Law & Order SVU added back the courtroom drama with the episode “Branded.” It also added their newest ADA, Jillian Hardwick, played by Melissa Sagemiller, an improvement over the ADAs from season 11. She also gets the best line of the season to date, when she comments - with an unintentional double entendre (and/or Freudian slip) - “I’m a big fan of your unit” which seemed pointed at Stabler. (I bet every woman (and probably some guys) who were watching this episode agreed that they too are big fans of the Special Victims Unit and also Stabler's, well, you know.) As I had enjoyed Melissa’s performances as a defense attorney in the TNT series “Raising the Bar,” I was very comfortable with her as the new SVU ADA. In her first outing, she managed to do what they all do – remind the detectives what she can and cannot legally do and serve as a roadblock. At least in this case, it appears that she took Benson’s repeated lecturing to heart and found a way to do the right thing with the case.
The only thing that left me unsatisfied is that I felt Camille needed some mandated medical treatment or counseling for her previous trauma, and I didn’t get the sense that anyone was pushing for it. Drugging and branding someone, regardless of the reason, is serious psycho stuff and that crime should not have been swept under the rug. I also found it a huge stretch that Camille would have that chance encounter with her own daughter years later, plus be able to recognize the similarities in her daughter's laughter with her own. But, while many crime shows use plot contrivances these days, I'm willing to look the other way on this one.
With the support of several great guest stars, the episode remained suspenseful throughout. While it became evident that each of the three men were being punished for their own involvement in a rape, finding out who would pay the biggest price for their crime was a question that carried through to the very end. I wasn’t bored for one minute watching “Branded.”
Here is the recap:
Bill Dixon (Michael Gladis) is found by his wife, laying stripped and bound on the kitchen floor. Later, Detectives Benson (Mariska Hargitay), Stabler (Chris Meloni) and Fin (Ice-T) are on the scene. It does not appear the perp entered through the front door. Benson and Stabler speak with Dixon. They find the word “ruiner” carved into his chest.
Benson and Stabler are at the hospital to check on Dixon. He has broken ribs and the word was carved into his chest with a wire hanger, fire tipped by a blow torch. He was knocked out from behind using a ketamine injection and they found three dice and a metal timer in his rectum. (Ouch.) Stabler speaks with Bill and who has no idea why he was branded. He denies having an affair. Meanwhile, his wife tells Benson that Bill would never cheat on him and has no business rivals or problems with the law. Bill and his wife both wonder if it is Jonas Rothenberg, the president of the Crooked Pond Greenbelt Association, who tried to stop Bill from making snakeskin belts. Rothenberg felt Bill ruined everything he touched and once left a letter taped to their apartment door, somehow he got in to their building.
Later, Benson and Stabler speak with Rothenberg who explains how he got into the building. Rothenberg took Dixon to court over the cruelty he inflicts on animals. Rothenberg shows them an animal trap that looks like a coat hanger. Stabler gets a call while Rothenberg tells Benson he was at a lecture the night before. Stabler thanks him for his time, and then he tells Benson Fin may know how the perp got into Dixon’s building.
Back at Dixon’s building, Fin shows them a large package that was delivered to the super before the attack. It looks like the perp had himself delivered in the box, and the delivery company was Transfer To Go. Later, at Transfer To Go, they speak with Camille (Bess Rous) to get delivery information and it looks like the delivery order was hacked in to the system,
Back at SVU, TARU tech Morales (Joel de la Fuente) explains how difficult it was for the person to hack in and how hard it is to track where it came from. Fin tells them Rothenberg’s alibi checks out and there doesn’t seem to be evidence that Dixon was having an affair. Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) enters and tells them there is another victim.
At the apartment of Victor Ramos (Kevin Alejandro), as EMTs treat Ramos, Benson and Stabler arrive and see he is branded with the word “traitor.”
At SVU, Ramos explains what happened to him to Stabler. Ramos was drugged and knocked out, and he doesn’t know why he was branded, and he was also sexually assaulted with a candle. He knows of no one who is angry with him. His wife died of a brain tumor two years ago and he is dating a woman from his church and has never been a traitor to anyone. He does not know Bill Dixon.
Afterwards, Dr. Huang (BD Wong) tells Benson and Stabler that Ramos’ anguish is real. Huang thinks there is a connection and if Ramos and Dixon victimized their attacker together they would not admit to knowing each other but may at some point reach out to each other. He suggests tailing the victims. Since both victims have not seen Fin, they have Fin do the tailing. Fin watches and follows as Ramos gets into a cab, and meets up in another location with Dixon and another man outside Gammon Imports. The three men are arguing and Fin takes a video.
Back at SVU, Fin shows them the video and tells them what he saw. The third man is the importer himself, Alexander Gammon (Jason Wiles). Dixon seems to be telling Gammon that he is next. Cragen tells them to contact Gammon.
At Gammon’s apartment, he denies knowing the two men. They show him a photo of him talking to Dixon and Ramos, and then he admits it was s business discussion. He says he supplies Christmas gifts for Dixon’s high end clients and says Ramos speaks Spanish and also does accounting work. They tell Gammon he is the only connection between the two men.
Outside Gammon’s building, the detectives comment that they don’t buy Gammon’s story. But, as they walk the car, they see another large box, just like the one delivered to Dixon’s, being wheeled up to Gammon’s building.
Later, and back inside Gammon's building, Benson and Stabler watch the box sitting in another room from a video feed. They are there waiting a long time. Finally, the box opens from the inside and a person dressed all in black comes out. They watch as the person races up the stairs to Gammon’s apartment. As the person approaches who seems to be Gammon sitting in a chair, Stabler swings the chair around and points his gun at the intruder, Benson doing the same from behind. It’s a woman, and she lunges a syringe at Stabler, who stops her and gets her to drop it. It’s Camille from Transfer to Go. They arrest her.
With Camille Walter in the SVU interrogation room, Benson talks to Canmille about her past childhood and drug problems. She also notes that Camille has an exceptional IQ, but a psychiatrist said she hates authority figures. When Benson asks who Camille is, she says she is nobody and asks Benson if she is nobody too.
Stabler brings in Gammon, Dixon, and Ramos into the observation room and shows them Camille in the interrogation room. Gammon and Dixon say that she could not have done this because of her small stature, but Ramos says anything is possible, but still insists he was attacked by a man. Stabler says she went after them in order to brand them, and Dixon and Gammon says she is mentally ill. Ramos is silent. When the guys leave, Stabler tells Cragen that they did not ID Camille and none of their backgrounds show a connection to Camille. Cragen thinks they have her for the crimes and they are done. Later, Benson asks where they go from here, and ADA Jillian Hardwick (Melissa Sagemiller) enters and says nowhere, she can’t prosecute the case. Cragen introduces Hardwick to Benson and Stabler. She says she doesn’t have enough evidence. Looking at Stabler, she also says the DA poached her from the Brooklyn blue zone and she’s glad they did, adding, “I’m a big fan of your unit” (hold for snickering from viewers) and then adds “that came out wrong.” They explain that they have Camille when she tried to brand Stabler, plus evidence linking her to the other attacks. Hardwick says Camille’s cell phone has her at a midtown Macy’s and a Harlem Target at the first two attacks and debit card records back it up. They remind her she is a hacker and the guys could not ID her. Cragen reminds her about the attack at Gammon’s place and Hardwick says Gammon’s lawyer says Gammon does not want to press charges. When Benson says that those men made her do something that made Camille attack them, Huang enters and says he never thought he would hear Benson blame the victims. Huang thinks if she did attack those men they may find a clue in her method of assault - the branding. He thinks whatever happened to her, she may feel branded herself and she is suffering from suppressed anger and a catalyst brought it back to the surface. Sometimes people keep a physical reminder of their secret – a marker of sorts. Benson says not to release Camille just yet, and Stabler tells Hardwick to get them a search warrant. Cragen tells Hardwick “Welcome to Special Victims.”
At Camille’s apartment, the detectives search and Benson finds a report card and some old photos. There is a picture of a group of campers with one female camper’s face erased, and what looks like a young Alexander Gammon in the photo.
At Clean Air Camp, Mrs. Holmes tells the detectives that Gammon worked there one summer in 1996 and he was a jerk. She also recognizes Bill Dixon and Victor Ramos who also worked there. She says Camille came from abusive foster homes. There was no indication that Camille was molested or assaulted. She did recall one morning when she came to the dock and found Camille dazed and out of it and when she asked Camille what was wrong, she said “I’m nobody, who are you? Are you nobody too?” Benson seems to recall Camille saying those same words to her,
Back with Camille, still being held, Benson tells Camille she is not nobody. She tries to get Camille to open up about what happened at the camp. Camille tells her that Alexander said bunch of people were going off into the words to play games, and Victor and Bill were there. They led her into the woods, they were drunk, and told her it was a private party. She begins to cry. She explained that Alexander and Bill held her down and Alexander raped her, then Bill. She was bleeding. Victor didn’t want to but Alexander pushed him into it. Alexander told her if she told anyone he would deny it and who would believe the word of a nobody. She admits that she branded them so they would never forget, and then said she wished she could have branded Alexander with the word HELL because that’s where she was going to send him. Benson asks why she would have waited 14 years after the rape, and she says that a few weeks ago she was walking down central park south and heard a laugh, and it was exactly like she used to laugh and she knew it was her daughter. The rape got her pregnant. She could not bear to keep the baby, knowing that one of them was her father so she gave her up for adoption the day after she was born. Camille continues to sob.
Back at SVU, Benson goes over the record of the birth of Camille’s daughter in February of 1997 and that one of the men is the baby’s father. Hardwick is skeptical and Benson thinks the latter is easy to prove – they find the girl, take her DNA and see if it matches one of the three men. Hardwick reminds Benson the statute of limitation has passed on the rape. She also says Stabler’s suggestion of getting the men for obstruction will get quickly tossed too. She tells an incredulous Benson she has no choice but to prosecute Camille, they have Camille’s confession on tape. Benson is upset that Camille can go to prison for a post-traumatic effect from being gang raped, and the guys will walk away free. Hardwick testily tells Benson to bear in mind that she sodomized two men and branded them with a searing coat hanger. Benson tells her to bear in mind that Camille was raped, or is keeping her percentage up is too important. Hardwick tells Benson that Benson did her job, now it is time for her to do hers, no matter how much it hurts.
In court, the jury sees Camille’s video testimony, and when Hardwick asks for Benson to corroborate, Benson says Hardwick has not played the entire tape. Judge Andrews (Lindsay Crouse) tells the jury that she redacted portions of the tape that she deemed irrelevant to the case. When Benson says what Camille said is not irrelevant, Hardwick quickly says there are no further questions. When Benson continues to whine about it, the judge threatens Benson with a contempt citation and orders Benson’s last comments stricken from the records.
Dixon is on the stand and Hardwick questions him. He denies any contact with Camille at the camp and says Camille is insane. Camille’s attorney, Swift (David Alan Grier), asks why he is so sure it was Camille who did this since Dixon told the detectives he didn’t know her. Dixon says it’s because the police told him what she had done with the other men. Later, Gammon is on the stand, who describes Camille at camp as moody and sexually provocative. Camille stands up and calls him a liar. He says she used to loosen her bikini top so it would slip off in the lake and they could see her breasts. He said it was a school girl crush and he let her down gently. When Gammon starts talking about Camille’s father being a nut job, Camille gets irate and leaps up, calling Gammon a son of a bitch. She is restrained by Swift and the judge calls for order and tells the jury to disregard what Camille said. She then calls for a recess.
Outside the courthouse, Stabler approaches a waiting Ramos and tells him he should have heard the wild accusations that Camille made against him. Ramos said the girl is nuts and tells Stabler to leave him alone. Stabler says that Ramos is a decent guy and what Camille did to him was horrible but the other two are painting her with a black brush. He reminds Ramos of his own daughters who are the same age as Camille at the time of the rape.
On the stand, Ramos says the truth is complicated. Camille did have a crush on Alexander and wanted to hook up with him all summer but he has no idea why she went after him and Bill. Camille continues to shout out and the judge again warns her.
Later, in Hardwick’s office, Benson asks her if she is happy that she trashed Camille. Hardwick says her job is to win the case. Benson counters that her job is to be sure justice is done and convicting Camille is not justice and Hardwick turned Camille into a crazy slut. When Benson turns to walk out, Hardwick tells Benson since Benson is storming off, could she drop off a file for defense counsel that a friend gave to her. She tells her not to look at what’s inside which Benson of course does. With her back to Benson, Hardwick gives a glance and then tells Benson she’ll see her tomorrow. Benson looks stunned at the contents of the folder .
Back in court, the defense calls Hannah Milner (Odeya Rush) to the stand. Benson walks in with a young girl, and Camille whispers it is her. Gammon asks Hardwick who she is and Hardwick evasively says it is a defense witness. When asked, Hannah points out her parents in the gallery, and then says she was adopted. When asked about her biological parents, Hannah said that yesterday Swift found her and took her DNA for a test and then contacted her about her biological parents. She points out Camille as her biological mother. She goes on to point out her biological father, and at first it seems it might be Gammon, and he becomes even more upset and the judge orders him to sit down. But it’s Ramos who is Hannah’s biological father. Ramos says it is true, and then stands up and said she is his daughter and all three of them raped Camille, and as Gammon tells him to shut up, the judge demands order. As Ramos is being led out of the courtroom, he says Gammon has been paying them off for years and Gammon talked them into it. He adds that Gammon has raped other women and has paid them off to keep them quiet. Gammon says Ramos is crazy. Ramos continues to yell that Gammon is a rapist as he is being taken out of the courtroom. Gammon, looking uncomfortable, sits back down, and Hardwick has a satisfied smirk on her face.
In SVU interrogation, Stabler questions Gammon. He tells Gammon that Dixon and Ramos are going to do some time for perjury. He tells Gammon he is looking at a long bit. Gammon asks how they knew Ramos was the father, and Stabler says they matched the DNA against a coffee cup he tossed out and the DNA from blood work done at the hospital on the other two. Stabler shows him photos of two women who says Gammon was paying them for their silence. They are paying Gammon back and are pressing charges. The statute of limitations hasn’t run out on them. Gammon asks what happens now, and Stabler says “Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.”
In the observation room, Camille thanks Benson. Benson reminds her she still needs to see the judge about sentencing but on two minor counts of trespass, she should do OK. Benson takes Camille out to meet Hannah, who is waiting with Hardwick. Hannah wishes her good luck in court. Camille says she is sorry that this is the way they had to meet, but Hannah is not. They embrace and both are crying as we fade to black.
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