Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Law & Order SVU “Ballerina” Burnett Dances Circles Around Everyone

All photos from NBC

This episode of Law & Order SVU (NBC) “Ballerina” was probably one of the fastest SVU episodes I can recall in a long time. There are a couple reasons for this, first of all, the crime wasn’t very complicated and the list of suspects was short. Also, the riveting performances by both Carol Burnett and Matthew Lillard made this episode very interesting to watch. Both of them deserve Emmys for there performances. I admit I was worried seeing the hype about Burnett’s guest starring role that it would be overkill and heavy handed, as with Ellyn Burstyn’s appearance on the show. But even though the previews of the show made it clear that Burnett’s character would be the eventual focus of the case, her performance was just so interesting that it didn’t seem to matter.

I was also nice to see the brief appearances of Robert Klein, who last appeared on the Law & Order mothership in a season 4 episode from 2993 titled “Sweeps” where he played a sensationalist talk show host after someone gets murdered on his show.

I had a big concern early on, though, when they brought in the new forensics guy Dale Stuckey (Noel Fisher) who I think is just a horrible horrible mistake. He is too nerdy, too happy, too annoying. When I reported here in February that Noel was going to be a new character on the show, I had worries then. Now my worries are confirmed. He and his “Bing, bang, bong” have got to go. His character’s behavior does not match the serious nature of the crimes, which seem to be better fitted to the dry sarcasm and cynicism of people like Munch and Fin. Fin seemed to win all the truly funny lines in this otherwise very dark episode.

There are also some video clips after the recap from the show and some behind the scenes looks from this episode. Catch them before NBC yanks them from the site as they don’t keep them up too long.

Here is the recap:
The episode opens with two men – roommates – arguing. One is trying to throw the other out of the apartment, and gets a meat clever to help in his effort. As he is standing holding the cleaver, the other man is shot. It seems that a double murder from the apartment next door had a stray bullet that came into the next apartment.

As Detectives Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Stabler come to investigate the scene, they are greeted by an annoying new forensics tech, Dale Stuckey (Noel Fisher), And he IS annoying, both to the detectives and me. He says it is obvious what happened: rape, murder, suicide, “bing, bang, bong”. He makes all kinds of theories about the crime, but the detectives try to show him some evidence showing his theory is wrong and that he can’t jump to conclusions. The victims are Alejandro Reyes and Tisa Flores. Forensics Tech O’Halloran (Mike Doyle) finds an ear print on a mirror hanging in the closet, which may help them ID the killer. Back at the station, Capt. Cragen (Dann Florek) seems amazed that they can track the killer from the ear print, and Munch (Richard Belzer) tells him that ear print identification is already being used a lot in Europe and it is just a matter of time before the US catches up. But Fin (Ice-T) pipes in, and says tells Munch “ you better hope we don’t because those dumbos of yours will probably contaminate every crime scene we step in.” Benson tells them that Warner got epithelials from the ear print and it matches semen found on Tisa, but there is no match in the system. They also found that the gun used belonged to Tisa. Stabler suspects that the person was hiding in the closet and came out when Tisa and Alejandro were about to “get busy” and the perp knocked out Alejandro, raped Tisa, then shot them both, making it look like a murder-suicide. Alejandro has no record, but Tisa works at a strip club that has been busted twice for prostitution. The building is the Empire Dance Academy, but Fin tells them that’s what it used to be, the place had been sold a few years back and there are no more tutus, now it’s just tequila and tongue jobs. The owner of the buildings is Bridgett Sulloway, who lives on Park Avenue. Stabler says it looks like a new Mayflower Madame sailed into town.

The detectives head to the apartment of Bridgett Sulloway, who is the owner of the club. They are greeted by a man named Chet (Matthew Lillard), who is reluctant to let them in or tell them if Bridgett is there. But Bridgett (Carol Burnett) appears and allows the detectives to come in, fawning over Chet in the process, telling them he is her nephew. She also tells the detectives to call her “Birdie.” She asks Chet to makes some drinks” When the detectives tell her about the murders and the ties to her building, she says that it was her old dance studio that she asked her husband to buy for her as she used to be a dancer there and so they wouldn’t go out of business. As she is talking to the detectives, Birdie’s husband Marv arrives, and asks what they are doing there. When they explain and they ask about the property, he admits that he kicked out the “old queen” who ran the studio and couldn’t pay the rent so he kicked him out. He leases the building to a Latino club owner. Marv says he doesn’t know Tisa or Alejandro, and suggests they go to the club and ask the people there.

Benson and Stabler visit the Bailarina Room, where they are told by one of the dancers sometimes have sex with some of the patrons but Tisa was not that type. She says that there is an Orthodox Jewish man who comes to see Tisa and when he arrives the dancer points him out. They take him down to the squad for questioning.

While they are interrogating Ephraim, he says Tisa is his girlfriend, and Benson says she already had a boyfriend, Alejandro, but Ephraim says that Tisa was going to break up with Alejandro. When Stabler suggests that Ephraim killed Tisa and Alejandro as they were going to have sex, he denies it, saying that the club owner Marv, was always after her, he’s a stalker. They later find that the ear print didn’t match Ephraim’s so they let him go. They also find that Marv is broke, he claims $27,000 annual income, yet he lives in a Park Avenue apartment, which means he is likely cooking the books, but the IRS hasn’t been able to nail him.

Birdie and Chet arrive at the station, and Birdie asks t speak to Benson. In the lounge, Benson asks Birdie if Chet has ever had to protect Birdie physically from Marv and she says no, but Chet pipes up and Birdie admits sometimes Marv would drink too much, but she can hold her own with him. She tells Benson says that because Tisa was a dancer, she wants to pay for her funeral. She takes out a chewed up pen to write the check and it won’t write, so she puts it on the table, commenting that Marv has a disgusting habit of chewing on them, saying Marv was a pig. She says she should divorce Marv. She asks Chet to get her some tea, and he leaves Birdie and Benson alone. Birdie admits that Chet is not really her nephew, that he is the son of an old dancer friend who died, and she took Chet in when he was six. She begins to recount her previous husbands. The first was a drug dealer, the second liked little boys, and the third, Phillip, was swept out to sea when they were on their honeymoon and they were only married for four days. The one after Phillip was a womanizer. She added that when Marv went to sleep last night, she went through his files and saw he was running several strip clubs, and she had no idea he was doing this. When Birdie moves to leave and also to take the pen and get rid of it, Benson offers to dispose of it for her. Later, this pen proves valuable as they find Marv’s DNA on it, which matches the DNA they found at the scene of the double murder.

As Benson and Stabler head to Marv and Birdie’s place to bring in Marv, they hear a woman scream and look up, and a body crashes onto a nearby parked car. It’s Marv. The woman says that as she looked up she saw Marv jump. When Benson and Stabler rush up to the apartment, Chet is there, looking as if nothing happened, saying that Marv is in the study. Birdie is in her bedroom, watching a movie of her much younger self as a dancer, saying she is not the woman she used to be. She seems oblivious to the fact that Marv has just jumped out the window and killed himself.

Later, with police and forensics on the scene, as Chet is consoling Birdie in the living room, she asks the detectives if they found a note but there was nothing. Benson asked if Marv said anything unusual or seemed despondent, but Birdie said no, and Chet said Marv took his martini and went to his room and surf porn. Annoying Forensics Tech Dale Stuckey returns (to their dimay and mine) and says that he took their advice and looked at the scene more carefully. He dusted for prints, and concludes that the fingerprints left on the window are in the wrong position for a person who was jumping, but not for someone who was pushed. It seems Marv was facing away from the window when he went out of it. It looks like their suicide has turned to murder – “Bing, bang, bong.”

They bring Birdie and Chet to the station and split them up to question them separately, and they tell Birdie she has to sign some paperwork for the release of Marv’s body. As they move off, Capt. Cragen (Dann Florek) tells Benson and Stabler that ME Warner found anti-depressants in Marv’s body but they do not know if he took them voluntarily or if he was drugged.

While Stabler is questioning Birdie, Benson is questioning Chet, and we go back and forth between both interrogations. Birdie tells Stabler that Marv was depressed, he was also a porn addict, and he popped a lot of pills she referred to as “poison.” She adds that her father died in a hospital when she was nine, and she doesn’t like doctors and hasn’t seen one in decades. All doctors are nothing but well paid murderers. When Stabler asks if she knew Marv was taking anti-depressants, she gets tests with Stabler. Chet, meanwhile, tells Benson that Marv was an alcoholic and a rage-aholic, and that Birdie is his soul mate and he protects her. Marv recently had gotten angry at Birdie and Chet intervened, Marv got angry then left the apartment. Stabler asks Birdie if Marv was happy in the marriage and she says he did not know she was going to divorce him. They had separate bedrooms because Marv was a snorer. With Benson, Chet tells her he doesn’t know how anyone could stand Marv, and Benson reminds him Birdie was married to him for many years. She presses him on his relationship with Birdie, and he is beginning to get angry and flustered. Benson presses on their relationship, but Chet says he doesn’t know what she means. With Stabler, Birdie admits that the first time she had sex with Chet he was 18, she loves him more than anyone she has known. They would not marry because of the age difference. They would do anything for each other. When Stabler asks if they would kill Marv, she says Chet would never hurt anyone, he is very kind and gentle. Meanwhile, Olivia is continuing to work on Chet, who is getting more uncomfortable, and she is telling him that they are searching the apartment and will find if his prints are on the liquor bottle of what Marv was drinking. Chet, even more rattled, says his prints will be on all the bottles since he is their bartender. He takes off his jacket, denies killing Marv, and asks to talk to Birdie. She tells him that Birdie is already telling them all about it, and Benson opens the blinds to the next room where Chet can see, but not hear, Birdie talking to Stabler. Benson tells him that Birdie is telling them how he killed Marv, and this pushes Chet over the edge. He tells them that Birdie killed Marv, he had left Marv’s drink with Birdie as he went to get some of her old movies for her, when he returned, he saw a pill bottle next to Marv’s drink. He says he brought the drink to Marv but that Birdie must have drugged it He admitted Marv was not surfing for porn, but he was getting things out of his safe. He told Birdie Marv was going to leave and he heard them argue.. He then heard Marv yelling and then it became quiet. When he came in the room, the window was wide open. He says Birdie did it. But Birdie denies it, saying Chet would never cross his aunt. When Benson and Stabler tell Birdie they found her prints on the martini glass and the pill bottle, they arrest her for murder. As they lead her away, Chet says tells her he didn’t want to do it. She tells him “We all do what we have to, dear.”

At arraignment, Birdie pleads not guilty. ADA Cabot (Stephanie March) asks for $500,000. Birdie says she will pay it, and she will not argue over money, it’s vulgar. She calls to Chet to hand over the checkbook, but when nothing happens she turns and is crestfallen to see Chet is not there. Birdie’s lawyer Mr. Stannich (Robert Klein) says Birdie was temporarily insane because Marv tormented her and she told Benson about this before Marv’s death. Cabot says Birdie was just teeing up an excuse before killing him. Stannich argues that this is the same man who killed two people and Birdie was in mortal terror of him. The judge tells Stannich he has to convince a jury and she will allow the defense, and Cabot should fire up her shrink.

Later, Dr. Huang (B.D. Wong) meets with Birdie to determine her mental state, saying he is just doing an assesment. She doesn't like doctors, saying they are useless. She complains about how cold it is in the room. She talks about Chet, saying they are now estranged. She complains about her chair, she seems very uncomfortable. He notices that she seems to have facial twitches and her hand is very shaky. She tells Huang she will not play the frightened wife and she won’t cower. She glares at him, and tersely tells him to take his "little assessment"back to his bosses and get her the hell out of this awful room.

Afterwards, Cabot complements Huang on his nice work, as Birdie all but admitted the EED was a sham. But Huang tells Cabot and Benson that he suspects Birdie may have a neurological disorder as evidenced by the facial twitch and the loss of motor control in her hand. When Cabot doesn’t like hearing that, he says he has a responsibility as a physician. He orders the Birdie undergo a PET scan. They find she has cancer with multiple tumors in her body. Huang explains to them all that these tumors may have secreted hormones that may have caused her to kill Marv. He adds she only has about 4-5 months to live. Cabot complains that Stannich will fill this time with motions and Birdie will likely never see trial and the case dies with her.

Huang later tells Birdie she has over a dozen malignant tumors in her body, and treatment will not help. She asks what will happen after she dies as far as the afterlife, and Huang says he can’t answer those kinds of question. She tells him that when her third husband Phillip died in her arms, she watched the light go out in his eyes and she wondered what he was seeing. This piques the interest of Benson, who is watching the conversation from another room, and she comments that Birdie told her that Phillip died after being swept off their yacht, so how could she see the light go out of his eyes? Cabot wonders if the cancer has made her cuckoo and she is confused, but Benson wonders if maybe Marv wasn’t her first victim.

Back at the station, they review Birdie’s previous husbands. Marv Goldberg was lost as sea. Another was an accidental overdose, another slipped and fell down the stairs, another was a brake failure, and Marv’s suicide. It could be a 40 year killing spree and she may be a black widow. There were only modest insurance payments made. But each one of her husbands had a rap sheet. Fin states, “From little orphan ballerina to “Dirty Harriet” in five easy steps. “

Later, at Birdie’s apartment with her lawyer, she says yes, she killed them all, but Stannich reminds them that she in failing health with failing mental ability. She says she rid the world of horrible men. She says she wants justice, and asks if there is another murderer out there free as a bird. She tells them to recheck the insurance reports, she was two states away when one husband fell down the steps, and can a little old lady really know how to tamper with car brakes? Or could it be a young man who would do anything in the world his aunt asked him to?

Some time later, with Birdie in the hospital seemingly getting treatment, Chet comes by to visit, with flowers. He asks if she will be OK, and he says not this time. He says he was sorry for telling them and then running away. He asks about the court case, and she says it’s too late for that. He asks if she is mad at her, and she says that’s impossible, She just hopes he will not be mad at her, and he looks confused and asks why. She says for what she made him do to her husbands, and he said she didn’t make him do anything, he wanted to help, and he would do it again. He said he would push more of those bastards out the window if she asked him to. She says she wishes they had time to be together one last time, and he says there still is time. As he moves to kiss her, she puts him off, and says there isn’t time, he’s going on a little trip, and she says it with a nasty tone. The detectives enter the room to arrest Chet. He asks her why, and she responds, “30 years at your Aunt Birdie’s side, and you never learned not to cross her. “ As he looks at her stunned, they take him away in cuffs. After he is out of the room, Birdie gets out of the hospital bed and says to Benson and Stabler, dryly, “We all do what we have to.” Benson and Stabler look on, somewhat stunned, as Birdie smells the flowers that Chet left her, an odd satisfied grin on her face as we fade to black.

All Text Content (Recaps, Review, Commentary) © unless otherwise noted

Clip from Law & Order SVU “Ballerina”
behind the Scenes with Carol Burnett, Matthew Liilard, And Mariska Behind the Scenes of “body” falling on the car Another take of the same scene Check out my blog home page for the latest Law & Order information, on All Things Law And Order, here. Also, see my companion Law & Order site,These Are Their Stories.


John K. said...

Can you please transcribe Olivia's "A-Hole" line? It was before the body fell onto the car. Thank you so much.

It's one of your best recaps, yet.

(I also concur about Noel Fisher and Dale, and, bah.)

All Things Law and Order said...

Olivia said, "I can't wait to see the look on this a-hole's face."

Stabler - "Do me a favor, let me cuff him."

Benson - "Better yet. let Birdie do it."

Anonymous said...

That new tech really IS annoying--he reminds me of Clouseau.

I read in an article somewhere that a character would bite the dust this season. Please let it be Dale.

Anonymous said...

Carol Burnett's performance.. especially the chilling final "we all do what we have to", reminds me of Diana Rigg's incomparably horrific tour-de-force in "Mother Love." Bravo to both ladies!

Anonymous said...

Chet was seriously intended to give off gay vibes. Consider his mustache, pastel colored sweater, childlike emotional state...and his devotion to a diva figure.

EricS said...

Hrm, this was season 10? I was wondering when Stuckey was introduced. I watched "Zebras" awhile ago, and much of "Ballerina" yesterday.

Dale's disturbing, alright.