Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Law & Order “Boy On Fire” Recap & Review

All photos from NBC

Law & Order “Boy on Fire” was literally about a boy on fire, but it was complicated by a principal who was fudging grades and records in order to make her school look better, and also about a rape of a girl who witnessed the boy being burned. Guest star Debra Winger was excellent in her role as Principal Woodside, who was overseeing Aaron Burr High, a tough, inner-city school. Her dedication to helping her students succeed clouds her judgment in the integrity of the student’s grades, and in her offering of a fictitious alibi. Everyone turned in their usual fine performances, but maybe it’s because Winger is so rarely seen these days in movies or TV, she seemed to steal the show, playing her role so well that I almost forgot she was Debra Winger and not a real principal. It was one of those cases that a guest star enhances the episode, rather than overshadows it, with her mere presence.

This was also an episode where the case didn’t require fancy or convoluted twists and turns, or funky legal slight of hand in order to win. These are the kids of Law & Order episodes that I tend to like best, as they seem more like watching a real life case.

In this episode, a Cesar Ramirez is burned to death, and at first it looks like it was done out of jealousy over a girl. The boy Cesar was tutoring that night – Moses Dolan (Aaron Shaw) – gives the detectives a lead about a girl at school, Jolie Henderson. Detectives Bernard (Anthony Anderson) and Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) speak with Principal Woodside (Debra Winder) at Aaron Burr High School, and she gives them Jolie’s home address. That lead then takes them to Jay Spivey, who is home sick, and Lupo seems to be a little unnerved about being around Spivey, who is coughing all over the place. He tells them he knows the details of the burning because he saw it on a cell phone video. The detectives get reinforcements and arrange to have the high school students’ cell phones confiscated. When they find the video in question, they see a girl in it, wearing a sweatshirt from the high school band.

When they get to the high school, they find that Jolie is not in the band, but Moses' brother Abel Dolan is, and he is missing his sweatshirt. Eventually they find themselves back in the principal’s office, where Woodside gives them an alibi for Abel and also for her student assistant, Edison. But when a reward is offered for a tip in the case, and a reward call comes in an is traced back to Moses, they are back in the Dolan household, where Moses says that he just made the call to get the reward money for his mother (Shamika Cotton).

When Lt. Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) gets a call that Jolie has been raped and is hospitalized, she heads to the hospital and tries to get Jolie to talk with no success. It’s nice to see that they are giving Epatha meatier scenes this season, and she always does such a fine job even if those scenes are sometimes short.

DA Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston), EADA Michael Cutter (Linus Roache) and ADA Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) are discussing how to proceed with a possible case, and when McCoy suggests that they use Jolie's rape as probable cause to search her apartment as she may have been involved in the original crime, Rubirosa is appalled. They go ahead with it anyway, and Lupo and Bernard search Jolie’s room over the loud objections of her parents. The search nets them a sweatshirt like the one in the video, with a tear in it and a singe mark on the sleeve.

When Rubirosa tries to pressure Moses for more information, his mother covers for Abel, providing yet another alibi. Later, Rubirosa is checking the school records, she finds that it seems Woodside has been altering student records to make them look better and wonders if this is why Cesar was killed. When Rubirosa and Cutter confront Woodside, she stands by the changes she made and believes she did nothing wrong. McCoy, meanwhile, is near apoplectic when he finds that Cutter is charging Woodside with grand larceny for stealing the kids education. Cutter defends his position in court, telling the judge that her actions also meant that funds were diverted to her school and to herself as a result of those altered grades. The judge doesn’t bite, however, and dismisses the charges pending review via the appropriate education laws. During the hearing, Woodside mentions the kids being suspected of rape; after the hearing, Rubirosa tells Cutter that they never told Woodside about the rape suspicions, so they think Woodside is now feeling guilt over the fact that she may have inadvertently let on to the kids who killed Cesar that there was another witness.

McCoy has them convene a grand jury, which seems to backfire as Woodside seems to dance circles around Cutter in defending her school and her role as principal. Jolie is waiting in the hall outside the grand jury room, and when she tells Woodside she will not let her down, Cutter seems to look at Woodside with disgust and contempt as he walks off. When Jolie is on the stand, she discusses her attack but says she heard nothing and can’t identify anyone. She does admit to an acquaintance with Abel Dolan, and that Abel didn’t like the fact that his brother Moses was going to Cesar for tutoring. They later wonder if Cesar was killed because Abel was jealous that his brother was going to possibly get in to a better school or be better educated. There may have also been girl jealousy on top of it.

Abel is being questioned at the 2-7 with his attorney present, and Woodside has also arrived there and is watching the questioning from the observation room. They tell her that Abel never mentions any alibi- even the one she gave them - and also that the $25,000 reward may do Moses some good if it turns out his tip is actually true. They try to use the fact that Woodside cares deeply for the kids to get her into the room to talk with Abel and get him to admit the truth. Soon after, Moses is called in to the same room, and, quickly exits, with his mother waiting. When she finds that Abel has admitted to his involvement in the killing, she is distraught, and Abel is led away.

As McCoy, Cutter, and Rubirosa discuss the case over drinks in McCoy’s office, he asks about prosecuting Woodside. Cutter seems reluctant to do so, saying she ultimately helped the investigation and the case. When McCoy asks if that is enough extra credit to make up for an F, he adds that now Cutter is grading like her, and we fade to black.

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kerrin said...

Thank you for the synopsis. I didn't get a chance to finish it last night and I wanted to know how it ended. I kinda guessed that the brother was involved but I wasn't sure about the principal. Thanks again :)

Shelly said...

Another solid episode... Winger was wonderful as the principal, though I was wondering toward the end if she was somehow going to be involved in the murder, rather than just trying to "protect" her kids...

I thought the ending was very powerful, as it found them in the squad room and not in court. The mother's reaction when she was told her son had confessed was perfectly played.

Thanks again All Things for the recaps!

Anonymous said...

I think the first episode was more powerful but that always happens when one of the main cast gets caught up in the storyline.

I was surprised Winger didn't turn out to have had sinister intentions and was honestly believing she was protecting innocent boys.

John K. said...

Indeed, nice recap.

Apparently, the show revisited the real life high school grounds used in "School Daze." Nice touch.


In case anyone is interested in such trivia.

Anonymous said...

I just saw svu savior and it was good i saw it on cast tv so maybe you can watch it and do an early summary about it,just saying.

All Things Law and Order said...

I saw Savior already as well and my recap will be up by 11PM.