Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Law & Order SVU “Swing” A Moody Story

I think that this episode had two distinctive mood swings of its own. Fast paced and interesting in the first half, slow and melodramatic in the second. It also offered a bit of a break from the usual SVU story lines, but not necessarily in a good way. They probably should have titled this episode “ The Meloni and Burstyn's Emmy Nomination Reel.”

First, the recap:

The episode begins with someone in the shower. She’s singing. But, a man comes into the bathroom with a baseball bat, clearly to defend himself against what now seems to be an intruder in the shower. The man opens the shower curtain, threatens with the bat, and the naked girl flees the shower and the bathroom by jumping through the bathroom window, taking the shower curtain with her. We can only briefly see her face.

Later, Olivia (Mariska Hargitay) is already at the scene, and Elliot (Chris Meloni) is arriving. (I assume he’s off suspension?) He wonders why they got the case, did Olivia’s “spidey senses” tell her because it was a naked girl that she must have been a rape victim? Olivia looks at him with a serious glare and says the girl who fled the scene was his daughter, Kathleen.

Elliot talks to the owners of the home, and while he himself seems to be searching to explanations for his daughter’s behavior, he suggests that maybe this was just a harmless college kid prank, The owners are not receptive to Elliot’s suggestions, and become hostile when, after asking for his name and badge number, the realize that the intruder was Elliot’s daughter.

Stabler and Benson later find Kathleen (Allison Siko), still clad in the shower curtain, in the park, on the swings. Kathleen is glad to see her father, and she wants to play. They take her home. Later, while Kathleen is in her room, Elliot enters, and while he talks, she removes a necklace and puts it in a drawer. She admits she took some pills, and doesn’t know what they were. She also said it’s the first time she’s tried anything other than vodka.

Elliot talks to her dorm roommate, Julia, who indicates that Kathleen has been acting odd. Kathleen wildly painted their room the week before and said she wanted to be inside the sun. She was also hanging with a wild crowd. Julia points Elliot in the direction of another girl, Mickey Braithwaite.

Mickey is hanging with a group of guys when Elliot approaches and tells them to get lost. He grabs her backpack, despite her objections, and finds what he thinks is cocaine. As he is arresting her, she quietly says she is really and undercover cop, Nicki Breslin, and he’d better make the arrest look good so as not to blow her cover.

Back at the SVU squad, Nicki tells him that Kathleen was not her target, she’s just a user who’s been using coke and downers. Stabler’s wife Kathy (Isabel Gillies) also arrives at the squad in a panic. It seems that Kathleen left the house, escaping out a window. Elliot seems to be blaming Kathy, but she tells him not to blame this one on her. As Elliot thinks where to look for her, Nicki suggests a place by an abandoned dry cleaners that is a drug hangout. Elliot finds Kathleen there, laying under another guy and clearly unconscious.

They take her to St. Mark’s Hospital, and the treat her for an overdose. The doctor tells Elliot that Kathleen was very agitated and had to be sedated, and that she is very sick. He believes she has been self medicating, but the signs of alcohol abuse, hypersexualization, her DWI and credit card theft indicate she is bipolar. Elliot declares, “My daughter’s not crazy” and the doctor reminds Elliot that he didn’t say she was crazy, he said she was sick. Eliot gets a little freaky and walks out, punching the hospital parking sign in his frustration. Cragen (Dann Florek) and Olivia approach him, telling Elliot that the victims now want to press charges, because Kathleen stole jewelry. He said the diamond necklace in question was a CZ and a gift from him for her birthday.

He goes to ADA Grayleck (Michaela McManus) for help, who tells him it’s now a charge of grand larceny 3 and “burg” 2. Since they claim Elliot used his badge to sweep this under the rug, her hands are tied. She tells him to get a good lawyer, but hypothetically, if Kathleen is mentally ill this could help things.

He gets a lawyer (CCH Pounder) who he knows will be tough on the prosecution. When Elliot wants to be present while she talks to Kathleen, she tells Elliot that he can’t be there, it would void the attorney-client privilege. Later, Olivia is approaching Elliot, with two detectives in tow. They are there to arrest Kathleen. Kathleen could avoid it if she admits he is mentally ill but she refuses to do so, and goes a little nutty. While she looks almost leeringly at one of the detectives, she gets arrested.

While Kathleen is in central booking, her lawyer tells Elliot and Kathy that the DA is amendable to a lesser charge but the victims are out for blood. Since Kathleen won’t admit she has a mental problem, the lawyer proposes a “story”, and Kathy is appalled the lawyer – and Elliot – would even consider a lie. The lawyer says since BPD runs in families, if they can show a family member has the same problem this could also help.

We then see Elliot at his mother’s home on Long Beach Island. Apparently he hasn’t seem her for three years. Bernadette Stabler (Ellen Burstyn) seems a little wired, and Elliot explains Kathleen’s problem and asks her to help by admitting her own mental issues. She refuses to admit she has a problem, and they argue. She accused him of being just like his father – “no spirit.”

They walk onto the beach, where she reminds Elliot he wanted to be an architect. He says he wanted to be a cop. She starts to build a sandcastle, he says he just wants her to admit she’s sick to help Kathleen. He recalls a situation where, during one of her manic periods, she shot at his father and Elliot. She’s now ignoring him, as if he isn’t even talking to her, clearly absorbed in her own mania. He leaves, dejected.

Later, Elliot returns to the home of the victims, and returns the necklace Kathleen stole. The man is a little confused, saying that this could be used as evidence against Kathleen, but Eliot says this is the only way to save her. In court, the necklace is indeed used as evidence against Kathleen and when she hears that her father turned it in, she flies into a rage and is taken away. Kathleen’s lawyer is stunned and so it Kathy, who proceed to slap Elliot and call him a bastard.

Back at the squad in the sleeping area, Olivia comes to talk. She doesn’t seem to understand why Elliot never mentioned the issues with his mother. He says, “I’m through the looking glass here, Liv.” He never thought he’d see his daughter locked up, but he's glad, it was his only option.

Olivia decides to go to Long Island and meet with Bernadette, who, upon meeting Olivia, says that she can see why she scares the pants off Kathy. Bernadette brought pictures of Elliot as a child, one of him dressed as a giant carrot (!) for a Thanksgiving Day pageant. (Yes, a giant carrot.) She tells Olivia that Elliot erased his whole childhood, but that she tried to be a good mother. He was embarrassed by her “flamboyance.” She admit she never saw a doctor about her illness, but had tried meds once when they were forced on her when her husband had her committed after she had a fight with him and the “gun went off.” She won’t go to court and announce she’s crazy. But Olivia asks her to help – for her granddaughter.

Bernadette goes to jail with Olivia to see Kathleen. They have a talk about their problems, and while Bernadette won’t openly admit her mental issues, they are implied. She tells Kathleen that “the higher you fly, the farther you fall.” Kathleen says “THEY put me in here” and Bernadette says “ YOU put yourself in here.” She recounts a story where, in one of her moods, she went for a drive in a blizzard in 1969 with the family and crashed into a lamppost, and Elliot broke his arm in the process, She said she was chasing the snowflakes. Clearly she is trying to tell Kathleen that she understands her problem and that she needs some help. She also tells Kathleen to take responsibility for her own actions. She also tells Kathleen that she paid a terrible price by living her life the way she had.

At the arraignment, Kathleen pleads guilty to a lesser misdemeanor and will be required to have inpatient psychiatric treatment and take meds, and must come back in 6 months for review. She agrees. Elliot seems surprised at the events, and Olivia tells him, “Maybe God remembered how cute you were as a carrot” and the episode ends as he watches Kathleen be taken away.

Now, my comments. During the first 20 minutes or so of this episode I thought it wasn’t all that bad. Sure, it wasn’t like the usual case, and yes I am tired of all the Stabler family drama, but I hoped that maybe Kathleen’s problem would lead to something bigger. But it dragged in the second half with far too much screen time given to Ellen Burstyn. It’s not that Elliot’s back story with his mother wasn’t interesting, it’s just that there was too much of it. For example, when he goes to her house, the scene should have either started and ended in the house, or started and ended on the beach. By having a scene in the house and the beach, they stretched out the story of his childhood and her issues too much. To add insult to injury, we seem to have to relive more of her story when Olivia meets Bernadette to get her help, and again when she talks to Kathleen in jail. The whole bit about “chasing snowflakes” seemed to almost romanticize her disorder, but I suppose that is how Bernadette saw it. As far as Burstyn’s performance, it was trite and wasn’t that memorable. Besides, no one can quite do “bipolar mom” like Sally Field when she was on ER.

The greater mystery is why, with Elliot knowing how his mother acted when he was growing up, that he didn’t see similar behavior in Kathleen and take steps to get her help? For someone whose job it is to be observant, he really botched this one. And why didn’t tell his wife or Kathleen’s lawyer BEFORE they went to court that he turned in the necklace is beyond me. While he felt that putting her away was the only way to get help, he could have at least told Kathy he’d done it so she wouldn’t have gone off on him in public. I guess Elliot doesn’t trust anyone and now there will probably be MORE turmoil with the Stabler marriage. Personally, I’m tired of all the Stabler family drama.

Was it also intentioned to highlight his mother’s illness by showing his picture dressed up in a giant carrot costume? I suppose that the choice of carrot for a customer must mean you’re nuts. Or, was it only to give Olivia that absolutely horrible, strange closing line, “Maybe God remembered how cute you were as a carrot”? I could have thought of a lot of better things to say, rather than what basically what translated to “I saw your mom and she showed me the humiliating picture of you in a carrot costume.” Of course, it was Olivia’s way of taking credit for getting Elliot the help he needed with Kathleen. Maybe her kind of help is not what he wanted.

While it seemed that Elliot was off suspension, it was almost as if it never even happened because no reference was made to it at all.

The only thing we can be thankful is for the short screen time given to Michaela McManus, whose blank stare is really bothersome to me. CCH Pounder did a great job as Kathleen’s attorney, however. I was a bit perplexed, though, when Elliot seemed to be so willing to go along with the clearly false story she suggested. Kathy did the right thing by reminding him of all the problems he’s had in the past with dishonesty with lawyers. It just surprises me how the main characters always suddenly seem to forget their life experiences the minute they are faced with a personal crisis.

The preview for next week actually made me groan when they showed Olivia looking like a blonde hooker. It also looks like they have moved the episode “Retro” that was originally scheduled to air that date, and will instead show “Lunacy” which is about astronauts. I think diapers were mentioned. Didn’t Criminal Intent already do an astronaut and diapers episodes?

I’m not quite sure what is happening to this show. I can only hope that the Stabler drama goes on the back burner – for a long time.

Two Minute Replay “Swing”

Scene from “Swing”

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Melanie Atkins said...

OMG, I LOVED this episode. I thought it was fantastic, the best SVU episode EVER. It was shippy and dramatic and we learned so much about El's past. And the way Liv moved in to help him...squee!

It was a wonderful change of pace, and I would love to see more eps like this.

John K. said...

You raise a good point in that, "why didn't Elliot observe this in Kathleen and try to get her help beforehand?" Conversely, he didn't mind ignoring his mother. However, the writers aren't Joss Whedon (can't think ten steps ahead). And with all of Stabler's problems, can't say he hasn't acted bipolar, so "how would we know?" Or I didn't connect the proper dots.

Plus, this is the first real exposure of his family, which seems rather late, 10 years in. So, yeah. Granted, they actually did foreshadowing on this, so you might go with a double standard or his singleminded ness (which he is also known for). You might even argue out-of-character ness, as he wasn't too bothered with Maddox's tricks, as opposed to normally.

I've hung around with people having bipolar disorder, and some do the textbook version, some don't. So, I'm debating how to go about this, and getting rid of my initial defensiveness on this episode (as I did have it when I first viewed it). Although, I'm sure NY in real life has the same law where "you can't involuntary commit someone unless they harm themselves or cause damage." PA (where I live) as of 2006 has this law.

However, she did break into someone's house. Hmmm.... Probably just wanted to drag the episode out, or she could have been committed, really.

Also, during the sandcastle scene, Bernie would have responded to Elliot's provocative anecdote, eventually -- bipolar people do hear what you say and they don't forget. So, yeah. Take it with a grain of salt.

Honestly, I hated the episode for the cliched dialogue, more than anything.

That said, good recap. And I definitely agree on the Stabler family wankery.

Also, did Eli did a time jump? He looks like two. Timecards are funny like that. And huzzah for the stereotypical goth girl detective.

John K. said...

I forgot to re-edit (if only I could). I meant to say, "can't say he has acted bipolar...." Sorry. Also, here are a few extra observations.

I kinda wish they aired Lunacy as they were supposed to, as I hoped it would serve as a breather, due to the previous two episodes and the Kathleen foreshadowing.

Oh, couldn't Elliot's other kids have a say on anything, or couldn't afford the actors? Speaking of Elliot, note the POV, as only his family and Olivia had any focus, at all. Cragen, Fin and the family Kathleen broke into or anyone else were barely there.

Oh, well. What else is new?

Melanie Atkins said...

I can tell you from personal experience, John K, that when a college-aged child gets involved with things they know they shouldn't, they're VERY good at hiding it, and they are also very manipulative. It's hard to know what's really going on, especially when they no longer live at home. Toss in a dose of denial, and you have a recipe for disaster. My son came clean and admitted his problem in time, but many kids don't and end up in jail or worse. So IMHO, Elliot's not knowing was typical.

The episode was wonderful.

John K. said...

I'm willing to say, it's subjective, as some people act differently than others. My case, I know non-textbook people. Sighs.

As for college students' deception, granted, as most L&O episodes highlight that. But they don't always have a mental disorder. So, yeah. I am wondering on Kathleen's trigger, as some do need a trigger for their illness to finally surface.

I'm sure this episode will be psychoanalyzed to death by the smarter pundits. Heh.

Anonymous said...

I know this is from a long, long time ago, but I have a question for y'all. Who is the actress that plays the part for Nicki Breslin aka Mickey B? What is the real actress's name? Does anybody know?

Jojo said...

Nicki Breslin is played by Fiona Dourif.