Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Law & Order SVU “Persona” A Riveting Episode

Now this is what Law & Order should be about – the story, not the actors or the guest stars. And in this case, they delivered an episode that was compelling and filled with drama. We also got a special appearance of the hard-nosed, and apparently hard-hearted Elizabeth Donnelly, which greatly enhanced the story.

First the recap, my full review follows afterwards.

The episode opens with a woman going to a drug store pharmacy to get the morning after pill. When the pharmacy challenges her request, she causes a scene, which brings out security. During her outburst, she claims she was raped. Detectives Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Stabler (Chris Meloni) are called in, and Stabler instructs security to release the rape victim from the handcuffs. The pharmacist says she is going to press charges, and Stabler tells her not to press her luck.

The detectives take her to the hospital where she is examined. The doctor (Didi Conn) shows them photographs of her injury. The victim, Mia Latimer (Clea Duvall), describes her attack, saying she was threatened with a knife. She describes her attacker as “tall, white, big.” She was told not to look at him. She and her husband were trying to get pregnant and she knew she was ovulating, and she did not want to have the rapist’s baby.

Benson and Stabler arrive at the crime scene where Forensics Tech O'Halloran (Mike Doyle) has already arrived and said the rest of the team already left. He said all he could do was set up the crime scene tape. Someone dumped oil over the area where the attack occurred and if the attack happened where Mia actually said it had, she would have oil all over her clothes, which she didn’t. She lied to them. But, she was clearly injured from a beating, so they concluded the perp was her husband.

At the Latimer residence, Mia answers the door and when asked, says her husband is not home. They confront her with the fact that she lied, and while they are talking, her husband Brent (Nathaniel Marston) arrives home, carrying flowers. They tell him they are investigating burglaries in the area, he says he has good security, back up by several guns. He gives his wife the flowers and kisses her. When Stabler cautions him on keeping his weapons secure, Latimer seems agitated and tells them he can take care of his own home. The detectives decide to talk to the neighbors to get info as “the walls have ears.”

Wheelchair-bound downstairs tenant Jonah Malcolm (Mike Farrell) says he’s a crime buff and makes references to the Hitchcock movie “Rear Window” as his wife Linnie (Brenda Blethyn), joins them. Jonah seems to want to talk; Linnie doesn’t want to get involved. He describes fights at the Latimer’s; also saying Mia had a broken arm last spring. But Linnie is worried that they will get kicked out of their rent-controlled apartment by talking about the matter. When Linnie walks away, Benson follows her and continues to discuss the Latimers. She says she’s afraid of Brent Latimer – he’s a monster, nice on the outside, nasty inside.

Later, we see Mia coming in to Linnie’s place, saying she got her message. But Benson is there, and Mia doesn’t want to talk to her. She says she doesn’t need protection, but Benson offers to help. Benson forces Mia to look at her injuries. Mia says he always says he’s sorry and brings her flowers. Benson tells her that her husband won’t change, and she needs to tell her what really happened. She says he wanted to have sex and to make a baby. He tracks her ovulation, takes her temperature every day. She doesn’t want to have a child with him, but he called her a selfish bitch and beat her. Linnie offers to take care of Mia and tells the to go “arrest the bastard.” They take him off in cuffs.

Latimer is being arraigned, with Benson present. He pleads not guilty, of course. ADA Greyleck (Michaela McManus) argues the case with Latimer’s attorney Trevor Langan (Peter Hermann). The judge sets bail at $50,000, and Greyleck asks for an order of protection for his wife. Benson whispers something to Greyleck, who comes back to the judge and asks for Latimer’s firearms to be surrendered to the NYPD. The judge agrees.

Mia s worried because they let him go, thinking even taking away his guns won’t stop him. Her parents are dead and she has no friends, and Brent cut her off from all the money. Linnie suggests going a shelter, but she refuses. When Benson says she should be OK financially after she files for divorce, Mia tells her she signed a prenup, she married him at 19 and never had a job. Linnie says she deserves someone better. But Mia agrees to go to the a shelter.

At the Domestic Violence Safe House, Benson is telling Mia not to disclose the location to anyone, and tells her the rules. She can have no contact with Brent. Mia feels like she’s in prison, and she knows all about rules – Brent has lots of them.

Back at the squad, Benson mentions to Stabler that going to the safe house should have been Mia’s choice and she pushed her into it. When Stabler mentions that Brent will be going to jail, Langan arrives, and tells them that Mia recanted her charges against Brent – on video, so Brent will be released.

Later, Benson goes to the Latimer residence, and is greeted by Brent. He tries to blow her off, but she says she has a right to see Mia. He lets her in, and calls out to Mia, who arrives looking fresh, perky, and happy, and says everything is fine. She wants to be home with her husband, and says she made a mistake, and Brent forgives her. He says goodbye to Benson, and says to tell her partner he wants his guns back.

Benson goes downstairs in the laundry area to see Linnie, and Linnie is annoyed that Mia doesn’t seem to care. Benson sees a doorway, and Linnie says it’s the old servant’s steps that were left there after they converted the apartment, and they also share the laundry. When Benson looks like she has an idea, Linnie tells her that she can’t stay there, but Benson stays it’s the only way she can protect her. Linnie is unsympathetic, but relents under pressure from Benson.

While she is staying there, Benson hears Brent yelling at Mia. She kicks in the door and tells Brent to put his hands on his head, Mia standing there with a knife in her chest. He says she attacked him. Benson yells for Linnie to call 911, but Mia bleeds out.

Later, at the Latimer home, Cragen (Dann Florek) tries to reassure Benson. As she leaves the apartment with Cragen, Linnie is there, and asks Benson if it was worth it, and she chides her for pushing Mia. But Jonah asks Benson to not let Brent get away with it.

At the crime lab at One Police Plaza, it appears that Brent’s claim of self-defense won’t stand up. But, they did find prints on the kitchen phone that matched an old homicide from 1974. A man named Vincent Cresswell was killed in his sleep by his wife, shot 6 times. His wife Caroline was arrested at the scene, but she fled just before trial and has been a fugitive ever since. The face of that killer is a young Linnie Malcolm.

At the Malcolm residence, Linnie says she has been dreading this for 34 years. She also never told Jonah about it. She said when she escaped, she had nowhere to go, and had no money, spending her last dollar on a bowl of soup. At the squad with Stabler, Jonah recalls meeting her that day, and Linnie is also at the squad, telling Benson that Jonah saved her life as she had no money or friends and was thinking about suicide. She had no family to go home to. They tried to have children but Jonah said she was infertile, but she said she was on the pill, as she could not risk her identity being discovered. Jonah wonders if their marriage is even legal.

She says she met her first husband at an anti-war protest, and after the war ended the world moved on but Vincent was still angry. No one wanted his “bitter poems” and he blamed Linnie for “stifling his muse”. He was into drugs and booze and beat her all the time. He bought a gun and when he was drunk he talked about suicide, one day he said he was going to shoot her and kill himself, and she knew he meant it. She was planning to leave, stashing away change and had almost $50 dollars, and he found it and accused her of selling herself for the money. He raped her, over and over. When he went to sleep, she took the gun from under his pillow and shot him. She still had the gun in her hand when the police broke down the door. She never told anyone he raped her.

Looking from behind the glass, Cragen muses to Greyleck that marital rape wasn’t a crime until 1984 and today this would be ruled self-defense. Greyleck says Linnie will have to face the original indictment but if they can corroborate her story, she is probably looking at probation. A voice from behind states “Over my dead body” and Greyleck says, surprised “Judge Donnelly”. Donnelly (Judith Light) says “Not any more.’ She’s taken a leave of absence to return to the DA’s office for “unfinished business”, meaning Linnie Malcolm AKA Caroline Cresswell.

She enters the room and says “Hello Caroline, remember me?” Benson looks stunned, and Linnie says she knows she was the prosecutor on her original case. Donnelly orders Benson to arrest Linnie for escape in the first degree, and when Benson balks, Donnelly says if she won’t do it, she’ll bring in a detective that isn’t personally involved. Benson arrests her, under her original name.

At arraignment, Donnelly requests remand. The defense requests home confinement with electronic monitoring because Jonah needs her for his care. She is remanded but the defense adds they will be presenting an affirmative defense because Caroline was a battered woman. The judge allows the defense.

In Donnelly’s office, Benson confronts her with the fact that she spent her entire career protecting abused women, and now she is going after one. Donnelly comments “You don’t know, do you?” and asks Benson if she ever asked how Caroline escaped. (She hadn’t.) Caroline asked for a meeting to plea bargain, and then escaped out of the bathroom, Donnelly taking the blame. Her colleagues continue to refer to her rookie mistake as “doing a Donnelly” and said Benson has no idea how it was working in law enforcement back then for a woman. Caroline made her look like a fool, but this is not why she’s going after her. She tells Benson that Linnie “snowed her” but that she snowed her too. Donnelly pulls out a letter fro Caroline and read it, Caroline asking for her help. She wanted to plead guilty but had a problem that she could only speak to her about in private. It was ruse to get her down to her office, she thought. She says Linnie is a smart and manipulative woman.

At Rikers, Benson is talking with Linnie, saying she wants the truth. Linnie says she did not plan to escape, it just happened. She asked why she wrote the letter to Donnelly, but she says she doesn’t remember. She says she deserves to go to jail, but Benson said it was self-defense. She won’t tell Benson why she ran away. Benson says she should help herself for Jonah, he deserves to know the whole story.

She says that after Vincent raped her, she was crying, and he told her to shut up so he could get some sleep. He put the gun under the pillow, and said he knew she liked it, and if she was a good girl she would give him more in the morning. Now on the stand, Linnie continues her story. It didn’t bother him what he did to her. Hurting her was the only thing that made him feel good. She pulled the trigger, and kept seeing him slap her and kick her and rape her, and she kept shooting until those images went away. She only remembers the blood everywhere.

Donnelly begins her cross-examination, and brings out the she never told the police about the rape and the beatings. She says her story is very convenient, and there is no proof. When asked why did didn’t tell that to a jury 34 years ago, she balks. Donnelly states she ran because she was guilty and she knew it. But Linnie counters that she was pregnant. Donnelly challenged that the hormones made her do it, did they make her run, too? She said she ran so she could get an abortion. She said she could not get an abortion in prison, she could not bear the thought of having his child. She came to see Donnelly to see if she could get an abortion, then she would plead guilty. This causes Donnelly to seem to show some concern on her face. Linnie says that Donnelly was so strong and self-confident that she was ashamed of her weakness. She couldn’t tell her, how could a woman like Donnelly ever understand a woman like herself?

The verdict comes in. Murder in the second degree – not guilty. Escape in the first degree – guilty. When the judge says they will meet later for sentencing, Donnelly stands up and declares the people will be recommending probation. The judge will hear her reasoning, and adds she tends to agree with her.

As Donnelly goes to leave, Linnie asks her why. Donnelly says back in the days when she was trying so hard to be one of the boys, she forgot why she became a lawyer. Linnie also thanks Benson for her help. Linnie calls to Jonah saying it’s over, but Jonah asks when she had the abortion. She says it was when he went to Seattle, he left her money. He’s angry that all the decisions they made were based on a lie. He wanted children and grandchildren and now he will never have them. She says she is sorry, but he says he doesn’t know her. She asks for his forgiveness, but he can’t, and he leaves., leaving Linnie standing alone.

I was surprised how quickly I was pulled into this episode. At first, when the pharmacists gave the woman a hard time about wanting the day after pill, I thought that we were going to get dragged into another preachy episode. But when the woman asking for the drug says she was raped, and it turned into a case of spousal abuse, the story got interesting. By the way, my own opinion is that pharmacists should just dispense what they are instructed, and if they have problems with that then they shouldn’t be in that line of work. In this woman’s case where she was raped, she shouldn’t have to explain to anyone, least of all a pharmacist, why she needs the drug. I also thought that this didn’t give the woman the right to get violent with the pharmacist, so Stabler really shouldn’t have been going off on them for restraining her after she became violent. Stabler shouldn’t be assuming that the woman, just because she said she was raped, was a victim.

I’m also not sure why they leapt at the assumption that it was Mia’s husband who was abusing her. I can understand where they may have assumed she knew her attacker, seeing that he rape claims didn’t match the crime scene. But, these annoying details aside, I was pleasantly surprised to see Nathaniel Marston pull off a decent performance as the over-controlling husband.

Olivia, of course, still seems to meddle when maybe she should not have. I can see that by seeing victims of abuse on a regular basis would make her push hard to get the victim away from her abuser. In this case, it backfired, because the victim herself wasn’t ready for a new life away from her abusive husband and an otherwise stable life and home. I can see where someone who has never worked and is living in a nice home, with financial security and nice things would not want to leave it for an uncertain life, even when it’s an abusive household. Olivia didn’t seem to take this into account, and as a result, Mia left the safe house to return to a more certain life, albeit one with abuse.

I also am amazed that the detectives always seem to have so much time to work a case that they are able to even go so far as to stay in the victim’s building in order to catch the abuse. I suppose it’s no different from a stakeout, only staying inside the home and not outside. Lucky for Olivia that the abuse happened quickly afterwards, but with a sad ending. It’s also nice to see that it takes more than one kick to knock down a door in New York City, even from someone as tough as Olivia.

But, since the previews highlighted the guest star Brenda Blethyn, I knew that something more was coming, and was bracing myself for a twist that would ruin what seemed like a decent story. I’m glad to say that this time I was wrong. For a change, even though the guest star becomes the center of the story, I thought that Blethyn turned in a riveting performance as a woman who herself was the victim of abuse, and also someone who committed a murder years before because of that abuse. Unlike the appearance a few weeks ago with Ellen Burstyn, Blethyn was completely believable in her role, and, in a way, kept viewers hanging on whether she killed because of the abuse, or if it was just a con.

Also a great addition to the show was the hardened Elizabeth Donnelly, played perfectly by Judith Light. I didn’t realize judges could take a leave to be a temporary prosecutor, but I really didn’t mind, seeing that I think Donnelly is 1,000 times better than Greyleck, who I don’t care for as a prosecutor. I really miss Judith Light on the show and I am always pleased when they bring her back even if only for short appearances. Since Donnelly has worked Special Victims for so long, I can understand why Olivia was puzzled that Donnelly seemed to be going so doggedly after Linnie. I though that putting the question in the viewers mind about Linnie’s motives, though, was the one thing that gave the show some much needed drama, something that has been absent for quite some time.

It was interesting that Linnie was faced with the same problem that Mia was faced in the beginning of the episode – unwanted pregnancies from abusive spouses. In this day, Mia can fix it with a pill, where Linnie was faced with having to bargain away a justifiable murder in order to attempt to get it. When Linnie mentioned that this was the real reason she wanted to plea bargain with Donnelly, and the chance to escape just seemed to present itself, the realization of the real mistake Donnelly made was apparent on her face. Had Donnelly been able to stand up to the ridicule of having someone escape from her, maybe she would not have assumed all those years that Linnie was guilty. In a way, her own verbal abuse from men made her take it out on someone else, and maybe she wasn’t the strong woman she thought she was.

It was also heart wrenching to see Linnie’s husband Jonah decide to leave her because of her lies to him. I suppose that was expected, but still, Mike Farrell and Blethyn played the scene very powerfully.

This wasn’t a traditional case – no Munch and Fin, either – but at least we didn’t get sucked into some sort of Stabler or Benson melodrama or cheesy contrived situations or evidence. This case was all about the crimes and the people involved in those crimes. For a change, it was about the special victims.

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Anonymous said...

I agree - best SVU this season.

I don't know why they just won't make Judith Light the SVU ADA. Oh it would be much, much better.

samfan said...

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

Cahilla said...

I could not agree more!!! I loved this episode because of the same reasons you so nicely put out! It was the best so far this season and probably the best since Undercover in my opinion!

jhjenn said...

Excellent acting.... best in some time.... I'm keeping this episode form my collection.

nygma619 said...

I gotta disagree, the first half was alright if not standard svu stuff. But the second half just became too boring and tepid for my liking, as it spent WAY TOO MUCH time on the older lady as she just would not stop talking, and she talked way too slowly. And WAY TOO MUCH time was spent on her talking about her experience in the slowest voice possible. And by the time she got to her line, "Why would a woman like you, ever understand a woman like me?" I wanted to get the barf bag, that line was cliched and horrible. Made worse by the actresses horrible overly dramatic delivery.

I know you complained about lines like "I guess God remembered how cute you were when you were a carrot." And granted its not the best line in the world, but at least you have to put alot more effort in to thinking up a line like that. Unlike the one I mentioned above, I hope the writers didn't think THAT was the best line they could think of.

I know some people complain about them not being in the courts that much, but when the material gets to be THIS sappy and the victim has a voice THAT slow and horrible, I'd rather they be back out in the field.

Personally I like how SVU has some more emphasis on the actors and the characters, it sets it apart from the other L&O shows.

Catherine Ruth Albrecht said...

Call me a dodo bird but I am not sure if Caroline ' s abuse really happened. Did Victor abuse and rape her? If not, what is her motive for shooting him? Thanks.