Thursday, May 22, 2008

Law & Order “Excalibur” – the Sword Cuts Both Ways

Photos NBC

Recently Sam Waterston spoke to Associated Press about Law & Order’s season finale, "Excalibur.” When he was asked about the parallel to the Eliot Spitzer story, he said, "That's what we're shooting right now." He quickly added "I shouldn't say we're doing the Eliot Spitzer story. I should say we're doing a story about a politician who gets into trouble because of sexual questions ... involving prostitution." This means that this really was based partly on the Spitzer story, but he just couldn’t say it was. Sam would make a good politician.

For a “ripped from the headlines” story line, this was surprisingly good. In fact, it was probably one of the better Law & Order episodes I’ve seen in years. The only flaw in it was the miscasting of Tom Everett Scott as the Governor. And while, in a few scenes, Sam Waterston seemed a little wooden, it was made up for tenfold by one scene where he seemed to be getting very emotional. Clearly this episode was all about Jack McCoy, and it shows that even as District Attorney, Jack doesn’t take a back seat.

The episode begins with Victor Madison, who is in the jewelry business for Madison & Beezly, discussing gold. We later see Madison’s charred body in an incinerator. It seems like a simple case of a robbery possibly gone bad. Detectives Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Bernard (Anthony Anderson) interview Madison’s wife Suzanne and her father Edgar Beezly (Len Cariou) – the latter who is one of the owners of Madison & Beezly, and they meet Edgar’s son Frank (Eric Sheffer Stevens) , who apparently has no involvement in the family business. But in digging into that family business, they find that Frank did express a desire to become involved in it. They also chase down a $5,000 payment made by Victor to a company called 7Q Partners, a front for “Excalibur Exclusives,” a high-end escort service, which Lupo says is “for guys with really big swords.” (Anita (S.Epatha Merkerson) responds, “They wish.”) Lupo says that information uncovered by a forensic accountant also finds a $20,000 payment made by Victor’s company to a marketing company that was later signed over to 7Q Partners. When Lupo and Bernard go to a bar looking for the owner of the marketing company, they find the marketing company is being run by none other than Frank, Victor’s brother-in-law. When Lupo and Bernard question him about the $20,000 payment he is getting, Frank says it’s his share from the family trust, and blows off the detectives.

Lupo and Bernard get a phone a tap on Excalibur and based on the calls they hear, they, along with Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza), develop a theory. They believe that because Frank expressed a desire to get into the family business, if Victor found that Frank was involved in a prostitution ring, Frank could be disowned, and it would give Frank a sure motive for murder.

The detectives enlist one of Excalibur’s prostitutes, Sarah Shipley (Katheryn Winnick), to go into Excalibur’s office with a camera in her purse, which they monitor from a suveillance van. They hear enough to arrest Frank and the others working at the office. Frank and the others are arraigned, and when bail comes up, Frank’s father tells the court his son isn’t getting a dime from him.

Cutter (Linus Roache) questions one of Excalibur’s office employees and offers consideration if she will help them decode Excalibur’s records. She tells them that for the day in question, Frank arrived to a staff meeting late; he was sweaty and his shirt was torn. Frank’s explanation to her had been that he got into a fight with a cabdriver. The assistant also tells them that Chanel (Paloma Guzman), an exotic Brazilian model, had an appointment with Victor, and that she believes Chanel’s boyfriend Richie has connections to organized crime.

They arrest Richie and Chanel, and when shown a photograph of Victor, she says she thought he was a cop because he only asked a lot of questions about Excalibur. She told Frank about it, and told him the man had “two letters on his sleeve – VM" - and Frank became upset. When Cutter asks if her date at the time overheard this discussion with Frank, she said yes. She said his name was “Al” and it was only her second time with him. She also said that Richie saw Al with her when he came to pick her up.

When the US Attorney and a FBI special agent discuss Richie’s arrest with McCoy (Sam Waterston) , they seem more interested in the Excalibur wiretaps, especially those with Chanel, and Jack become suspicious. He stalls, and tells them to put their request in writing, and immediately goes to listen to those calls. When Jack recognizes one of the callers – it’s Governor Donald Shalvoy – he says, “I’ve heard enough” and leaves, without tipping his hand.

We then see Jack delivering a non-target order to Governor Shalvoy (Tom Everett Scott), and Jack tells him this means he is not the target of the investigation, but is a person of interest. Jack explains that “Al” hasn’t been positively identified, and they have the girl’s testimony but they may need her client “Al” to corroborate. Jack also tells Shalvoy about the wiretaps. Shalvoy wants to know who else knows about this, and Jack says no one, but anyone involved should speak with their family, a clear suggestion that Jack wants Shalvoy to be prepared for fallout. He also tells Shalvoy that the FBI and the US Attorney have asked for the wiretaps, that they may have someone who can ID the client. When Shalvoy presses Jack on how he will answer the request, he says there are legitimate grounds to oppose it.

Shalvoy: That’s good. I like seeing that fire in your belly. You’re gonna need it when you run for full term as DA.”
Jack: I’m running for DA?
Shalvoy:Stay in touch, Jack.

Later, Cutter and Rubirosa are questioning Frank, who insists he never told Chanel about Victor, and Frank’s attorney sheds doubt on their witness’s credibility. As Cutter and Rubirosa update Jack on the matter, Jack continues to play dumb and not tip his hand of the Governor’s involvement. While “Al” is proving hard for Cutter and Rubirosa to find, Cutter believes it’s because he either has a suspicious wife, or he has a high profile job. Connie then drops a bomb on Jack, telling him of something written on the "Manhattan Hears" blog, saying Jack will be investigated:

“DA Funny with our Money…Was the city’s top law enforcer California dreaming on our dime? Allegations are flying that hard-charging DA Jack McCoy charged the taxpayers for a personal trip out west, where he used public funds to play daddy to his daughter.”

Jack, clearly miffed, says,

McCoy: That’s ridiculous. I attended a conference in Los Angeles. Rebecca drove up from San Diego for dinner.
Cutter: You don’t have to convince us, Jack.
Rubirosa: There’s more. ‘Insiders say that Attorney General may impanel an grand jury to investigate."

Jack, now looking slightly alarmed, walks away.

Later, Jack is on the phone in his office completing a call as Cutter enters, and tells Cutter that the whole thing is a “bunch of nothing” but that the he still faces an audit. Cutter tells Jack he investigated the blog entry to a PR company that Jack recognizes as the one that handled Governor Shalvoy’s campaign.

Cutter: Didn’t you tell me a few weeks ago that you were Shalvoy’s new fair-haired boy?
McCoy: A few weeks is a long time.
Cutter: Jack, what’s going on?
McCoy: Someone’s sending me a message…close the door.

Jack proceeds to tell Cutter of his suspicious of Shalvoy’s involvement with prostitution, and that he gave Shalvoy the non-target order and told him about the wire taps. Cutter is not happy, and asks Jack, “When were you going to tell me?” Jack said he’s telling him now, and that he believes that Shalvoy is being targeted by the Feds for a corrupt officials investigation. Jack thinks that Shalvoy is telling him that if Jack doesn’t protect him, Jack can forget running for DA.

Cutter: So you’ve decided to run?
McCoy: I haven’t decided NOT to run.

Cutter is clearly angry, chastising Jack for practically committing witness tampering, and possibly making Shalvoy’s information useless, and for possibly making them all look bad. Jack pushes back, telling Cutter “get mad at me tomorrow." But Cutter thinks Jack should just give the Feds what they want to save his job. Jack says the Feds are after Shalvoy because of bad blood between them, and he refuses to do the Fed’s dirty work. When Cutter says this could jeopardize Jack’s job, Jack retorts:

McCoy: Give me a little credit, Mike.
Cutter: Glad I’m not the one getting his nuts squeezed.


Jack pays a visit to Governor Shalvoy, who is playing dumb about the blog allegations, and Jack tells him to drop the charade. Jack is outraged, and he reminds Shalvoy that he did the decent thing by giving him the heads-up so he could square things away with this family. But Shalvoy is having none of it, hanging the DA position over Jack’s head, expecting Jack to cover up his indiscretions.

McCoy: You can’t dodge this scandal. You can only make it worse.
Shalvoy: It’s in your interest to cover my back. So that’s what you’re gonna do.

Bad move, Governor. NOBODY tells Jack McCoy what to do!

Back at the DA’s office, Jack refuses to give the Feds what they want, and despite the fact they say they will return with a subpoena, Jack tells them it will be a futile effort. He then visits Cutter and Rubirosa to get a trial prep update, and tells them to add Governor Shalvoy to the witness list, but not to release the information to the defense. McCoy refers to Shalvoy as a bastard, and tells them that his judgment had been clouded by sentiment. Cutter is somewhat perplexed, as he knows Jack refused to give the Feds any information, but Jack informs them that he wants to take Shalvoy down himself.

We then see Shalvoy chasing down Jack. Clearly the Governor is in an enraged panic over the subpoena, which Jack tells him was issued at his own direction. Jack tells Shalvoy to get his family issues in order, and Shalvoy is outraged, saying his family and personal life is not Jack’s business. Shalvoy’s threats to Jack’s job continue, and he reminds Jack that he wouldn’t be where he is now without Shalvoy’s help:

Shalvoy: It’s thanks to me you have this job in the first place. Nobody wanted you.
McCoy: I’d rather be an unpaid lawyer than a well-fed pet.
Shalvoy: You’re a fool. I had high hopes for you.
McCoy (his eyebrows practically leaping off his face): I had high hopes for YOU! How could you do this? To the people who work for you? To the people that elected you? How could you be so reckless with their trust? I respected you Donald. I respected you.
(McCoy’s voice waivers, almost as if he was near tears.)

I don’t think I’ve even seen Jack’s feelings so hurt. But clearly, Jack is not willing to roll over and play dead for the Governor. What Jack didn’t expect was a visit from the Governor’s wife Rita (Alison Elliott). She clearly pressures Jack to back down, and he refuses, saying that by backing down he would not be doing the job he’s sworn to do.

The trial against Frank continues, and the testimony of the prostitute, Chanel, is rendered virtually useless when the defense makes her appear motivated by revenge at Frank. The DA’s office has no choice except to make Governor Shalvoy an official witness. Rubirosa, however, receives word that Frank and his attorney want a meeting to cut a deal. This means that Shalvoy will not have to testify. As Cutter and Rubirosa check into what prompted the sudden plea deal, they come to believe that the Governor has had his hand in motivating others, including the Feds, to back down.

Jack goes to the Shalvoy residence to confront Rita Shalvoy about her possible influence on Frank’s father, and clearly Jack is not happy with the whole situation. He questions her ambitions in this whole matter. The Governor enters, and when he’s informed of the plea bargain, he’s happy with it, because, he thinks, juries are too unpredictable. Jack calls him a son of a bitch. The Governor tells Jack he can either threaten him or resign, or he can bite the bullet and move on. He then asks Jack to be his guest at the groundbreaking for the Feds new DEA regional headquarters that they will be leasing to them for 99 years for $1. He bids goodnight to Jack, leaving him standing there to muse over his predicament.

The DA’s office finds all the witnesses in Frank's case have been either paid off (the Feds by the land deal for the DEA office) or moved out (Chanel is deported, Richie is put in witness protection). They hope that Shalvoy missed some detail that they can nab him on, but Connie says even the hotel rooms were booked under assumed names – one of them being John McCoy. And Cutter states the obvious, “You’re his enemy now,” offers his support, and closes the door as he leaves Jack’s office, leaving Jack to think about his situation - alone.

This story brings many possibilities for next season. I would imagine that, if the end of Jack’s term is imminent, the show will have to deal with the prospect of re-election at some point. It always made for interesting stories when Adam Schiff was running for re-election, and things could get even more interesting for Jack should he chose to pursue it. Personally, I would hope that Jack makes taking the Governor down a priority of his, and can do it in a manner to help his re-election. My only regret is that we may have to see Tom Everett Scott again, who, in my opinion, was not right for the role. It wasn’t just his age; it was his corny delivery of the lines. He sounded too much like he was trying to be a phony jerk, and, well, it came off like over-acting. But, I guess we could be stuck with him, if he has to return to another episode where the loop hopefully gets closed. And I do hope the loop gets closed in Jack’s favor, because I just don’t like it when the bad guys win.

Excalibur 2 Minute Replay

Check out my blog home page for the latest Law & Order information,

Also, see my companion Law & Order site,These Are Their Stories.


samfan said...

Great Review!!!!! I loved the show last night. I hated Scott as the Gov. too but, the story was great. I am just glad Jack will be back next year. I hope he really gets Shalvoy next year, somehow. Your review was great! Thanks for the update. I can't wait until next season. The detectives had some resembling "Lennie lines", not quite up to Lennie's but someone pretty funny ones. This was a really good finale except, that it just causes trouble for Jack but at least he'll be back next year. I think this finale was better than SVU's, and usually, at least recently SVU has had some better episodes, than the original. But really good episode and even better review by you.

Jill Crowley said...

Did you catch the line where Chanel called Cutter old? His reaction was priceless.