All photos from NBCUniversal
Law & Order LA returned with a bang – several bangs, in fact – and in the process, made some much needed cast alterations. While it’s Skeet Ulrich’s character Detective Rex Winters who gets shot and killed in the process, the episode belonged to Alfred Molina. It's Molina’s character DDA Ricardo Morales who is faced with prosecuting Winter’s killer, and in doing so, he run into political roadblocks. He finds ways to work around them, only to have his star witness – a young boy – be murdered in a holding cell right before he was to testify. This is the tipping point for Morales, who, after giving his boss DA Jerry Hardin (Peter Coyote) a piece of his mind, quits and goes back to being detective.
I admit I was a little worried in the first 30 minutes or so of the episode when I saw flat and lifeless acting, almost as if everyone was simply reading lines. Even Winter’s shooting seemed anti-climactic, likely because viewers were given ample warning in the previews that it was coming. But it’s Molina who saves the day at the end, with his work in getting the boy to testify, and then his rage after the boy is killed. While I believe that Molina was well cast as a DDA, I’m happy that his character will find new life as a detective; I think he’ll be a great fit.
Despite the fact that one can almost count on any critical witness who is under police protection being killed before they can testify, this episode took that overused plot device and used it to trigger a major role shift for a key character. The episode was very tense all the way though, but there was one spot in this episode that actually made me laugh. It was when TJ (Corey Stoll) arrests Cesar and throws him to the ground, landing him in what looks like the only puddle of water in an otherwise bone-dry location.
Despite the somber nature of "Zuma Canyon", I was very pleased with the episode and the manner in which they handled the transition.
Here is the recap:
At a quinceañera (a birthday party for a 15 year old) at the Alcazar’s, party goers are shocked when gunfire from assault rifles hits and kills many. Later, Detectives Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) and “TJ” Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll) are called to the scene. Alcazar, along with 8 others including three children, are killed.
Lt. Arleen Gonzales (Rachel Ticotin) and the detectives speak with family members and get a description of the vehicles involved. Hernando Alcazar was a developer. There may have been trouble at his work.
Later, back at home, Rex is on the phone with TJ while looking though files on the case, and after chatting with his wife Casey (Teri Polo), he goes to make sure the kids are asleep.
The next day at the office of Mitch Pellington (Charles Rahi Chun), the detectives check out Alcazar's workspace, find photos of some land on his computer, and hear that a big project of Alcazar's fell through. They later head to the area in the photographs and find a tent and a huge farm of marijuana. They realize Alcazar must have also found it and had a run in with the growers. They return later with reinforcements and find that a young boy is guarding the field. Winters gets the boy to drop the gun and when he tries to run, Winters catches him.
Later, at RHD, Gonzales brings the boy, Fernando (Quinton Lopez), some food, and along with the detectives, try to get information from the boy, who doesn’t seem to know he is in LA. He refuses to talk about the man that brought him there, and it appears the boy has been burned with cigarettes. Afterwards, the detectives, Gonzales, and DDA Evelyn Price (Regina Hall) speak with Deputy Ortega (Al Espinosa) from the Mexican Consulate about the boy After he leaves, Gonzales tells them to find out who owns the land.
At Ralston Resource Management, they find that the land was supposed to be leased to grow avocados to “Cesar”, and the owner of the land decides to call a lawyer. They also check with the title company to find who did the title search and find a connection to Ray Mota (Ray Santiago) who has a white Cherokee. They head to Mota’s home where a party is going on and Mota claims his car was stolen. They discover that Cesar is there and Rex says they know who he is, and orders him to get on the wall. Rex frisks him and sees his ID as Cesar Vargas (Jose Pablo Cantillo). TJ takes his photo and a can from which Cesar had been drinking.
Later, they show the photo to Fernando who refuses to confirm Cesar is the man. Cesar’s prints from the can give them nothing local but they did send them south of the border to see if there is anything there. Gonzales thinks they got Alcazar’s address from his license plates and tells them to look for any unauthorized access to that database.
Later, back at home, Rex is having dinner with his family when he sees a car pull up outside with a man with a gun leaning out of it. Rex grabs his daughter and as shots ring out, her pulls her to the floor. Rex has been hit, and despite Casey’s attempt to help him, he dies. The phone rings and a voice leaves a message saying. “Now you know who I am.”
At the hospital, Casey talks with TJ and Gonzales, who console her. DDAs Ricardo Morales (Alfred Molina) and Price are also there, and Casey tells him about the call they got from Cesar right after the shooting. TJ promises they will get him. Morales gives them the OK to get Mota.
In interrogation, Mota says he does not know where Cesar is and asks for a lawyer. Meanwhile, Gonzales speaks with Yolanda (Rosa Salazar), Ray’s girlfriend, and TJ comes in and puts pressure on her , showing that Mota is cheating on her. She tells him that Ray got a call last night about a change in plans and she thinks they know where Fernando is being hidden. Outside interrogation where Morales and Price are waiting, they worry that Fernando’s hiding place has been compromised.
At the Mexican Consulate, Morales and Price speak with Ortega who denies tipping anyone off to Fernando’s location and claims he has no ties to Cesar Vargas. Morales reminds him that a police officer was killed and makes a veiled threat. Ortega says that Vargas is there asking to be repatriated. Ortega says the consulate is sovereign territory and orders them to leave, but Morales gives him a lecture before leaving.
At Morales’ office, DA Jerry Hardin (Peter Coyote) storms in and is irate over Morales’s behavior. Morales insists they have a valid arrest warrant and the two of them argue about the situation. Hardin calms and says there is a Mexican prosecutor he knows that is a big deal at their department of justice.
Later, in Hardin’s office, Hardin and Morales try to talk to Ortega and Contrera and make a trade for other women they are holding in exchange for Cesar. When refuses, Hardin addresses his Mexican prosecutor friend who is listing on the phone, and she gives Contrera a lecture and Contrera gives in.
Afterwards, while Cesar is being transported, his driver stops the car and exits, leaving Cesar in there to be arrested. TJ yanks Cesar out of the car and throws him to the ground, then cuffs him and arrests him for ten counts of murder adding “Now you know who we are.”
Morales and Price question Cesar with his attorney, who reminds him they can’t match Cesar’s voice to the answering machine message and that Fernando isn’t talking. Morales and Price exit the room and Morales is worried that they know Fernando is not talking.
Later, Morales shares a meal outside in a play area with Fernando and tries to get him to help them out. He shows Fernando a picture of his own daughter but days she does not live with him.
Later, Morales tells Mr. Washburn from the State Department that he promised Fernando he would bring his family to the US if Fernando testified. Morales is insistent about needing to do this and when Washburn denies his request, Morales serves him an emergency petition for Washburn to address in Federal Court to argue the issue.
In US Federal Court, Morales passionately argues his point and the judge agrees with him. Later, Fernando is reunited with his parents, who become concerned when they find that Fernando must testify. But Fernando insists that he do it, he wants to help.
Later, Cesar is led into the courtroom in Superior Court, and Morales checks on Fernando, who is waiting in a cell. But as Morales leaves, another woman enters and tells security she is there to serve as Fernando’s interpreter.
Back in court, Morales makes his opening statement and calls Fernando as a witness. The courtroom phone rings and the court clerk answers it, then looks shocked.
Morales. Price, Gonzales and TJ race to the cell and the security guard shows them that Fernando is dead, his throat slit. They race to lock down the building in hope the interpreter is still there. Morales stands there, shocked.
Later, back in court, despite Morales passionate argument and outrage, the charges against Cesar are dismissed as his only witness is dead. Cesar smirks as he leaves the courtroom as Fernando’s father screams at him.
Afterwards, Morales argues with Hardin about making the case to the feds, and they argue about it. Hardin thinks Morales wants to humiliate his office but Morales says he wants justice done. Hardin says he called in a lot of chits for Morales, but Morales is disgusted with Hardin, saying he thought they spoke for the victims. He adds he quit the police department 12 years ago because he thought as a DDA he might make a real difference. But when he says it is all politics and posturing, Hardin yells back that Morales shouldn’t kid himself. He loved the politics. Morales admits he did, until he saw where it led. He asks if Hardin wants humiliation, he outlines a scenario where a prosecutor quits his office and rejoins the police force because his boss is to vain to ask for help in bringing a cop killer to justice. Hardin fires back that his spin will be that DDA Ricardo Morales resigns, after being replaced as prosecutor in the Vargas case, saying the case needed a fresh pair of eyes, and if it takes them 10 years, they will bring Vargas to justice. He tells Morales it is his move, and Morales walks out of the office.
Later, at RHD, TJ is at his desk and sees an envelope addressed to Rex and he puts it in his desk drawer, and looks at Rex’s empty chair. He walks over and looks out the window at the city skyline, as Morales arrives at his new desk at RHD. TJ turns to see Morales settling in, then looks back on the city as we fade to black.
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