Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Law & Order SVU “Merchandise” Recap & Review

All photos from NBCU

Law & Order SVU delivered another fine episode with “Merchandise” which addressed the issue of American children being enslaved by American adults. Benson and Stabler think they have a simple case of a young girl being killed by a car, but it turns into a hard look into the practice of the trading of children for slavery and sex. A little out of character is when the normally crusading detectives decide to disagree with ME Warner’s ruling of murder because they don’t think they charge will stick. Luckily for the kids involved, Cragen smacks some sense into Benson and Stabler's heads and reminds them that there is a special victim involved. The detectives are sucked into the case and find an abused boy that is suffering from the traumatic effects of his experience (an excellent performance by Devon Gearhart) and the lives of other children are in jeopardy.

Stabler and Benson get to expand their horizons – albeit temporarily – when they are deputized as US Marshals. This may create some tension between the detectives and Dr. Huang later down the road, since the detectives went against Huang’s recommendations and kept Huang from taking over the case. Hopefully Huang will look at the outcome and not be too hard on the detectives down the road.

One scene did have me cringing, though. It was when Stabler was racing head on towards the truck which was headed straight for him, and Benson unbuckles her seat belt and sticks her head out the window and aims to shoot. If the truck had collided with them, Benson could easily have been killed. It would have been easier, safer, and maybe even more accurate if she had to shoot, had she left her seat belt on and simply stuck her hand - with the gun in it - out the window. I am sure it was all for dramatic effect, but it still seemed like a dumb move.

Season 12 has put the focus back on the case and the victims, which is where Law & Order SVU excels. It was amusing, though, to have the diversion of Fin's dry, matter of fact humor, and the precinct’s structural failures and resulting water problems. The latter will serve as the explanation for the show moving their production from New Jersey to the old Law & Order set at Chelsea Piers. (Of course, that just makes the Law & Order fans sad to think that this means that Law & Order is not only merely dead, it’s really most sincerely dead.)

Here is the recap:

A teenage girl, (Michaela Annette) running though a farmer’s market, seems to be fleeing from someone or something, and she races into the street, getting hit by a car and is killed. Detectives Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni) hear from ME Warner (Tamara Tunie) that this is really a homicide; there is evidence the girl was starved and abused, and the young girl also had given birth within the last year.

Back at the SVU precinct, things are in disarray as it seems the pipes in the building have burst and water is everywhere. Captain Don Cragen (Dann Florek) asks the detectives why they are challenging ME Warner’s ruling, and they feel that they can’t make a murder charge stick as it wasn’t the abuse and starvation that killed the girl; it was the cab that hit her. Cragen says to find the bastard that starved her first and then worry about the DA’s charges.

The detectives take a look at video footage that Fin (Ice-T) has of the girl before she is killed, and they can see another kid running behind her, as if the other kid was fleeing as well. Back at the farmer market, they speak to witnesses who saw the girl – Carly - and they find she is a mission farms hire, who gives at risk kids day jobs. Fin speaks to the management at the farmer’s market and Fin argues about using kids as farm workers. He finds there is a Carly Holbart, 15, who works for the farm, with a lower east side address. Fin goes to the address and knocks on doors and speaks with a Holbart neighbor and finds out the Holbart's were evicted.

Back at SVU, the parents are identified as Patrick and Madeline Holbart who were tossed out of their apartment after drowning in hospital debt when Madeline died of cancer. No new address for them. Holbart hasn’t paid his union dues for a while and is getting new other benefits. They have a BOLO out on his car. As water flows all around them from the ceiling, Stabler says Child Services had custody of Holbart’s other three kids. But Holbart invoked his parental rights and took them back and then disappeared. Fin announces they found Holbart’s car in the alley behind a church.

The detectives head to where the car was located and there are many people there living out of their cars. They see Holbart (Paul Schultz) there with his kids and tell him about Carly.

At the SVU precinct, they tell Holbart how Carly died. The last time he saw her was a year ago, Carly and Micah were working farmlands. When their mother died he couldn’t pay the bills and barely keep food on the table and he had no choice but to put them to work. He turned them over to a Latina woman, Magda Paloma for the work and he spoke to the kids a few times but then the phone was disconnected. He gave them her license plate number. He got a $500 advance for the kids and he got them work. He begged Child Services to help but they split up the kids. He did not know Carly was pregnant and is shocked to hear about how she was abused. Holbart breaks down in grief and horror at the news. He sent them a way so they could have food and shelter so they could be safe. Stabler shows his the photos of Holbart’s daughter’s last moments, and Holbart sees Micah in one of the photos, racing after Carly. He thinks Micah is in trouble too.

Outside the interrogation room, Cragen tells the detectives that Mission Farms is bogus. The info on the license plate that Holbart has is of a stolen car that has never been recovered. Te cell phone number was of a disposable cell. Stabler tells Benson Magda Paloma is a ghost. Cragen tells the detectives that Holbart has done nothing criminal and they need to let him go. Fin says someone captured the chase on a cell phone and it is not what they think. It appears Micah pushed Carly into traffic. They also wonder what Carly's baby would be worth on the black market. It looks like the Micah was also charged with prostitution and resisting, apparently forced into the sex trade. Stabler wonders how a kid could be charged with something he can’t legally consent to, and Fin says he’s going to talk to the person that pinched him.

Fin speaks with Detective Cruz (Pia Glenn) who arrested Micah before, and when he challenges her on why she cahrged Micah, she tells him if they match a kid's photo to missing persons they send them home to the same places that made them run in the first place. Fin tells Cruz the new laws are supposed to protect them from being charged and she says only if they flip on their pimps and testify in open court. He tells her he needs to find Micah fast and he needs face to face time with their pimps. Later, Cruz has all the pimps lined up and Fin tells them, “Fact: You are now all my bitches. Fact: Deliver this kid to me or get used to living in the tombs. Fact: Until then, no stable’s safe, no john’s out of reach and most of all ain’t no money getting’ made.” One guy gives him the information that he knows who runs Micah – he is a drop off in a group stable. Fin tells him he wants the kid delivered to him by this time tomorrow. The guy agrees to have Jasmine deliver him right to Fin.

When Fin gets back to SVU, the place is dripping water from everywhere and Stabler tells him the pipes burst. Cragen says they have foundation problems and are moving to the command center outside. He also says the construction company owner who rehabbed the precinct just got indicted, the concrete testing was faked and they may have to underpin the foundation. In the trailer, Benson says they have only come up with 3 Hispanic females who match Magda's description with facial scars. Cragen tells them to put together a mug book to see if Micah can make an ID when they get him in custody. Fin says that he may have Micah tomorrow and that a pro named Jasmine is supposed to bring Micah to him.

The next day, at the meeting place, Stabler and Benson wait in the car and Stabler gets a phone call. Fin has Micah (Devon Gearhart) in his sights. A girl brings Micah to Fin, who says he is just what he ordered. Micah asks him to pick his poison and Micah rattles off a list of services. Fin asks him if he wants to take a ride, and when Stabler approaches him, Micah runs. Stabler gets Jasmine and Benson catches Micah and they fall to the ground and he fights her. Stabler pulls him off, Micah’s shirt rips and he is screaming to be let go. Stabler tries to calm down. The detectives see the wounds on Micah’s back and are horrified. Micah begs to be let go, he is afraid he will be punished.

Later, with Micah screaming in the back of the squad car, Benson speaks with Jasmine, who is worried that Micah will be OK. She refuses to go with them. Stabler is worried when he sees Fin wants to restrain Micah to prevent him from hurting himself, but Benson thinks that’s what Micah is used to. They restrain his arms.

At the hospital, the doctor tells the detectives that Micah is sedated and he has multiple fractures and evidence of sexual abuse and malnutrition. Micah should be 20 pounds heavier. His blood shows farm pesticides. The detectives speak with Micah, and he wants to be let go, as he will get them killed. Stabler says he wants to help but can’t do it without him. An attorney, Dan Goldberg (Fred Melamed), enters and says he suggests Stabler tries, he is Micah’s guardian ad litem and they cannot interrogate Micah. Outside the room, Stabler explains Micah’s situation to Goldberg but Goldberg says as long as Micah is considered a suspect in his sister’s murder, Micah is off limits, his job is to protect Micah.

Outside the SVU precinct, Cragen stares at the workers who don’t seem to be working on the building, and Fin says, “Giving them the hairy eyeball isn’t gonna make them move, Captain. They’re union.” But Cragen is pissed that they are wasting time. Benson and Stabler tell Cragen about the problems with Goldberg. Cragen thinks they need to give Goldberg something he needs, a psychiatric evaluation of Micah’s intent when he chased down his sister. Stabler thinks this means the judge will cut him loose if they get a shrink to say he didn’t mean to kill her. Cragen will set it up with Dr. Huang.

At Bellevue, Huang (BD Wong) speaks with Micah and Micah wants out. Huang says he will open the door but says Micah cannot go out. Huang finds that Micah was locked up on the farm and got beatings when they made a mistake, but not the girls, Magda was nice at first but she left them with Liam. Outside, Stabler and Benson speak with Goldberg and he says he hands are tied until the judge rules. Micah tells Huang he did not pay off the debt and is hooked for everything – food, water, shelter and he was forced to have sex and soon the money was so good they wanted more. Ten of them were forced into sex for money, then there were 6, then Carly. Huang tells Micah he is safe and gets him to sit down. Micah says they worked days and nights and didn’t always get to eat They gave them scraps and garbage from the compost heap, when the girls got pregnant they ate good then. Three babies were born and they took them away. Carly had a little boy and wanted to know if they killed him. Huang does not know. Carly wanted the baby and it didn’t matter how she got him, he was hers. Micah says when they went the hotels he usually kept his eyes shut and they took care of each other until she tried to leave. If she left they would beat them and Carly knew that so why would she run. When Huang says maybe she was trying to get help, Micah gets agitated and says not to say that. He begins to flail out and as Huang asks him why not, Micah tells him to let go of him. He admits he pushed her and she got hit, he didn’t know she was trying to save him.

In the observation room, Stabler tells Goldberg they need Micah to look at mug books. Goldberg says that is Huang’s call, and Huang says he is recommending immunity and witness protection. Goldberg thinks no family court judge will accept that, but Huang says a federal court judge will, and the FBI is taking over. When Benson objects, Huang explains that human trafficking, sex trafficking, the Mann Act, are all violations of US code. He moves to call his boss, but Stabler tells him Micah is not going anywhere, and tells Huang he is not the only one with the Feds on speed dial.

At the US Attorney’s office, the detectives speak with Chris Danielson (Gloria Reuben) now an Assistant US Attorney in the Eastern District. She tells them how many Americans are being enslaved in the world and in the US and there is little help for US kids being enslaved in the US. She cites many examples. She says she can protect Micah’s friends but hasn’t decided if she is taking their bait. Stabler and Benson argue all the work that they did and that they need to make a local example. Stabler begs for her help. She asks for their badges and givens them special deputy US Marshal badges – credentials they need to work outside their jurisdiction. She makes them take the oath.

Back at the hospital where Fin is waiting, Benson and Stabler show them the badges. When Chris asks about any luck on the ID, he tells them so far, nothing. But, they see Micah suddenly jump away from the table, and Goldberg holds a mug shot photo up to the window of Victoria Reyes.

Back at the command center, they find Victoria also goes by Tina Reyes and Kiki Ramos, and she has a long record. They find her current record is sealed. Chris thinks she can’t get cooperation from the US Attorneys for help and Stabler asks what kind of press they want, live victims or dead kids.

Later, at the Federal Corrections Institution, Reyes is being held there and Chris offers Reyes immunity, through AUSA Ben Daltrey (Sebastian La Cause), but she still won’t talk. Chris threatens to have her current deal vacated. She says her case is bigger and the AG loves headlines. They show Reyes the photos of Carly and Micah and she knows them, saying she got $1,000 each. She sold them to Liam and Julie Ryan, wanna-be farmers, Liam met her and took them off her hands, and she never saw the farm. She met him at a farm and feed store and they got 7 kids and they tricked the kids out. She had been serving less than a year and stopped taking their calls when she heard they burned some of the workers when they heard the heat was closing in. They kill only the kids, the illegals are too scared to talk. Benson tells Stabler than Fin ran Liam and Julie Ryan and there is no record of any land being leased in Suffolk County, no bank accounts and no credit. He says to have Fin fax their photos over to that store.
As Benson, Stabler, and Chris ride in the car, Fin tells them the Ryans lost a family farm due to foreclosure and they moved to North Carolina and Florida. They skipped before Sarasota police could question them about allegations of using illegal workers. When the cops got there, only 5 bodies were found, dead from cyanide poisoning. Cragen cuts in and says the Ryans are leasing a farm off the books from a farmer going bankrupt. Benson asks for the address and Stabler asks the Suffolk PD meet them, no light or sirens.

The drive up the dirt road, and a truck is heading right at them. Stabler drives toward them head on, with Benson’s head out the window her gun drawn. The truck veers off and the detectives get out of their car. Stabler keeps his gun on the Ryan as he orders them out of the car and tells Benson and Chris to go, and they get back in the car and trace to the house. At the house, Benson kicks in the door and enters, gun drawn, but she and Chris see no one. Benson thinks they are in a root cellar, and races there. She finds a roomful of children, chained up. She struggles to free them as EMTs arrive. They only have a short time to treat and save the kids.

Later, as the Ryans are led off in full body chains, Chris tells the detectives the Ryans invoked right away. She also says they found a laptop in the truck along with a suitcase full of cash. Stabler asks her to put the Ryans in a deep, dark hole. She says the best she can do is maximum security, life without parole. Stabler says that works for him, and he and Benson turn in their special badges. She says the door is always open.

At Bellevue Hospital, Patrick Holbart is there as Micah recovers. They tell him Micah will not be charged and must undergo counseling. He must feel that he is safe, and Holbart says he lives in a car. Stabler says not any more, he says they talked to a shelter geared toward families and has temporary housing for all of them until they can get back on their feet. Holbart seems moved, and thanks them. He returns to console Micah, who cries. As Benson and Stabler turn and walk away, we fade to black.

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nygma619 said...

I thought this episode was missing something, and I'm just not sure what it was. The episode was decent enough, but it just felt like it ended abruptly after E & O found the kids in the cellar (which actually got an "Oh my God" response from me, simply because it sickened me to see children treated like that, even though I know things like that exist).

I liked Fin laying down the law to all the other pimps telling them that they were now his bitches.

Maybe Olivia couldn't have made her visually clear to the two in the truck without getting out of the window some. The thing that actually annoyed me about that scene was E & O going ahead with the game of chicken even though they had no knowledge of whether the farmers in the truck were armed or not. But then again they were probably left with very few options, so I'm not gonna harp on it too much.

Did I miss something about when Elliot had someone on speed dial to the east u.s. attorney's office?

I agree that the show does better when the personal stuff comes in just small doses.

Anyways, decent episode but not as strong as the first three of this season.

Paula Patton's only appearance is next week right?

Dalton said...

Another fine SVU episode in my opinion.

By the way, did anyone notice that the cop Fin talked to was from the 2th Precinct? I was saddened with memories of the original L&O upon seeing the "27TH PRECINCT" banner above the doors to the 27.

Ashley said...

I'm confused as to what the problem was between Dr. Huang and E+O. Did Dr. Huang want to take the case over to protect Micah from any more psychological damage? I just didn't get the whole "I also got Feds on speed dial comment" because in the end, Micah did not get charged.

Esaul said...

Huang wanted Micah to go into Witness Protection right away. They needed him to help find the kids, and to also help put the bastards behind bars. Elliot said they had the feds on Speed Dial 'cause of Chris/Kris however her name is spelled, not exactly sure. But by calling the U.S. Attorney, that went over Huang's head, thwarting what he wanted to do for the child, who he had only his interest at heart whereas Elliot and Olivia were looking at the overall picture, with the other kids that were being used and sold for sex.

John K. said...

Good recap, as usual. When you have a few moments, I need transcript of Benson and Stabler's conversation in the car, waiting for Micah. Lots of good stuff to analyze, there.

Take your time, as always. And no worries, if not. Sorry I haven't been commenting much lately. My own L&O blogging has been awfully busy, as yours has been. Blog looks great, but I wouldn't expect anything else. (Don't worry, I read it every day. Heh.)


Anonymous said...

I feel like what's missing is the "Order" part of L&O. Where are the courtroom battles? The attorney banter? The legal-ese? Oh wait, we don't have an ADA yet...

Anonymous said...

What was wrong with this episode was that it was mostly made up of talking heads. Television is a visual medium. there would have been more impact if we had seen how the family was living in their car, the kids working on the farm or going to the sleazy motels. Those pictures would have brought things into focus.
The other problem with this episode is the Federal involvement. Nothing Micah said showed any interstate or international activities. Without that, neither the FBI or US Attorney's Office should be involved.Had the kids been taken to New Jersey instead of Long Island there wouldn't have been a problem.

Esaul said...

The mere mentioning of trafficking over state lines automatically made it a Federal case despite that they were found in NY still. They want to prosecute them for their crimes that they committed overall, not just in the state of New York or in Manhattan. It's about the bigger picture.

Anonymous said...

They seriously hadn't done a child slavery episode yet? In season 12? I find that hard to believe.

Gonna be weird seeing the cast members in the mothership's HQ. Don't know why that's a necessary move.

Esaul said...

In real life, they're moving filming to NYC from NJ. Has to do with the costs I think it was? But I'm not too sure on that.

iHeartU said...

You should blog about how Neal and everyone told us about a certain liv/el scene then we watch it to find out it had been deleted, yet the pics from that scene are posted on the nbc website?

This is the scene that SOMEBODY thought would be a great idea to cut out even though the fans had been informed of it....

nygma619 said...

anonymous at 10:48, the season is still young. We're getting some of the order back next week. And as long as Sagemiller stays on full time, I think it will become more & more.

nygma619 said...

anonymous @ 1:26 nailed what I thought was missing in this episode. Too much tell not enough show. As I said, the most powerful scene in the episode was when we saw the kids chained up in the cellar. But we never see people like the farmers show how despicable they are in their treatment towards the children, hell I don't think we even got a good shot of their faces. Sometimes not showing us some things can add mystique or more of an atmosphere, hell one of my favorites of the series is the episode "Name", even though a lot of people hate it. But that didn't feel like the case here.

Like I said before, not a bad episode at all, just one that could have been better.

Esaul said...

It wasn't supposed to be in the episode. Look at the other ones that are labeled "Merchandise" as well, they weren't in the episode at all either. NBC just simple mislabeled the episode. My best guess is that the pic is for next week's episode.

Anonymous said...

Dumb question: unclear whether they saved the kids. Anything from the credits or last scene clear that up?

All Things Law and Order said...

Not a dumb question - they never directly answered that question - but when Benson and Stabler were wrapping things up with Chris, no one seemed horrible bummed out about how things were resolved, so I am assuming they got the kids saved in time. But that is just a guess, there was no specific closure on that issue!