Sunday, November 8, 2009
Law & Order “Doped” Recap & Review
This episode of Law & Order “Doped” ended with a line from Michael Cutter - “20 years it is” - which was the sentence for the murderer in question. But, I also thought it may also have been a reference to the 20th season of Law & Order, which seems to be getting more enjoyable with each episode.
“Doped” was clearly "ripped from the headlines" from the tragedy on the Taconic Parkway in July of this year, when Diane Schuler drove on the wrong side of the Parkway, got in an accident and killed 8 people, and alcohol was found in her car. But in the Law & Order universe, the driver in this episode only did it because someone spiked her drink and spiked her nasal spray. I guess that is a nice way to avoid any possible lawsuits from the Schuler family. Still, the writers took this real life story and spun an interesting fictional version of the outcome.
While I knew that when Zach (played by Rich Sommer from one of my favorite TV shows, “Mad Men”) was desperate to get to the bathroom that there was trouble coming, I assumed that when Lupo kept Zach's jacket that maybe trouble would be averted. Needless to say I was surprised at his attempt at suicide by ballpoint pen, which has to be one of the bloodiest scene on Law & Order, at least in my recent memory. I found myself yelling for them to not pull out that pen, although they looked tempted to do just that, which certainly would have cause Zach to bleed even more quickly. This was a great scene, in part because it was somewhat different for the show, and in part because it was a bit of a surprise.
My heart went out to Anita when Connie and Rodgers were discussing the drug Lextenda and how it only minimally extends life. Either Connie and Rodgers don’t know about Anita’s illness, or they just plain forgot, otherwise their commentary may have been more empathetic. Anita’s outlook on the drug may have been different before she found out she had cancer, but now it is clear that every minute of her life has become precious, and she can see why some people would want to extend it no matter what the cost.
It wouldn’t be Law & Order lately without a political or social statement or sermon of some sort, and Jack McCoy gets the big honor in this episode, with his statement about politicians being in the health industries’ pockets. Personally, I think that is a very simplistic and narrow view of the problem with health care, health insurance, and pharmaceutical industries. But as it may be the popular view right now, I will cut the writers some slack since this show can’t address all the problems with health care, big business, and politics in a one-hour drama. By the way, the writers are doing a great job with dialog that is not only believable and realistic but sometimes a little funny. One example: Connie comments about the doctor's golf balls.
All in all, a very good episode. With each episode this season, it seems like Law & Order continues to provide solid stories that are told in a very realistic way. My only hope is that it doesn't get overlooked in the Friday time slot.
Here is the recap:
Brenda Sawyer is driving a minivan full of kids. She seems slightly giddy. A car honks at them and Nicky, in the front seat, tells his mother to watch where she is going. She says she is just having a little fun. She sneezes, and asks for Nicky to get her spray out of her purse.
Two guys exit a building, and as they stand in the street in the process of crossing, the minivan shoots by them, going the wrong way on a one-way street. Cars honk and swerve to avoid the minivan, which enters an underpass, still going the wrong way.
Later, Detectives Kevin Bernard (Anthony Anderson) and Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) arrive on the scene of a car accident. The minivan had entered the ramp going the wrong way, witnesses said it was doing 60 minimum, and hit another car head on. All three in the car are DOA, and two in the minivan, both little kids. The driver of the minivan plus two other kids were rushed to St. Agnes’ hospital. Lupo comments the minivan drove 20 blocks on the wrong side. Bernard looks inside the van and finds a bottle of grain alcohol, 151 proof. Lupo adds that it has no taste and packs a wallop. Bernard sees there are still a few drops in the bottle, and says that this is why he takes the subway.
At the hospital, Brenda Sawyer’s husband Matt (Chris Bowers) talks to the detectives, saying that his wife was taking the kids upstate for the weekend and had their nieces with her. He wonders what he will tell Sandy and Bob. She was coming from work, Woodmoor Pharma where she is a sales manager. She originally wasn’t supposed to take the kids, he was supposed to pick them up from his sister’s but at the last minute he had to stay late at the bank. He called his wife and told her at about quarter to 5. She sounded OK. Bernard asks if his wife drinks, and Sawyer said no, and Bernard tells him they found a bottle of grain alcohol in the van. This upsets Sawyer, who says his wife was not drunk. He leaves them to check on his son.
The doctor tells Lupo and Bernard it is not hopeful for Brenda Sawyer. Her blood alcohol was .09. When Lupo asks if they will be able to talk to any of the surviving kids any time soon, they hear sobbing coming from one of the rooms and a child’s body is being covered up. One of the surviving girls, Sarah Renhquist, died 20 minutes ago, and the doctor had just told her parents, Bob and Sandy. Bernard asks if they should talk to them, and Lupo says he would say no. They head over to talk to the parents, and Lupo introduces themselves, apologizes for their loss, and asks if they can ask a couple questions. They tell them Brenda came just before 5 and she seemed fine and said she was going to stop and get the kids ice cream. Sandy got a call from her daughter who said there was something wrong with Brenda and she wasn’t making any sense and was driving all over the road, she told her daughter to tell Brenda to pull over but then she heard her daughter scream. Bob is angry and asks if she was drunk. When Matt calls over to them, Bob begins to yell at Matt, pushing him up against the wall, saying his drunk wife killed their baby. Matt says no, he swears she wasn’t drunk, and the detectives have to separate them and pull Matt away.
Back at the 2-7, Lt. Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) is going over the details with the detectives. They have her turning on to the west side highway, turning north into the southbound lanes. She accelerated and one caller said she was going through the intersection at about 55. Bernard says the lady was smashed, but Lupo says that is a lot of bad driving for a .09 blood alcohol. They argue over details, and Van Buren says, “You two done?” When they look at each other and get quiet, she tells them Brenda's blood alcohol has already been leaked to the media, and with 6 fatalities including three dead kids, if Brenda ever makes it out of the hospital people will want to string her up. She wants to nail this down so there can be no doubt. She tells them to find out what she drank, where she drank it, and who saw her do it.
At Woodmoor Pharmaceuticals, they speak with Zach Marshall (Rich Sommer) who says they are in shock. Brenda was part of their sales team. She was good when she left at 4:15 or 4:30. As the detectives go through her desk, and ask if she drank he says maybe a glass of punch at a Christmas party. A woman, Leslie, watches with a wary eye from the adjoining cubicle. He adds when she left on Friday, she mentioned she was going to be cooped up with 4 kids over the weekend and after that she was going to need a stiff drink but he thought she was kidding. The woman in the cubicle is hearing a news story about the incident, an interview with Patrick Foster, who lost his wife, daughter and fiancé in the accident. Zach tells Leslie to turn it off and for everyone to go back to work. The detectives find no secret stash or breath mints at Brenda’s desk. Bernard recalls that she told her sister she was going to get the kids ice cream so they decide to check out places between her sister’s and the highway.
At the ice cream shop, the guy behind the counter remembers her, and the detectives watch the security video. Brenda is sipping something from a cup, but the guy says she seemed in a good mood. They see Brenda tossed her drink, but the garbage was already put out for sanitation that night.
They head to the Sawyer residence, and Matt is insistent she did not drink. Lupo says it is hard to admit but he needs to tell the truth so they can move on. Matt says his in-laws hate him and he can’t leave the apartment because the papers turned him into a pariah, his daughter is dead and his wife and son…he trails off, and then adds his mother is dying of cancer. He says something is off. His mother pipes up from the other room, saying her daughter in law is a terrific mother and would never put her grandkids in danger. Matt begs them to find out what happened. As Matt tends to his mother, Bernard says that they could show him photos of his wife swigging grain alcohol but he wouldn’t believe it. But Lupo says when you know somebody, you know somebody. Matt’s phone rings, and as he answers it, Lupo’s phone also rings. As Matt sobs, Lupo tells Bernard that Brenda is dead. Lupo says, “One more look, okay?”
At the shop, Bernard says Brenda’s cell phone records confirm the call from her husband at 4:45 and she got a call before the crash from a cell phone registered to her company, the call lasting less than a minute. Lupo finds a damaged nasal spray in the pieces of the wreck and puts it in an evidence bag and says he is sending it to the lab.
At the morgue, ME Rodgers (Leslie Hendrix) tells them the contents of Brenda’s GI tract corroborate the hospital tox screen and shows grain alcohol mixed with orange juice, banana, and coconut. They tell her about the over the counter nasal spray, and she tells them nothing besides alcohol was detected. She says there is no big mystery, she was hammered on jungle juice.
Back in Van Buren's office, they tell her it all comes back to Brenda being drunk. She says she would feel a lot better if they can find the store that sold her the booze. ME Rodgers enters, and tells them that after they told her about her allergies, she took another look at her nasal mucosa. There was chronic inflammation, so she checked with the tox lab about the nasal spray. There was propofol in it, which is an anesthetic. Rodgers said it is also known as “Milk of Amnesia” and it would cause immediate disorientation and lack of control if she sprayed it in her nose. It dissipates in minutes and would not show on tox screens. Somebody spiked her nasal spray. Lupo looks and Bernard who says, “When you’re right, you’re right.”
At the 2-7, Lupo tells Van Buren the lot number on the nasal spray traces to a pharmacy on 23rd St. She tells him to alert the health department to pull all the sprays from the store to have them tested. Bernard finds that one of the companies that makes propofol is Woodmoor Pharma, where Brenda works. Van Buren wonders if someone there had a beef with her and tells them to talk to he husband.
At the pediatric unit at St. Agnes Hospital, the detectives tell Matt the news when he wants to tell others that it wasn’t Brenda’s fault, they tell him to take things one step at a time. First they want to find the person who tampered with her nasal spray. They ask about work problems and he says she was under a lot of stress and she had been staying late at work. He and Brenda have not had a lot of time to talk. When he leaves to tend to his son who just got out if the ICU, Lupo wonders about the “staying late at work” comment.
The head back to Woodmoor and speak with Leslie. She said Brenda was always spritzing stuff up her nose, and kept her nasal spray in her purse on her desk. Everyone thought the word of her. She and Zach were working on a big project together. The night before the accident they were in his office in a big “hush-hush” and they stopped when they saw her. On the day of the accident, Zach called in after he left looking for Brenda and she said she went to pick up her kids and he didn’t seem too happy. She gives them Zach’s company cell phone number. When Leslie leaves, Lupo wonders if the big hush-hush was personal, professional, or mineral. Bernard says Zach’s number matches the number that called Brenda in the minivan and wonders if her son overheard the conversation. Lupo asks, “Her son who just got out of the ICU. You IA guys are cold.”
Back at the hospital, they speak with Nicky, giving him a small detective's badge. He remembers his mother getting a phone call from her boss. She couldn’t hear him so she hung up. She was acting weird. She said her boss was nice and he bought her a jam juice smoothie, the one she was drinking when she stopped to buy them ice cream.
Back at the 2-7, Lupo tells Van Buren that the jam juice franchise near Woodmoor Pharma made a delivery Friday afternoon, 8 smoothies, enough for the whole sales staff, charged to Zach’s corporate card. Van Buren thinks he spiked her smoothie and her nasal spray. Lupo goes on to say that she parked in the garage and he could have planted the grain alcohol in her minivan. Van Buren thinks Zach wanted them to think she crashed her car because she was drunk, not because she was on propofol. Bernard tells them that the 911 calls about the minivan were all made between 5:24 and 5:25 except one, which was made at 5:16, from a pay phone in Tuckahoe, which is 10 miles from the west side highway. Van Buren comments that someone must have big crystal ball. Bernard goes on to say that Zach’s phone call to Brenda made two minutes earlier hit off a cell phone tower in Tuckahoe.
The bring in Zach to the 2-7, and he says he treats his team to smoothies every Friday as a motivator. He did not see Brenda add anything to her drink. He denies calling her after they left the office. When Bernard shows him a list of calls he made and shows him a call he did make to her, Zach claims the phone was in his back pocket and he had her on speed dial and hit it by mistake. When Lupo asks to see his phone, he balks and said he deleted Brenda’s entry and may have deleted some others moving them around. When Zach asks if it is important, Lupo says it is, Zach and Brenda have been working late the last few weeks and people saw them. He asks what they were working on and Zach says he can’t say because it is confidential. Lupo asks if he is sure he was working, and Zach asks what else it would be. Bernard says, “You tell us.” But Zach says no, no way, he is married and so is Brenda. Bernard shows him the photos of the kids that were killed before the accident and asks if he wants to see the after pictures. Zach gets rattled as Bernard and Lupo continues to push, telling him about his 911 call from Tuckahoe., playing back the 911 recording with Zach’s voice. They accuse Zach of calling to try to get Brenda pulled over before she used the nasal spray with the propofol he put in there. Zach said he did not mean for it to happen. Zach starts getting very rattled and as they continue to yell at him, Zach begins to cough and screams he has to go to the bathroom. They take him in there and he runs into a stall, with Lupo and Bernard waiting by the restroom door. Lupo hangs on to Zach’s jacket. They don’t hear much and Lupo asks Zach if he is OK. When there is no response only noises, Bernard looks in and sees blood on the floor. He yells for Lupo to get a paramedic and he kicks open the stall door. Zach stuck a pen in an artery in his neck and he is spurting blood everywhere. Bernard holds onto the pen, Zach tells him to let him die. Lupo rushes back in to help contain the bleeding. As they look at each other, as if thinking maybe whether to pull out the pen, Bernard says don’t think that didn’t cross my mind. The paramedics rush in.
Later, in the jail medical ward, Zach is being arraigned, with his lawyer Mr. Cooper present. Cooper says Zach pleads not guilty to murder in the second degree, 7 counts, and ADA Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) requests remand. Cooper says his client is under a doctor’s care and not a flight risk, but Rubirosa reminds him that is because of Zach’s suicide attempt, which implies consciousness of guilt. Cooper says it was not guilt, it is the allegations. He says Zach tried to avert the tragedy, but Rubirosa says it sounds like Cooper is admitting intentional murder and asserting renunciation. He has not necessarily, but the judge says she suggests he figures it out. She remands him.
Outside walking with EADA Michael Cutter (Linus Roache), Rubirosa says Cooper stumbled into a confession. Cutter says they can use a confession, as a smoothie and a suicide attempt won’t convict Zach. She tells him the police found a foil wrapper for the nasal spray in Zach’s house, the same brand as the one in Brenda’s car. He says it’s better, but not as good as evidence of an affair or putting the propofol in his hands. She says his company stores it in a warehouse in White Plains, and he tells her to have a nice drive.
At Woodmoor’s warehouse, Rubirosa sees that Zach has been out there several times, but they tell her that Zach would not be given any propofol. When she asks if it is normal for a sales manager to visit a warehouse so often, the manager there says he would if he had a problem with distribution, and he didn’t have any that he could recall. She sees that Brenda sometimes came with Zach and sometimes she came alone, she was looking at sales data for one of their drugs, Lextenda. Brenda didn’t rep that drug but said there was an issue with distribution to a cancer clinic that one of her relatives was using.
At Matt’ Sawyer’s home, Rubirosa speaks with Matt's mother. She knows she will not beat colon cancer. Rubirosa asks her about Lextenda, her clinic had her on it but Brenda made her stop taking it, she didn’t think it was right for her. It was after Brenda spoke with Albert’s son, Albert was at the clinic also with colon cancer. When Albert’s son found out that Brenda worked for Woodmoor, he got very upset. She is not sure if it was over Lextenda, but Brenda spent a lot of time talking with him.
At the home of Nelson Quintana, he tells Rubirosa that Lextenda cost $1,000 a day. The cancer maxed out their insurance so they had to pay for the drug out of their own pockets. His father kept getting worse, the drug did not help. The clinic talked his mom into keeping him on it and she spent all her money keeping him on it. Now she can’t afford to live in her own home. He admits he lost it with Brenda when he found out she worked art Woodmoor, he says she was an angel and he listened to him. She promised she would look into Lextenda and is not sure what she found out. He lost touch with her after his father died. She got into a “big thing” with Dr. Price at the clinic.
Rubirosa talks to Dr. Price at the clinic. He says people who are terminally ill want miracles and when they don’t get it they blame the doctor and the drugs. Brenda didn’t want her mother in law on Lextenda and she wanted to show him some data on her laptop. But she was a salesperson and she had no medical training. He says that Nelson’s father using the drug was none of Brenda's business – or Rubirosa's for that matter. She asks him what percentage of his terminally ill cancer patients are on Lextenda, and he says he doesn’t see how that is relevant. She says she will decide what is relevant, or if he’d rather, she will come back with a subpoena for all of his records. He tells her why doesn’t she do that and in the meantime he will talk to his lawyer. As she gets up to leave, she notices some golf pictures of him and comments that he is a golfer. She comments about all the locations of Woodmoor invitationals and says, “You get around, you and your little golf balls.” She turns and leaves.
Back at the 2-7, ME Rodgers tells Van Buren and Rubirosa that she got Dr. Price’s data through the state’s morbidity studies and he has prescribed Lextenda to all his end stage patients. Compared to similar patients, Price’s Lextenda patients lived 36 days longer. Rubirosa says that is on the low end of Woodmoor’s marketing materials. But Van Buren is quick to add that it is 36 days they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Rodgers says a couple lived a few more months and one a year, but the vast majority was a week or to. She says it is living, but barely. Rubirosa adds at $1,000 a day.
At the DA’s office, DA Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) says that drug company perk are nothing new. But Rubirosa says this is for a rescue drug that extends life by days but at an exorbitant cost. Cutter says not to mention it targets a vulnerable and desperate group of patients. McCoy says unless the company is paying the prescribing doctors to misrepresent the drugs effectiveness, and Cutter says maybe Brenda found that they were. Rubirosa reminds them Brenda was in the warehouse along with Zach. Maybe she confided in Zach and he didn’t share Brenda’s outrage. Cuter says he is a sales manager and if Brenda blows the whistle, Lextenda’s sales may tank and along with it, his career and the company. McCoy questions if he silenced Brenda, saying a company man may only go so far. Rubirosa says asks if they know how much Woodmoor grosses annually on Lextenda, and when she shows McCoy the numbers, he says that would buy a lot of loyalty.
At Rikers Island in the counsel room, Zach has a new lawyer, Mr. Hoyt, courtesy of Woodmoor Pharma. Hoyt says their case this sounds very circumstantial. Rubirosa tells him Brenda was about to blow the whistle on Lextenda, When Cutter and Rubirosa explain their case further as to why they think Zach did it, Hoyt comments this means that they can’t put the alcohol or the propofol in Zach’s hands. When he gets no answer from Cutter or Rubirosa, Hoyt tells them he will contact them when he gets up to speed – or not. He and Zach leave to make a bail application to get him home to his family.
Back at the DA’s office, McCoy tells Rubirosa and Cutter that it sounds like damage control and if they can force them to cut Zach a quick deal they can keep Lextenda out of it. Cutter wonders if Zach cut his own deal to keep his mouth shut in return for high priced legal representation. Jack asks how they are on the Lextenda issue and Rubirosa says Brenda’s research was on her company laptop and Woodmoor security removed it from her office when she was killed. Cutter says that laptop hold their motive. McCoy says with a half smile that he is sure if Cutter asks Woodmoor nicely they will hand it right over.
At a Supreme Court motion hearing, Woodmoor wants to quash the subpoena for the laptop. The attorney and Cutter argue about the laptop and Lextenda, with McCoy watching from the gallery. Cutter give the court his guarantee that anything unrelated to Lextenda’s sales, marketing and distribution will remain confidential and secure. The Woodmoor lawyer says Cutter is fishing and the judge agrees and quashes Cutter’s subpoena. McCoy makes a face of disappointment and Cutter turns to him and says, “Asking nicely didn’t work. What’s plan B?” McCoy says “I’ll ask.”
At the Woodmoor offices, McCoy meets with Austin (Stephen Bogardus), the CEO of Woodmoor. He thanks him for the campaign contribution, and then they talk the case. McCoy tries to put the pressure on him and mentions Lextenda as part of it. Austin says Lextenda is an effective product and McCoy says Brenda thought they were selling hope to desperate people at $1,000 a day, but co-opting doctors with time shares and tropical vacations is a rigged game. Austin tells McCoy not to get self-righteous on him, saying if corporations didn’t make profits where would politicians like him be? McCoy says he is right and it stinks, there are too many office holders that are in the health industry’s pockets and one of the reason why they can’t pass a decent health care bill. McCoy returns the money that Austin contributed to his campaign. When Austin asks what he wants him to do, McCoy tells him to grow a conscience, unless he wants to be personally named as an accomplice, he can order his people to hand over the computer.
The TARU people now have the computer, and all the files have been deleted and the tech guy tells Cutter he could only recover the clock, address book, and calendar. Cutter looks at the detail, and Rubirosa arrives and says there is nothing on Lextenda on Zach’s computers. Cutter sees an appointment the week after she died for a J. Wigand at Tuesday at 10 AM and there is no J. Wigand in her address book. Cutter thinks it is Jeffrey Wigand, the king of the whistleblowers, they think this is a code name for a meeting with a regulatory agency, maybe the FDA.
At the FDA NYC Office of Criminal Investigation, they find that someone called from Woodmoor to set up an appointment but never gave her name and she never showed for the meeting. She wouldn’t even tell her what drug she was calling about, an when Rubirosa mentions Lextenda, the FDA man says later that week he got a call about Lextenda from a doctor. He was eager to move forward and they sent him an information packet. When Cutter asks for his name the man says they can’t give him that under the whistleblower laws without a court order. Cutter says they will take care of that. The FDA guy says that he wouldn’t be surprised if there was an uptick on complaints, there is a lot of money in it for the companies and for whistleblowers who get a piece of any penalty against the company.
Back at McCoy’s office, Cutter says Brenda expected Woodmoor of illegal marketing and McCoy says Zach saved his company a tidy sum. Rubirosa enters and said the FDA just turned over the name of the man who wanted the info on blowing the whistle and it was a Dr. Sharon from Dobbs Ferry. Cutter thinks that of Sharon gives them some info they can use it to convince his friends at Woodmoor to cut Zach loose. McCoy says, “ My friends Ha!”
At National Mailbox at Dobbs Ferry, they find that Dr. Sharon hasn’t been in there for a while. Cutter asks if they can look at the box, and when Rubirosa tells the mailbox guy it is about the woman who killed all those kids in the accident, he lets them have the contents. The last time he came in he had a package sent by registered mail and he had to get Sharon’s DEA number because it was medication. The package was from Woodmoor Pharma, and when Rubirosa shows him a photo of Zach, the mailbox guy says that was Dr, Sharon.
Back in the DA’s interview room, Rubirosa and Cutter confront Zach and his attorney with the information from the PO box, saying it was one vial of propofol sent to Zach. Cutter says they are ready for trial. When Hoyt says this is circumstantial evidence, Zach asks if he is kidding him. Despite Hoyt’s comments to Zach to keep his mouth shut, Zach spills the beans. He just wanted to have Brenda get pulled over for a DWI and it would ruin her credibility as a whistle blower. He said she was going to give all the reward money away, and says he didn’t care about Woodmoor. He wanted them to go to the FDA together but she wanted to give all the money away, which outraged him because he didn’t have money like her. He thought she would only get in a little fender bender. When he called in, he found out she had the kids with her and he tried to stop her. He called her and told her to come back but she could hear him and he called 911. He is very upset, asking himself what did he do. Hoyt says if he is not mistaken, his client has a viable renunciation defense. Cutter laughs, and says now you are kidding. Cutter says he will take his plea of 7 counts of depraved indifference murder, 20 years to life, subject to approval by the victim’s families. Zach says OK. Hoyt says then they are done, and gets up to leave, but Cutter says not quite. Cutter asks Zach where is the evidence he was turning over to the FDA, and Hoyt says it is immaterial. Cutter says unless he gives it to them, there is no deal. Zach tells him it is on a flash drive in a knapsack in his son’s closet.
Later, Cutter and Rubirosa speak with Matt Sawyer about Zach’s plea deal, they wanted to come to him first. He tells them his mother died last week. His son is doing well. Brenda was never a mean minded person so he thinks 20 years is fair. He wants some of the reward money to be given to Brenda’s sister and the other family, and the rest as Brenda had outlined, to cancer research. After Matt leaves, Cutter says, “20 years it is” and walks out, with Rubirosa following him as we had to black.
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