Thursday, March 20, 2008

Law & Order “Angelgrove” Guilty of Preachy Predictability

With all the talk about redemption in this episode, I don’t think it had one redeeming quality of its own. This was probably the dullest, preachiest, and most predictable episode of this current season.

The episode opens – again – with a very Criminal Intent feel, where we get a glimpse of the victim and, in this case, see part of the crime taking place. I wish they would go back to the old “some stranger just stumbles onto the victim” theme because it just seemed to add more interest to the discovery of the evidence or how the crime was committed. And part of what we did see was never even used in the case. Even though a woman was murdered by stoning, the fact that some stones were thrown off the building and onto passers-by below, this fact seemingly was forgotten as part of the crime.

It’s mistakenly thought the woman was killed for the art she wanted to display (which had preachy overtones all its own). It turns out that (not a surprise) that the son of the victim, Jason Lortell (Will Denton) was the guilty party, and he did it because his mother was an adulterer. Once it became obvious that it had religious overtones as well, the show went rapidly downhill. The only interesting character was the pastor at the Angelgrove camp, Samwise Gamgee – oops, I mean Mr. Hensley (Sean Astin). I was obvious once he appeared that the trial would take a turn and he would be prosecuted.

The entire episode is filled with commentary about the behavior of religious fanatics, this time from the Christian side. Even so, the theme seems tired, overdone, and frankly, boring.

Luckily, when Detectives Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Green (Jesse L. Martin) bring in a girl from the camp fro questioning, she comes with a video camera, which Hensley tries unsuccessfully to confiscate before she leaves. But, while this videotape seems to have a lot of inflammatory dialog on it, probably plenty to be used against Hensley, it seems that we only see it being used during closing arguments. Cutter (Linus Roache) and Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) seemed to be fighting an uninspiring battle.

The judges also seemed to have been struck dumb, one making a ruling that set new legal status for religious mystics, and another not calling a mistrial when a Bible was found on a juror during deliberations. Maybe it’s just me, but my understanding as that you are not allowed to use ANY outside reference when deliberating. I sat on a jury in a local trial a few years ago, and that point was made very, very clear. Since I’m not a judge, I don’t know how much wiggle room they are allowed on this issue, but I would think in a case with stakes such as these, there should be NO wiggle room.

Even Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) seemed to be bored with the case. He did, however, give a grudging yet sheepish “thank you” to Olivet (Carolyn McCormick) for her help ion the case, to which she gave no verbal response, just “a look.” I’m surprised after what happened in the episode before that she’s even working with them, or that they would even want to use her. Personally, I think it’s time to get a new shrink for the show. There hasn’t been anyone who can match Dr. Skoda (J.K. Simmons) and maybe a new shrink would be an added spark for the show.

Eventually they cut a deal with Lortell, in order to after the pastor. Strange, but the whole incident with the kids throwing the stones off the roof was never used in any case to speak to intent. After all, they may have been there to kill his mother, but the people on the street who were struck or could have been struck were innocent victims.

While working on the trial of the pastor, Jack, after chiding Cutter and Rubirosa for possibly counting chickens before they hatch, gets in a little dig when a problem with the case come up, saying “Looks like one of your chickens just got run over.” It was the only interesting line in the show, I think.

But the theme of the story just didn’t cut it. The Law & Order franchise has given treatment to the religious fanatic issue so many times that it has become trite. And with the exception of Sean Astin, who seemed to portray the perfect extremist, the rest of the cast seemed to be going through the motions. I was unimpressed with Will Denton, who seems to only have one boyish look on his face no matter what show he’s on.

On a side note, I was surprised to see the scene with Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) in the morgue with the detectives. I can’t recall ever seeing her in a scene in the morgue before. Was that a first for her? It’s possible she may have been in one before; if anything it’s not something she’s done often. I’m not sure, though, why they felt it necessary to bring her in there for this case.

My verdict on this episode: Guilty of putting me to sleep.

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samfan said...

It seemed as though Jack got some more face time, & I agree with you that I liked seeing Anita in a different setting. Do you no if this is the last episode of the season or how long it will be until another one?

Anonymous said...

I kind of appreciated what they were trying to do here. I didn't find the episode to be preachy or even condenming of Christianity. What I think they were trying to get at was that extremism comes in every flavor, even in Christian form. I thought that Mike should have offered the lesser charge like Connie suggested. Jack was crazy funny with the chicken line. I loved the interaction with Ed and Lupo. Boy am I going to miss Jesse L. They were on to something great with these two characters. I'm going to come down on the very good side here for this ep.

samfan said...

I wanted to tell you that I too, am sick of the CI feeling of the opening. Why do we need to see the character alive why not just have somebody find them like old times. Oh and Sean Astin was a great guest star, I thought. Great post as always.

All Things Law & Order said...

Samfan - TV Guide last reported that L&O will have 5 new episodes, to begin airing on April 23. I haven't found any details for these eps but I'm still digging!

Anonymous said...

I think you are overly critical of this episode. It wasn't overly preachy and just seemed to show extremism comes in many forms. This probably would have been a better episode back when the movie/documentary "Jesus Camp" came out. That is one disturbing film and is likely what this episode was based off of.

You keep making a big deal about stones being thrown off the building. They hit 1 person and maybe caused some property damage. That's an assault and battery and a vandalism. Fairly minor crimes, compared to a murder. Most likely in the real world they might charge someone with the murder and assault, and then in exchange for a plea they'll drop the assault charge. That may have been what happened here.

Finally, I was disappointed with the verdict. I knew it was coming simply because of the way our society is but honestly I think a hung jury would have been a better verdict. There will most likely always been that extreme Christian who won't let you convict the guy, and hopefully they would be someone with reason as well on the jury that would say it's just wrong to brainwash like that and believe in a conviction. To get 12 people on a jury to say not guilty is ridiculous when anyone I have showed part of "Jesus Camp" to found it repulsive. So in reality I'd imagine it would be a split jury, meaning it's a hung jury and there would be a need for a mistrial. Ending the episode in a mistrial I think would have had a more of a social statement than not guilty.

samfan said...

I think the reason this episode ended with a not guilty verdict was to give Cutter, if I remember correctly his first loss. I think that is why the jury was not hung. I think the writers were trying to give Cutter more depth as a character, and not let him win every case. I think that they should have at least mentioned the stones being thrown maybe not charge him with the crime, or not go indepth about it but at least in Cutter's closing to show that there were innocent bystanders that maybe didn't get killed but did get harmed. All Things Law & Order I think you did an excelent job with your review, as you always do. Thanks for keeping us posted.