Thursday, May 7, 2009

Law & Order All New Episode Recap & Review

All Photos NBC

Well, things must really be a mess at NBC because they have yet to give this episode a proper title - it is still listed with the name of “All New.” I call it “Murder by Firefighter” because it involves three murders at the hands of New York firefighters. (A side note to NBC – can we get a real name for this episode? And how about for last week’s "Promote This" while you are at it.)

The episode was rather good, and the case itself interesting. It started off with a murder of two people, and later led to some drug money that was stolen by a cop and later hidden by his wife, then another murder to cover up robbery and murder. Of course, any case these days seems to cause heartburn for Jack McCoy and his campaign for the DA’s office. Jack seems to be taking it all in stride, but also puts the heat on Michael Cutter not to screw things up for him. At times, Jack seems frustrated with Cutter, but later thanks him for not totally blowing things. We also see a glimpse of what looks like may be some sort of poll – it likely is not election results as the election isn’t going on yet – and Jack’s rival Joe Chapell seems to be in the lead, but there is a high enough percentage of undecideds that Jack still looks like he is still being taken seriously. I find myself wishing that Jack could find a nice clean way to give Chapell and the governor a smackdown.

The only problem with the episode is yet again, Cutter goes to trial with what appears to be a highly circumstantial and flimsy case. There was no proof of murder and he relied heavily on the testimony of two firefighters. The case was weak and I was shocked that he actually got a conviction out of it. Yet, he used that conviction to break the other partner in crime, in a confession that was really more worthy of being given to someone more intimidating like Bobby Goren. It was probably one of the better confession stories we’ve seen in a while on Law & Order. When you think that Cutter really had nothing to go on with that case either, he should be thrilled that he got anything at all.

If it wasn’t for what is turning out to be a cohesive cast and some decent writing these days, the show would not be as interesting, because the legal aspect of the series seems to be on the weak side. Cutter frequently has any hard evidence when he goes to trial and seems to get there based on trickery or slight of hand, or just a hairlike thread of evidence connecting someone to the crimes. No wonder Jack looks cranky all the time.

Here is the recap:

In an apartment that looks like it is undergoing renovations, Thomas Cooper (Bill Dawes), surprises his wife Linda (Bethann Bonner) with a new antique art deco chandelier. It was for their three-month anniversary. They decide to delay their trip to New Pulse in order to have a little “fun”.

Later, we see Detectives Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Bernard (Anthony Anderson) are at the apartment, Linda dead on the floor. Tom is also dead on the floor, and they are told he was a lieutenant with the fire department. They moved in 2 months before. They were renovating the apartment on their own. It seems like a home invasion. A policeman enters and tells the police sergeant that some other fireman are trying to break through the line. As the detectives head outside, they see a group of fireman shouting to get in. Lupo tells them to relax and it is a crime scene and they have to keep it clean. Lupo tells them they can get some guys and escort their lieutenant out. As the police carry Thomas’s body down the steps, they accompany him and help carry the stretcher, the crowd silent. As the firefighters touch the body bag as the stretcher passes, Bernard says, “I tell you what Lupes, we’d better do right by these guys.”

At the ME’s, Rodgers (Leslie Hendrix) tells the detectives that Thomas Cooper took seven hits to the face. She estimates 12 minutes start to finish. Mrs. Cooper was raped vaginally, rape kit showed no seminal fluids but there was Octyl-9, a condom lubricant. She was strangled repeatedly, Lupo saying it was “stop and go”, just like the husband. The killer was trying to get something out of them.

At the 2-7, Linda’s sister tells the Lt. Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) and the detectives that the couple was supposed to come to her dad’s last night, but they called to say they were coming in the morning. She said the couple was having no problems with anyone. They had nothing of real value, al their money going into their place in Washington Heights. After she leaves, they talk that they think that more than one person was involved. Van Buren hones in on the antique art deco chandelier, and tells them they run about 10 grand. She tells them to check out Cooper’s buddies to see how he came up with the money for it.

At Engine Company 29, Lupo and Bernard talk to Cooper’s colleagues, and one person told them that Tom was just tight with his money. Lupo finds a can of dog food and asks if they have a dog and are told that they used to. Another says they are wasting their time trying to dig up dirt on Cooper he was one of the best Lupo finds a card in Cooper’s locker from an Upton Paints, telling him to call ASAP!!! They are told the guy came in for Cooper a couple weeks ago and he was real steamed. And said if Cooper didn’t call he’d make real trouble for him.

Later. at Upton Paints, the owner says that he thought Cooper was trying to rip him off and it was an honest mistake. He said when Cooper paid for the paint he rolled out a wad of cash and paid for it, the bank later calling him and saying there was something wrong with the bills and they would not credit his account until they were checked out. He thought Cooper was passing counterfeit bills, but the bank later called and told him the bills were genuine, they were just 40 years old.

Back at the 2-7, Bernard says the bills were printed between 1965-69 but usually paper money is taken out of circulation after 5 years, but Cooper’s bills are in mint condition. Lupo, using Van Buren’s magnifier that he borrowed from her office, notices the initials LB in the lower right hand corner of one bill, and says he had an instructor at the academy that told him before copy machines, he said to put your initials on drug buy money so you could identify it at trial. Lupo thinks this is old drug bust money, and Bernard squeals it could be from “The French Connection.” He adds they just need to find the undercover narcotics detective with the initials LB.

At the Savingsmart, the detectives speak with Lou Bullard (Bernie McInerney), who now works at the store. He is surprised to hear the money is out there. They tell him that for that case where this money was involved, the case never went to court because the dope dealer was killed with another dope dealer. The informant said there was $400,000 but only $100,000 was accounted for at the time. They press Lou to tell them how the money got out there, Bernard saying the statute of limitations ran out on the grand larceny years ago but he could get jammed up now for lying. Lou says that someone named Paul Mansfield, his partner, was splitting up the money and he told him to make sure the marked bills get back where they came from. He doesn’t have the money anymore, he spent it and his ex-wife took what was left. He doesn’t think Mansfield ever spent a dime, he was concerned about attracting attention, and he think the stress killed him, as he died five years later. His wife stayed in their little house in Washington Heights until she passed.

Back at the Cooper home in Washington Heights, forensics are on the scene and they find old tobacco tins in the wall hanging on wires where the likely was stashed. Lupo found a bill in the bathroom where the linoleum wasn’t completely tacked down. They suspect someone knew Cooper hit the motherload.

Back at the 2-7 the detectives tell Van Buren they think finding the location of the money is why the killers took their time beating up the Coopers. They tore the place looking for the cash. Van Buren tells them to alert the banks in case another bill turns up. Van Buren notices they were going to replace a load-bearing wall with a steel column, and says this is a two-man job, nothing he and his wife could have done alone. They think whoever helped them may have been there when they found the money. Van Buren tells Lupo he owes $25 to Harlem Boys and Girls Club for borrowing her magnifier. As they look through construction bills, she finds the bill for the steel I-beam.

At Metropolitan Lumber, they speak to a manager who tells him Cooper said his and his pal had the installation of the steel beam covered. His pal was a young guy, white, in his 20’s with a crew cut and a tattoo saying “Hellfire boys.”

Back at the fire department, they talk to the guy with the tattoo, Nick Spence (Tom Degnan), who says he helped him put up the column and held with the demolition. He said he did not work in the dining room. They ask him where he was the night of the murder and he is shocked. He says he went out for Italian with his girlfriend.

At the Flowers CafĂ©, they speak with his girlfriend, and said after dinner he was tired from the job and went home to crash. They ask him what he said about Cooper. She said Nick would never admit it but said a few weeks ago he went out to Suffolk County to visit his grandmother and the next thing he is calling her from a hospital with food poisoning. He didn’t want to talk about it but she knew something happened.

At the ME’s, Warner is looking at records from the Suffolk County Hospital, saying Nick Spence had his stomach pumped, and spent two days there. He had internal bleeding from eating dog food, which contained ground bone meal that is not meant to be digested by humans. Lupo recalls that Cooper had dog food in his locker but the firehouse had no dog – but they did have a “probie.”

At the 2-7, the detectives have some of the firemen in interrogation. They talked about pranks they played on Nick, Cooper cut the kid slack but Walters made Nick clean his gutters in the rain. One says that Cooper wouldn’t make Spence eat dog food, Cooper was a good guy. They ask him why Nick put in a transfer a two weeks ago, could he not take Cooper’s hazing? They are told that Nick’s is just like his father Bill Spence, a department legend.

Later, Lupo tells Van Buren it was the big sucking sound of the NYFD closing ranks. Lupo still likes Spence for the murder, and Bernard walks in saying 40 year old bills have now turned up at banks in Bayridge and Smithtown Long Island. Spence has a grandmother close to Smithtown, and Van Buren says it is time to bring him in.

Lupo and Bernard head over where Spence’s group is fighting a fire. The find the fire chief there yelling at his men. When they ask to speak with Nick Spence, he tells them they are a little late. They find Nick is dead from the fire.

Back at the 2-7, along with the fire marshal, they look over blueprints of the location where they were fighting the fire and where Nick was killed. He described the building and fire as the “perfect storm.” He says that Nick should have been with the senior man Toshak, and Toshak advised Nick of his responsibility before they entered the site, but Spence disobeyed him. The warehouse was empty, the auto parts company leasing it went out of business the week before. They cannot determine how the fire was started but there were traces of an accelerant. The facility had no sprinklers and the asbestos had been removed, the walls acted like kindling. The fire marshal says “You wanna blame someone? Blame the laws of combustion.”

Later, in Cutter’s office, Bernard says Spence ate dog food on command, but asks if they are supposed to believe that he disobeyed a superior at a fire. When EADA Michael Cutter (Linus Roache) asks what they expect him to believe, Lupo thinks it is “firehouse justice.” ADA Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) asks that the beloved lieutenant is killed by the probie, so all his men take revenge? Lupo says they sent Spence into a firetrap.

DA Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) enters, and asks if the fire marshal signed off yet on their theory. Bernard says no. Jack tells them to stick to their original mission – the robbery/homicide of the firefighter and his wife. Cutter stands up and says the investigations take their town course. McCoy turns and looks at Cutter and says “I have nothing but respect for firemen. I know what it takes to run into a burning building, safe life and property. It’s bad enough your murder suspect was a probationary firefighter and that hazing might have played a role. You don’t need to put the rest of the fire department in the crosshairs.” McCoy walks off, and Cutter looks to the rest of them. Lupo comments sarcastically, “More like candidate McCoy doesn’t need it.” Cutter tells them one case at a time, Spence is dead but it is possible an accomplice is still running loose. Lupo says if Spence was still around, they may have gotten him to flip on his accomplice. Cutter thinks Spence must have talked to somebody, and when Lupo says not his girlfriend, Rubirosa wonders if it would have been to another fireman, and Bernard wonders if it was maybe a retired one.

Lupo, Bernard, and Rubirosa are at the home of Nick’s father Bill Spence (Thomas C. Waites), and he says there was nothing wrong with Nick. He did tell him Cooper was riding him pretty hard and he talked him out of quitting, even when his transfer was denied. Nick said crazy stuff, like he felt responsible for Tom Cooper getting killed. He just told him to shut up and forget about it. He says “screw Cooper and the fire truck he married” and when he gets upset about his son’s death, he leaves the room. Rubirosa wonders about the comment about being married to the fire truck. Lupo says his guess is all the fireman rode her.

Later, Rubirosa is talking to Linda Cooper’s sister, and she wondered how long it was going to take them before they started slamming her sister. Linda dated a lot of fireman. She said it all ended when she found Tom. She said she got “fan mail” but put all of it away when she met Tom but she kept it at her mom’s house.

Back at her office, Rubirosa is looking through all the letters. Cutter wonders about the thing women have with men in uniform, and Rubirosa says she can see the appeal but not to worry, she outgrew it by the time she was ten. She found one admirer who took Linda’s marriage hard, it was signed LDH. There was no one at the firehouse or Cooper’s friend that matches that initials. She sees a picture of Cooper and his buddies wearing T-shirts and points out Toshak T-shirt and says it could be LDH. The nicknames on the T-shirts are all fireman’s tools, but they wonder what an LDH is. Rubirosa looks it up and says it stands for a large diameter hose, and she chuckles. And says he does have a pretty inflated sense of himself. Cutter wonders if it is the kind of ego that doesn’t like rejection. The talk about Toshak's alibi, he was off duty but called into work at 11:10. Cutter says, ‘LDH, let’s reel him in.”

In interrogation, with the detectives and Cutter, Toshak (Eric Michael Cole) denies involvement but Lupo says they traced the emails to Linda to the firehouse computer. Cutter thinks he could not have done all those things without leaving one thread loose, and Toshak says he supposes not, but still denies doing any of those things. When Lupo mentions that Cooper's nickname of deck gun implies he was superior over Toshak, and that all that “thrust and power” sealed the deal for Linda, Toshak says he could do this all day, and will wait for his lawyer now.

Upon leaving the interrogation room, Rubirosa tells Lupo and Cutter that she checked the firehouse records and found the duty roster for the night Cooper was killed. Toshak drew it up, and he, McShane, and Walters were all off duty. There was a notation made next to Spence’s name that said, “ Probie can detail to EMT or not, his choice, you don’t give someone the option of working through a murder if you wanted (unintelligible) committing it. “ The speculate that Spence felt responsible as he told Toshak about the money. Bernard enters and said he went through Toshak bank statements, he wasn’t dumb enough to deposit any cash, but he did find that last week he deposited a check for $3,500 from a company called Mulberry Waste Remediation. Cutter wonders if he is moonlighting in the hazardous waste business. Bernard says this could involve asbestos, and someone was in the warehouse where Spence died and had just stripped out the asbestos.

Later, Rubirosa tells Cutter that the waste company confirmed Toshak worked on the fourth floor. He knew the layout of the place and knew the aerosols were there. But they can’t tie him to Cooper’s money. So they decide to go after him for Spence’s murder, but Rubirosa says the fire marshal has not ruled that fire as arson and they can’t prove Toshak set it. Cutter says he won’t need to prove it, and asks her for a leap of faith, saying “I hope you’re up for it.”

In McCoy’s office, the fire chief (Robert Clohessy ) is yelling saying this is an attack on every firefighter in the city, but McCoy says it is only on one very bad apple who just happens to be a firefighter. The fire chief is still crazed over this. Cutter tells him they don’t have the evidence to go after Toshak for the murders of the Coopers. The fire chief tells McCoy, “This is some office you’re running.” He insists the owner of the auto parts business as he illegally subdivided his building, and McCoy says the owner will be next. But the fire chief digs at McCoy, saying, ‘If you’re still in office by then. You actually think you can get elected without the support of the firefighters?” McCoy smiles and says ,’ I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.” The fire chief retorts, “I’ll pretend you did.” As he gets up to leave, he adds that they are filing a writ to appoint a special prosecutor to go after the business owner for the death of firefighter Spence. After he leaves, Cutter leaps up and is upset that prosecuting the owner now will undermine their case against Toshak, they have to stop this. McCoy says, “Fat chance, you know who appoints special prosecutors.” Cutter knows it’s the governor. McCoy adds “And he’s not one to let an opportunity pass to stick it to me, ‘specially is if helps his boy Chapell win an important endorsement. Fireman are saints in this city, deservedly so. Now that you’ve put Toshak in the crosshairs, better not miss.”

At Supreme Court, one of the firemen, Walters (Dash Mihok), is testifying. He says Brad Toshak told them to forget about the fourth floor, to all the members of his team. He told Spence to stick close and not lose sight of him. Cutter asks if Toshak asks if he pointed out the hazards, and the fireman says he didn’t have to. Cutter asks where, in his statement to the fire marshal, did he mention any warning not to go to the fourth floor. He admit she did not mention it. Cutter asks if other firefighters trust him with their lives, and he says yes. But when Cutter asks him if he would warn others about dangers he said yes, but when he asks if he considers it his duty as a firefighter, he stalls in answering and the judge orders him to respond. He says that is correct.

Back in McCoy’s office, he is watching a press conference being held by Chapell, who says he has received the endorsement of the firefighters for the position of district attorney. Cutter enters and McCoy turns off the TV. Cutter says luckily most firefighters can’t vote in New York County, but McCoy says the people that love them can. He says even if he convicts Toshak it is an empty victory unless he can show why he wanted Spence dead. Cutter thinks one of Toshak accomplices testified today. McCoy tells him unless Toshak is held accountable for all his crimes Cutter asks if McCoy can’t justify this trial to his constituents and since when is it all or nothing? McCoy calmly says, “Sometimes a half measure of justice is worse than no justice at all.” Cutter looks befuddled at this statement, and says unless McCoy orders him, he is not withdrawing the charge of depraved indifference and he won’t offer Toshak a deal. McCoy just glares at him, silent. As Cutter leaves his office, McCoy lets out a sigh.

Back at Supreme Court, Toshak is on the stand testifying he told the men what he knew about the building but t was noisy and they were on the move and he can’t be sure all heard him. He told Nick Spence to keep an eye on him and to go where he goers, but the smoke was think and when he couldn’t find him he tried to raise him on the radio but he couldn’t. he says unless you have been inside a fire you can’t know what it is like.

Cutter cross examines him, and asks him if he knew that Spence was s suspect in the murder of Cooper and his wife. He said yes but he did not believe it. Cutter mentions the Cooper hazing and Toshak admits Cooper also hazed him as well. He says he loved Cooper like a brother, and Cutter mentions that Toshak loved Cooper’s wife, too. Toshak says their relationship was over. When Cutter asks how Toshak is sure that Spence did not commit the murders, unless he was there. Toshak says he was not there at the murder of the Coopers. Cutter reminds him that Walters also said that Toshak did not warn Spence of the dangers in the fire, but Toshak says Walters was wrong. Cutter says he was in the lead with Walters and Spence was in the rear, and it was Walter’s responsibility to make sure the warning was relayed to Spence, and is now passing the buck to Walters, his “brother firefighter” and the man who trusted him with his life. Toshak seems to be rattled a bit, and Walters glares at him from the gallery.

Later, in Supreme Court, the verdict is read, and they find Toshak guilty and the gallery erupts. As the judge tries to calm the crowd, Cutter leans over to Rubirosa and says they are not done yet, and to issue an arrest warrant for Walters.

In the 2-7, Cutter has Walters in there, who is questioning that now they think HE killed Spence. Cutter says that the jury did not believe Toshak’s testimony that he passed along the warning to Spence through Walters. Walters says they didn’t believe because it was crap, and Cutter tells him another jury might not think so. Rubirosa tells him they are going to try him for depraved indifference murder, and they will use the transcript of the testimony from Toshak’s trial and that Toshak may testify against him for a reduced sentence. Cutter adds that he can set aside the charge and offer a reduced sentence for the murders of Tom and Linda Cooper, it’s 25 to life for depraved indifference murder, and 15 to life for a double murder, and it’s a one time only offer. Walters’s lawyer whispers to him, and Rubirosa asks what happened in Cooper’s house. Walters folds like it is laundry day, and said that Toshak heard from Spence that Cooper found the money in the house, and Toshak, McShane and him decided to steal it. Cooper was not supposed to be home. When he didn’t tell them where they hid the money, Toshak hit him a little to hard, then went after Linda. Walters said he and McShane couldn’t abide that, but they couldn’t stop him. Linda didn’t know where the money was, but Toshak killed her anyway. When he got called back to the firehouse, and he stayed with McShane to look for the money. They found it. Toshak got worried that Spence knew too much so he set a fire and he sent Spence upstairs – all for the damn money. When Walters and McShane heard the cops were tracing the bills, they lit his barbecue and made a fire, and over 100 grand went up in smoke. The money was bad news.

Back in McCoy’s office, he is watching another “breaking news” press conference featuring Joe Chapell. There are results streaming at the bottom of the page which show “Chapell 47%, McCoy 44%, 9% Undecided.” Cutter tells McCoy hat Walters took 15 to life, McShane 15 to life, Toshak 35 to life. Cutter moves to leave and McCoy says “Eat and run?” Cutter says he is filing an indictment against the owner of the warehouse, he wants to beat the special prosecutor to the punch. McCoy says “Mike, thanks… I think.” Cutter nods his head, smiles, and walks out. As McCoy puts back on his reading glasses to go back to work, we fade to black.

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samfan said...

Liked this episode, they need to come up with better titles. Loved Jack in this one, I to wish that he would bring the smack down on Chappell and Shalvoy!!! Thought the episode, but thought the evidence was extremely flimsy and I was surprised that they were able to get an indictment. Great recap!!!

Anonymous said...

Very good episode all around, even with the weak case that Cutter had to work with.

Is it me or is something going on with Connie and Mike? That little comment "don't worry I outgrew that by the time I was ten" referring to the men in uniform comment by Mike, suggested perhaps a little something more going on there? Maybe it's just the fanfic world has me seeing things. hee hee.

Jack still has some room there to pull neck and neck with that smarmy Shalvoy lackey.

Anyways, dandy ep from the mothership.

off to campaign for McCoy!


JB said...

I agree, Miss Kitty; the preponderance of the evidence (see what I did there? wink wink) would suggest that Mike and Connie have a little something something going on there, which I am enjoying immensely. I appreciate that Law & Order has always been primarily procedural, but I am liking the increasing little glimpses into the characters' personal lives the past few seasons. I find it more engaging.

As for the lack of evidence, I couldn't agree more. They've been taking cases to trial that a first year law student would flinch at. The burden of proof in criminal court is beyond a reasonable doubt, which is an incredibly high standard to meet. The prosecutor has to prove every single element of the crime to this standard, and if they miss just one, it's over. Even if they can convince a jury without the evidence, the judge can set aside (only a guilty) verdict on JNOV, if they find that as a matter of law the evidence doesn't support it. It rarely happens in reality because usually the prosecution only brings to trial cases they can actually try on the evidence! If I remember correctly, L&O did actually have the judge set aside a guilty verdict on JNOV, but it was way back in the Ben Stone years. Maybe it's due to the defense attorneys' apparent woeful ineptitude about moving for directed verdicts, as all defense attorneys do as a matter of course.

But it's a show, and I guess entertainment values dictate that they not do things THAT true to life. Trials are usually very tame compared to TV and movies; very rarely do you get thrilling confessions and twists and turns. So I guess we just need to sit back and let them entertain us without thinking too hard on it. It's still satisfying to see the guilty parties get convicted, regardless. ;)

Anonymous said...

To be fair, what Michael Cutter is doing to Jack McCoy now is payback for everything that Jack McCoy put Adam Schiff through. Although Cutter is a little bit worse about this -- usually, McCoy just lost the evidence while Cutter never had it in the first place.

Lisa R. said...

I agree with what Anonymous said about the difference between McCoy and Cutter. I really enjoyed this episode. LOVED the Connie/Mike banter, McCoy was great in his scenes, and the ending confession by the firefighter got to me.

Did anyone notice the great camera work in this ep? Remember how the camera was following the magnifying glass that Lupo was holding? Or how about the reflection of the suspect in the two way mirror? Very interesting angles.

samfan said...

I also think that Cutter and McCoy are very different. I still say McCoy is my fave, just because he always had evidence:) But Cutter isn't that bad, I just wish his cases would be more realistic. Good episode though.

John K. said...

I would point out you can shift some of focus on one of the episode's writers, Bill Fordes. Fordes was an actual prosecutor, that worked part-time from Season 2 (he was still prosecuting). Then by Season 3, writing for L&O became his full-time job.

So, yeah, have fun with that tidbit of knowledge. Hee.

RangerGirl said...

I did not get to see anything after Jack's first appearance in this episode because of thunderstorms. I am very glad that you write out in-depth recaps.

jodie said...

the unintelligible words were 'if you want his help committing it'. your blog and its posts are always of a great help and information for me, thanks;) I still prey that someday someone rich with real senses would bring law & order back with its best cast and stories yet in a long while :)