Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Law & Order Criminal Intent “Abel and Willing” Recap & Review

All photos from USA Network
Law & Order Criminal Intent takes a compelling, yet dark turn with the episode “Abel and Willing” which shows a demented doctor who is trying to prove that people have no free choice. He’s trying to prove it by forcing couples to either chose to shoot their spouse, or to sacrifice their own life instead. It was actually disturbing to watch as couples were forced, under restraint, to make that choice. The series seems to be getting it right as far as showing more of the criminal mind at work and not just the crime. In this instance, the criminal mind seemed to be trying to rationalize a choice his parents and grandparent had to make while in a concentration camp. It also did a nice job of showing Zach Nichols’(Jeff Goldblum) mind at work – and that it even works while watching something as routine as a bunch of guys playing basketball. Serena Stevens (Saffron Burrows) seems to be learning more about her somewhat eccentric work partner each week – and we also find that Zach has an older brother.

Jeff Goldblum seems very well suited for his role. Saffron Burrows is still missing something but I can’t quite get my arms around it. It’s not as if she is awful because she isn’t, it’s more that her character seems to have nothing special. Unlike Zach, who has distinctive oddities about him, Stevens seems to just be there. The series has had worse – such as Annabella Sciorra as Detective Barek and Samantha Buck as Detective Bishop. I hope that at some point that Stevens develops some depth.

Here is the recap:
Ted and Linda Stoddard are walking along the dock discussing baby names. Ted’s leg is hurting. As they get to the car, he asks her if she wants the rest of the Bellinis. When she doesn’t answer, he finds that she is not in the car, and he is then subdued and placed in a van and driven away. He seems to be having weird visions, and then finds himself at a pond in a hospital gown telling two men that he thinks he shot his wife. But he runs off when one man says they will help him, he runs off.

With a dead woman lying in the bottom of an empty swimming pool, ME Rodgers (Leslie Hendrix) says the cause of death is a single gunshot wound to the heart. There may have been a wedding or engagement ring, but Detective Zach Nichols (Jeff Goldblum) doubts robbery as they would not have left her expensive looking necklace. Detective Serena Stevens (Saffron Burrows) notices there is no bullet hole in the shirt so she assume she was dressed post mortem and her fly is unzipped. She has stains on her hands that look like varnish. An officer tells them that a 7 series BMW is in the marina parking lot and they may want to have a look. The detectives find what looks like varnish in the trunk. And Nichols tastes something from a thermos he picked up from under the car, saying it is Bellinis, made with imported white peaches instead of liqueur. The marina owner walks up and says the car belongs to Ted and Linda Stoddard. They have a boat, Dr. Feelgood, and they come out every Thursday to work on it. That explains the varnish. While checking out the boat, an officer arrives and has the address of the owner of the car, Ted Stoddard.

At the Stoddard apartment, Nichols and Stevens look around. Stevens sees a note in a calendar that says it’s a girl. They see what looks like a hospital gown which was thrown at a mirror, leaving a mark of blood and dirt. Nichols thinks it belongs to Mr. Stoddard. They also see watch winder, which Stevens thinks implies laziness, but Nichols notices some watches seem to be missing. He sees a money wrapper on the floor for $10,000. Stevens moves a picture on the wall and sees a safe which is open. They see Linda’s passport but not Ted’s. With the money wrapper and missing expensive watches, they think Ted is skipping the country.

With Nichols, Stevens, and Captain Zoe Callas (Mary Elisabeth Mastrantonio) at the morgue, ME Rodgers says Linda’s stomach contents contain herring, duck pate and peach flavored champagne - Bellinis. Calls notices Linda has no manicure, and Rodgers says there was sawdust under her nails. She also says there were vague restraint marks on her ribs, calves, and wrists, and also what look like suction cup marks with traces of mastisol, and adhesive used to keep contact disks in place. Nichols comments the killer was taking her vital signs. He says the Stoddards spent the afternoon while they varnish and sand, Stevens adding in some “afternoon delight” and Nichols adds “Dr. Feelgood” dons a hospital gown and hooks her to a heart monitor and the sounds of vital signs awaken “cabin boy” and something goes wrong, he shoot her, runs home, grabs his passport and his fancy watch collection, and charters a flight to Zurich. Callas says the flight to Zurich is the only part of that which makes sense. She tells them to examine Stoddard’s finances and put a warrant out on him.

Back at Major Case, Nichols says that Stoddard’s broker just liquidated his mutual funds. Callas finds there have been three similar killings over the past 4 years. One of the cases is closed, one of the victims being killed by his wife Ronnie Kalen and she is serving time in prison for it. They visit her in the correctional facility, and she said she admitted to the crime to avoid a life sentence and did not kill her husband. She says she got grabbed from behind before and woke up and they were strapped to chairs facing each other and the killer gave to kill his wife and live but he refused. The real killer really killed him. She said the only weird thing was a hospital band the killer put on her wrist, the cops took it for evidence.

Back at Major Case, they explain this new development to Callas. Callas isn’t buying it and is pissed she has to call and rattle the cages on a closed case but she does it anyway and tells them to work on the other killings and to find Stoddard and show her something to build a profile on the guy.

Meanwhile, we see someone doing woodworking, clearly building something. He covers it with varnish. We see it is a chair made for restraint.

Stevens and Nichols watch a bunch of guys playing basketball, and Nichols says it is part of his routine to help him think. He tries to think the case through and thinks the thing that links the cases is predictable routine. The couples all had routines – and they all had a link to social services and a social worker would have access to personal information. Stevens wonders why they left survivors, and Nichols says it is all about choice and killing them invalidates the choice.

Back at Major Case, Callas approaches Nichols and gives him an enlargement of the wrist band found on Kalen. It has some sort of strange characters on it but neither he nor Stevens can read it. The Stoddard’s request to adopt was approved by a Dr. Abel Hazard. Later, Stevens has Hazard’s information and has reported over $3 million in income. They also found that he bought a milling lathe for woodworking. They head to social services.

Speaking with Dr. Hazard (Dallas Roberts), he does not recognize Ted Stoddard’s photo but say he accepted their adoption eligibility filing. They inform him that Linda Stoddard was murdered and Ted is missing. He said he only met them once and the field workers do the actual interviews. They ask him about the case of Ronnie Kalen and he was interviewed about her fitness to stand trial. He doesn’t recall any prior contact with her. Nichols admires the beautiful desk, and Hazard says his grandfather built it; it saved his life in the Nazi camps. Stevens gets a call and says that Stoddard was just arrested at JFK airport. Nichols gives Hazard a stare.

In the interrogation room, Stoddard tells his story about his experience. He is upset that they don’t believe him and says he loved Linda. He had heard a shot and said the other man walked over to video cameras and turned them off and there were other machines measuring vitals before he passed out. He woke up in Central Park in a hospital gown. Nichols shows him a hospital wrist band, and he said the man put it on his wrist. But that was not his wrist band, it was Kalen’s, and they show him his wrist band and the other are identical. He says then it really happened and it relieved they believe him.

Hazard is watching a video of what looks like an interrogation, along with a woman, and he explains the Milgrim was a scientist who set out to prove that obedience to authority overwhelms conscience. Milgrim designed a landmark essay on human cruelty, and says when the subject resists he is told must obey orders. He shows the video of study where people seemed to enjoy torturing people.

Back at Major Case, they review the 2 cases where they have the hospital wrist bands and try to decode the symbols. Nichols thinks the symbols are code for what needs to be done and how. He thinks the “CTS” means the person “Chose To Shoot.” Callas said that doesn’t match Ronnie’s because she chose to shoot and he thinks she told it the other way to make her seem innocent.

Later, the detectives, alone with Callas, watch a video of Hazard talking about freedom of choice is contrary to human nature, and he says a person will always chose survival. They think he is forcing people to make that choice. Nichols thinks he left the hospital bands on the victims to leave an element of credulity for the victims when they tell their story. Callas says she will need a search warrant.

Later, as they search Hazard’s home, they find no evidence and Hazard’s place is clean. Hazard comes in and seems to taunt them, but Nichols is determined to find proof.

In Callas’ office, she tells them the judge just granted Hazard with a cease and desist which prevents police surveillance. Nichols thinks that the milling machine is somewhere. Callas thinks since his parents and grandparents were amp survivors that they should start with the camps.

Nichols and Stevens go to the Museum of Jewish Heritage; the name Hazard is not listed, but Nichols thinks of a similar work like “caution” in German. They find a similar name, Leon Vorsichtiger, a cabinet maker and he has an interview on tape. They view the tape, and on it Vorsichtiger says the doctor decided who lived and who died. One of his family had to go and Vorsichtiger had to choose or they all had to die. The doctor enjoyed the game. The parents survived and he was happy when his son was born, but when his son got older the memories came back and he had to tell him his father’s story and he had to make him realize under no circumstances there could be no shame. They now think that Abel Hazard is trying to prove something to take away his shame.

Back at Hazard’s home, he is recording some of his findings and watching the recordings of Ted and Linda restrained in the chairs with Ted having a gun pointed at his wife and tells Ted he has 25 seconds to make the choice. Ted resists but ultimately makes the choice and shoots Linda.

Back at Major Case, Nichols is looking at property records and finds something in Westchester county for Abel Vorsichtiger, purchased in 2005. He tells Stevens what he found, and also tells her that Abel anglicized his name to Hazard 15 years ago, but bought a house under his old name 5 years ago. The use of a different name may give them probable cause for a warrant and it is a hard sell but thinks she and the captain can pull it off. She comments that he expects her to pull a gender thing and asks if he will be breaking in, and he says he gives his solemn word he won’t do that. She says it is time she tested that.

Nichols goes to the address and knock but no one answers. He sees another building close by and looks in the window, and Hazard catches him. Hazard says he will give him a tour while h calls his lawyer telling him he violated the injunctions. Later, in the woodworking area, Nichols tells him he saw the testimony his father gave. Hazard says his legacy will justify the inconvenience to a few individuals. But Nichols doubts that because Hazard will have no proof, and challenges him to prove it now, telling Hazards he is willing. But Hazard balks. He tells him Ted fits his theory but Kalen refused, so they canceled each other out. Nichols continues to press Hazard and calls his theory flawed and says flawed science is no science. Hazard disagrees. He also wonders why Nichols is not afraid, and Nichols says his mistake is he thought Hazard actually had something to hide, saying Hazard has no proof. Hazard says he has proof, but Nichols says if he has it he would show it. Hazard decided to show him and he and Nichols walk into Hazard’s torture room. Hazards shows him the videotape of Ronnie Kalen killing her husband and says that is proof. He then shows him more videos of other couple doing the same things as Ted, saying only one couple out of 10 followed his theory. Nichols tells him the Nazi observed the same things and they recorded it for their legacy, just like Hazard. He continues to press Hazard on the similarities, and then cuffs him, with Hazard arguing his work is not like theirs. Nichols says just because he was brutalized by others does not mean that it is compulsory to brutalize others. As the rest of the police and Stevens come in, Nichols says that it was Hazard’s attempt to prove something but instead will be of great value convicting him of murder. Hazard says he proves that no one has a choice, but Nichols tells Stevens to tell Hazard about his choices. She reads him his rights and takes him away.

Back at Major Case, Stevens says Ronnie Kalen is asking for a new trial and also wants damages. Stevens thinks Ronnie is guilty but Nichols says it is a valid question – how anybody will act under those circumstances. He says he is not buying into Hazard’s theory, saying people rush into fires and jump in front of trains and leap into shark infested waters, and asks who doesn’t want to think they could sacrifice their own life to save somebody else’s. He says it goes to the core of our humanity – and Stevens adds that no one knows what they will do until something actually happens. Nichols adds then we would find out who we really are, and maybe it is not somebody we want to be. As they walk off, we fade to black.

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Lee Gibson said...

This episode just wasn't very good. It was poorly written and lethargically acted. Burrows is a non-entity, as is Mastrantonio, and Goldblum's mannerisms are really taking over the character, unlike during his first season. The whole thing just dragged for me, and that scene with Goldblum and Roberts in the basement was laughably bad. I want to like this show and to continue to watch it, but after this I don't know.

Anonymous said...

The choice being forced on the couples here is being compared to that in Sophie's Choice elsewhere, but in the book, it was a mother being forced to choose between two children. This is more similar to a something that actually happened in a concentration camp: a father and son were caught trying to escape and forced to decide between themselves which would be executed. The son argued that the father had given him life and so he owed his life to him, the father argued - more practically - that the son had more years of life ahead of him and so his life was in a sense worth more. The son gave in, meaning, in the long run, he probably suffered the more of the two. Having considered this existential question twice already, I think I'll give the CI take on it a pass.

janethyland said...

Are they talking about Milgram experiment in the episode? The herd instinct and authority figures...beyond all reason.
Thats come up before in LOCI ,during season 6 I think, because i remember lots of discussion about it on the sites.

I once did a similar experiment on students in a group situation. You set them the task and a difficult choice. But its true, very few people actually question the task or the format, or the authority of the person setting the task.Most people do not stand outside the task and are too absorbed in doing it.

You might apply this principle to television shows too, in the sense that there is a tendency to be too accepting of what is given!

Anonymous said...

Wow this ep just disturbed me tremendously. It just was so jarring. I guess this subject matter is a bit much for me.

I know what you mean about Burrows. She just portrays the character very flatly. She most likely is still finding the characters voice and footing.

I'll watch a few more before I say yea or nay on this incarnation of CI. I just miss Goren and Eames.


Jachelle said...

I didn't like this episode much either. For one thing they are having Nichols use some of Bobby Goren's character quirks like smelling things and not being afraid to taste unkown substances. I don't know, it seems like a pale imitation of the original. I agree with those who said this was a disturbing episode. Reminds me of something Criminal Minds would do and I quit watching that because it gave me nightmares. Despite the subject matter, it just didn't hold my interest and I found myself easily distracted by other things.

John Stodder said...

Re: Serena. I think we are slowly being given clues to what drives her, and that something about her personal demons will break through before the season ends. It has something to do with her daughter, or being a mother, or being a daughter, or something. Something she doesn't want to talk about but will be forced to. I think she might end up a compelling character.

Or not.

Anonymous said...

I like how Nichols got all intense on the killer, Dr. Hazard (doesn't that name feel like it should go with a supervillain?) This episode was a welcome change from last week; in the previous week's episode, I was concerned about how strong the police's case against the killer turned out to be. Half of the fun of watching CI is imagining how in the world the DA is going to pull a conviction out of a confession extracted at gunpoint.

janethyland said...

" Nichols intense on the killer" like Goren, the later Goren during his darker period."Intense" is the quality unique to Goren for years and now,like everything else, it gets copied.

Pity they didnt go with a completely different character detective that cant be confused with Goren.

Melvin G. said...

I had to think about this episode after I watch it. It was hard to watch because of the graphic nature of the crime, but my conclusion was that it did not flow as well as some of the other episodes. I may be the exception, but I try not to make comparisons of the Goren & Eames episodes with these newer ones. For one, it's not fair to the newer characters, and two, I think that the newer characters need time to develop. To be fair, I think the time was right to change over as the Goren & Eames team had developed their characters as far as they could go. Some of the more recent episodes were getting more monotonous to watch.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

nichols is good but goren is brilliant ,intelligent ,talented and gentleman

Ben said...

Wow. I don't think it's fair to keep comparing every episode to Goren and Eames.

The main reason is that they had 8 years worth of episodes. There's definitely some clunkers in there and some great ones. Not only that, but we've had 8 years of getting attached to them. There's personal bias. Just because he's doing some of the same things as Goren means nothing because Nichols was doing that in Season 8 as well. They didn't shoehorn it in. Just chalk it up as brilliant minds thinking alike, instead of "OMGZ imitators!". You'll enjoy it more. I mean really...I read someone thinks he stole Goren's intensity? Are you serious? That's like saying "Oh these two characters are both angry! They MUST be copying each other!" There's not a monopoly on "intense".

I really liked this episode. I think the subject matter was compelling, and I appreciate how the series has gotten back to getting inside the criminals' mind. I also thought the acting was really good. Especially the end, where Nichols is obviously tearing up from what he just saw.

I still agree that Burrows is still...I dunno. She's very cerebral and she's helpful in the cases. It just feels like she has no personality. It's like she's just all brains and nothing else. In a way, that could be a part of the character. Maybe she seems flat for a reason. Its probably actually more to do with Burrows covering up her accent, but it's interesting to think about.

Ben said...

Oh, there's one other thing that I noticed.

The past few episodes have actually brought a little fun back to CI. Think about it, Nichols and Stevens have been smiling and joking MUCH more than any characters in CI have done in quite awhile. If you watch earlier seasons of CI, you can see Goren and Eames have the same kind of smile and fun solving cases. I mean there's definitely not enough to take away from the seriousness of the cases, but enough to break up the monotony.