Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Law & Order SVU “Hothouse” Grows On You

It’s not often that I watch an episode of Law & Order SVU where I can’t find anything wrong with it. I think this episode was near flawless, with great acting on the part of the guest stars. It’s amazing how quickly Law & Order SVU can improve in quality once it moves away from the personal drama of the detectives and focuses more on the cases. I also have been trying very hard not to pay too much attention to the promo teases shown on NBC the week before, because I think that not seeing them adds more to the suspense of the case.

It was interesting that the detectives thought at first that this was a case of a girl being used in a sex trafficking ring, and it turns out it was just a girl who was trying to excel at school, forced by her father’s greed, and who was killed by another out of jealousy. It could be that working with sex crimes so often makes the detectives see sexual abuse everywhere, when there are a lot of people out there who are mentally or physically tortured at the hands of another that doesn’t have anything to do with sex.

I thought that the girl who played Jennifer - Sarah Hyland - did an exceptional job at playing the overly pressured, sleep deprived student. Some of the pressures on students these days to perform are great. Adding to the stress is the ease in which some kids can obtain drugs, which they think can enhance their mental performance. While I believe that there is a true medical conditions of ADD and ADHD, I also see these meds prescribed far too often. I do think that over the years, the medical profession is getting wise to how these meds are used and hopefully they will not be so quick to prescribe.

It seems that this week Michaela McManus’s screen time was limited again, which hints to me that she may be on the way out with Stephanie March’s stint on the show. It’s too bad that they decided now to show her with her hair down, which seems to soften that cold, hard, wooden look on her face (still not enough for me, though). I also noticed that it was Benson – not Greyleck – who went to argue to the NJ prosecutor to have Jennifer not tried as an adult. This also signaled to me that they might have already decided to cut McManus out of the show, since I would think that should have been the ADA’s place.

Here is the recap:
Some women are doing Tai Chi along the waterfront when one spots a body in the water. When Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) arrive on the see with ME Warner (Tamara Tunie) they discuss the body, which is of a young girl, no ID and it didn’t seem like she had been in there long. But they do find her head bashed in and it looks like she’s been beaten and tortured.

Later, with further examination of the body, Warner tells them the girl is 14 years, 2 month old that she was able to get by carbon dating crystals in her eyes. She notes that the girl had no water in her lungs, which indicates that she was dead before she went into the river. The girl also had a number of injuries that have occurred over the years; old cigarette burns on her arm, broken bones and dislocations. The head injury and the puncture wounds in her breasts were recent. Warner found evidence indicating the girl was recently in New York for the last few months, before that in the Ukraine, and the detectives assume she was trafficked for sex. Warner refers the detectives to Grace Metcalf, who works with women that were trafficked.

At the Center for Abused Woman, Metcalf tells the detectives she does not recognize the girl. The women that she sees with were promised good jobs, but ended up living as prostitutes and a life in hell. Metcalf knows a girl from the Ukraine named Veronica that is running from her pimp. Benson and Stabler later meets with Veronica at a laundry where she works, and Benson shows Veronica a picture of the victim and ask her if she knows her. Veronica doesn't. Veronica is concerned that if Benson found her, “they” will be able to find her too. People are watching everywhere. Benson tells her they will relocate her if she cooperates. Veronica says that her pimp's name is Alik and that gives them his cell phone number, saying he will never speak to a cop.

Benson decides to go undercover (with Fin in tow) and meets with Alik at the Little Odessa Café. She tells Alik (Misha Kuznetsov) that she needs 8 girls to service some local men, the younger the better, and he says he has some who are looking for work. He takes her to a room with girls, and she moves to “inspect” them. She sees that one of them is using drugs. She takes two of the girls and asks for four more. When Alik completes the deal, the police burst in and arrest him. When Alik shouts out “Bitch! You’re dead!” to Benson, Fin twists his arm and tells him he has the right to remain silent.

At the squad, the detectives question Alik. He doesn't know the victim, he was in Miami. He says he gives his girls nice clothes food and a place to stay. He says the girl did not deserve to die like that, and that the girl didn't belong to him. But he does admit he knows her and asks for a deal – he doesn’t do American time, he wants to do his time in the Ukraine.

But ADA Greyleck (Michaela Mc Manus), looking on from outside the interrogation room, tells Capt. Cragen (Dann Florek) Alik would get out of the Ukraine too easily and just come back here and continue his work. She thinks giving a deal will make them look soft, Cragen thinks not doing so makes them look incompetent. She comes in to interrogation and says there is no deal unless his information an be verified. He says her name is Elsa Lychkoff and she was a good kid. She was in a Ukrainian newspaper – she was a genius math kid.

Later in the squad room, they discuss Elsa. She went to the Morewood School, which Fin says is is a “genius factory” where the graduates often go on to prestigious schools including MIT, Cal Tech, etc.

When the detectives question the dean of Morewood, she says Elsa was about to be accepted into MIT. She is a US citizen and boards at the school. She was in the Ukraine a while ago for an extended family trip to visit a dying grandmother. She signed herself out for that weekend as was due back that night. They ask about her parents and tell the dean of Elsa’s injuries. There are no problems with the other students and Elsa, she says they may be competitive with each other but they are loyal. She refers them to Elsa’s roommate, Jennifer Banks.

In speaking with Jennifer (Sarah Hyland), she says everyone loved Elsa. She says Elsa didn’t need to study, and that Elsa frequently snuck out at night and flirted with boys, often dressing provocatively. She shows them Elsa's clothes, and adds that the school has a dress code and Elsa would have received a demerit if the school knew that she had these clothes.

Later, Benson and Stabler meet with Elsa's parents at the Lychkoff residence. They are stunned to hear of her death. Joseph (George Tasudis), Elsa's father, says that he was the only one who understood Elsa. Joseph says that Elsa had to have her mind nourished by experts only. He says mothers coddle too much. Elsa’s mom said she needed a mother’s care. Stabler notices that Joseph is a smoker and asks about Elsa's cigarette burns and her injuries. Joseph denies ever raising a hand to her. Stabler asks Elsa's mom about what happened to Elsa but she knows nothing. Joseph is very angry, and in a raised voice says that he loved Elsa and it was all he lived for and they need to find her killer.

Back at the squad, they are looking at Joseph Lychkoff’s mug shot. He was fired from Boeing after 6 months and another job shortly thereafter. He has 13 open fraud cases against him. Just then, one of Joseph’s other daughters arrives, Katrina (Aya Cash), saying her father tortured both of them, and she says she’s the one her father “threw away.” Later in the interrogation room, she tells them how her father had high expectations for her. She thinks her father had something to do with Elsa's death. She says there is a place in the house where their father used to “teach” them but it was not a classroom. She says she can show them.

She takes them to the room, which Benson notes it is very cold. Katrina said her father called it “hothousing”, to concentrate their learning. Benson notes it is like raising an orchid in a hothouse to grow. Katrina’s father said cold stimulated the mind. Katrina imitates her father's behavior, and they see injuries on her arm. When Stabler sees rice on the floor, she says her father made them kneel on it. She said she went to school there until she was 16 until he kicked her out of the house. She wanted to get Elsa away from her father. She said Morewood also paid her father to enroll her and that they entered Elsa into competitions for prize money. Benson comments that Elsa was the family cash cow. Joseph and his wife arrive and he says Katrina is dead to them, and they are trespassing. They arrest him.

In the interrogation room, they question both parents separately. Joseph's wife tells Stabler he told everyone about a PhD that he had, to which Cragen alerts Benson to question Joseph on the PhD that he didn’t have. She calls him a liar about the degree and she says he was only trying to provide for his family. The wife tells Stabler he was always gambling and losing money, and Benson questions Joseph about his gambling. He still insists he never hurt Elsa, but his wife says she saw bruises. While Benson continues to hammer on Joseph, her gets up and begins to beat his head into the wall. Cragen yells for someone to call a “bus” as Joseph collapses.

As they take Joseph away, Fin tells Benson and Stabler that he found surveillance video that shows that Joseph was at the casino when Elsa was killed. They decide to look more at the school. Cragen tells them not every star there shines so bright, and shows them three rap sheets. At the Morewood School, they talk to the three students in question. The find that Elsa hung out with a older guy named Danny Burke. They meet with Danny who says that he treated Elsa like he was her big brother. He added that Morehouse is “toxic” and that they even feed the students a special diet to increase their brain activity. He says that Elsa hated school and wanted to be a kid, she wanted a way out. They ask Danny about Elsa's clothes, and he says that the clothes did not belong to Elsa and that she would not even wear makeup. Danny says that Elsa hated her roommate Jennifer and Jennifer was jealous of Elsa. He said that Jennifer asked Elsa to fail a test so she could be number one in the class. Elsa asked for a new roommate and the headmistress said no.

Back at the school, they meet with Jennifer and tell her they know she lied about Elsa’s clothes. She seems to be ignoring them, playing chess. She seems stressed and said they put her in a tournament and she doesn’t have time for this. She says, “I want my mom.”

Back at the station, Suzanne Banks, Jennifer’s mom, arrives. In interrogation, with her mother there, Jennifer says she is glad Elsa is dead because she got all the attention and scholarship offers. There is no second place. Jennifer is highly agitated. When she said she followed her to the ferry when she went to see Danny, that Elsa couldn’t run from her in the Hudson River, her mother tells her to stop talking. Jennifer gets more crazed, exploding, saying she is sick of anyone telling her what to do. She just wanted to talk to her, but she screamed at her and called he a loser. She shouts that Elsa tried walking away so she grabbed her arm and Elsa pushed her, so she jabbed her with her pen. He mother shouts for her to stop. She screams that she slammed her into the railing over and over again. Stabler asks if anyone saw them fighting, and Jennifer said everyone was inside because it was raining. She said no one could hear Elsa screaming because of the ferry horn so when Elsa fell down she pushed her into the river. Turning to her mom, she says, “I’m number one now, Mom. Aren’t you happy for me?”

Later, with Greyleck, the detectives tell her Jennifer made a full confession with her mother present. The detectives think Jennifer needs help and want the case to go to family court because she is 14. Greyleck said it is not her call, the body went into the river off Hoboken, NJ, meaning it is in New Jersey jurisdiction and they try kids her age as adults.

At the Hudson County Courthouse in Jersey City NJ, the detectives argue their point with the NJ prosecutor, Miss Gill (Gretchen Egolf). She doesn’t agree with Benson and Stabler, saying Jennifer knew what she was doing and she is calling the detectives at witnesses.

In New Jersey court, Stabler and Benson are questioned on the stand and they recount Jennifer’s confession and they talk about how Jennifer cracked under pressure. Gill thinks Jennifer is bright enough to be able to fool the detectives. The judge decides to hear the case in adult court. When Stabler is told to step down, Gill tells him “game over” and this enrages Jennifer. She yells that the game is never over, she begins to shout and climbs on the table, clearly losing it. They take her away as she screams. She continues to scream and yell as they lock her in the cell. Asks, “why am I here?” When Benson tells her it’s because she killed Elsa, she asks, “Did I?” she says it is all blank and she is trapped in a horrible chess match, she says she never sleeps. She goes for days before she crashes. It is her secret weapon. She takes Provigil to help her study. She gets it from kids with ADD, all the kids are on drugs at school to help them focus. She says she has been up three days but it is not working this time. She needs her drugs and asks Benson to bring her some. She tells Benson where it is, hidden in one of her books. Benson finds the pills and also Jennifer’s journal, where she sees some writing but then some pages that look overly scribbled.

She takes it to Warner, who calls the scribbles “hypergraphia” and is common with Provigil abuse. She adds that a person who has been up for 17 hours is equivalent to a person with a .05 blood alcohol content and it is possible that Jennifer became crazy.

Benson meets with the New Jersey prosecutor, she doesn’t want to buy an insanity plea. Benson argues sleep deprivation is a clinical condition. Benson tells her that she knew a cop who worked 3 days straight and after his shift he went home and went to bed. During the night he has an asthma attack and went for inhaler and grabbed his service revolver instead and blew his brains out. The prosecutor asks what Benson wants from her. She hands her Jennifer’s journal and tells her to “sleep on it.”

At a later date in the courthouse, the judge sentences Jennifer to seven years in prison in accordance with a plea agreement. Jennifer is remanded to the department of juvenile justice . He asks Miss Gill is she had a change of heart, and she says that new evidence shows that Jennifer's mental status at time warrants leniency. As Jennifer is taken away, Stabler tells her that she will be out when she turns 21. She thanks them. Gill approaches the detectives and says her next case involves a 15 year old who raped and killed with no remorse. She asks, “You want him out at 21 too?” As they bring the kid in and he gives them a sick grin, they fade to black.

Hothouse Two Minute Replay

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Anonymous said...

Both SVU and the mothership have been on a roll of late. I totally agree with you about getting away from the personal lives area makes the show ten time better.

The scene where Benson was checking the girls and found track marks between one of the girls toes, my husband and I looked at each other and said "the toes knows" (that's from Kevin Spacey as Mel Profitt in "Wiseguy"--another great show). When Benson does undercover work like that it's just great.

One little quibble I had was when they were interogating Jennifer didn't the see she was tweaking left and right? They should have noticed that something was completely off about her. Her mom was so oblivious to her own daughter's behavior but Benson and Stabler should have. Although later when Benson went and spoke to the DA in Jersey I guess that's where they thought they'd do the most good.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last few eps of this show. I hope they stay on this course.


petrovitch said...

Jennifer was in zugzwang. Her position on the board, as in life, was lost, but the position was not very difficult. It wouldn't take a candidate master to realize that black was lost.

Santiago Peak said...

I agree this was a great episode. And Sarah Hyland, as Jennifer, played her part flawlessly. She's older than I thought so some of my amazement has been lost, but still, guest starring roles rarely stand out for me, so that's saying something.

samfan said...

I think that the episode was really one of the best this year. I totally agree ATL&O about getting done with the personal drama, the show is so much better when they stick to cases! Great review.

carol2925 said...

Does anyone know if it was Lynda Carter who played Suzanne Banks? I was surprised that they didn't have it listed in the credits.

Anonymous said...

I don't know who played Suzanne but I can tell you it was not Lynda Carter.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know who played the boy at the end?

Habigail said...

Banks was played by Margaret Colin

All Things Law and Order said...

The official show credits say that Suzanne Banks was played by enid Graham.

Anonymous said...

"I thought that the girl who played Jennifer - Sarah Hyland - did an exceptional job at playing the overly pressured, sleep deprived student."
lol Funny hearing that since Hyland has blown up now because of Modern Family. She was so unknown back then. I just saw this episode and thought she in fact did an exceptional job, I hope that after MF is over (if it ever gets finished) she'll go on to more dramatic roles in film.

Anonymous said...

"I thought that the girl who played Jennifer - Sarah Hyland - did an exceptional job at playing the overly pressured, sleep deprived student."
Funny hearing that now that Hyland has blown up because of Modern Family. I just saw this episode and she did in fact give an exceptional performance. I hope after MF is over (if it ever does finish at this rate) she goes on to a prolific career in dramatic films. She's good at it.