The word “locum’ is short for the Latin phrase “locum tenens” (literally translated: “place holder"), and usually refers to a person who temporarily fulfills the duties of another. The title suits the intense season 12 opener of Law & Order SVU. The case at first appeared to be a child kidnapping and then possible child abuse; instead the detectives find a young girl who had been adopted who feels she is only filling the place of her parents’ older daughter who was abducted years ago. In the course of this investigation, Detectives Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Stabler (Chris Meloni) are drawn into that 10 year old child abduction case and help bring it to a close.
The main cast of SVU all performed wonderfully. The guest stars stole all the thunder, though, with excellent performances by all, but especially by Joan Cusack, who can do “unhinged” better than anyone else out there. It was hard not to be pulled in to her sense of desperation as a parent who had one child stolen from her, and her resulting over-protection of her other daughter. The other notable performance was that of Bailee Madison, who was very convincing as the troubled – and somewhat detached and cold - runaway child. I can envision her character coming back in later years for an SVU episode; I sense we are seeing a messed up adult in the making.
Let’s not forget the appearance of Henry Ian Cusick, which was a dead end as far as this case was concerned, but serves to set up his appearance in the next episode, “Bullseye”.
There was little of the Benson and Stabler personal drama that we saw last season, and that made the episode even better. It had the feel of the earlier seasons of SVU when the episodes focused on the cases – and the special victims - and not so much on the lead characters’ personal lives. Peppered within “Locum” is the right amount of the humor that SVU can do so well. For example, I enjoyed the scene where Munch (Richard Belzer) goes off on an email privacy rant and Fin (Ice-T) gives him the old eye roll.
All in all, the cast did a fine job - as did the writers - in telling an interesting story that should only make viewers want more of Law & Order SVU.
Here is the recap:
Mackenzie Burton(Bailee Madison) appears to be abducted while her mother, Pam Burton (Joan Cusack) is soaking in the bathtub, locked in. When Detectives Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni) are called to investigate, Mackenzie’s father Kevin (Peter Strauss) says their daughter Ella was also abducted 10 years ago and that case remains open. But, there appears to be no evidence of forced entry. Her backpack and a pair of sneakers are missing, along with some cash from Pam Burton’s wallet. When Detectives Munch (Richard Belzer) and Fin (Ice-R) check the building security tapes, they see Mackenzie exiting alone.
But, the Pam and Kevin Burton won’t believe that Mackenzie really left on her own. When the detectives check her computer they find her computer history was cleared but Pam has a program that records all her keystrokes. Mackenzie has been emailing someone called “Eddie D” who appears to have set up a meet with Mackenzie at Grand Central Terminal.
Benson, Stabler, Munch, Fin, Pam and Kevin scour the crowded terminal for Mackenzie. Stabler spots her on a bench talking to someone and calls for backup. When Kevin sees her and calls out to her, she runs. Stabler catches her and Kevin punches the man with whom Mackenzie was chatting. Benson pulls off Kevin then arrests the man.
Benson and Stabler question the man, Erik Weber (Henry Ian Cusick), in the SVU interrogation room. He denies everything, saying he just met her that day in the terminal. He thought he was a runaway and tried to talk her into going back home to her parents. Meanwhile, Munch and Fin speak with Mackenzie at home, and she gets mouthy with them, but says it was her idea to run away. She identifies Erik as Eddie D but that he did not do anything. Pam gets over protective and asks for a female detective – “the nice one”.
Back at SVU, Erik is still being questioned. He continues to proclaim his innocence even when Benson calls him a pedophile. He is a member of a citizen’s neighborhood watch group called “COAP” – Citizens Organized Against Predators. He says Benson is jaded. He adds that his sister was raped and when he was 16 she killed herself. He says what she is accusing him of he would never do.
Captain Don Cragen (Dann Florek) calls the detectives out of the squad room to tell them Mackenzie confirmed that Erik is Eddie D but Stabler doesn’t buy it. Cragen says the DA wants a full confession and sends Stabler back in to question Erik. Cragen sends Benson back the Burton’s, as Pam wants a “penis-free” environment. Computer crimes was working on the email trace and Cragen sent Munch and Fin to get the customer name. Benson isn’t thrilled that she can’t interrogate Erik as she “had a hook in him.”
Stabler, meanwhile, continues to speak with Erik who has noticed Benson was not wearing a wedding ring. Stabler gets testy, calling that an act and tells him Mackenzie ID’d him. Erik is shocked, accusing them of trickery and saying Mackenzie is messed up. Erik get argumentative with Stabler and says her real abuser is out there and they should be looking at the parents.
When Benson questions Mackenzie, she tells them she is adopted and was in a bunch of foster homes before that, and they sucked. Mackenzie gets rattled and clams up a bit when Benson asked her if that is where she met Eddie D. Mackenzie says he taught her how to wrestle and he hurt her but it was an accident.
Meanwhile, Munch and Fin are at the home of Marie Pavolko, where the email to Mackenzie was traced. They show her the picture of Erik but she has never seen him before. Munch finds a graphic novel with “Eddie Dangerous” and it belongs to her son, Wesley, who they find is just a little kid. He knows Mackenzie from the foster homes and he sent the emails, adding that “Mack” was the best and a nice kid.
In Cragen’s office, he confronts Mackenzie and her parents with this information and her lies about Erik. Kevin is apologetic and Pam asks Mackenzie to apologize, and she petulantly and reluctantly says sorry.
When Benson releases Erik, he hits on her, but she turns him down. After Erik leaves, Stabler shows Benson a note that was found in the interview room which says “Olivia, I can’t talk with them here. I know they are spying on me. They hurt me. They put things inside me to control me. Please help me. Mack.” Stabler wonders who they sent this kid home to.
Later, Cragen and the detectives discuss the note and how to proceed. Stabler suggest checking on the family’s earlier child abduction and Cragen says her runaway stunt can result in a visit from home services.
At the Burton household, Benson has someone from home services who checks out the householf. Benson speaks with Mackenzie for details and she says they put a computer chip in her. She shows Benson the mark on her arm, saying it was in a shot. Benson touches it and feels something.
Later, at RFID Industries, they identify the chip as a tracking chip that is used to track children, and also used by hospitals for treatments.
Benson goes back to the Burtons on the issue and Mackenzie says she had to say she wanted this chip otherwise she would never be let outside again. She tells Pam that Pam just wants her other daughter Ella back. When Mackenzie walks out of the room, Benson tries to calm her down. She shows Benson a doll that looks like Ella, and says they make her wear Ella’s clothes, they dye her hair and she had a nose job to make her look like Ella. Benson confronts the Burtons on this and Pam says Mackenzie broke her nose years ago and the foster parents at the time never took care of it. They insist they love her and that the clothes are just hand me downs. Pam slips up and says she loves Ella, and when Mackenzie hears it, Pam tried to console her saying she loves her too. Kevin asks Benson to leave, and Pam says Benson will take Mackenzie over her dead body.
Stabler, meanwhile, works Ella’s case and speaks to the state trooper in Adirondack park. Ella was last seen with a red-headed girl who was found coming out of a gully –without Ella, saying Ella ran home. They never found a red headed girl and he thinks the Burton’s killed her.
Back at SVU, Benson is interrogating Kevin while Stabler is interrogating Pam. Pam insists she did not make up the red-headed girl, but Kevin says he never saw the girl. Pam is losing it under the pressure, and Kevin is very defensive of her. He says losing Ella changed both of them. Pam tells Stabler a man with a camera took a picture of Ella the day before with the red-headed girl but Stabler continues to press her. Pam is going crazy, saying Ella is not dead and the man with the camera took her but the police do not believe her. She says it is in that file and begs Stabler to tell her who he is.
At Schaeffer Portrait Studio, Munch and Fin question the photographer, Mickey (Will Kempe), about the Burtons and what he saw 10 years ago. He shows them the photographs he had taken that day and see a red-headed girl in one of the photos. But there is no ID on the photo. Elsewhere, Benson and Stabler get help in checking a national database of missing kids with no results. They do find a match with a girl named Darla Pennington in another database from the “innocent images project.”
Benson and Stabler find Darla (Christiane Seidel), who is working at the Happy Fun Time Massage Parlor. She claims she does not know an Ella, but they take her to SVU for questioning and she continues to deny knowing Ella. They continue to question her, and when Stabler accuses her of killing Ella, she says that is not what happened, she tried to save her – from her father. Her father went off the deep end when her mother left them. Her father drove her around in his truck for weeks, drunk the whole time, and would sleep it of in the woods. He asked her to ask Ella to play to get Ella to be his wife. She says she slaughtered Ella when he caught her trying to escape. Darla said she left and never came back. It happened on their farm.
Stabler and Benson go to the “farm” with the state trooper, and Darla’s father Dale comes out with a gun. The detectives order him to drop it and Benson, Stabler, and the trooper draw their weapons. He drops the gun and they arrest him. The detectives see someone run off, and they follow, finding a young woman hiding behind a tree. She asks why they are taking her husband. Benson asks, “Ella? Are you Ella?” and she looks terrified. Benson tells her she is safe and takes her away.
Later, Ella is returned home to Pam and Kevin, Pam overcome with emotion. Pam and Kevin embrace Ella, but Benson notices Mackenzie standing in the doorway, alone and with a look of sadness, and acceptance, as we fade to black.
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