Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Law & Order LA “El Sereno” Recap & Review

All photos from NBCUniversal

A case of mass murder seems cut and dry, that is, until police bigotry becomes the key in the defense. And Lt. Arleen Gonzales (Rachel Ticotin) is the focus when a video surfaces of her appearing to be making highly charged bigoted comments. Rachel Ticotin was the the high point of this episode, as she struggles to keep a secret – she’s a lesbian. Thankfully, the episode did not give us that infamous “Is this because I’m a lesbian” line while telling the story.

The episode  had the feel of an original series Law & Order episode, with a little tension between the detectives when it came to Gonzales, and also with some legal maneuvering that was taking place while Dekker was prosecuting the case. To me, it seemed to be the first episode where everyone was comfortable enough in their roles that I saw their characters and not simply the actors playing the characters. I found myself wondering why they felt the need to skip over this episode – or any of the remaining episodes with Skeet Ulrich - to instead go on hiatus to regroup. In doing so, they lost any momentum they had for viewers to bond with the show. Airing the episodes in order, rather than holding these episodes to the end, may have also made Rex Winter’s death have more impact.

Here is the recap:
A couple overhears a shooting at a mortgage office while on the phone with Mr. Vela from that office. Afterwards, Detective Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) and “TJ” Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll) are called to the scene where 6 bodies lay dead. It appears the suspect came in shooting. It appears that someone came out for a cigarette break and the shooter followed the smoker back in.

The detectives speak with a woman whose apartment overlooks the mortgage company. She heard the shots and saw someone running. They speak with another woman who thinks it is “broke ass” Eddie Ramos who is now flashing a big roll. The detectives track down Eddie who is playing cards and they see blood on the money he is holding. He said he found the money and shows them the bag where he found it. TJ sees 6 wallets and 4 watches in the bag – and one watch on Eddie’s arm.

They detectives speak with Lt. Arleen Gonzales (Rachel Ticotin) and they think the stealing was a misdirect and decide to look at the 3 mortgage brokers who were not working that afternoon.

They speak with Filipe Pena (Marco Sanchez), Al Hayes (Charles Malik Whitfield), and Debbie Beltran (Toni Torres) and hear that an Asian man, Danny Choi, who was trying to borrow money for a strip mall, was angry with Mr. Vela. Vela had warned them to tell him if Choi showed up again.

At Shik Do Rak Restaurant, the detectives speak with Choi (Charles Kim) who said he was angry that Vela would not tell him his loan application was rejected. He heard from the bank that there was trouble with applications from Vela’s office and that they were supposedly filled with lies.

At the Southland Pacific Savings and Loan, the detectives speak with a man at the bank who says that 5 of the applications made it appear someone was trying to defraud them of 2 million dollars. He rejected the applications and sent them back to Vela. The detectives check out the mortgage office and can’t find the applications.

Back at RHD, the detectives confer with Gonzales. She doesn’t understand why, if the shooter wanted the applications, why he didn’t break in rather that shoot people. Rex goes over the whereabouts of the other employees not there that day: Al Hayes said he was at home, Debbie Beltran who was at a church picnic and then home, Filipe Pena said he was stuck in traffic. TJ says that freeway was clear, but the one near Debbie was not.

They speak again with Debbie and tell her they have cell phone records showing that Filipe called from her home. She said it was only one time they made a bad loan application. She did it to try to get a loan herself and Filipe showed her how to fudge the numbers. They then speak with Filipe and tell him they know he is helping Debbie pay her mortgage. He said he’s never had any loans rejected because he knows not to use Southland Pacific bank. He admits her was in Debbie’s bed at the time of the shooting.

Afterwards, they discuss what they have, and Gonzales says before they take it to the DA they have to prove that Filipe made the rejected loan requests. TJ wants to look at all the credit reports that the loan office pulled.

At the home of Sara Mitchell, they find that Al Hayes worked her loan and had to add some “seasoning” to make it look better. The bank turned her down and Hayes told her not to talk to Vela. Hayes got her mortgage insurance from his girlfriend.

The detectives speak with Al’s fiancée, Soledad Alvarado (Yara Martinez), who was at her office, and she said Al was the “odd man out” because he was black and he thought they were keeping the good leads from him. Rex notices a repairman working on her shredder as it jammed up a few days ago. She also tells them Al says he was going to be starting his own firm. Afterwards, Rex asks the repair man for the broken shredder mechanism.

Back at RHD, Rex says the shreds in the machine match the folder’s in Vela’s office. Gonzales tells Rex and DDA Lauren Stanton (Megan Boone) that Hayes may have suspected he was going to be fired or prosecuted for loan fraud. TJ tells them Hayes has no record but he was listed as a witness to a robbery at a bank two years ago and a detective who worked the case said Hayes was traumatized by the incident and had asked how he could get a gun for protection. Gonzales thinks this gives them probable cause for a search.

At the home of Al Hayes and Soledad Alvarado, the police search while Soledad tries to reach Al by phone. TJ finds 9mm rounds and half the box is empty. Soledad tells them that he was supposed to pick up his kids but he hung up on her before and now he is not answering.

They arrive at Al’s ex wife Vanessa’s home and find Al’s ex wife banging on the door, saying Al is inside with their kids. Rex asks her to call Al’s number and then go with the police. Rex grabs the phone and talks with Al, who is irate and holding a gun with his kids there. He tells Rex to call him Albert and Rex tries to talk him down and tries to get him to get the kids released. Al sends his kids outside. Al tells Rex he does not know what he is going through and asks why he shouldn’t end it on his own terms. Rex tries to tell him to think of his children. Al comes out and throws down the gun. TJ says the gun is a .22 – they have the right guy but the wrong gun.

Al is being arraigned and DDA Joe Dekker (Terrence Howard) wants Al held without bail. His defense attorney Mr. Spicer (Harry Groener) mentions Al’s children and the fact that the gun was not a 9mm but the judge agrees with Dekker. Outside the courtroom, Spicer argues to the press that they are placing the blame on the one black man in the office and calls it institutional racism and he will prove it. The press asks Dekker for a comment and he says the officers followed the evidence which is colorblind, and Hayes is a mass murderer who happens to be black.

DDA Ricardo Morales (Alfred Molina) tells Stanton, Rex, TJ, and Dekker that when a judge grants a Pitchess motion which allows the defense to examine police personnel files, the DA’s office takes it seriously. Dekker says they also don’t have a murder weapon, and says if Rex or TJ ever had a problem they need to know about it. Rex says everything in his file, and TK moves to walk out, saying that he has nothing to hide either. But Morales says anyone who worked on the street should not answer that too quickly, and Dekker tells TJ to go home and think about it – everybody’s got something. Rex curtly asks Dekker why they are not pulling his file.

When the detectives leave, Stanton seems sympathetic but Morales condescends to her, saying that she was in high school during the OJ trial and this could infect everybody. Dekker thinks if Spicer is using racism as a shield, they can use it as a sword.

At the home of Vanessa Hayes. Stanton speaks with Vanessa about Al and she tells him that something happened to Al after the bank robbery and everything started getting to him. He saw racism everywhere and got obsessed with protecting his family and that is when he bought the gun. She would not leave him alone with the kids anymore and she gave him the name of a therapist but he would not go. She later changed the locks and then filed divorce papers. She said right before the cops got there Al had mentioned he had been to Griffith Park the other day at the merry go round talking about the good times there with the kids.

At RHD, Stanton is talking to Rex and TJ as another employee brings up a video of Gonzales talking about an arrest, saying all she saw was a black face and that they arrested him and that she liked it and felt powerful and she was a big bad cop. Gonzales enters the room and they all turn and stare at her while she looks at the video, stunned then walks back into her office and shuts the door. RJ comments that Al Hayes found his racist cop.

In DA Jerry Hardin’s (Peter Coyote) office along with the chief of police, Dekker tells him the video appears heavily edited. They are concerned as the video will be on the news soon. Randy Hawthorn, the man who posted it, has been all over the police’s office. He has to put Gonzales on administrative leave. Hardin says his office will support him. As Dekker tries to argue with Hardin, Hardin tells him to get over it and focus on the case. Stanton enters and tells them Spicer just hit them with a motion to traverse, attacking the search warrant based on racial bias.

Later, Gonzales and her rep speak with Dekker and Stanton and she says the video is a hack job and she was talking about something she had regretted. It was in the speech that was cut out. She does not know who recorded the speech. She gets upset and she says the case is about the 6 people Hayes killed and asks how they could make this about her. When Dekker threatens with a subpoena,  her rep defends her and says on behalf of the union he will push back – hard. Dekker and Stanton say the claim is that Gonzales tampered with the shredder evidence. She says that is a fantasy. Dekker starts to explain the motion to traverse, and Gonzales barks back that she knows what it is, she has a law degree. She says Hayes’ attorney has to prove that the warrant applications were deliberately false and he can’t. Dekker counters that Spicer can use the video as proof and that without the rest of the speech, the case will be nowhere. Gonzales is irate and says she ran a clean investigation and when she says that if Dekker can’t make it stick, her rep stops her. She storms out, her rep in tow, as Morales walks in. Dekker thinks she is hiding something, and that they need to hear the rest of that speech.

In Superior Court, the recording is played and Spicer argues that for one hour the evidence was in Gonzales’ sole control and that she had also told the detectives to stop investigating two Hispanic clients to focus on Hayes. He says her bigotry is toxic. But Dekker says the video is a hack job. The judge says he is disturbed by what he heard and is granting Spicer’s motion and says the shreds are out and any evidence collected from the search warrant from Hayes’ home are also out.

Afterwards, when Stanton complains about the judge’s ruling, Dekker stops her and tells her they should regroup and focus. He brings up the 22 caliber pistol and that Hayes’ wife mentioned he was at Griffith Park the day before the shooting – by the merry-go-round.

Rex and TJ are at the park at the merry-go-round doing a search. TJ asks Rex about the video with Gonzales and is clearly angry about it. Rex says there is more to her than a 30 second video. The search team calls them over – one of them found a magazine for a 9mm glock and some bullets are left in it.

Later, Stanton, with Spicer and Dekker also there, tells the judge about the gun. Spicer says the statements were made under duress because of the warrant. Dekker says it was an independent source and they would have interviewed the ex wife as a result of the hostage taking anyway. The judge agrees with Dekker and Spicer says he still wants the video of Gonzales entered into evidence. The judge allows the video to stay in.

In Dekker’s office, Dekker is prepping Rex for testifying. Dekker doesn’t understand why Gonzales won’t talk and doesn’t know why she is stonewalling. When Dekker asks if Rex has talked to her, Rex says they are done and he moves to leave the office. But Dekker stops him and says they department will run her out and go after her pension. Rex steps back into the office and closes the door.

At the home of Arleen Gonzales, Dekker tells her that he needs to put her on the stand and explain the video. She says it is all over the papers and her son does not need to be bullied. Dekker thinks her son would be proud of her if she stood up for herself.

In court, Gonzales is on the stand as Dekker replays the video. She says he was addressing a group of police recruits in a private room in a restaurant. She admits those were some of her words. It was a pep talk and she tried to tell them that they had to understand the prejudices in themselves and they were gay and lesbian police recruits. Gonzales was addressing them as a lesbian police officer. Dekker says the video was edited and that Gonzales can give the full details and how he can corroborate it. She goes on to say she was taking about an incident that happened 3 months out of the academy when she racially profiled a black motorist. Later she read a story about a hate crime and the scared look on that person’s face looked just like the man’s face that she arrested. She also didn’t like herself after that. She apologized to the motorist and reported it to her commanding officer. She also shared with the group that even though the force recruits gays and lesbians, she still faced harassment herself. She says she tries not to discriminate now. She did not want to explain the video because she was concerned about the privacy of the recruits at the meeting – some are out and some are not. She is also worried about her son. She has friends that are gay couples whose kids get bullied at school and she just wants to protect him. She realized whether she testified or not, her son would hear them call her names, and she’d rather be called a dyke than a bigot.

Later, the verdict comes in, and Hayes is found guilty on all counts of murder.

In Hardin’s office, Dekker tells Hardin that the full unedited version of the video showed up on the net and it supports what Gonzales said. Morales asks the police chief why Gonzales has not been reinstated. The police chief tells Hardin to explain the facts of life to them, and adds he has no problem with her but he is getting pushback from others in the department, saying she is damaged goods. Hardin says he has a statement that he is going to read that Gonzales is as a fine and dedicated professional that he has ever encountered in his career in law enforcement and he is looking forward to working with her in the future. Dekker and Morales smile. Hardin says he was hoping the chief would be there when he reads it, adding that now that don’t ask don’t tell has been repealed, it’s the least they can do. The chief laughs and says he guesses he has to be there, then. He leaves to call his press office to alert them. Dekker says that is old school Jerry Hardin, and Hardin says he has to show some backbone sometimes.

At RHD, Rex is watching a news story of Hayes testifying at his sentencing, and sees Gonzales return to her office. He welcomes her back. She asked if she missed anything and he says they fixed the coffee machine. She says life is good and smiles at him. He tells her it is good to have her back in the saddle and he walks out. She calls him back in and she asks if it was him that told Dekker. He doesn’t answer and she says it is OK, she is good with it. He walks back out and as Gonzales gets back to work we fade to black.

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ReviveLawandOrderLA said...

I think this is THE best of the 'Law & Order: Los Angeles' crew! Skeet Ulrich was still... bleh to me, especially in that hostage scene. But it (and two other scenes, one with Dekker the other with Gonzales) did make me wonder should Skeet have been a DDA?

But a really good episode, I didn't expect the plot twist! The promo/PR didn't show/say much. You could tell these episodes were closer to the retool!

janethyland said...

Damn! i knew i should have watched this. It sounds good.

janethyland said...

ratings are in for this.
1.3 key demo
6 million total.

Good for a show that is cancelled and not shown last week either.

Its holding its own to the end, which surprises me.I thought people wouldnt bother.

Dorothy Alice said...

From the way TJ reacted initially, I thought the Big Plot Twist would be about him. My mouth fell open (and stayed open for several minutes) when Gonzales revealed she was a lesbian.

Great episode! Gonzales kept her dignity and the respect of her peers. Watching LOLA till the end, and I've pre-ordered the dvd.

janethyland said...

Rahel Ticotin was the best...and this episode seems to prove that.

LOLA came 2nd in its time slot and this time it did beat a repeat of Hawaii50.

Stiff competition on the night too.

cbsplaysdirty said...

This episode was playing in the background as I was reading a book, and initially it didn't grab my attention....but as it went on, I found myself engaged fully in the story. Normally I don't like when the personal lives of the police/lawyers become the main focus of the show, but this was very well written and believable. I kept waiting for a letdown (guess it is just my pessimistic cynical nature) and I really thought that the motivation for Gonzales' stonewalling was going to be weak -- but BAM! they got me. I totally did NOT predict that one and Rachel was on fire in this episode. As far as dialogue and character development, this should have been one of the first few episodes -- not sure if it had been written early on or much later.

NBC made a HUGE mistake in cancelling this show. I will eat my words about the bad writing in this case. If most of the other weaker episodes were written like this one, I would have looked forward to LOLA each week. I didn't even mind Howard in this. I found him watchable when he was interviewing Gonzales with her lawyer and when he was deposing Winters. Regina was the only one missing?

Even the line about "I'd rather be called a Dyke than a Bigot" could have come across as trite, scripted or corny, but Rachel gave it such dignity that it was perfect.

I agree with Dorothy that I originally thought TJ would have had some incident in his past that would come up, so it was a great deviation and red herring just through body language. The only criticism I have was I'm not sure that Rex would have kept trying to talk to the guy on the phone before hostage negotiators got there, but maybe this is realistic -- just seemed a little -- t.v.

I'd give this episode a 9/10. One of my favourites.

Rachel should get an Emmy nod for this one.

cbsplaysdirty said...

Oh, on TVBYTHENUMBERS they have LOLA as having the most number of viewers at 10, ranked second by 18-49. Not bad considering the flawed/non-existent promotion.

janethyland said...

Rachel Ticotin was their secret weapon. they should have used her more. After Christmas she was the only one acting naturally and not labouring the point.The others just seemed to be trying too hard.
The retooling took them off their stride.

janethyland said...

If they had kept going with this set up and episodes like these they would have got a season 2 out of NBC.