Thursday, January 29, 2009

Law & Order “Lucky Stiff” Brings Out A Vulture (Recap & Review)

All images from NBC

This episode of NBC’s Law & Order, “Lucky Stiff” had plenty of twists and turns. What seemed to be Russian mob hits were all murders at the hand of two men in the Klein family. Maybe criminal behavior was inherited in this case, because it seems that’s all that Chad Klein seemed learn from his father Stan.

It looked like this would be a simple case of a murder that occurred as a result of a biofuel scam. But things turn much darker when the murderer – and his innocent bystander wife – are murdered themselves at the hands of the man’s own son. And what originally looked like a murder to cover up a secret relationship, it turns out that it’s all about money. It seems that Chad Klein’s “Vulture Investing” techniques involve killing in order to make his own money.

The episode, while somewhat predictable during the last 15 minutes or so, was interesting and again they are making good use of the cast. It is almost as if they are going out of their way to bring the detectives and the DA’s office together more often than we used to see in years past. I think this makes the teamwork, and sometimes even the conflicts, between them seem much more credible. But there is one problem – it seems that Michael Cutter is getting a habit of having to result to trickery to win his cases. I can understand why Rodgers was concerned that he used a phony ME report to force the truth to come out, but she also knows how these things work and I figured she would cut him some slack. I had to chuckle, though, when she made the comment about her last name being spelled with a “D” because I am sure I have spelled it incorrectly many times myself.

Noticeably absent was Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston), who we are told had been off in Washington for his campaign kickoff. If he is running for the position of New York County DA, why does he need to go to Washington? Even though Jack McCoy is almost as important on Law & Order as breathing air, it is understandable that he not always appear front and center. But as ME Rodgers would say, “Don’t do it again.”

Here is the recap:

After we see Vic Russell getting upset with an employee about getting his truck fixed at his Westside Express trucking firm. Apparently they are going through too many fuel filters, and Russell tells the mechanic to go back to using the “regular stuff”. We later see Russell dead at the trucking company. Detectives Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Bernard (Anthony Anderson) are on the scene. Russell has been shot with a 42-caliber gun, his wallet is still there but his watch is missing.

Questioning his secretary, they find Russell had no family, so the secretary wonders what will come of the company. Russell had left early for work the day he was killed; he had a meeting with a business associate, Stan Klein, the night before. They meet with Klein (Adam Grupper) at Zero Sum, Inc., who is a client of Russell’s, and he sells carbon offsets to local companies. Vic had received money from him so he could change his trucks to biofuel. They had talked about renewing Russell’s contract, and Russell said he was supposed to go to dinner after their meeting. Russell invited Klein to come but he couldn’t, as it was his wife’s birthday.

Back at the 2-7, Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) tells the detectives that Russell’s last meal was expensive; his stomach was full of caviar and some kind of dumpling. Lupo states that Russell’s real name was Vladimir Rezanov, that he came in to the country from Russia 15 years ago and that OCID has had their eye on him for a while. They also find his “dinner date” was a member from the Russian mob named Alex Arshavin (Michael Aranov), a loan shark who works out of Samizat Restaurant, which is very close to where they found Russell’s body.

The detectives go to the restaurant and talk with Arshavin. He says he did see Vic at dinner last night and that Russell owed him money and they were talking about repayment – but nicely. Russell was getting money soon, and Arshavin he had no reason to kill him. He tells him as Russell left and that who he though was cop followed him in a black SUV. With the looks on the detectives’ faces, Arshavin realizes it was not a cop.

They bring him to the 2-7 where they make a composite sketch of who Arshavin saw. Van Buren tells Lupo that no one or agency has been trailing Russell. Lupo comments that Arshavin has been going around in circles on the sketch, but when Arshavin finishes, they realize the person in the sketch is Stan Klein. The payments from Klein to Russell don’t appear to be showing up in Russell’s financials. Van Buren tells the detectives to follow the money trail first before they confront Klein. The detectives meet with some of Klein’s clients, and in doing so realize that Klein is running a scam with his biofuel company. The individual businesses were paying Klein to have trucks converted to biofuel, more trucks than Russell has in his company.

When the detectives meet with one of Russell’s employees, they are told that Russell was bringing people in all the time to see his “green” operation. He also tells them about the clogged fuel pumps, and that they stopped using the biofuel. He heard Russell was getting $20 per converted truck. Russell and Klein got a long OK until a few days prior. When someone had asked how much it costs to convert a truck, he told them it cost $2,000 per truck. Russell was standing right there and heard the comment, and he was surprised when he heard that figure. Russell took Klein into the office and he heard them argue.

Back at the 2-7, Lupo and Bernard tell Van Buren and ADA Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) that Klein had been selling the same carbon offsets to several people. Russell/Rezanov wasn’t getting anywhere near what Klein was taking in for the offsets. They think that when Rezanov found out, he may have tried to shake down Klein, who didn’t take to that very well. Klein’s wife had a black SUV, and after Rubirosa calls Klein a “hypocrite AND a crook,” says she will get warrants to search their home and car. Van Buren states dryly, “Two warrants in one trip? That’s fuel efficient.” Later, they arrest Klein in his home. Klein’s son Chad (Robert Iler) enters and asks what is going on and is upset they are searching his room and taking his computer.

Back at the 2-7, Lupo tells Van Buren they found no gun and the SUV was clean. Klein’s thumbprint did match a latent print on Rezanov’s wrist. In a line up, Arshavin picks Klein out of a lineup as the man who was following Rezanov.

Rubirosa and EADA Michael Cutter (Linus Roache) meet with Klein and his attorney in jail. They tell him about their theory of the fraud and murder and thumbprint and that it proves Klein grabbed Rezanov. Outside the conference room, Cutter says he can prove the conspiracy with Rezanov and the murder and fraud were part of the same scheme, so they take the case to trial for enterprise corruption so they can freeze Klein’s assets. It would also mean that Rezanov would be implicated in his own murder.

At arraignment court, the judge tells them that if they fail to prove enterprise corruption, they will be subject to double jeopardy and won't be able to try Klein for the underlying offenses. Bail is $1 million and Klein is allowed to remain under house arrest, but he says he now lives at a different address because his wife filed for a separation. Rubirosa wonders why the wife is throwing him out, not giving Klein an alibi. Later, they meet with her and she says they separated so that Stan can concentrate on his defense. When Cutter asks if Klein was home on the night of the murder, Mrs. Klein (Alexandra Neil) says she took a sleeping pill that night and went to bed early. Her daughter Alicia tells them says she wasn't home. Chad enters and says he wasn't home either.

At the Supreme Court, Arshavin is on the stand and identifies Klein as the man who followed Rezanov. But Klein’s lawyer Mr. Feldman (Bruce Altman) shows that Arshavin was too far away to see clearly, and then presses him on his loan business. Cutter asks how much Renisov owed him and that he will never get it back. He adds he will send Klein a bill.

Rezanov’s mechanic takes the stand and talks about the problems with the trucks using the biofuel. He also tells them about Rezanov finding out how much Klein was getting for the conversions and Rezanov told the mechanic he was going to get a lot of money to fix the trucks. He later admits that Rezanov never mentioned Klein’s name as the source of the money. He also states that Chad Klein brought the SUV to the truck shop the day after the murder and had it cleaned. Cutter and Rubirosa looks slightly concerned at this revelation. They think Chad had the SUV cleaned up and got rid of the murder weapon. Cutter tells Rubirosa to get a warrant.

Lupo and Bernard question Chad about getting the SUV cleaned. He says he doesn’t like to drive a dirty car. He said he wouldn’t be stupid enough to take it to the truck place if he had to wash brains off the dashboard. He took it there because it was free. They see information on a business that Chad was starting called “Vulture Investing.” Bernard then finds a watch, and Chad says he bought it used. Bernard notes there may be blood on the watch, and that the inscribed letter “B” is actually a “V” in Russian, and a “P” is and “R” so it could be Vladimir Rezanov’s watch. Chad then says he found the watch in his dad’s car.

On the stand, Chad admits he found the watch in his dad’s car. He didn’t know about their murder, he just took it. He apologizes to his dad. Later, the jury finds Klein guilty of conspiracy and murder, and bail is continued.

Afterwards, Cutter and Rubirosa have a drink to celebrate. But Rubirosa gets a call and meets with Lupo and Bernard at a crime scene. It’s Klein and his wife, and they have been murdered, their bodies in the home that Stan Klein was renting, but his wife had been visiting. Alicia had found the bodies.

The detectives talk with Chad and Alicia, who had to be sedated to calm her. They talk with Alicia alone. She says her mom wanted to talk with her stepfather so she went to his place. She found the bodies but saw no one else around. The door was shut, but she also had a key. Before he died, Stan Klein said “The Russians…it was the Russians” and then he stopped.

Later at the 2-7 Lupo and Bernard talk with Arshavin and ask his help to find who killed the Kleins. But he says his mother told him never talk to the police. Outside the interrogation room, Van Buren says it’s not Arshavin, he has an airtight alibi –OCID was watching him at the time of the Klein’s murder. Bernard gets information that shows that the same gun used to kill Rezanov killed the Kleins. Cutter is certain that Klein killed Rezanov, and they wonder if Chad picked it up at the Rezanov crime scene. They also suspect that Chad may have coached Alicia to say her stepfather said the Russians did it. Van Buren tells the detectives to talk with the ME to see if Klein really could have been talking.

Lupo and Bernard talk with the ME Rogers (Leslie Hendrix) who says Klein could have said something as he had been shot in the torso and it would have taken time for him to bleed out, enough time for him to talk for a short while. So they go back to Alicia, who sticks by her story. She says he only said it once, then adds maybe twice. She doesn’t recall even dialing 911. She may have discussed it with Chad. They ask if Chad was having problems with his dad, and she says she didn’t see Chad much so she didn’t know. Lupo sees a book of Chad’s company, Vulture Investing, but she says it belongs to a friend of hers but she can’t recall who.

When Lupo and Bernard talk to Sarah, a friend of Alicia’s, she said she didn’t know Chad and Alicia were brother and sister at first – they were dating but kept it quiet. Chad was 20 and Alicia 14 at the time it started. She said Alicia told her parents would have “disinherit” them if it was discovered.

Later at the 2-7, they show Chad surveillance camera footage of him and Alicia kissing. Chad admits Rezanov saw them fooling around and told his father about it. He said his dad didn’t care until Rezanov threatened to tell Alicia’s mother. He didn’t want anything to upset his marriage.

In Cutter’s office, with Rubirosa and the detectives, he is surprised at the news that they apparently had Klein’s motives for murder all wrong. The wonder if Chad decided to kill his father and his stepmother was in the wrong place at the wrong time. As they discuss theories, Cutter receives a motion from Klein’s attorney to void all proceedings against his late client. Since Klein never had a chance to appeal, the argument is that only fair thing is to throw out his indictment and conviction. This would mean the money could be kept – and Chad Klein would inherit, a clear motive for murder. Cutter says, ‘I think we can get our story straight now.”

Later in court, Cutter argues the point with the judge, but he disagrees and orders the charges dropped. Cutter and Rubirosa now wonder if Alicia was in on the murders with her stepbrother. They decide to look at the parents’ wills. They meet with Alicia and tell her that her mother left the house to Stan, not to her. And, since Alicia said her mother died first, this means everything would go to Stan’s heir, Chad. She doesn’t care because she and Chad love each other.

Cutter and Rubirosa show up in surrogate court for the reading of the will. They argue that Chad shouldn’t inherit the money. Cutter asks for a fact-finding hearing. The judge agrees take the matter to court. Chad is on the stand and Cutter asks him if he killed his father and stepmother. He denies it. He also said his father didn’t care that he and Alicia had been intimate. He found out they were dead when Alicia called him. Cutter asks Chad if he took some law classes and he says yes. He also asks if he studied abatement, and Chad says he stopped going to class by the time they covered that subject.

Alicia then takes the stand and Cutter pressures her about her account of finding her parents dead. The judge stops Cutter, and says that he hasn't heard anything that bars Chad and Alicia from inheriting the money, and the only thing left to determine is who died first. Alicia's lawyer speaks up and says he has a preliminary medical examiner report that indicates Alicia's mom lived longer than Stan. Her lawyer says it’s clear that Alicia inherits the entire estate. Chad whispers something to his lawyer, who says the matter will have to be litigated. Alicia is stunned. Cutter suggests that they just split everything in half, and Alicia is agreeable, but Chad disagrees, his lawyer saying Chad wants what is rightfully his. Alicia is upset, but Chad says he'll share everything with her. She can’t believe he wants to fight her in court. Cutter eggs them on, saying it is Chad’s right, and that he has a good case, especially with her own testimony. Chad tries to calm her, but she pulls away. Alicia then admits that Chad asked her to lie, and said otherwise the police would suspect him. He says she is confused. The lie he asked her to tell was that Stan was talking when she arrived when in fact they were both dead when she got there. She realizes that Chad killed them both and says that out loud. Bernard enters and arrests Chad for murder. Alicia shouts “I hope he rots!”

Later in Cutters office, ME Rodgers asks if the papers she is holding is the draft medical report that was leaked to the attorney. He answers, “Apparently.” She says her name isn’t even spelled correctly, she had a “D” in Rodgers. She seems upset that he forged a report. But he says the report was from Rogers – without a “D”, essentially admitting it was fake. He adds it never went into evidence nor would he have let it get into evidence. Connie then walks in and tells them that McCoy just got back from Washington for his campaign kickoff and they are having cake for him. Rodgers asks if McCoy knows about the faked report, and Cutter says , “He has so much on his mind.” When Rodgers asks what happened to Chad, Rubirosa says Chad will be put away for two murders because of Alicia's testimony. The medical examiner slaps the report on Cutter’s desk and tells him, “Don’t do it again” and she leaves. Once Rodgers is out of earshot, Rubirosa adds, “Unless we have to.” Cutter responds, “Right.” She asks him if he wants cake, and he says, “In a minute.” Cutter seems to be thinking as we hear the staff yelling, clapping and cheering, singing “Happy days are hear again” for McCoy’s return as they fade to black.

“Lucky Stiff” Episode Clip

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samfan said...

Like you said the last bit of the show was pretty predictable. I can't believe McCoy wasn't on the show! I think the detectives are doing much better then last season. I thought the show was alright, I liked last week's better, but I think that next week's will be good. They better have Jack on there next week, though.

John K. said...

As for the false ME report, well, didn't Novak get in trouble for that? Whoops.

Reminded me of a Season two episode, where they'd explain a boring legal issue. Good times, and pretty non-wanky, except for the Russian Mob bait-and-switch.

Ohh, you have a boilerplate on your text, now. Well, I do use and credit up and down your dead-on insights, but it's nice to see it all official.

I have more insights on the way.

John K. said...

As for your assertion on Cutter's overuse of deception to win, it's a valid point. Although, the true x-factors will be his motivation and whether he is sympathetic to the audience (which he has been in the new season).

As for the false ME report and comparing to Novak's actions, well, I'm no legal expert. So, I'll leave that to someone more qualified. Though, I can't help but note the parallel.

All Things Law and Order said...

John, I actually caught two web sites ripping off my recaps word for word with no credit to me at all. They were passing the recaps off as their own. I don't mind when people link to the blog or quote from it, but I get a little nuts when someone tries to pass my stuff off as their own and then tries to make money off it. I put the notation on there to hopefully prevent people like that from out-and-out theft!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this ep. The pacing was very good and I loved seeing AJ Soprano (Robert Iler) being such a con man in this outing.

I'm starting to worry about Cutter. One can only do "creative lawyering" so much before you get your hiney caught in the door. I get the feeling that he's going to get into some serious trouble and hopefully it won't hurt Jack or Connie along the way,

As for your postings getting ripped of well phooey on them. Is there any way to kind of prevent this from happening. Just doesn't seem right.


Anonymous said...

As for the absence of Jack, the way I saw it perhaps he's was there as a photo op visiting the new president? That's the only explanation I thought of.

I do miss Sam though. I hope this isn't a trend. I like him throwing his two cents in.


Anonymous said...

I don't think that it's the same thing. Brady relates to disclosing probative/exculpatory material in a criminal case. An informal factfinding hearing isn't even sort of similar. What's really weird is that the judge granted Cutter the opportunity to hold that hearing at all.

John K. said...

Fair enough, as I don't know the legalese. But I thought there could have been a basis of a parallel, at least in the storytelling. Thanks for the clear-up.

As for Jack's going to D.C., well, it's either the photo op, as Miss Kitty said. Or, it's meeting some off-screen politicos he met before. He's been in D.C. twice ("Sideshow" and "Vaya Con Dios"), so he finally decided to use them for a rainy day. We'll see.