Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Law & Order “Challenged” Won’t Be A Challenge To Follow

This episode of Law & Order, “Challenged, ” isn't action packed. It doesn't have any weird plot twists. It’s what I consider a traditional Law & Order episode that seems simplistic in its story but interesting and compelling nonetheless.

First the recap, my episode review will follow afterwards.

Rick Devon (Bradford Cover) is at his parent’s house, his dad asking if he can stay for dinner. He can’t. Later, he is found murdered in the park. He had $60 dollars in his wallet and tan lines where his watch used to be, so Detectives Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) states he was probably killed as “ somebody needed to know the time real bad.” Detective Bernard (Anthony Anderson) thinks maybe he was drug seeking, but Lupo hears something. It’s water running in a nearby restroom. Someone also left a key on the sink, that looks like it was attached to a bracelet.

Lupo and Anderson question Rick's parents. Stanley (Harris Yulin) and Ruth (Rutanya Alda). It seems their son had divorced his wife and moved back home two months ago. He wasn’t seeing anyone else. They asked to see his room. The detectives indicated he was in a park where drug seekers sometimes frequent, and asked if he had a drug problem. They indicated they did not think so. The other two sons arrive, Matt (Alex Draper) and Ted (Armand Schultz). The detectives decide to return to the park, as the drug pushers should be back on the job.

At the park, Lupo and Bernard question two of the dealers, and Lupo says he saw one of them put something down his pants. In a brave yet somewhat crazy move, he dons a rubber glove and sticks his hands down the man’s pants and comes up with a roll of money. Lupo takes one of the dealers aside, and Bernard takes the other, forcing him to sit down. Bernard says he wants a name of somebody – anybody – so that can stand them up in front of the judge. The dealer says his crew didn’t do it. But, they heard a fight and he sent “Mo Mo” to check it out.

Lupo is talking to Mo Mo (Omar Sharif Scroggins), who said he saw a guy lying on the ground and he wasn’t moving so he thought he was dead. He went back and told “Big Chuck” (Keith Davis). Big Chuck says that he figured the heat was coming so they cleared out. They claim they didn’t kill him.

Back at the 27th precinct, Bernard tells Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) he thinks the two are ripe for the killing, except for a motive. Van Buren asks if it could be a difference of opinion on a drug deal, but Lupo says that Devon’s parents indicated he wasn’t into drugs, but the tox report is not in yet. Bernard advises that latent found a print on the keys left behind and they belong to Diego Cardenas (Carlos Leon), who has a record and is a “dues paying member of the Latin Aces”.

Lupo and Bernard go to the Moffit Group Home where Cardenas has his office. He indicates that his previous life was “another lifetime” and it’s all behind him now. Lupo doesn’t understand why the city would put an active gang-banger in charge of a group home. Cardenas seems to think it’s a typical question. When asked if he’s been to the park, he says he has been there with his residents, and he was there the day before, in the morning. Lupo tries to trick him to saying he left the key there late in the evening, bit Cardenas says no, he was there in the morning. They ask to speak to some of the residents of the group home.

The detectives question the residents, one who seems very precise on the times, and another who asks Lupo about his “official police pen.” He gives the pen to one of the guys. They continue to ask questions about whether Cardenas used the bathroom. One responded that the bathroom is on the “bad side”, and other said it’s on the side with the “bad people” and Diego said they are not allowed to go there. One guy seemed to be preoccupied with the kind of coffee at the police station, and Bernard tried to continue the questioning. But, Lupo sensed that getting the people out of the home may help with the questioning, and says it looks like they’ll need a “field trip.”

They take them to the park, and one man points out the bad bathroom and another guy points out the bad guys. When asked which bathroom they can use, they point to the diner, and Cardenas says the owner lets them use it. When directly questioned, they all say they did not see Cardenas go into the bathroom in question.

When they pull Cardenas aside, saying that if he had been in the bathroom when he said the residents would have noticed, he admits he did come back later and did use the other bathroom. He admits he’s gay and that he wanted to hook up with somebody. But, he changed his mind and he was only there about 15 minutes, walking around. Lupo asks him to show them where he walked. He indicated where he walked, but said he got a bad vibe from the pipe heads and went back to the home. But when Bernard asks him “but first you washed your hands” Cardenas said he was nervous but wasn’t there when the man was killed and he saw nothing. They let him leave.

Back at the 2-7, they bring Van Buren up to speed about Cardenas’s comments. Van Buren wonders if maybe Devon was cruising the bathroom as well, and maybe he was the aggressor. But the tox report came in and Devon was clean for drugs, but it doesn’t tell them if he was gay. Lupo has a dump from Devon’s cell, which shows a call to the group home. They wonder if Devon and Cardenas had something going. Van Buren tells them to check the regulars at the park to see if anyone can place him there.

While questioning some of the guys from the park at the 2-7, Bernard calls “Lupes” over. One guy, Louis, tells them that Big Chuck and Mo Mo were looking for a witness that saw them with the dead body. They couldn’t make out who he was, and Mo Mo said they saw the guy run off. Bernard pulls Lupo out of the room and says the witness has to be Diego. Maybe he saw them over the body and maybe even killed him, that’s why he’s been lying; he’s afraid. Lupo says since Big Chuck saw them with Diego and maybe they thought he was turning snitch. They have to get Cardenas off the street. But, it seems Diego took one of the residents out for a walk and the resident came back alone.

Lupo and Bernard are on a scene with police, who got reports of shots fired. They find Diego in what looks like a pile of trash, shot in the mouth. Lupo comments, “Subtle.”

Back at the 2-7, Lupo is questioning Big Chuck. He denies knowing Cardenas or being on the hunt for him. He said he didn’t kill anyone, including the first victim. The detectives are stuck because it seems the only witness to Devon’s murder is now dead. But Van Buren tells them to talk to the resident that was with Cardenas, despite his mental handicap.

While one resident (Mike) sniffs a thermos of coffee, another tells the detectives that they were supposed to go to the 99-cent store, but Diego told him to go home right now. He called him the “T-word” and the Mike ads, “Tard.” When Bernard asks him to look at a photo array, he says he has “autism related face recognition deficit”. He can’t remember faces. When Lupo asks if he can remember anything else, like cars in the alley, the man indicated he knows all the license numbers and asks Lupo which one he wants. When Lupo asks “for which car” he responds“ all of them.” Lupo tells him to go for it.

Bernard also notes that Diego cooked dinner for them on Tuesday. They can recall what Diego cooked and the fact he was there at 7:03 because he has to eat dinner with them and he has to clean up. Lupo realizes that Devon could not have been in the park, and wonders why he didn’t tell them he was there the whole time? Was Diego protecting the person who really left the key in the park bathroom? They ask Mike who was missing from dinner that night, and he responds it was Pete (Michael Rispoli).

A supervisor at a recycling center said Pete does come there when he gets into a fight at the home and he needs to cool out, and Lupo thinks that Diego sent him there to protect him. The supervisor doesn’t think anyone took him in, but that Pete did mention a new friend, and he identifies him from the picture Bernard shows him of Rick Devon.

They show Devon’s father the picture of Pete Harris, but his father doesn’t know of him. When they ask about talking to his wife, Mr. Devon makes an excuse for her. But Lupo thinks that somehow Pete is being hidden in the mental health system, and finds calls on Diego’s phone records that may bear that out.

At Ralston Psychiatric Hospital, Bernard hits a wall where he can’t get information from a staffer. But Lupo gets information from another staffer who says Pete is missing from his room, saying he was upset and confused. Lupo asks a staffer for the location of the garbage room, and they find Pete there sorting through the trash. They take him back to the precinct.

They show Pete a picture of the key and he recognizes it as his. He tells them he was out with Rick for some Mexican food. He heard Rick scream and saw him bleeding and ran home. He told Diego about it and he was scared. Lupo reassures Pete that they will protect him, and hands him a photo array. Pete holds the picture to his face, sideways, and says he is looking at their noses. He identifies Big Chuck and Mo Mo.

Later, in court, Big Chuck and Mo Mo are being arraigned and they get remanded. At Rikers, EADA Cutter (Linus Roache) and ADA Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) split up to talk to each defendant separately, Cutter is talking with Mo Mo, and tells him “First squeal gets the deal.” But Mo Mo says he didn’t do it. Cutter presses him on Cardenas, and tells him that his car was there when Cardenas was killed and if they find DNA there he’s in for the long haul. His attorney wants to talk with her client. But when Cutter remarks he wants to see how his colleague is doing with Big Chuck, Mo Mo asks him to wait. Afterwards, Cutter tells Connie he will plead on Cardenas and implicate Big Chuck, but he says no deal on Devon. Rubirosa says Big Chuck won’t roll on his homeboys, and Cutter says he wins. But Rubirosa doesn’t understand why he’ll plead on one but not the other. Cutter thinks it’s because they didn’t kill Devon.

Rubirosa, Lupo and Bernard have Pete at the park bathroom, going through what Pete saw. Pete seems to put Rick Devon’s body in an area away from where the body was found. But, when Rubirosa leaves and Lupo and Bernard talk to Pete, it seems that Rick had information about Pete as a child, and Pete shows them a picture of himself as a child that Rick had given him. Bernard and Lupo take this information to Cutter and Rubirosa while they are in DA Jack McCoy’s (Sam Waterston) office. It seems that Pete was turned over to the Department of Mental Hygiene in 1964 by his parents, Stanley and Ruth Devon. A clerk changed Pete’s last name. Apparently Rick tracked his brother down and the mental health department sent him a full family reunification kit.

But, at Stanley Devpn’s home, he wants Rubirosa and Lupo gone. He did not want this matter dredged up. He couldn’t handle Pete as a child. They never had further contact with Pete after turning him over to the Department. His wife had two other sons to take care of and she was pregnant. He said that’s they way they did it then. Lupo asks to take another look at Rick’s room. Lupo notices that a locked drawer was forced open and seems to have been emptied.

Later at the DA’s office, Rubirosa tells them that the family reunification kit that was sent to Rick is nowhere to be found. It sounds, as McCoy said, the whole family gas "gone toxic” on the issue. Rubirosa has information showing how much it cost for the state to take care of Pete all those years. Rubirosa gets a call, saying Pete’s family wants to see him. Jack states, “The loving family that abandoned him 40 years ago, one of whom might just have just murdered the only member who gave a damn. Better send a body guard.”

Pete is in the car with Lupo, and Pete is asking about the family. The family reunites. One son, Ted, apologizes to Pete for him being sent away, but his younger brother Matt doesn’t seem to see it that way, and storms out. Lupo and Rubirosa follow him to the kitchen where he is pouring drinks. He talks about the strain this has placed on his mother. He also mentions in passing that his “long lost brother” only takes his soda out of a plastic bottle. When Lupo asks if he remembered that. He said no, Ted told him. Rubirosa thinks it’s nice to remember that, but Lupo isn’t so sure, saying they didn’t have plastic soda bottles 40 years ago. Ted comes in and asks if they are OK.

Later, Ted is in Cutter’s office, complaining they are searching his home and office, and wondering why, since they already had the “drug freaks’ for killing his brother. Cutter tells him that Rubirosa and the detectives have a theory that covers the plastic bottle issue. He seems angry they think he killed his own brother. As Rubirosa enters the office, Ted glares at her and leaves. She tells Cutter that they got nothing on the search, but they got a call from the group home and Pete is upset about something.

It seems Pete won’t eat or work, and he’s been that way since he went to the home. He says while at his family’s house, he hear the voice that he heard yelling at Rick when Pete was in the bathroom. He said it was one of the brothers, the one being nice to him. Ted.

Lupo and Bernard arrive at the Devon household looking for Ted but his father is not going to help. They see Ted and arrest him. Ted is indicted for second-degree murder, and Jack seems surprised because this implies premeditation. Jack is also worried about how Pete will hold up on cross, and as Rubirosa joins the conversation; she seems to have some concern as well. The family wants Pete to move back in with them, but Cutter is skeptical that after 44 years they probably want to sway his testimony. Jack tells Cutter “You’re screwed” and walks away.

Lupo takes Pete to his new home with his family.

On trial, Matt is on the stand, and they question him about how he and his family financially helped Ted. He admits to the defense he was not happy about Rick getting involved with Pete. Pete then give his testimony, but now says he doesn’t remember what happened. Cutter tries to help him to remember, but Pete clearly does not want to implicate Ted. He then says he was lying about Ted, he says he hurt Rick himself, they argued and he fell and hit his head. Pete is clearly distraught.

In Jack’s office, Rubirosa is frustrated that the family is “throwing Pete to the wolves” again. Jack seems to think it’s a lost cause, but Cutter thinks that since Pete admitted to killing Rick that he should be charged with murder. Rubirosa says, "What kind of pathological prosecutor would actually charge him?” Cutter raises his hand and tells them to call the cops and arrest Pete for murder. Jack quips, “I thought I was supposed to be the hard ass.”

Later, Stanley Devon and his wife Ruth are in disbelief of Cutter's charges against Pete. They seem shocked he would go to prison. Cutter is clearly trying to get at them, saying that he doesn’t know why this is so hard for them, seeing that they sent Pete away once before. Ruth seems to want to explain the matter to Cutter but Stanley says Cutter is just playing them and he counts off the reasons how Pete will get off. She tells him to stop – that’s how he counted off the reasons 40 years ago. She won’t give Pete away again.

Later, at an allocution hearing, Ted is explaining his involvement in Rick’s murder. He admits that his whole previous life with Pete came back and it was a mess. He argued with Rick, and he followed him into the park, partly in curiosity to see Pete. He shoved him hard, he didn’t mean to kill him.

Rubirosa says, as Pete’s parents leave “44 years,” and Cutter responds, “That’s a lot of catching up.”

My comments:
I found this episode a little depressing at times. Seeing that I have a family member (a nephew) who lives in a private group home (he has very serious disabilities, much worse than Pete in this episode) I can understand the strain that it may put on a family to care for someone who is not normal. I think it can test even the best of families.

As Rick’s murder was accidental, I will never figure out why, when this is the case, that people just don’t come forward right away and say so. I suppose the fear of being prosecuted is very real. Then again, this is a family that seemed to be in denial about their son/brother, acting as if he never existed because it seemed easier to cope that way. It’s not surprising that any of them would avoid taking responsibility for a death, even if it was an accident.

I thought they did a good job in weaving the case together. There were a lot of pieces in the puzzle and it was complicated by the fact that another person was killed because of fear over being implicated in the murder. Lupo and Bernard did well together and this was one of the first times that they seemed like a cohesive team. And the guest cast did a great job in all their roles. I have to comment that after seeing a few weeks of disappointing SVU episode that promoted the appearances of the guest stars, it's nice to have the traditional Law & Order episode where the guest stars seems to comfortably slip into their roles so as to become the characters they are portraying.

It was somewhat predictable that once it was discovered that Rick and Peter were brothers that a family member would be involved. But I admit it was actually somewhat refreshing, especially after watching the soap opera drama of SVU from the night before that it was nice to have what I consider a traditional Law & Order episode without all the contrived plot twists and personal drama. It was also interesting to have Cutter play the “hard ass” that seemed to be missing in last week’s episode. The chemistry continues to grow with Cutter and Rubirosa. He seems to be in some sort of competition with her, as if he has to prove that he’s the top dog. I think we saw that Cutter ego last season and it was fun to see it come back again.

Jack seemed to have some of the best lines in the second half of the show, but he did take somewhat of a back seat. While I am a huge fan of Sam Waterston, I think for the health of the show that Cutter needs to get more face time and be the driving force for the show to continue to have life. This episode gave just enough Jack so I didn’t feel like I was being short changed.

If you’re expecting action in the episode, you won’t get it, this story was very low key. That’s OK. It was a comfortable episode that I didn’t have to work to hard to follow. Every now and then you need one of those. But not too many!

I’m just glad that the old reliable Law & Order is back. Now, if they can just find out what happened to the old reliable Law & Order SVU….?


Animelee said...

This was a great episode, and an example of what all of the Law & Orders SHOULD be. Realism and the story at the forefront of drama and glitz/glamour.

John K. said...

Wow, that's fast.

Yeah, I think low-key sums it up. It wasn't the greatest episode ever, but it was definitely decent. My only holdout is two things:

1. the TV image of such adults (the mentally challenged), as I'm not sure how to register with it. I'll leave that up to the viewers.

2. Admittedly, I felt a little bit shortchanged with Jack, but then, he was all over the place in the previous episode. So, it's fine compensation, anyway. Besides, the focus is on Cutter, as you said.

Is it me, or is Cutter trying to emulate Jack's old image with the longer hair and the jacket over his shoulder? Same with Connie with the blue blouses and the hair molded to be like Claire's in her first season.

Hmm. Maybe it's just me. Good recap, as usual.

Jeff said...

This show improved so dramatically last season. I was a big fan of seasons 1 through about 7, then I thought it fell off a lot. But the writing has picked up and the cast is one of the strongest they have ever had. I know a lot of people who are big SVU fans and that drives me crazy, because right now the mothership is in a whole other universe quality-wise.