All photos from NBCUniversal
Law & Order LA “Van Nuys” was an interesting episode that featured the softer side of Detective “TJ” Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll) when he seems smitten with an adult film star who was targeted for murder. Corey Stoll is one of the bright spots of Law & Order LA and this episode only made me more sad that the show has been canceled. The legal aspect of the episode was also interesting; having both DDA Morales (Alfred Molina) and Dekker (Terrence Howard) is something the series should have done more often. Alfred Molina is clearly a commanding presence and makes even the dullest legal scene come to life. I find myself wondering - as I have with the last few episodes – what they thought was so wrong with this episode that they couldn’t air it while the show was being revamped.
Bob Saget was perfect as the creepy adult film producer Adam Brennan who set up a mass murder to cover up that one of his stars contacted HIV. I could have done without the corny ending which attempted to elicit sympathy for adult films actors. Yes, they are real people who have lives much like normal people. But one has to wonder if having repeated unprotected sex with several partners is something most normal people would do, especially in this day and age of numerous sexually transmitted viruses like HIV. To me, it’s like working on a skyscraper without having a safety harness and tether - one never knows when a slip may occur. While I am not saying Erin deserved what she got, she certainly is not blameless in catching HIV and spreading it to others in her profession.
Here is the recap:
At a birthday party with some girls hired as party guests, one of the girls standing outside sees partygoers being beaten and she runs off. Later, Detectives Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) and “TJ” Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll) are at the scene and hear that the homeowners, David and Chloe Schwab and three party guests were beaten to death. The scene is gruesome. Someone left a rubber grip – it looks like a professional hit. The jewelry and cash is not taken but they may have been after coke.
Lt. Arleen Gonzales (Rachel Ticotin) and arrives, and reporters are on the scene, and she tells the detectives the killings already have a name – the Appian Way murders. TJ tells her the killers may have been after a stash of coke in the bedroom, a brick, maybe more. The homeowners were in the movie business, Jeff and Betty Reed had a tropical fish store. The girl found by the pool, Lacy Von, has a conviction for cocaine possession and she had two joints and $800 in her purse. Gonzales tells them to check on the guest with the drug conviction.
At the home of Lacy Von, the detectives arrive to find the home in complete disarray. It seems Lacy had a roommate and TJ notices a jacket at the party that matches one found in a photo in the home. They think she is a witness and she got away. She also appears to match a girl in a photo for a adult themed DVD they found in the room. Rex thinks they girls were the paid entertainment.
At Velour Pictures, the detectives speak with Adam Brennan (Bob Saget) to try to find the other girl, Sasha Janes. They find her real name is Erin Gradin and she has been under contract for a year with Velour Pictures.
Back at RHD, the detectives tells Gonzales that Erin has been paying off a mortgage at a residential property in Bakersfield and she last made an ATM withdrawal the day before at 6 by a Dennys on the 5 which is on the way to Bakersfield.
At the home of Elizabeth and Phil Gradin, her parents, they tell the detectives they don’t know where Erin is but she called the day before saying she was going to take a break from work – she is a jewelry designer. She has been helping to pay their mortgage since they were both laid off. Rex notices a purse and Phil says that she is a good daughter. Rex talks loudly saying that he is sure he would not want to put them in danger. TJ explains the possible danger from the people she is running from. She comes out of a room and she asks if they will protect her family.
Erin (Addison Timlin) explains she and Lacy were paid to be there and for photos, nothing dirty. His wife knew her friend Jackie from their martial arts class. She was by the pool when they were called in by Jackie’s wife and Lacy went in but she stayed by the pool. She say Lacy stumbled out covered in blood and Erin ran. She did not know there were drugs there, and she said Lacy asked to light up a joint and they told her not to. Jackie had to leave early and he was the one who got them the job. He left just before the cake and he keeps calling her but she has not called him back. She shows them a video left on her friend’s face page. It’s Jackie begging her to call him. Rex asks her to call Jackie from her parent’s land line. She is worried about that but TJ tells her to trust them. She starts dialing.
Later, the detective wait and see a black car pull up to the house. They get their guns ready as two men approach the house, also with guns. The men a distracted by a raccoon in the garbage can and the detectives, along with police, jump out at them with guns drawn. The 2 men drop their guns.
At arraignment, DDA Evelyn Price (Regina Hall) asks for bail of $1 million each for the 2 men and states they are members of the Armenian Power gang and face sentencing under 3 strikes. Their attorney Brandon Able (Rob Brownstein) tries to counter it but the judge agrees with Price. Afterwards, Price tells Able there are no deals, she wants to see the jury piss themselves when they hear his “lost in Bakersfield” story. She comments that the man’s boss Mike Sarkissian (Michael Peter Bolus) must be worried otherwise why would he be there? She turns to Sarkissian who tells Able not to waste his time talking to the help. When they walk off, the defectives approach and Price asks them how a nice couple like the Schwabs got involved with those guys. They think Jackie double crossed them and set them up for a rip-off. She says they need to tie them to Appian way and they have to find Jackie.
At the Los Angeles Plaza Hotel, the detectives speak with Erin to try to find Jackie. He had a boyfriend in Palm Springs named Larry. When Rex goes off to make a call. TJ tries to calm Erin. Rex watches and interrupts just as TJ is making a move to touch her. He tells them Jackie spoke on his cell to a Larry Hauser in Palm Springs. As TJ walks away, Rex gives him a hard glare and then tells him to drive.
At the home of Larry Hauser, he says he does not know where Jackie is. He seems annoyed with Jackie, saying he took a shuttle down from LA a few weeks ago and crashed there. On Sunday, Jackie asked to borrow his car to run an errand and was gone three hours and thought Jackie found another “daddy.” He tracked the GPS to some swank address in Palm Desert where there are tennis courts.
They get to the house to find some work being done on it. There was a break in at the home two weeks ago on a Sunday. The detectives head to the local police who tell them the security alarm went off and the home was a shambles and someone defecated on the master bed. The homeowner, Mrs. Eileen Gold did not want to make a report and her son – Michael Sarkissian - showed up with a lawyer and threatened to sue if the officers didn’t leave. Rex asks them to put out a BOLO on Jackie Lee and they need a warrant on the Gold house for fingerprints, drug dogs, the works. Rex thinks they had this all backwards – that Sarkissian had the drugs stashed at his house and Jackie ripped them off and Jackie saved his skin by giving up his accomplices. They soon find that Jackie Lee is already in the Palm Desert system for 3 drunk and disorderly arrests and was last picked up threatening patrons at a nightclub with a Samurai sword. Larry bailed him out the first two times but the third time by an Adam Brennan of Velour Pictures.
They go back to Adam who said Jackie is his actor. He says Jackie called him yesterday and said people were after him and he thought he was just being paranoid. He told him he could crash at one of the sets he was not using.
The detectives go to the set and find Jackie there, dead.
Later, they explain this to Price and DDA Ricardo Morales (Alfred Molina) who is not happy that the Armenians beat them to him. The found slugs at Sarkissian’s mother’s house which match the slugs found in Jackie. But no gun was recovered and they have nothing to tie them to the Schwabs. Morales says now they have motive, and that and the slugs can get them an arrest warrant for Sarkissian.
Later, the detectives watch the news coverage of their arrest of Sarkissian with Erin. She asks if she can go home but Rex tells her it depends on the DA. As Rex gets his jacket, TJ tells Erin she does not sound so scared anymore. She asks to see her parent and TK says they can arrange it. He asks if there is anything else, and she replies no but adds he has been great. She tells him his job must make it hard to sleep and when TK says yes, sometimes, Rex interrupts him again to ask if TJ is ready, adding a glare. TJ says they will check out her parents and tells her to take care of herself.
In the car, Rex shakes his head and says he is all for hand holding a witness but cautions TJ to take it easy. He adds that he knows that look and wonders what TJ has in mind for this girl. He says maybe after the trial he will take her out for dinner. Rex asks if he can really wait that long. TJ gets impatient and says screw the traffic and turns on the lights and sirens but Rex turns them off. Rex thinks Erin could be in on it and they begin to argue about Erin and TJ accuses Rex of being jealous. Rex warns TJ not to burn this case.
DA Jerry Hardin (Peter Coyote) is having a press conference about Sarkissian’s arrest while Rex, TJ, Price and Morales watch on TV. Morales says every link in the evidentiary chain must be unassailable and asks where they are weak. It is the lack of connections to the Schwabs’. Morales tells them to put Sarkissian there before the hearing.
Back at RHD, the detectives go over what they have. They found a charge card charge for Chloe Schwab for an ER and wonder if she was injured during the break in.
At Angel of Mercy Hospital, they find she came in for what Chloe said was a kitchen accident. Chloe also asked for a latex glove as she was worried about getting salt in the wound. She said she was going sailing.
Later, Morales and Price turn over the information to Able and Sarkissian that the Schwabs were in fact sailing at the time of the Palm Springs robbery. Morales reminds them that this does not mean they were not involved as there was coke at the Schwab residence. Hall also adds they still have the case for the death of Jackie Lee. The defense said the gun in question was stolen during the break in at the Palm Springs house and was reported to the insurance company. When Morales makes a crack about the coke not being reported to insurance, Able and Sarkissian get up to leave and Able tells Morales he will never get past the prelim. After they leave, Price tells Morales that one plus one must equal two, but Morales thinks not if Jackie wanted it to look like they stole the coke. He wonders about the girls Jackie arranged for the party.
Erin is in the conference room with Morales, Rex and TJ, and she tells them that she just got laid off and Jackie invited her but she asked Lacy to come. Morales asks Erin if she can think of a reason why Jackie would want her killed, and she says no. She looks at TJ and comments he said it was bad luck she was at that party, and he sheepishly says maybe it wasn’t. She says she and Jackie don’t even know each other well. She does not do drugs and mentions and ex-boyfriend Joe who did and she last spoke with him a few weeks ago. He called and said he hoped she was happy but his voice was mean.
The detectives speak with Joe about him being an IV drug user. He said he did not try to kill her, and says he hardly leaves his apartment. TJ sees meds there that indicate Joe may have AIDS and he confronts Joe about it and asks if Erin knows. When TJ literally gets in Joe’s face about it, he tells them to leave. Rex pulls TK back.
Later, Rex explains this new development to Gonzales and TJ said the same day Joe called Erin, Joe also called the head of Velour Pictures, Adam Brennan. She got laid off. Porn actors jet HIV tests monthly and if Erin tested positive the health department get alerted and the porn industry shuts down. If Brennan though Erin had AIDS he would not want her tested and as his business is having financial problems, he can’t take another shutdown. The only way to avoid the test is being dead. They think the drug hit was a cover for killing Erin. Gonzales tells them before they talk to Erin and the DA to find out what Brennan knew and when he knew it
The detectives check with someone on the movie production staff and find the last time Erin was tested was 21 days ago and she was negative and is due to be tested again in 9 days. She was laid off as Brennan wanted to “go in another direction.” She told Brennan that Erin tested negative. He had her bag up her props – the sex toys used in her movies – and send them to his office.
Later, the detectives tell Morales that Brennan could have used the props to get body fluids to test Erin without her knowledge and without the department of health finding out. Once she tested positive he had to get rid of her so he set up the killing to make it looks like Erin was collateral damage. Morales says the first step to proving it is to confirm that the intended victim is HIV positive. Rex races out and TJ pauses then tells them the intended victim has a name.
Later, the detectives tell Erin of their theory and she admits she had unprotected sex. She said she got lonely, and TJ tells her no one is blaming her. He adds they will take care of Brennan. She cries and says they didn’t always use condoms on set and is upset she could have infected others. Rex says they will have her tested. She looks at TJ and says she was ready not to be scared and angry and after the trial her real life would start.
Back at his desk, TJ gets a call and seems upset at what the caller tells him and he walks off. Later, Price tells Morales that Erin tested positive. Morales says now they go after Brennan.
Jerry Hardin, looking at the newspaper headline about Brennan’s arrest, tells Morales he isn’t thrilled that he went on camera to swear he was going to take down the Armenians. Hardin things Brennan’s involvement can help the case against the Sarkissian’s, but this angers Morales who says Brennan should be the priority as he is legally and morally culpable. Hardin says he promised Sarkissian’s head on a platter and tells Morales to make a deal with Brennan. Morales walks out of the office with Price and tells her to see if Joe Dekker is around.
Later, Morales and Price, along with DDA Joe Dekker (Terrence Howard) speak with Brennan and his attorney (Meredith Scott Lynn) to outline their theory. Brennan tells them his help will cost them and asks if they will play ball, Morales says they will and says that is why Dekker is there. Dekker has the Sarkissian trial and says Brennan would be a witness for that trial. Brennan’s attorney says Brennan wants immunity on all Appian Way murders and he adds for Jackie Lee. Dekker agrees. Brennan says the jury will eat it up, he’s a producer and that’s what he does, he manipulates idiots and between Sarkissian and Jackie Lee it did not take much. He also says he wants protective custody, and not in some dump, asking for the Four Seasons. Dekker grudgingly agrees.
In court, Brennan testifies at the Sarkissian trial and about Jackie Lee and the coke and the robbery. He also told him to relieve himself on Sarkissian’s bed to make it look personal and Jackie would pin it on some friend he knew from martial arts. He admits he set it into motion to get rid of Erin and make it look like a drug murder. He tells them about the plan for Jackie to leave the door open and to take the drugs and kill everyone. He said he knew Sarkissian was involved because he listened to calls between Jackie and Sarkissian. Dekker presents the phone records to support that Brennan was listening to the calls.
Under cross examination, the defense attorney gets on Brennan about his business, but he says he is just providing a service. The defense says the deal with Dekker for immunity gave him to lie. Dekker redirects and Brennan says that the deal was made out of fear, he says Dekker had no case against him. Dekker brings up that Brennan is afraid of Sarkissian and Brennan admits that is true and that he will be going into witness protection.
Later, Dekker tells Morales that Sarkissian was guilty on all counts and now the ball is in Morales’ hands. Morales tells Price they will go break the news to Brennan.
At the Four Seasons hotel, Morales and Price tell Brennan that Sarkissian was guilty. Morales then has TJ and Rex arrest Brennan as Price tells them they have a warrant for his arrest for 12 felony counts of aiding and abetting unprotected sex with an HIV carrier. Morales said Brennan didn’t tell Erin of her HIV status and let her work unprotected on a set for 12 hours and that is criminal transmission of the HIV virus. As the detectives take Brennan off, Price tells Morales that she is all for creative prosecution but no one who wasn’t actually having sex has ever been convicted of criminal transmission. Morales said so they get to work and the next step is getting Erin’s testimony.
Morales and Price, with TJ present, try to convince Erin to testify. She admits she has not told her parents what she does and then they will know. When TJ seems to want to defend her stance, Morales asks to see him outside. TJ tells Morales he is bullying her, but Morales says he invited TJ there because he has a rapport with her, not to sandbag his case. TJ thinks they are just as bad as Brennan, but Morales says they are doing the right thing. Meanwhile, Erin tells Price that she wants Brennan to go to jail but Price says it is her decision. Morales tells TJ he does not know what is going on with TK and that witness, and TJ says she is not a witness, she is a person and deserves to be treated that way. Price opens the conference room door and Erin steps out and says it is OK, she knows this is not just about her.
In court, Erin testifies about doing adult films and also about not always using condoms because Brennan wanted it. She trusted him. Morales mentions Joe’s testimony about telling Brennan about his HIV status, and Erin says Brennan never told her. She adds she was laid off from the film 3 days later. She had sex with four people and group scenes with 8 others in that time and did not use condoms. Had she known, she would have stopped doing sex scene and told her partners. Under cross examination, Erin admits she got sex from a boyfriend, not at the pictures, and that she was not forced to have sex for the films, and she also got more money for more acts. She said she would have preferred to use condoms and did not know Joe was an addict when she had sex. She has to admit that contracting HIV was her fault. The defense attorney says that her performing partners assumed the risk of having sex with a person like her, and this comment upsets Erin. She says what the attorney is doing is wrong, she and Brennan are trying to make her look worthless. She said Brennan knew she was sick and tried to kill her so he could keep making money. She said he used her and she is not worthless or trash, she is a person and she deserves to be treated like one.
Afterwards, the defense and Morales argue about the HIV tests and Brennan testing her secretly and that he wanted to protect his business. Morales says these adult actors work legally and pay their rents, they feed their children, and every life has dignity and is worthy of protection. The judge agrees that the people have met their proof and Brennan will be help for trial. TJ looks at Erin and smiles and she seems happy. The defense attorney suggests to Morales that they talk.
Outside the courtroom, Erin thanks her parents for coming. Morales tells them Brennan took a plea and will serve just under 20 years. Her parents say they will take her home to Bakersfield. She comments to them that she will meet them in a minute and she turns to TJ. He asks if she is ready for her new life. She comments “ready or not, right?” He says Bakersfield isn’t such a long drive. She says it is and she will call him and let him know how she is. As she walks off, Rex approaches TJ and as they watch Erin leave, Rex says, “Let’s get outta here.” As they walk away, we fade to black.
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