Thursday, October 21, 2010
Law & Order LA “Sylmar” Recap & Review
Law & Order Los Angeles “Sylmar” was one of those episodes that had a great first half, and then a flat second half. Despite DDA Joe Dekker’s (Terrence Howard) setback with the Feds taking over his case and his subequent battle to get his case back, the episode still loses momentum. Part of is it due to the trite scenarios with the cranky and politically constipated DA (played by a somewhat stiff Peter Coyote) thinking that Dekker is making the wrong moves and doing it for his ego, then the usual battle for jurisdiction with the media close at hand. Howard had a little more life in this episode than in his first outing, but I still am not convinced he’s right for the role. I am not sure if he is trying to relay that his character is intense and passionate but his treacly speeches and his long gazes and glares at other people don’t seem to be having that effect on me. It may also be that his voice is simply not strong enough to project in the same forceful and authoritative way that DDA Ricardo Morales’ (Alfred Molina) does. Even when Howard is trying to be passionate about his cause, he still comes off as weak. Megan Boone also doesn’t help much, playing her role too low key and with barely any emotion. There is no spark between either of them and I wonder if she is just not the right match for Howard. It could be the writing, since they seem to be giving him the sugary, overly emotional dialog which seems forced. One thing I do know - they need to work on the second half of the show more so than the first.
Skeet Ulrich and Corey Stoll are far more believable in their roles, and I find that I really like Corey more and more with each episode. (I'm still working on getting comfortable with Skeet.) This paring is coming together better than with the DDAs. As the DDA teams alternate each week and the detectives do not, it may take much longer for viewers to acclimate to one or both legal teams. The alternating DDAs also makes it easy to compare each team and to like one team over the other, something that may also be working against Howard, at least in my mind.
I could have done without the sappy line from Rex Winters at the opening about leaving your kids at home when visiting a meth lab. It was a silly comment that did not properly convey the real tragedy of something like two innocent children being killed in such a horrific fashion. I’ve also seen a lot of news coverage of meth lab explosions, but Sylmar's seemed to do very little structural damage to the house and garage. I know we’re talking TV special effects here, but I would have expected a little more debris and the garage looking more damaged than just the door being blown off with flames coming out. The car also didn’t seem to move at all from the blast. OK, it’s a nitpick, I know. (Update – here’s a link to a video which shows how the explosion/car fire was done: "Law & Order Los Angeles “Sylmar” explosion and car fire behind the scenes" Interesting.)
Here is the recap:
A woman leaves her 2 kids in the car parked in front of a house and goes inside the house where a man is waiting. Soon afterwards, an explosion from inside the garage occurs, and the car is engulfed in flames, the children still inside.
Later, Detectives Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) and Tomas "TJ" Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll) are on the scene along with police and fire departments. The mother of the two children, Kimberly Miller (Shannon Lucio), is distraught over the loss of her children. The owner of the house, Ronnie Powell, is not on the premises. Kim was just at the house to drop something off for a friend. When the garage blew up he ran to his truck and drove away. There is evidence that there was a meth lab in the garage. As Kimberly screams uncontrollably, Rex looks into the burned out car and says, “Word to the wise: if you’re your gonna drop in on your friendly neighborhood meth cooker, leave the kids at home.”
They question Kimberly who said she did not know Ronnie had a meth lab. She was just retuning his plastic sunglasses.
As the detectives check out the house, they find bullets and yellow sunglasses which don’t look plastic.
At the home of Kim and Kevin Miller, Kim insists to Rex the sunglasses had dark lenses. Kevin (Josh Close) asks TJ about Ronnie. He thinks he knows Ronnie from softball last year and then runs out to scream at his wife about being with Ronnie. She admits she was seeing him, and Kevin becomes crazed with anger. She does not know where Ronnie is. Kevin later tells him that Ronnie lives with his mom.
At the home of Ellen Powell (Dee Wallace), she explains Ronnie moved out last year. His sister Amy (Kathleen Rose Perkins) is there, and she tells Rex that Ronnie was a godless screw up. His mother doesn’t believe TJ when he tells her about the drugs. She says he works with model planes and UPS delivered some supplies for him to her home a few weeks ago.
The detectives go to the company who skipped the fuel for the model airplanes, and TJ sees is it nitro methane. It is the same fuel used by Tim McVey for the Oklahoma City bombing. But back at the home, they find that nitro methane was not used at the home. They think Ronnie has it in is truck.
Back at the Robbery Homicide division, they review their findings with Lt. Arleen Gonzales (Rachel Ticotin). They are concerned about the powerful explosive. Gonzales gets a car saying a patrol has found Ronnie’s truck parked. And she is sending over the bomb squad. She tells them to check his cell phone for contacts in the area.
Soon afterwards, the police break down the door of Jack Bryce, who says he doesn’t know where Ronnie is. Rex believes Ronnie is in the crawl space and TJ convinces him to come out by threatening to send rats in after him. He exits and they arrest him.
At RHD, Ronnie is in interrogation. The detectives did not find any evidence of the fuel at the house. The lab did find traces of denatured alcohol in the cook pot at his meth lab. The detectives speak with Ronnie and he knows nothing about the fuel and says he didn’t order anything. They tell him they found denatured alcohol in his cook pot and ask who was in his garage. It was just his sister’s fiancé. He says they got it wrong, every cooked know denatured alcohol in the cook pot will cause an explosion. He realizes what is going on but says now he wants a lawyer and a DA to cut a deal.
DDA Jonas Dekker (Terrence Howards) refused to cut any deals. The detectives remind him someone sabotages his meth lab, the same people who are likely using the fuel for a bomb. Gonzales tells them to get with Ronnie’s sister.
At Cooke’s Supermarket, Amy Powell tells the detectives that her fiancé Terry Walker is at a campground in Topanga until he gets back on his feet. They ask her to take them there. Later, the detectives arrive at the campground. Terry (Kenneth Mitchell) says he was in Ronnie’s garages to get wiper fluid. He also adds he drove his RV with the pickup in tow when he came there. The detectives ask him to take Amy back to her job, and as they walk off, Rex tells TJ the ball on the RV doesn’t match the hitch on the pickup and somebody else drove that truck.
At RHD, Rex tells Gonzales that the campground office said Terry came in two months ago with two other men driving the pickup who have not been seen in a week. TJ also says that the Terry did not come in via Rt. 40 as he said, they found a speeding ticket and parking ticket in other areas of the country. The parking ticket was two block away from a farm supply store where he could have purchased fertilizer.
The detectives go back to Ellen Powell, who says Amy seems to go through a lot of men – the field plays her. Terry also left a suitcase at the house and when they look at it, they find a dress in the closet that is a traditional Muslim garb. Ellen says Amy is not Muslim. They look at Amy’s computer, and they quickly find a recording made by Amy in the dress which seems to imply she has terrorist ideas.
Soon afterwards, Rex and TJ arrest Amy at the store, and she starts ranting at the onlookers about them being the godless and guilty ones and they should all burn in hell.
Back at RHD, they look at the video with Dekker and DDA Lauren Stanton (Megan Boone). Amy has asked for a Koran and then a lawyer. They see photos on Amy, Terry, and their friends in Muslim attire. It looks like a terror cell. Walker is army reserve, demo unit. They need to do facial recognition on the others to get their ID. TJ finds an address that is either a safe house or a target.
At the home of Jason McParr, they find a private security firm there. Jason says he has been getting threats for one of his animated TV shows because of the religious parody. He recognizes Amy from a coffee place he was in.
Later, Stanton and the detectives speak with Amy about what Terry is doing and she says Terry is pure and their love is blessed. Stanton reminds Amy she is facing two murder charges but Amy refuses to talk.
Outside the room, TJ says facial recognition has ID’d Terry’s friend, they are Joey Pine and Roger Hagan, Hagan did federal time for a bomb and his old cellmate is a welder. They speak with the welder, Wilson, who says Hagan came there last month just to shoot the breeze and came with another guy who paid him cash to cut some mental plates. He still has the specs for them, adding that the guys wanted everything ready before Thanksgiving. They look at the sketch of the plates and TJ thinks they could fit on the floor of the RV, if the fuel and fertilizer was on top, the blast would be directed up and sideways. Wilson says the last time he heard from the guys it sounded like he was near and airport, and he said he was in a bar with a lot of lava lamps.
At the Encounter Restaurant at LAX, a server identifies the three men as being in there, they looked like business travelers and they always sat at table 11 by the window. The area has a clear view of terminal 7 and wonder if they are planning something during the high travel time.
Back with Amy, they confront her with what they think Terry is planning to do, and she won’t believe it. Dekker says her heart doesn’t lie, Terry was a good man, but the other men turned him and twisted him. She thinks Roger Hagan made him do it. Roger met a girl on Craig’s list and is renting her garage, her name is Betty in West Chester.
the detectives, along with a support team and bomb squad, tear off the door of a storage garages and they find the guys there along with the RV. They are arrested. The bomb in the RV is not armed but looked set up and ready to go.
All the suspects are being arraigned for conspiracy and murder and they plead not guilty and start grandstanding. Dekker wants no bail, and Amy’s lawyer says Amy is a victim. Judge Wallen (Gibby Brand) holds them all without bail. But Assistant US Attorney Robert Schuler and Army Captain James Locke enter and says they have been ordered by the department of defense to take custody. Dekker wants the order stayed but the judge does not have the authority and must surrender the defendants. As they are being hauled off by the military. Dekker is on the phone with DA Jerry Hardin trying to get his help to stop it but is having no luck. Amy’s attorney Tasker said she was getting ready to cooperate and can tie Terry’s buddies to the murder.
At the JAG office at the LA Air Force Base, the JAG Officer (Tim Guinee) tells Dekker that Tasker was denied access because is no longer Amy’s attorney and she and the other defendants are being assigned new counsel for a military trial. Dekker needs to get a statement from Amy but as she is a military detainee, whatever she says is classified. Dekker needs her in order to convict Walker, but is told the group is being charged instead with treason and they will not be tried for murder. Dekker says he has a better conviction record and says they are interfering with his ability to make a case. The JAG tells Dekker it is out of his hands.
In DA Jerry Hardin’s (Peter Coyote) office, he tells Dekker there is nothing he can do. Dekker thinks that it will look like Hardin is giving up and politically that will look bad for him. Dekker says if it were him he would hedge his bets.
Later, Dekker is talking to the press that the LA DA will go to federal court to dispute the military jurisdiction. Dekker thinks LA can handle the security challenge with a trial in LA. As Dekker and Stanton watch the news report, Stanton says Dekker is pushing a boulder up Laurel Canyon. He says she sounds like it’s not worth him pushing.
At the Federal Courthouse, Rex and TJ arrive to see the media waiting. Rex and TJ disagree on the military vs. non-military trial. Dekker arrives to the same media circus.
In court, Dekker argues his point as does the JAG officer. Dekker tells the judge the there may be fears that a trial would incite the enemies but no matter what they do, it carries the same risk. People need to see justice done.
Afterwards, Dekker, Stanton, and Hardin watch the news footage of the terror suspects being returned to LA county custody. As Terry yells out to the cameras, Hardin hotly tells Dekker “be careful what you wish for.” But Dekker thinks they are in good shape, Amy has agreed to testify against Walker. Hardin is worried about Walker’s new attorney, Lane Garfield whose past history shows he will turn this into a terrorist pep rally. Hardin thinks Dekker is putting his personal interests ahead of the DA’s offices.
In Superior Court, Judge Rumford (Clyde Kusatsu) calls the jury in for opening statements, but before they are led in, Dekker tells the judge they are dismissing all the charges related to the conspiracy to bomb LAX and instead are trying each defendant on two counts of murder – no terrorism case. Garfield (Conor O’Farrell) and the defendants looks stunned. When Garfield asks why, Judge Rumford doesn’t understand why he is complaining and says to get on with it.
Dekker makes his opening statement, saying it is about two little kids from Sylmar who were killed by the group. Garfield tries to make it about terrorism, and Dekker reminds them they are not being charged with terrorist acts. Garfield is told to stick to the murder charges, and when Garfield tries another angle on the terrorism agreement he is again stopped.
Kim is on the stand recounting how the kids were killed. Garfield tries to cross examine making it about terrorism, and he is stopped again.
Amy is testifying for the prosecution about how he got the denatured alcohol and found Terry pouring the alcohol into Ronnie’s meth pot and said he is making sure Ronnie can’t make drugs anymore and said if she loved him she would obey him. She was being used. Garfield shows a photo of a drawer in Walker’s RV, and in it is a diamond engagement ring. She is stunned. When Garfield asks about the denatured alcohol, Amy suddenly changes her story and says she lied, she did it all and only lied to avoid the death penalty.
Dekker, on rebuttal, asks who told her to use her brother’s name to get the bomb supplies, but he is then stopped because they are not allowed to discuss the terror attempt – Dekker’s own ground rule. He asks her about converting to Islam, a strict form and learned what was expected of her, to obey her husband and get his approval before making any decision, including killing her brother. When he asks if she got Terry’s permission to kill her brother, he doesn’t respond, and Dekker says she doesn’t have to answer.
During Garfield’s closing statement, DA Hardin walks into the courtroom. Garfield says Dekker prevented them from hearing evidence and they did not get a fair trial. When Dekker closes, he says there is no doubt Amy’s loneliness made her prey to people with evil intent, and Terry Walker is responsible for the explosion. He said there is no doubt that the taking of innocent lives should never happen and it is only right and proper for someone to speak for the innocent victims, and they can speak for two of them. Murder is murder, and let everyone watching this trial know it. Hardin exits the courtroom.
Later, they are all found guilty of murder in the first degree on both counts. Terry begins to rant that there are more of them and they are everywhere. They are whisked out of the courtroom.
When Dekker and Stanton exit the courtroom, Kevin Miller is waiting there and he thanks them for everything. Dekker tells them it may be years before they face execution but he will get a call when it happens. Kevin says he and Kim are not interested, they’ve seen enough. As Dekker and Stanton walk off, the sad family sits on a bench as we fade to black.
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