearly Gillian. She gets up from the table and then collapses onto Benson, and Amaro calls for an ambulance.
At the hospital, Benson tells Amaro that the doctor explained that Gillian had a focal seizure which is common for her kind of brain tumor. They can talk to her but not for long. They enter her room and when Benson addresses her as Mrs. Webster, Gillian asks not to be called that. Gillian sends Hannah for juice but Benson asks her to hold up. Benson asks Hannah if she can tell her where she went yesterday after school. Hannah said she came home, and Gillian said to take care of her. Benson asks all afternoon – and Hannah says yes. Amaro asks if her mom was home all afternoon and when Hannah begins to get upset, Gillian tells her she does not have to answer and sends her to the waiting room. Gillian says Hannah is trying to protect her. She said Dia called yesterday afternoon to gloat and she wanted to talk to Dia. Dia asked her come to her place. Dia has driven her crazy. When she got there she begged her to leave her family alone but when she got there, she laughed at her and said she would soon be Kent’s wife and Hannah’s new mom. She lost it and she picked up the crystal and she is not sorry. She went home and took a nap and Hannah woke her for dinner. She called Kent and told him to go to the loft and then called 911. She was so angry with him. Benson says she has every right to be angry, but she noticed the other day that Gillian could not pick up the water pitcher and that Amaro had to do it for her. She says she has good days and bad. Amaro asks how big was the murder weapon, saying it was twice as heavy as the pitcher. Gillian says the anger gave her strength. Benson explains they saw Hannah’s hurt and she has been by her side through this whole thing. Amaro asks if Hannah called her from Dia’s and Gillian said Dia did. Amaro said Dia did not have her home number, Kent changed it for his own sake. Benson says if Hannah confronted Dia, the jury will understand her emotional state. Gillian asks if a jury would understand a 15 year old being invited over there for an apology and instead being shown a homemade sex video so she could understand how truly beautiful their lovemaking was. Benson advises if that is how this went down… and Gillian says no it didn’t. She adds that people always talk about the joys they had and how sad it will be that you’ll miss her first kiss and her wedding, and what parents really want is to protect their child. She begs them to let them protect her child, it is the last thing she will be able to do for her. Benson and Amaro pause and say nothing and then leave the room..
Outside the room, they run in to Hannah and Benson tries to ask her questions. Hannah says her mom needs her and she is sorry. She goes into the room and her mother consoles her as Benson and Amaro watch.
Back at SVU, Benson tells Amaro that Gillian made sure that Hannah gets counseling – for everything. The counselor will report directly to her. She tells Amaro she can do this on her own and if he has any doubts…but Cragen opens the door to the room and she stops talking. Cragen asks about Gillian’s confession, questioning that she raised that heavy crystal and repeatedly struck Dia’s head. Benson replies that mothers have been known to lift a car when their adrenaline is pumping. Cragen asks if they have ruled out other suspects, asking where was her daughter, Benson says home, all afternoon, locked in. Cragen leaves the room and Benson looks to Amaro.
In superior court, Gillian pleads guilty to manslaughter, The judge asks the bailiff to take Gillian into custody and Hannah cries out “mommy no!” They embrace and Kent approaches. Gillian glares at him and he walks off. As the detectives look on, we fade to black.
All Content (Recaps, Review, Commentary) Copyright © allthingslawandorder.blogspot.com unless otherwise noted
Check out my blog home page for the latest Law & Order information, on All Things Law And Order.
Also, see my companion Law & Order site,These Are Their Stories.