Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Law & Order SVU “Lunacy” One Crazy Story (Recap & Review)

This much-touted appearance of James Brolin in this episode of Law & Order SVU, “Lunacy” was probably one of most obvious “guest star cast as the murderer” stories in a while. It was also the most shameless use of a promo teaser by hyping Olivia as a blonde and then only showing her that was for probably less than 30 seconds. And, just when we thought we were done with the Stabler family for a while, we get Dickie – er, I mean Dick – forced on us.

The episode opens when the body of woman is found floating face down in the river, her hands severed off and she appears to have been sexually assaulted. Lucky for Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni), some people were filming in the area, which just so happened to give them a lead to a cab spotted in the area. While checking out the cab, they find that someone is also using the same cab number, which has been spotted at another crime where a woman was assaulted.

Meanwhile, ME Warner (Tamara Tunie) is working to identify the body, and concludes that the hands may have been severed by a passing boat, and what looks like a sexual assault was done by some kind of weird water creature. But, luckily for her they find, through a retinal identification, that the murdered woman is none other than astronaut Marga Janssen, from Belgium.

This brings the SVU detectives to a space symposium, where they run into an old mentor of Stapler’s Dick Finley (James Brolin). He points them in the direction of Jenssen's girlfriend, who admits to arguing with Jenssen that night. She also notes that Jenssen’s necklace seems to be missing from her body; they had matching necklaces and they never took them off. They also check out reports of a payload specialist who argued with Janssen on one of the ISS missions. But, he’s a red herring. The detectives also find a similar crime to Jenssen's assualt where the same cab number may have been implicated, thinking there is a pattern to the crimes. The victim does not recall her attacker’s face though, just the voice. By the way, this whole thing is a red hering so let’s get it out of the way first. They nab the fake cabbie by a ruse with Olivia disguised as a blonde carrying lots of shopping bags, But, while he admits to the other similar crimes, he has a perfect alibi to avoid getting nailed for killing Jenssen – he was off assaulting someone else at the same time, and that person verifies his story.

They also find that someone is using Janssen’s credit cards, and in a flash, they go to the gas station to pick him up. It’s amazing how lucky they are that the gas station was so close and that the person was still arguing there with someone at the gas station about the credit card. Wouldn’t the normal reaction when someone is using a stolen card that gets flagged to leave the area as quickly as possible? No, of course not. And it just so happens that Elliot lets Finley come along with them (not sure why this would be considered OK). But when the guy tries to escape by hitting the fire suppression button, which stuns and disorients Olivia and Elliot, Finely managers to punch him and prevent his escape. How convenient. He is later identified as Vince Beckwith.

When Janssen’ necklace is located at a pawnshop, the pawnshop owner identifies Beckwith as the person who pawned it. Beckwith admits he pawned it, but he got it out of a dumpster, and saw the man who dropped Janssen’s purse in as well. Lucky for the detectives that Finley knows someone named Anton Thibodeau (Chris Elliott) who matches the description, and there just so happens to be evidence of stalkerish letters from him to Janssen that Finley produced for the squad. They easily pick up Thibodeau, who shows Stabler his astronaut memorabilia, including someone’s undies. Behind the one-way mirror while Stabler interrogates Thibodeau, Dr Huang (B.D. Wong) mentions that Thibodeau isn’t showing the rage that someone capable of the crime would be showing. Of course, Thibodeau suddenly gets enraged.

They put Thibodeau in a line up, but Beckwith says he doesn’t see the person who dropped Janssen’s purse into the dumpster. Thibodeau must be released. Meanwhile, Elliot brings in his son to introduce him to his namesake, Dick Finely. When Olivia spots him, we get this encounter:

Olivia: "Dickie?"
Dickie: "I go by Dick."
Olivia: "of course you do."

I found this amusing as I always cringed every time Elliot referred to Dickie. I suppose most viewers did too. Anyway, Finley gives Dick a small replica of the launch vehicle that is supposed to be taking him to the moon. But, trouble ensues when, as Thibodeau is walking through the squad room, he spots Beckwith, and grabs a gun yelling” You killed my friend” and shoots Beckwith point blank. While everyone runs for cover, Elliot protects Dickie – er, I mean Dick – and Olivia holds a gun on Thibodeau. Finley, however, takes matters into his own hands and knocks Finley to the ground, and the gun goes off and Thibodeau is dead. It seems both suspects are now conveniently dead. Finley then asks Olivia out on a date, to which she agrees.

But a light bulb goes off when Elliot is talking to Dickie – er, I mean Dick – and, looking at the model of the rocket, Dick mentions how someone would do anything to do to the moon. What we don’t see is Elliot taking that model rocket and getting Finley’s fingerprint off of it, which matches the fingerprint on Janssen’s necklace. He goes to Finley’s place to confront him, and breaks up a tryst with Finley and another woman (who I think we are supposed to think was Olivia at first). Finley think Eliot is there to block his date with Olivia, instead, Elliot confronts him about him murdering Janssen, telling him of the evidence. They argue and it comes to blows, but Elliot gets his man. He’s loading Finley into the squad car, when Olivia, dressed to the nines, arrives in a cab for her date…, which won’t be taking place.

This episode should win all kinds of awards, such as:

1. Highest number of red herrings in an episode
2. Most obvious use of a guest star as the perp
3. Most overhyped tease of a main star dressed in costume (Olivia’s 30 seconds as a blonde)
4. Highest number of excuses to get the main star to “dress up” (Olivia in her “bait” attire, and dressed for her date)

There were other things that were notable in this episode that I felt made the episode bearable. Of course, these things usually involve Munch and Fin. I found the amusement over Fin’s knowledge of the use of urine bottles amusing myself. I also found it funny when Munch was getting in his conspiracy theory mode with Finley, but later gets his autograph, just in case he was “wrong.” Of course, Fin has to comment that he thinks it just started snowing in hell.

Seriously though, I liked this episode in some sort of weird way. It’s almost in a CSI Miami kind of way. You know, the story, the scenarios, the evidence, the acting, all add up to something that is so bad that you can’t miss it. In a way, in its attempt to put more focus on its main stars – Hargitay and Meloni – the show seems to have sacrificed the drama. I miss the drama. I think the show can get it back if it quits trying so hard to shamelessly promote and overhype Meloni and Hargitay. Sure, I like them both, but I don’t like it when the show seems to focus on those two at the expense of everyone else. Is it too much to ask for more Munch? Or Munch (Richard Belzer) and Fin (Ice-T) together? I would even settle for a little more Cragen (Dann Florek), who always seems to have so much to offer in even the tiny scenes he’s in. This series could be doing much better in the ratings if they weren’t so intent on making it the Meloni/Hargitay hour. There was one high point: the absence of ADA Grayleck (Michaela McManus).

And please, enough of the Stabler family drama. Because any more will drive me to lunacy.

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John K. said...

I didn't see the episode, so I appreciate the recap, as always.

As for the CSI angle: well, we had zooming close-ups and over-the-top scoring in the "Stabler deleting his daughter's picture" scene in Confession, an actual flashback in Trials, over-the-top scoring in the sand castle scene in Swing and what you stated here.

All of which undermines SVU's stake in reality, that the L&O universe is/was famous for. Sighs. It will get worse before it gets better.

Meanwhile, Chris Elliott is claimed in the 1-6's hallways of death. So, what else is new?

Animelee said...

I agree, John K. The Law & Orders are about documentary-style realism, but the last few seasons, in order to keep up with the CSIs and all other CBS crap dramas, they've been slowly seeping filters and exaggeration into the equation.

They're still the most realistic shows on TV, but c'mon...

Animelee said...

By filters, I mean flashbacks in SVU and CI -- especially Warren Leight CI. The weird fade outs and fade ins between commercial breaks, etc.

I wish CI and SVU would film like the mothership again. Hopefully "London" doesn't screw around with the formula.

Nikki said...

I've been reading your recaps because I've been watching all the Law and Order SVU episodes on Netflix, and like to read what other people thought after the episode and to catch anything I missed. I mist say I'm shocked you run a Law and Order blog. Your posts are nit picky about the show and almost never say anything positive. If you're annoyed with the show so bad, why are you still watching and running the blog? It just seems like you're bothered about multiple things in every episode. Even episodes you claim to like you complain about. Anyway, I watched this episode and wasn't a fan either, but you should either lighten up or stop watching the show.

Unknown said...

Just discovered your site. I am a hardcore SVU fan, love your recaps and commentary. Great job.