This episode of Law & Order SVU certainly lived up to the hype. It was a very dramatic episode which easily drew me in. The story line is one that many can relate to: those college years where kids are on their own for the first time, with easy access to drinking, drugs, and sex, and anything can (and does) happen. "Gray" exposes “gray” rapes – when consent to sex is unclear, especially when alcohol is involved. The episode fixates on the issue of alcohol – not only with the rape victim and her rapist, but also with returning “temporary” ADA Sonya Paxton (played perfectly by Christine Lahti). Paxton was forced into alcohol rehab from events in am earlier episode of Law & Order SVU, “Hammered”. I enjoyed Lahti in her previous appearances on SVU and I thought she was fantastic in this one. Paxton works with the detectives despite the fact that they had a flimsy case to start and she thinks they expect her to work miracles. She’s right – the detectives seem quick to arrest their suspected rapist despite no evidence or witnesses, and they even arrest him again when someone assaults him with a pitcher of beer. Paxton also has to endure a few uncalled for comments from Stabler, one of them which prompted me to call Stabler a jerk (and a few other choice words) out loud.
Despite Stabler’s put down, Paxton still helps him by avoiding using his daughter Kathleen to testify on how Kathleen came into possession of the alleged rapist’s personal file from the university. Stabler can sure dish out the low blows, but it seems he can’t take the heat when his own daughter creates a mess that could get her kicked out of college. Personally, I think Stabler should have known that coming into possession of that file would risk raising ethical questions and exposing his daughter's involvement. He should have told Paxton immediately but we know that Stabler has a huge blind spot when it comes to his family.
The episode received a lot of press about its subject matter. Alcohol on college campuses - and related sexual assaults - is a problem, but it is not new. I recall this being an issue on college campuses (and even in high school) in the early 1970s. The big difference these days is there are many more outlets to talk about it – such as the Internet and television – and it gets far more exposure now. As part of the media blitz on the subject, Mariska Hargitay gave some of her own comments on the episode. I was slightly alarmed at what I perceive as a naïve and irresponsible attitude towards pot that came out of an in an interview that TV Squad conducted with Mariska where she commented about the buddy system:
“I think that my message to students is drinking impairs our judgment. That is a fact. You've got to take precautions if you want to do that, you have to find ways to take care of yourself so you don't put yourself in situations where you can't protect yourself.
You never hear anybody say, "Oh I smoked a joint then I killed my wife. I smoked a joint then I couldn't drive a car." You know what I mean? [Alcohol] causes fetal alcohol syndrome, it makes people make dumb choices, it makes people violent. People don't smoke a joint and then beat the sh-- out of their wife, right? They get drunk and then batter their wives. It's something people need to think about. “
I certainly hope she is not advocating smoking pot as a safer alternative to alcohol. It is not. I also hope that she is not saying that smoking a joint will not impair a person in any way, because it can. Alcohol and pot are two different drugs, but both can impair. The message should be that a person should take every precaution to make sure that they are not impaired in any way - by alcohol, pot, or drugs - if they are concerned their condition may affect their safety and the safety of others. (I'm not making an anti-pot rant here. I am 100% in favor of legalizing and regulating marijuana for medical use; as far as full legalization for everyone, I feel we should proceed - with caution.) As far as Mariska’s comment that one never hears anybody say, “I smoked a joint then I couldn't drive a car” – it sounds similar to the warped logic that some drinkers use when they get behind a wheel of a car ("I only had a few drinks, so I'm not drunk and I am OK to drive"). A person who is under the influence (drink or drugs) doesn’t always think they are impaired. Frankly, I am very disappointed in her cavalier attitude about marijuana in respect to this very serious issue that is raised in “Gray.” With drinking and sexual assaults being a problem in campuses, we don’t need anyone to imply that if one smokes grass there won’t be a problem with a impairment.
All in all, "Gray" was a very good episode which is sure to have people talking. Hopefully, it will also help people to start thinking and taking appropriate precautions.
Here is the recap:
At a “take back the night” rally, many women are recounting their rape experiences. Detective Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni) arrives and sees his daughter Kathleen (Allison Siko). He discovers he has to speak at the event for Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) who could not attend. Before he starts to speak, Bethany Jennings runs into the crowd and accuses Chuck Mills of raping her. Chuck (Charlie Barnett) is also there and Stabler cuffs him.
Back at the SVU precinct, both Bethany and Chuck have conflicting stories. Munch (Richard Belzer) finds that Bethany has a web site, chuckmillsrapedme.com. Mills claims the web site is a lie.
The detectives wonder if Bethany is out for revenge or justice. They also argue whose responsibility it is to prevent these kinds of situations - is the woman at fault if she gets too drunk or the man’s because he can’t get proper consent to sex? Fin (Ice-T) says ADA Hardwicke is in Albany meeting with the Attorney General, and find ADA Sonya Paxton (Christine Lahti) has been assigned to the case. She tells them there is no evidence and no witnesses, and while rehab did wonders it didn’t turn herself into a miracle worker. She calls it a “gray” rape (as in the case is not black or white and consent is not clear) and says to cut Chuck loose.
The detectives are at Hudson University with campus police; it seems they didn’t do much investigation on the initial claim of rape. The problem is that the case is handled by campus police and not “real” police who can actually make the charges. The Hudson dean and his committee had written off the rape claim as bad judgment. When the dean won’t give them access to the detailed file, Stabler wants the names of disciplinary committee members.
A woman who was on the committee now works at a woman’s crisis center and she tells the detectives she can’t speak about details but is unhappy with how things are handled at the university. She started a buddy system to make sure college students don’t do something stupid. She tells Stabler to ask his daughter about it.
Stabler speaks with Kathleen – her friends know she can’t drink so everyone asks to be her buddy. She was Bethany’s buddy and Kathleen became distracted and left Bethany alone when the rape occurred.
The detectives go to the bar in question where the rap happened and Chuck is there. When an altercation with Felecia Zorn occurs – she dumps beer on Chuck - the detectives arrest him.
They bring him into SVU but Paxton tells them to release him.
At home, Stabler and his wife Kathy (Isabel Gilles) talk about when they first met at college. Things turned romantic until their daughter Kathleen comes in to give Stabler Chuck Mills’ disciplinary file. A guy Kathleen likes stole it for her. She feels guilty over what happened to Bethany. She learned in a law class that as long as she didn’t act on behalf of the police, Stabler can use the file.
Back at the precinct, Stabler and Benson go over the file but find one incident where Chuck was the victim because Felicia publicly - on a bed sheet banner - labeled him a murderer. They speak with Felicia and she is being expelled for what she did and she decided to leave when they ordered her to apologize in writing. She accuses Chuck of killing Carla Vincent’s baby. He got Carla pregnant on their first hook up but she had a miscarriage and Chuck seemed to be happy about it.
They speak with Carla (Gwynneth Bensen) and she thinks Chuck is a nice guy and the girls are all lying. She said they had sex right before she miscarried. Chuck gave her something he called “love potion #9” that he mixed up himself. She miscarried the next day. The detectives convince her to help them get Chuck to use it again,
Later, when Chuck enters Carla’s darkened room, it’s Paxton in bed waiting and the detectives are also there and get the love potion from Chuck. Carla is also very upset with what Chuck did. They arrest him for abortion in the 2nd degree.
ME Warner later tells the detectives there is petroleum jelly in what Chuck gave them, plus an drug called misoprostol which is an OTC med for used for ulcers. It can cause contractions and had been selling a lot since the warnings came out. The drug has helped in poorer countries for abortions. Chuck is pre-med so he knows what the drug can do.
Back at SVU, Chuck is there with his attorney Carolyn Maddox (CCH Pounder) and he is willing to confess he used the drug. Sonya wants to go after him for depraved indifference for human life. Chuck claims he used the drug to treat his erectile dysfunction which was brought on by drinking. Maddox says all he is guilty of is poor judgment.
Later, the detectives and Paxton discuss that they need to prove Chuck intended to cause harm to the baby, and they hope maybe Chuck said something to the pharmacist (Lenny Wolpe). Lucky for them, the pharmacist does recall Chuck. He says Chuck was stressed out about getting the drug and said Chuck looked too young for a penis pump - the drug will not work without one.
Carla can’t recall if he used a pump, though. Carla also tells them she was pregnant once before in high school but had an abortion and worries that people will think she just wanted to have another abortion. She says Miss Maddox told her that is what would happen.
Later in Judge Quinn’s (Kate Nelligan) chambers, the judge is displeased with Maddox speaking with Carla and Paxton adds her two cents. Maddox thinks they are just going after Chuck. It comes out that Stabler has the confidential disciplinary files. Paxton later gives Stabler an earful about it and Stabler gets defensive. Stabler says “You know something? I hope you’re not on the sauce right now ‘cause I got a policy against strangling drunks.” Benson and Paxton both look stunned, and Stabler ads, “go have a drink.” He then seems to want to apologize but Paxton stops him and collects herself. Stabler tries to explain why Kathleen got involved but Stabler is not happy when he hears that Paxton will have to subpoena Kathleen because of it.
Stabler later visits Paxton in her office and apologizes for not telling her about the file and insists he did not tell Kathleen to get the file. Stabler is worried she will get kicked out of school but is also worried Kathleen will fall apart and begs Paxton not to do it. Paxton decides to refer to Kathleen as a confidential informant and not use her name and tells Stabler to be there at arraignment.
Chuck Mills is arraigned and he pleads not guilty. Judge Quinn sets a high bail as Paxton requests, but Maddox claims Quinn is biased because of the type of case and the judge calls a recess. Later, Paxton enters Quinn’s office with Maddox already there and Paxton accuses them of having an ex parte discussion. Quinn is recusing herself and Judge Ridiger (Dick Latessa) is replacing her, and Paxton wants another judge because he was on the ethics board that sent her to rehab. He says he will be impartial and wants a probable cause hearing.
Back at SVU, Paxton breaks the bad news to the detectives and wants to lower the charge. But Judge Quinn comes in and says nobody is making any deals and thinks Maddox dug into her past which is how she got all the inside information. She wants to help them win the case and wants to persuade Carla to testify.
Later, Quinn is with Carla and Quinn explains how she was raped 40 years ago and how she was forced fed pills to make it look like she overdosed. The police made her appear to be the guilty party and she never got justice. Paxton and Benson, who are also there, ask Carla not to let Chuck get away with it. She agrees to do it and will be there for the probable cause hearing.
At the hearing, they are all waiting but Carla does not show up. Judge Ridiger chastises Paxton and when she tries to stall he asks her to approach the bench. She accidentally trips on the leg of the table. The judge asks her if she has been drinking and she says no, her case is in order. She begs him to give her time for Carla, not for herself, and the judge gives her to the end of business that day or he will dismiss the case.
Back at the dorm, Benson gets access to Carla’s room from security, and finds her laying on the bathroom floor.
Later, Carla is on the table in the morgue, and ME Warner tells the detectives Carla died from toxic shock from an infection from the incomplete abortion/miscarriage. Her immune system was compromised by the misoprostol because it was applied directly to the cervix. They realize now they have Chuck.
Later, Chuck is drinking at a bar and Benson and Stabler, along with Paxton, enter and the detectives arrest Chuck for manslaughter in the second degree from the effects of Chuck’s “love potion.” As they walk him out in cuffs, we fade to black.
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