Before I go into the recap and review, let me just open with the fact that I am so glad to see the show back in its old time slot, and earlier in the season that what was originally planned. It was worth the wait, as they delivered a fine episode with lots of rumbling going on, even within the criminal justice system.
This episode opens with a ‘Criminal Intent” feel, as we see the eventual “victim” Todd Hauser (Graham Outerbridge) with who seems to be with his girlfriend, then later at work at a brokerage firm, and then, in the rest room examining bruises on his body. We find later that Hauser has died, apparently from massive internal bleeding. There are no obvious bruises on Hauser’s face though. When Detectives Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Bernard (Anthony Anderson) are called to the morgue, and when the find that Hauser is a stockbroker, Bernard quips, “This is the kind of thing that might catch on.”
They investigate the death as if it were a beating. They check out the brokerage firm and find that Hauser took off for lunch to Union Square. They also find he had what appeared to be a girlfriend, described as Asian woman wearing a pink T-shirt that said “Pixies” on it. They track her down, and she seems to indicate that nothing odd happened at lunch. But, based on other information, Lieutenant Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) thinks Pixies girl (Dana Shiraki) knows more, and she tells them to go pick her up and bring her in.
Lupo, who was able to obtain Hauser’s Blackberry, finds that apparently there is some sort of meeting that is scheduled to take place at Union Square, and several other people are invited. Lupo and Bernard decide to check it out.
When they arrive, the find a street fight taking place, with two police officers watching, doing nothing. When one of the fighters gets beaten bloody, Lupo and Bernard step in and tell the cops to do their job and break it up. They do so, and Lupo and Bernard pick up Pixies girl who is also there and bring her in for questioning, and they also bring in one of the fighters. The fighter guy says that he also teaches fighting, but that the people participating in the street fight have to say up front if they are a pro. Pixie girl caves under questioning and says the fight video is on the Internet, and identities the guy who fought with Todd. Her turns out to be a construction worker named Vince Fonsello. And Vince is not happy when Lupo and Bernard arrest him on the construction site.
At the 27th precinct, Lt. Van Buren and the detectives are talking with Hauser’s brother (Pablo Schreiber) who works for the fire department. He is clearly agitated that his brother is dead, and said that his brother “tapped out” of the fight. When Van Buren doesn’t seem to understand what that means, he slams his hand on the desk several times to show it means the fighter gives up. He says that the fight should have stopped at that point but did not – they saw it on the Internet. Van Buren reminds him “you’re not in your fire house” after Hauser's outburst.
ADA Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) is clearly annoyed with the detectives for arresting Fonsello before consulting with her, saying “ Next time, before you arrest someone, try bringing the ball forward a little more. I don’t like playing catch up.” Still, she proceeds to the arraignment, where, based on a flimsy case presented to the judge, she can’t get the judge to hold him for what may eventually be a murder charge. The judge released Fonsello on his own recognizance, and the courtroom gallery erupts, with Hauser’s brother screaming and venting his anger at Rubirosa to “do her job.”
Back at the 2-7, Pixie girl is in again for questioning, and they are trying to confirm whether Hauser “tapped out.” She said her view was blocked, but she heard one of the long haired Italian construction workers say that Hauser pulled a “Roberto something.” Bernard assumes it’s a Roberto Durant, who said “no mas, no mas” to end a fight. They return to the construction site and question some of Fonsello’s co-workers, one who was an Italian with long hair. Clearly the guys don’t want to snitch, and when something falls near the detectives, they are warned that a construction site is a dangerous place.
They manage to catch up later with one of the workers, who admits that Vince Fonsello knew Hauser had tapped out. So they bring Fonsello in to the DA’s conference area, and confront him with evidence that he knew Hauser tapped out but continued the fight anyway. But Fonsello's attorney said that it was a consensual fight between two amateurs. DA Michael Cutter (Linus Roache) says he’s a pro at law and he’ll ask for 20 years. They negotiate to criminally negligent homicide.
In Jack’s office, DA Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) seems appalled at the fighting and that the cops just watched it. Rubirosa tells him that since the fight is consensual, they can only issue tickets for disorderly conduct. Jack wants to make an example, but since the fight was consensual and the witness who confirmed the tap out won’t testify, they can’t do much. Cutter says that there are just too many factors here, and adds “There’s enough blame here to go around.” To which Jack responds “That’s a fine, mealy-mouth sentiment. “ He then tells them if negligent homicide is the best they can do, take it, but make sure Fonsello does jail time.
Lupo and Bernard find that Fonsello is a trained boxer, and bring the information to Cutter, who asks how they missed this. Lupo thought Cutter would be happy, and Cutter informs him that the knowledge of Fonsello's training could have meant a second-degree murder charge.
Back in court, Cutter informs the judge that the consent to fight was fraudulent because Fonsello did not disclose his skills, but the judge disagrees with the whole premise and says he is inclined to give no jail time. He also tells Cutter that he didn’t do his homework.
Outside the courtroom, Hauser’s brother is waiting and challenges Cutter on what that all meant. He clearly is angry that his brother’s killer is going to get off, and he blames Cutter. Later, at a bar, Lupo, Bernard, and Rubirosa are crying in their beer, and Rubirosa looks a tad “loose.” Their pagers go off, and they are called to a crime scene. It appears that the Fonsello and the Hauser friends had a huge fight and 2 are dead, and 11 are injured, more may end up dead. Some arrests will be made in the hospital ER. Bernard states dryly, “ Justice…by other means.”
At the hospital, Hauser and one of the Fonsello people clam up and won’t admit to anything. Anita is approached by the wife of a man who appears to have been an innocent bystander who appears to have died at the hospital (the death toll is upped to 3 at arraignment). She asks Anita why they were fighting. As the police try to cuff the men to take them away and they scuffle a bit, Anita must remind them not to cuff them together,.
Later, the entire group is being arraigned for rioting in the first degree. One attorney, Mr. Reardon (Josh Hamilton), is appointed spokesperson by the judge and they assume all will plead not guilty, and are released on $10,000 bond each.
At the DA’s offices, Jack said they let the case get away from them, and wants to see every one of them charged with murder. Cutter says that it will be hard to prove as it was a free for all. McCoy chides him, saying “It’s too early to tap out, Mike.”
Lupo is looking at video of the fight that he found on the Internet. It shows three of Hauser’s acquaintances from work and a hockey team – Jason Kimmel, Neal Whitman, and Adam Neville – beating up on Fonsello. Cutter wants them all arrested but Rubirosa says unless they can find who shot the video that won’t happen. It was uploaded at an Internet café by the phony user name “I Was There” who Rubirosa says they won’t find in the phone book. Cutter asks, “Did you show me this video just to annoy me? This is our best evidence.” Rubirosa reminds him that they don’t have the original and can’t demonstrate who made it, but Cutter says the defense doesn’t know that. They use this to negotiate. But, Reardon calls them on their bluff, and Cutter's attempt to get the video admitted doesn’t work when the judge throws it out for the same reasons that Rubirosa had previously mentioned. The murder charge is dismissed.
Outside the courthouse, Jack makes a plea to the press for help, specifically asking the person who made the video to step forward. A reporter accused his office of negligence by letting Fonsello off so easy, and Jack counters that he was charged properly and they did him no favors. But , when another reporter asks him why New Yorkers should support him should he decide to make another run for DA, he counters with “ Watch what I do, that’s you’re answer. “
Back in the DA’s office hallway, Jack seems angry, saying “I’m not doing that again” meaning begging for help. He has to be able to stop these kinds of crimes and says they still need to proceed with the case. Rubirosa says that she did find a statue that would allow them to prosecute them for terrorism. When Cutter seems to discount that, McCoy says that he recalls the statute and it was worded pretty broadly, and asks how she would apply it. He seems to like her approach that because it was an attempt to intimidate the public or impede government business because they didn’t like the way the criminal justice system did its business. Cutter seems to resist, thinking that Jack only want to charge the three involved in Fonsello’s death. But Jack wants to go for broke, charging them all. Cutter is concerned, because the terrorism statue carries a life sentence – do all those people deserve life? Jack says let the jury decide. “You just get me the indictments” and he marches off.
In the courtroom, Cutter goes for broke and states his case. The judge likes his intriguing theory. When he gets his way and survives the motion to suppress, he mutters to Rubirosa, “Just because I can parrot the party line doesn’t mean I buy into it.”
The detectives work with Cutter and Rubirosa in their office. Jack walks by, overhearing them debate the premise of the case. Lupo states, not knowing Jack is listening, “It sure makes a hell of a sound bite when you’re running for re-election.” Jack steps into the fray. He chides Lupo for using his limited law study to suddenly become an expert on the law, but that Lupo counters that he understands terrorism because he has actually worked real terrorism. Lupo doesn’t like the prospect of being used, and says “When a cop stretches the rules, we get slammed. When you do it we’re supposed to hear the angels sing” He agrees to testify but tells Jack if uses his resume to make his case that Jack won’t like what he will hear. Lupo storms out. Bernard, left behind, looks sheepishly at Jack, and says “I’ll talk to him. “ Jack tells Cutter to take Lupo off the witness list, and Cutter sarcastically says that it’s easier than deciding if Lupo actually has a point.
On the witness stand, Cutter is questioning the wife of the innocent bystander who was killed. The defense attorney asks her about her 9/11 experiences. She said it felt like they were in a war, and he ends his questioning. Bernard is testifies for the prosecution on what he saw and found at the fight. The defense questions whether the defendant expressed political views. But Bernard gives added commentary on the subject of neighborhood gangs, and his response is stricken from the record. Cutter redirects, and asks Bernard to elaborate on his answer, and he talks about how these types of incidents do incite fear.
Hauser’s brother is on the stand for his defense, talking about his anger over his brother’s death and how the fight got out of hand. He expresses remorse over the death of innocent people, but said they weren’t trying to make a statement. He talked about his job as a firefighter and expresses concern about being sent to jail for life. Cutter cross examines, and manages to extract from Hauser that his actions and words did indicate he was trying to make a political statement about the justice system, so people would think twice in the future about making deals.
In closing, the defense indicates that the prosecution doesn’t have a clear case so they expect the jury to pass judgment. Cutter, however, calls the street fight an attack on the institutions we hold dear, and that they wanted to substitute their justice for due process. He makes a good close.
Back in Jack’s office, Cutter seems concerned that it’s taking 5 days so far for the jury to return a not guilty verdict. Jack seems to have more confidence in Cutter than Cutter himself. Rubirosa gets a call that a fistfight had to be broken up in the jury room, and leaves the room. Cutter closes the door to speak privately with Jack. Cutter seems to think that Jack is crossing the line, which was OK when Adam Schiff had his back, but not now when he’s on his own. He’s worried that Jack will look like a fool, not to mention how it will affect the credibility of the DA's office. He said Jack made his point, he proved he can protect the city, now he should prove he has the wisdom to back down when he’s doing more harm than good. Jack blank look may mean like he is considering it.
Later, Cutter and Rubirosa come into the courtroom with a deal, which is accepted. The terrorism charges, which carried life, are dropped. Jack has another press conference on the courthouse steps, and he says they made a just and fair resolution and it also means that the city can rest easier knowing mob violence won’t be tolerated and justice will prevail. He also puts his hand on Cutter’s shoulder and praises Cutter, who brought sense and reason to the outcome. Cutter gives Jack a surprised, then happy look as Jack smiles at him too. (Awwww, looks like love!) As Jack walks off, a reporter is heard asking McCoy, “Have you been asked to join the Obama administration?"
For a season opener, I think it was a solid start. Lupo and Bernard seem to be an average team, they’re not bad but there’s also nothing particular special about them either. Sometimes I still have a hard time hearing what Sisto is saying as his voice is so deep and he doesn’t seem to speak very loudly. They also seem to be giving Bernard the “Lennie” lines, but he doesn’t delivery them with the same wryness that Jerry Orbach did. I admit there probably won’t be any other detective on this show that will measure up to Lennie Briscoe, so it may be unfair to me to compare others to him. Still, I think they are giving Bernard lines that have some possibilities. But, it seems that Lupo and Bernard come form different places - with Bernard having more street knowledge and Lupo maybe more of a "big picture" and this may help them complement or balance each other in the future. It could cause friction later, although Bernard seems to be more of the level headed one right now.
Overall, the cast seems to have good chemistry. I liked when Lupo, Bernard and Rubirosa were in the bar, and I swear that Rubirosa looked like she almost had one too many. It also seemed to show that Cutter seems to separate himself from the rest of them.. Along with his resistance with Jack and Connie on their approach to the case, it almost seems like they are purposely trying to separate him from the others, which seems to make him appear aloof. I don’t have a problem with that because the aloof and distant Cutter seems to resonate more with me than last season, where it seemed like all his office “toys” and props were being thrown at us every week.
And Jack is back - the person who won’t give up and is willing to take the risks and go for broke. But, there is another side to Jack: the man who will have to run for re-election to keep his job. It seems a good sign that he tells the reporter to “watch what I do” but at the same time, it was a little concerning that he got a little hot under the collar that he got embarassed at the conference by having to beg for help. It seems that Jack probably understands more and more what his predecessor Adam Schiff had to go through, and why Adam was always rubbing his head every time Jack proposed something off the wall.
It also seemed like the relationship between Jack and Cutter is a complex one. Cutter seems to be frustrated at Jack’s maverick streak, but is it worry over the risk Jack is taking with the image of the DA's office, or it is concern over protecting Jack’s himself? I would think it might be more of the latter, since Cutter may believe he’d rather work with Jack than someone new in the DA’s chair. But it’s clear that Cutter has become less of a risk taker over time, and is not the same Executive Assistant District Attorney that Jack was. I would imagine over time that Cutter will learn more from “the master” on when it’s OK to take the safe route, and when to think outside the box.
Rubirosa seems to have learned well working for Jack, because she consistently seems to come up with creative ways to prosecute. I really like the transformation of Rubirosa that started last season and she’s coming across as being one of the most confident ADA’s they’ve had in a very long time.
It also seems like there is trouble brewing between Lupo and the DA’s office. Jack may be right, Lupo is using his limited law knowledge possibly to the wrong end. But Lupo also nailed it with his comment that “When you do it we’re supposed to hear the angels sing.” Well, sure, everything than Jack says makes angels sing! What a silly statement that was that Lupo made. I always hear angels, don’t you? Seriously, I think that line was a reflection of the general Jack McCoy/Sam Waterston fandom, who thinks neither Jack, nor Sam, does any wrong. Ever!
Sure, the case gets a little preachy at the end, but as Bernard said on the stand, sometimes these types of day-to-day violent actions have repercussions on people and can create fear. It is disturbing though, that the rules can be bent to the extent that maybe the law did not initially intend. This may have been a subtle statement against the Patriot Act and other anti-terrorism laws, aimed against terrorists of one accepted definition, but that could be used to apply against other crimes if stretched. Did Jack stretch the law too far just to make a point and give him the edge for reelection? That may have motivated him a little, but I also think that the Jack McCoy that just wants to do the right thing and prosecute criminals of all kinds may have had more to do with it.
The episode feels comfortable, the characters real, the situations believable. It’s nothing like Law & Order SVU, which as of late seems to be a vehicle to promote a guest star of the week, and improve Emmy chances for Hargitay and Meloni. The original Law & Order is about the law, and the characters in the show come along for the ride. It’s great to have an established character like Jack McCoy that can be counted on to help bring home the bacon, and Jack’s appearances don’t seem too contrived. They seem necessary to further the plot, all the while giving the character of Michael Cutter room to grow and become more centered. And that is what makes Law & Order so good. It’s dependable and it almost always comes though.
AS far as Jack McCoy and Michael Cutter, I think there is love in the air.
Check out my blog home page for the latest Law & Order information, here.
Also, see my companion Law & Order site,These Are Their Stories.