Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Law & Order “Selfish” Recap & Review

(Stabler, wondering if he can get away with murdering someone in public)
All photos from NBC

This episode of Law & Order SVU (NBC) “Selfish” was highly hyped and publicized because it featured Hillary Duff as a guest star. But, all we got was a weak, predictable episode from the “ripped from the headlines” playbook.

The story was clearly patterned from the case of the murder of Caylee Anthony and the case surrounding her mother, Casey Anthony. The only twist was the throwing in of a twist with the death really being from a case of measles and the whole vaccination debate. Even the segments of the epsiode where the players debated the merits or downsides of vaccinations, everyone seemed to be going through the motions. I think they missed a great chance to bring in Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) for a guest shot in this episode, seeing that Alex Cabot mentioned that the lawsuit against the city came during an election year and that it was causing a flood of calls to City Hall. She also mentioned the DA wanted Monica Stewart charged. It would have added a spark to this otherwise mediocre episode by having McCoy give that order to Cabot directly.

I am officially putting in a request for the writers to have CSU tech jerk Dale Stuckey (Noel Fisher) killed on the show. I think they are making him annoying on purpose, but they are doing it very badly. Maybe just want us all to have Stuckey be the one who gets killed off in the season finale so we will be happy about it. On the scary side, they could be getting ready to kill off CSU tech O’Halloran (Mike Doyle) so we would be “stuck” with Stuckey. If they don’t kill off Stuckey or make him go away very soon, I think fans will “bing bang bong” SVU off their watch list. The character is so stupid, so annoying, and so "sucky" that someone should have had him fired already.

Again, the SVU detectives get lucky when a suspect in the disappearance of the baby just happens to be fleeing the police and headed right in their direction. To me, this is just lazy writing. And isn’t it odd that they put out an Amber alert for the baby, but Stabler had no picture to take with him when he checked out the baby that the suspect had in his car? Why did he have to send a photo back to the squad to ID the child? Why couldn’t he just have a picture of the baby on his cell phone in order to make the comparison? This whole scene should have just been cut out altogether as it added nothing.

Since original story of Caylee Anthony also involved a suicide attempt by the grandfather, it seemed obvious that once we see that Ralph Walker is off the wagon that something very bad would happen to him later.

As far as I am concerned, this episode provided mediocre acting from the guest stars and the regular stars, mixed in with an annoying CSU person and a weak story, giving us a marginal episode.

Here is the recap:

At the SVU squad at their desks, Stabler (Chris Meloni) announces, “That’s it, I’m done.” When Benson (Mariska Hargitay) asks - what do you mean, done? – he responds “Paperwork. It’s like the first time in 5 years. “ Benson wonders if this means they can actually leave the squad early, but Stabler, looking around, cautions her to move slowly so nobody notices. But their happiness is short lived, as someone walks in, saying she was told by the guy downstairs that she needs to talk to a special cop. Benson tells her they are special victims, and the woman says she has not seen her granddaughter in four days. Her daughter went to Atlantic City with some girlfriends for the weekend, and she’s been home for a day and she has not seen her grandbaby since. The woman, Ruth Walker (Gail O’Grady) , said her daughter used her car while she was away, and now Sierra is gone, and her car smells like a dead body. Benson and Stabler give each other looks of concern.

Elsewhere, Ashlee Walker (Hillary Duff) is hosing down the inside of the trunk of a car. Benson and Stabler exit their car, with Benson calling to Ashlee, telling her to put the hose down. Ashlee asks her mother, “You went to the cops?” When Stabler asks for the whereabouts of her daughter, she says to her mother she is such a bitch, she told her she was at the babysitter. But Ruth is not buying it, saying she is full of crap, she knows that she is Sierra’s babysitter. Ashlee said she was until she was drunk and left Sierra in the bathtub. Ruth and Ashlee continue to argue, but Benson cuts them off, telling Ashlee she just wants to know is Sierra is OK. As Ruth and Ashlee continue to shout at each other, Benson pulls Ashlee’s mother way, and Stabler asks Ashlee why she is cleaning out her car. Ashlee says she was on a trip, a cooler tipped over and some meat must have spoiled or something. When Stabler questions “or something?” Ashlee pulls out a package of ground chuck from the trashcan and shows it to him, saying they were going to grill burgers. She says her mother is so paranoid. When Stabler continues to press on Sierra, Ashlee says she told him she is with Maria, her sitter. She decided to do chores instead of getting her this morning. She’s going to get her right now, and Stabler says he will go with her.

But, when they get to the address where Sierra and Maria are supposed to be, neither are there, just an older woman. Ashlee shows concern and thinks she has been set up and someone took her baby, but they take her down to the SVU squad instead to start the search for Sierra. Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) tells the detectives to tread lightly. Benson and Stabler speak to Ashlee and Ruth and tell them there is an Amber alert out. They ask her what she recalls about Maria and Ashlee says that Maria picked Sierra up on Friday in a red 4-door car. Fin (Ice-T) gets a call and tells the detectives that there is a car on the run, red four door, driven by a Hispanic male with a white baby in back. Lucky for them, he is headed right in their direction. But, when the detectives get to the suspect's car, Stabler has to take a cell phone picture of the baby and send it back in so they could determine it was not Sierra. Cragen sends Munch (Richard Belzer) and Fin top Tompkins Square Park where Ashlee said she met Maria.

Fin wonders how he can get out of this case...

When Munch and Fin get there, they finally find a woman who knows Maria, and she points her out. Maria (Marilyn Torres) is pushing a stroller, but in it is a doll, not a real baby. They bring her in anyway but it is clear this woman is just a little nutty over the death of her own child. They also tell her they have her financial records of her buying a shovel and tarp at the local home improvement store, but Maria says her Visa card was stolen. Cragen comes in and tells them they have a picture of who made the purchase – and it is clearly Ashlee. When Ruth sees the picture of Ashlee she goes a little nutty on her.

Later, Benson is questioning Ruth, who says Ashlee was a bad mom and it was just a matter of time before something bad happened. When she smelled something in the car, she believed the worst happened. Stabler questions Ashlee, who says she bought the shovel for her father and she denies doing anything. But Stabler arrests her anyway for the credit card theft and fraud.

Afterwards, when ADA Cabot (Stephanie March) arrives, she tells Stabler that the charges are thin but to keep working on a confession before Ashlee lawyers up. But it’s too late, Ashlee’s attorney Sofie Devere (Annie Potts) arrives, and tells them they should be ashamed of themselves arresting an innocent mother. She also tells them tat Ashlee's father Ralph retained her.

Stabler heads over to talk to Ralph Walker (Mike Pniewski), who tells Stabler that Sierra was his reason for going sober. But, he also produces a shovel that Ashlee gave him, which he said looks used. Stabler notices that reporters have arrived at the Walker residence, and find that Devere is holding a press conference outside the home. The reporters see Stabler putting the shovel in the trunk of the car and question him about it, and he says it is just part of an ongoing investigation and they are tracking down everything.

Back at the lab, Stabler goes over what CSU tech O’Halloran (Mike Doyle) has found on the shovel. There is no DNA, or hair or tissue, just fingerprints from Stabler, Ashlee, and Ralph Walker. CSU tech Dale Stuckey (Noel Fisher) arrives and annoys everyone, including viewers, with his inane questions and comments. O’Halloran finds an excuse to get rid of him, and Stuckey says he is on it, “bing bang bong.” When Dale leaves, O'Halloran says, “Now you know what I have to deal with.” He adds that there are traces of gasoline on the shovel which may mean it was used near a gas station. But there are a lot of gas stations in the area. Stabler thinks that Ashlee probably went to someplace very familiar where she felt safe.

At the Walker home, Stabler knocks and finds the door open. Ralph is there, watching home videos and drinking beer. Stabler is concerned, and cautions Ralph in his drinking. He shows Ralph the map of the gas stations, and Ralph tells him that he used to pick up Ashlee at the Hamilton Fish Park where the kids went drinking. Stabler gets out a team to check out that site, with CSU tech Stuckey yelling out to the gathering crowd that they are looking for a “deceased.” Stabler tells him to lower his voice, but he tells Stabler he thought Stabler would like the glory. Stabler is shocked at this and asks Stuckey if he tipped off the press, and Stuckey said he was just trying to make them look good. Someone shouts out that they have something, and Stuckey grabs a shovel and begins to dig wildly, to Stabler’s dismay. When he hits something, Stabler pushes him off and gently brushes away the dirt to find a doll – and a baby’s body. When Stuckey yells out “We got a body here,” Stabler is incensed and asks Stuckey repeatedly “What’s the matter with you?” and Stuckey timidly apologizes.

We are then at Ashlee’s arraignment, with Cabot texting on her cell phone. Ashlee is being arranged for the credit card charges to which she pleads not guilty. But Cabot continues to text, and the judge becomes annoyed with her. Cabot requests remand as Ashlee is a flight risk, and Devere is shocked at this since Ashlee has no criminal record. Cabot continue to text and the judge calls her out for it threatening to hold her in contempt, telling her that the behavior is unlike her. She tells the judge she is also charging Ashlee with murder and the Devere is outraged. The judge says Cabot seems off her game, and she apologizes, but said they just found the body of the victim. While Ashlee seems shocked, the judge allows the additional charge, she pleads not guilty and the judge sets bail at $1 million. Devere says to Cabot, “You’re full of surprises today” and Cabot responds, “And you’re full of the usual.” Cragen approaches Cabot, and tells her there is a problem.

ME Warner (Tamara Tunie) breaks the bad news to Cabot and Cragen – Sierra was not murdered, she died from encephalitis, brought on by the measles. There are no signs of abuse or neglect, and Cabot is shocked at how this could happen. Warner tells her that Sierra was not vaccinated.

At Rikers Island, Cabot pulls a slight of hand and says they will reduce the charges to negligent homicide if Ashlee makes a full confession. Ashlee tells her that Sierra had a fever and rash and would not stop crying, and she spanked her and she got quiet. She went back to sleep and the next morning Sierra was cold. She panicked and buried her. She think she killed her by hitting her too hard. Cabot tells her that she didn’t, and then tells her about the measles, to the shock of Ashlee and the attorney.

Back at the SVU squad, Cabot tells Stabler and Warner she thought Devere was going to blow a gasket. But they tell her the case isn’t closed, they have a bigger problem – measles. There were two cases reported and someone is still spreading it. One of the kids has returned to their home county, the other is Dennis Faber from Watertown NY. He’s Amish. When Stabler gets to the Faber residence, his father is upset that Dennis went back into town after he already recommitted to the Amish life. Dennis seems fully recovered now, and his father says the Amish do not vaccinate. Dennis said he wasn’t doing anything wrong, he was just hanging around the park.

Fin goes back to that park – the same one where Sierra and Ashlee had been at. Fin talks to the woman who had previously pointed out Maria and she tells them there was one boy who was a no-show at a kid’s party because her son had the measles. The mother in question is Monica Stewart (Anastasia Barzee), and Benson and Stabler go to her residence to question her. She says she made the choice not to vaccinate her kid. He kid is fine, but they tell her Sierra is not fine, now dead after being infected by her son. She says she is not responsible and they should lecture someone else.

Back at the SVU squad, they all discuss the issue of vaccinations, clearly with differing opinions. Cabot enters and tells them that Ashlee Walker is suing the City of New York as Sierra was infected in a city park. They watch Devere in a news conference talking about why they are suing for $100 million. Stabler thinks there is no case, but Cabot reminds him it is an election year and the phones are ringing off the hook at City Hall. The DA wants the public to feel safe, and they have to arrest Monica Stewart. They do so, much to her surprise.

At trial, Cabot makes her opening statement, saying that one parent can’t make a choice for another child. But Stewart’s defense attorney Langan (Peter Hermann) says it is about choice, Monica Stewart’s choice to immunize her own child. ME Warner takes the stand, and explains how contagious measles can be, and now there is an epidemic in England because people refuse to immunize their children. There are people who refuse to vaccinate over religious beliefs, some over the suspicions over the science behind it. She says Stewart’s negligence caused Sierra’s death. But Langan asks about the side effects of the vaccine, and brings out the fact that it can bring on death, and there is also an agency set up to compensate victims of serious vaccine-caused side effects. He asks about the laws in New York about vaccinations, and brings out the fact that to attend school you must be vaccinated (unless the child is home schooled or has religious issues), but since Monica’s son was not school age, she was not breaking any laws by not having him vaccinated.

Monica Stewart is on the stand, and says she read everything she could to make the most informed decision about the issue. Cabot hammers her, asking if she thought about how her choices affected other people, and said her choice caused Sierra’s death. Cabot asks if she has a medical degree, and Stewart says she does not need one to make choices for her child, and science is just another opinion. When Cabot says she is trying to show that if Stewart had vaccinated her child, Sierra would be alive, Stewart says she is not sure that is true, calling out Ashlee for being a horrible mother and it was just a matter of time. She says Ashlee buried her daughter in a small grave, and Cabot said that she buried the child that Steward murdered.

Afterwards, back in Cabot’s office over Chinese food, Cabot tells Benson and Stabler that they should have seen the look on the jury’s face when Stewart started playing the blame game. They continue to argue the whole issue of vaccinations over their meal.

Back in court, the jury finds Monica Stewart not guilty. Ruth Walker goes crazy and begins to yell out, calling Stewart a bitch, and the police try to restrain her. When Stewart says it is Ashlee’s fault, Ashlee rushes out of the courtroom, her parents looking on dejectedly.

Benson follows Ashlee into the ladies room and tries to talk to her. She says she loved her little girl. Her father comes in, and he hugs his daughter, trying to console her. She asks how she could have been so selfish, and Ralph says that he was the same way when he was young, and he is here for her now. She should make it up to Sierra by being the best woman she could be. But Ruth enters, stirring up the pot, saying it is not over. When Ralph tells her to calm down, she tells him not to tell her what to do, and just because he doesn’t have the balls to fight doesn’t mean that bitch will get away with killing her granddaughter. She leaves with Ashlee.

Back at the SVU squad, Cabot comes in with the Ledger, with the headline “Anti-Vaccine Mom Gets Victory Shot” and saying that this one hurt. She spoke with the jury after the trial, and they all felt that Monica should have vaccinated her child, but that she did not cause Sierra’s death. She tells them that Ruth has now filed a civil suit against Monica. Benson gets a phone call, and says Ashlee and Ruth aren’t waiting for their next court date to get justice.

At Monica Stewart’s residence, the police are there, along with Ruth and Ashlee. They threw a brick through her window. Ashlee yells out that Stewart is a bitch, and tells Benson her mom set her straight – that the courts aren’t going to do it right. As they lead away Ashlee and Ruth in cuffs, Ralph runs to Stewart’s home, Ruth egging him on to teach her a lesson. Steward runs in to her home, and Ralph follows. As the detectives follow, they hear a gunshot. As they enter, guns drawn, they see Ralph dead on the floor. Stewart says she begged not to shoot, and Ralph told her “Now you’ve killed two people” and put the gun in his mouth and shot himself. Stabler looks over at Ralph’s body, which is lying in a pool of his own blood. He is holding a picture of him and Sierra in his hand, and Stabler picks it up. As he looks at the picture, and then to Benson, we fade to black.

Law & Order SVU “Selfish” episode clip

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Anonymous said...

I agree with you, that annoying CSU tech should be murdered. I once thought that no character on that show deserves to be murdered, but Dale does.

Well... at the very least he should get a scolding from Judge Petrosky (only because she's the only one I can think of that can be that verbally harsh and carry the weight of her words).

Anonymous said...

The whole measles twist with charges filed and going to court was absolutely ridiculous. I really couldn't see McCoy ordering something like that when he's running for office (seriously, I think the anti vaccination crowd is playing a dangerous game but I would have difficulty voting for a DA who'd be arrogant and stupid enough to charge a parent who didn't vaccinate for the death of another child)

Hilary Duff was actually pretty bad. . . kinda weird that the mom (Gail O'Grady) had this strong NY accent and the daughter didn't even have a hint of a regional accent.

As I was watching I kept thinking that other folks were right that it must Dale that gets killed off. Killing O'Halloran and leaving people stuck with Stuckey would have the ramifications into next season that have been alluded to but Ausiello implied it was a character fans wouldn't mourn. My guess is that Dale does something really stupid (in other words, acts normal for him) during an investigation and he ends up brutally murdered by the perp as a result.

Anonymous said...

This episode seemed to have a few problems that were the reverse of what we usually complain about on SVU. This time, the direction and guest acting were pretty weak but the writing, up until the second half, was at least decent. At least we got a good series of court scenes with an opening argument and cross-examination in this episode, despite the weirdness of the subject matter...that doesn't happen often enough on SVU anymore.

And I agree with both of the other commentators that there's something odd going on with Stuckey. The writers have to have an ulterior motive if they are actively wanting us to hate him so much. Maybe it won't be him who dies - I could see a scenario where he screws up later in the season and gets O'Halloran or Warner killed as a result.

John K. said...

Right, and given Jack's newfound spiritual movitation ("Bogeyman"), I'm having a hard time buying it. But then, they had to dig up some motivation to arrest Monica, right?

If you think about it, it's like Retro. Substitute vaccination for AIDS and you got it. We had heavy prosecutor involvement in both, Christian science bashing in both, the characters spewing OOC facts and figures and, of course, the lovely strawman argument, the waste of a comedic talent (Martin Mull and Hilary Duff respective. Although, Gail O'Grady was amusing in her trailer trash way.)

Anonymous said...

I have to agree. I don't like characters like this -- while Stuckey doesn't bother me so much, I hate when shows introduce recurring characters solely for the audience to loathe and want to kill off. They kind of did this with Greyleck -- at first, she seemed like a serious (albeit woodenly zealous) replacement ADA then she started getting a bunch of episodes where she got progressively dumber and meaner so that the other characters can smack her down.

It's weak and stupid. -- if the writers believe that the only way we'll like the SVU main cast is if they introduce annoying minor characters for them to verbally brutalize then maybe they should watch the first season again and try to recapture what made those characters enjoyable to watch.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you mentioned that about Stuckey. My husband and I were watching and he said "he makes me not want to watch the show." I wouldn't have said it so strongly, but I do agree that he is beyond annoying.
I also agree that the episode wasn't one of their best - by far.

daniel said...

hey, sorry for being late but i just saw this episode, as in my country they are slowly showing season 10!

i thought this episode was good, but nothing speical and the ending was just too much. Also with the case, it was all political, not saying immunization isnt a big deal but it was a weak case, and i think that Alex did a very bad job in prosecuting it.

Also as usual thanks for the review/recap.

Unknown said...

Hi, I don't have anything important to say except that your comment that "the fans will bing bang bong leave the show", made me laugh out loud for quite awhile. Thank you for that. It was very needed,

Soybean52 said...

Seriously? the parent who chooses not to inject her child with vaccines is arrested?
the truth is that the measles vaccine does not work. Even if a child does receive benefit, it is temporary at best. The children who are spreading measles are those that have received the vaccine, not those who are unvaccinated. And let's not forget the neurological damage that these vaccinated children suffer. Search MMR vaccine and autism