Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Law & Order SVU “Authority” Forces You To Suffer

Well, despite the decent performance by Robin Williams in this 200th SVU episode, even he couldn’t save an awful story, bad detective work, and bad prosecuting.

This episode begins with an almost hard to believe scenario. An employee at “Happy Burger” was forced to strip down to only an apron, and was gagged, by Dwight Lomax (Scott Adsit), the manager of the establishment. The manager claimed that he was told to do it by a Detective Milgrim because apparently the worker stole from a customer. (In reality, there have been real life cases like this, one in Kentucky (story here) where an 18 year old employee at a McDonald’s was forced to strip and perform a sexual act in the McDonald’s back office. She – and the assistant manager who took the call – were duped into believing the person ordering her to do these things – via telephone no less – was a police officer. Hard to believe, but there it is.)

The manager is brought to SVU for questioning, and when the man explains why he did it, Stabler (Chris Meloni) says “You’re an idiot.” (No kidding.) And the detectives are told this has happened before, and Stabler wonders why they hadn’t heard about it. Good question!

Munch (Richard Belzer) later comes to the man’s defense in a sideways manner, saying that Lomax was a victim of corporate America, that the franchise mentality mandates conformity, and employees are lemmings. It was classic Munch, and it was good to see his cynicism back in full force.

Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Stabler dig into the case, and discover “Detective Milgram” is really Merritt Rook (Robin Williams). (Stanley Milgrim is the name of a man who was testing people’s tolerance levels for pain on others by faking electric shocks – you can read about him here.) Rook claims to have an alibi for the time the phone hoax occurred, and conveniently has a hotel receipt, fishing license, and business card from a diner with a phone number of a waitress. While Munch checks out the alibis via the phone, we hear him calling the waitress, who sounded strangely like a young Mrs. Doubtfire. OK, clearly we are supposed to know immediately this is really Rook faking it, but it doesn’t occur to the detectives, even after the third alibi call. It isn’t until Cragen (Dann Florek) also conveniently happens by, hears them talking about fishing in the area, and just so happens to know that fishing was banned in the area due to chemical runoff in the area. When the “hotel clerk” is asked about the fishing up there, he answers that they’re “biting up a storm”, so now the detectives know that even the alibis are a hoax. The get to Rook’s apartment and catch him in the act with his multiple alibi phones in place.

Keep in mind that they already knew Rook was an engineer, and if they would have bothered to check out his background they would have found out he had an audio background AND that his wife and daughter died due to a medical mistake. In my opinion, this is another example of the lazy, halfhearted work done by the SVU detectives. It seems that lately they react too quickly before they really have enough facts.

This comes back to haunt them when Rook goes to trial, and decides to represent himself. He dances circles around Casey, and also punches holes in the testimony of Lt. Morales (Joel de la Fuentes), by showing the original picture they used to show Rook going into the library to make the original hoax phone call. I would think in this day and age, anyone could take a photo like the original shown and enhance it enough for it to look like anyone. Casey again provides a weak prosecution, not really presenting any solid witnesses, and she seems startled at how well Rook has done. She even opens a door wide for him when, bringing out a childhood arrest, Rook says “I can explain” and she answers, “I’m sure you can.” He goes ahead and comes up with a convincing rationalization for his teenage criminal record. Later, when Casey wonders how good Rook would be if he had a law education, I thought out loud, “I wonder how well YOU would be if you actually USED your law degree!”

Rook is found not guilty, and uses his newfound fame to draw attention to fighting authority. He turns up on Joe Scarborough’s “Morning Joe” show (in an act of shameless, blatant self promotion by NBC) with a sheep named Elliot, telling people not to act like sheep when it comes to authority. He holds a public protest of sorts, which turns into a large pillow fight. (Was that Mo Rocca helping to lead the charge? He wasn’t in the credits but it looked like him.) I laughed when Munch joined in and got a laugh from his fellow detectives. It was also funny when he returned to the squad in a light cloud of feathers. He seems to understand Rook, and also adds that Rook lost his wife and child in childbirth. Now, where was this information earlier?

Stabler and Benson check this out, and in talking to a nurse (played by Didi Conn), they find that the doctor involved with Rook’s wife’s childbirth was killed in an auto accident by ramming into a truck, and it was believed it was from brake failure. This immediately raises the suspicion of Stabler and Benson, who manage to get the accident re-investigated. Apparently it was later ruled as a suicide, when a suicide note was revealed that referenced repeated calls from a detective Milgrim regarding the death of Rook’s wife. The detectives figure this is enough to go back and get Milgrim for the death of the doctor. Conveniently it’s found that Milgrim’s website shows a gathering at Grand Central Station in a short while, just enough time for Benson and Stabler to get there.

Shortly after they arrive, they find themselves in the midst of a “freeze” event, where people just stop and freeze for a few minutes while the rest of the world goes by. Benson sees Rook standing still, radios Elliot, and approaches Milgrim. Rather than cuff him, though, she takes his arm. At that point, everyone un-freezes and Elliot loses Rook…and Olivia now seems to be gone. They find on surveillance that Olivia ditched her gun and cell phone and seems to be Rook's hostage. Now if she had cuffed Rook to begin with, this would have never happened.

Stabler discovers that Rook’s wife was a singer, and he had produced one of his wife’s recordings. If they would have done a simple background check on Rook right from the start or even before the trial, they may have already known this. Again, incompetence, I say. But, it leads Elliot to a recording studio. Elliot goes in alone (there’s a cop being held hostage and Stabler goes with no backup?), where he finds Rook holding Olivia in a soundproof room, wired with explosives, and Olivia is tied to a form of electric chair. Rook taunts and screams at Stabler to shock Olivia to save her, but Stabler refuses. Rook then gives up, pronouncing to Elliot, “You’re a man. Thank you.” We then see that he wasn’t shocking Olivia at all, it was just a recording. I would think that since Rook was supposed to know how to work audio hoaxes, that Olivia was never really in peril. Now, if they had studied their lesson on the real Stanley Milgrim, Stabler would have known right off the bat that the whole scenario with Olivia wired to an electric chair was a hoax. Detectives – DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

As they walk out with Rook, he asks to tie his shoe. They allow him, and he bends down and triggers a bomb in the building, which provides a diversion for him to escape. They assume that he jumped into the river and he’s dead. Well, you know detectives, Rook IS A HOAXSTER. I wouldn’t believe he was dead until I saw the body. Are they setting us up for Rook to return? I hope not.

I have no problem with Robin Williams and I understand that with this being their 200th episode that they wanted a big star. I get it. While I think Robin did a great job at the end of the show, I found his presence somewhat distracting and thought maybe a lesser name could have pulled off the role better.

I also think that with each week, the detectives become less thorough in their work and too quick to act. After all, in the initial situation, no lives were in immediate danger, they could have taken a little time to do a complete check on Rook and his past and his connections, and by doing so they may have been able to convict him. I think the DA’s office should also hold some of the blame for presenting a weak case, and presenting it sloppily. It’s clear that Casey needs to have someone riding her to make sure she has all her ducks in a row before she proceeds. She needs the scrutiny of someone like Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) or Bureau Chief Donnelly (Judith Light), the latter who was always a great balance for Casey’s predecessor, Alex Cabot (Stephanie March). SVU is just missing something when it comes to the prosecution of cases, and I hope with Diane Neal leaving the show the producers will use this as a chance to bring some life back to this segment of the show.

It was great to see Munch back in full form, and also great that we only got one tiny scene with Chester Lake (Adam Beach). I hope when Beach leaves that we can get back the Munch and Fin (Ice-T) dynamic.

As far as this episode, they threw way too much into it. They seemed to be trying too hard to make this episode exciting, and instead, it seemed long and overly complicated. There was no drama, no thrill. Putting Olivia in peril again for the second week in a row detracted from the suspense. It only made me more annoyed that she seemed to err in her judgment, which eventually got her into trouble. When they assumed Rook was dead and then seemed to give up, I wanted to do the same thing.

So, if you want to have your own protest of authority, maybe you should just not watch this episode. It's not worth the suffering.

Robin Williams & SVU cast talk about their work on ‘Authority”

"Authority" Two Minute Recap

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Anonymous said...

What has happened to this show? It used to be so good, now it's a joke.

Anonymous said...

And the freeze thing at Grand Central is based off of Improv Everywhere that did the exact same thing:

Anonymous said...

Uh, dude, good review- just remember... IT'S A TV SHOW. THEY ARE ACTORS. Which is why the actress playing Casey doesn't "use her law degree"- BECAUSE SHE DOESN'T HAVE ONE.

Though I agree, show used to be awesome... the earlier eps you were guessing at every moment.

All Things Law & Order said...

I think you mistunderstoon something. I said "Later, when Casey wonders how good Rook would be if he had a law education, I thought out loud, “I wonder how well YOU would be if you actually USED your law degree!” I was talking of Casey - not Diane. What the comment mean is that Casey - who should have a law degree, after all she is an ADA - doesn't seem to use her knowledge of the law when trying cases. She could have been a much better ADA had she actually used the law to her advantage.

Oh and PS - I'm not a dude! Just in case you were wondering.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure the point in a lot of your crticisms, mostly in the characters lapses in judgements, is that, that's what Rook was all about. When faced with Authority, we lapse in judgement, we don't think for ourselves. The restaurant owner, Casey, Olivia, Elliot, everyone, were faced with "Authority" and as such, stopped thinking for themselves. Rook had a complete understanding of how we as humans react to Authority, and what people regard as an Authority figure. He pre-meditated every single move of the detectives... think about it, he knew that they'd pull out his past; a chance to tell his sob story; he even knew that Elliot wouldn't press the button, he knew EVERYTHING. His bomb at the end wasn't a back-up... it was his plan all along. It was a good episode, even though I love closure way too much to adore that ending.

Anonymous said...

While I thought the exact same thing about Elliot going in without backup, recall that he has anger issues and that there's a decent chance he was planning on doing something drastic. He might've been planning to beat Olivia's location out of Rook, and Rook is not a dangerous seeming person. As for the weak prosecution, it's TV! Plus, a real DA would have severely underestimated the abilities of somebody who was representing themselves. And as for allowing Rook to tell his story, when most criminals are confronted with an accusation they are unprepared for, the make up a story so transparent the only look guiltier. This was what she was counting on. There's a good chance the judge would have allowed him to explain even if she'd tried to prevent him.

And the Milgram experiment? Staebler was well aware that it wasn't real, because Rook tells him that this time it's "for real".

The Rook character was an incredibly interesting one, Robin Williams did an excellent job, and I thought the end they gave him was fitting. It wouldn't have been right to have him arrested, or escape. His maybe-death-maybe-escape fit very well with the persona carved out for him.

nygma619 said...

You said Elliot was held hostage; but where was there evidence that she was a hostageÉ There wasn't, also Benson not handcuffing him isnèt a big deal because he could have easily persuaded her to take them off.

As far as the trial, Rook just countered with some convincing arguements, and she probably became careless. And they probably put away other convicts using the picture method, its just that Rook countered it with a convincing arguement where others failed to think about something like that. Also whats the point of bringing up the incident at the hospital, it's not evidence. Sure a detective Milgrim called and told the doctors wife, BUT it doesn't prove that Rook WAS detective Milgrim.

Ending aside, I think most of your arguments are flawed

Do your research said...

FYI- The scenario presented isn't so hard to believe as it actually DID happen. A man went into a fast food restaurant, showed a fake badge saying he was a cop claiming one of the employees stole something, had the manager have the employee strip and then she was not just searched, but spanked and then made to perform sexual favors and the manager believed it all. People really are that sick and stupid out there...

Cait said...

As a psychology major, I actually found this episode to be really interesting. I'll grant you the shoddy detective work on the part of the department, but the premise itself isn't at all outrageous. And Robin Williams gave a captivating performance as Rook

LMmom said...

One thing that made me insane about this episode was that during the trial, Casey never mentioned the elaborate fake alibi Rook set up. If he was innocent, why would he need a fake receipt from the hotel,(from the time the call was made, no less) and phones all set up and voice changers for the fake waitress-with-a-crush and hotel manager! I know they needed him to get off for the story line to proceed, but this was just SO lame of Casey. I know she's not supposed to be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but to make this huge an error in her prosecution? Makes suspension of disbelief that much harder...

Brandon Ushry said...

Ummm its based on real event....

Leigh Perry said...

I THOUGHT IT WAS BRILLIANT! it makes a very specific point that people are lemmings - and it is true most are - and to prove how bad we have gotten they take otherwise bright and efficient people and turn them into the same self serving robotic drones most people have become - call me Mini Munch but I think the entire episode might have been a little TOO on the nose and that is what most people cannot handle. That he wished no harm to anyone allows for his jokester persona to be loveable - and I believe that at the end they knew he wasn't dead but decided to pretend to themselves that he was. He had suffered such loss and his crimes were nowhere near as bad as they could have been. He left a lot of people with egg on their faces - and while I feel badly for the victim and criminal that followed orders on the phone I think that people who are THAT stupid should be incarcerated anyway. Have any of you seen Idiocracy?