Thursday, September 22, 2011
Law & Order SVU “Scorched Earth” Recap & Review
The premiere of season 13 of Law & Order was welcome for some (finally, new episodes with added cast members!) and unwelcome for others (no Chris Meloni). Despite being prepared for change, it is difficult not to look at the first episode with an overly critical eye. But don’t despair – I thought "Scorched Earth" was excellent.
Using a familiar, very high profile ripped from the headlines story (the episode was inspired by the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case), it helped to draw attention to the new dynamic with the SVU squad, in addition to the changes in the DA’s office. It’s clear the person most affected by Stabler not returning to his job is Olivia Benson. Mariska did a superb job in portraying Benson as being slightly off-kilter from the change and then letting her sadness all out at the end. It is clear that despite that Elliot is alive and well, Benson is grieving for the loss of her closest work partner and a friend.
It’s wonderful to have the feel of the ensemble cast back with the series, similar to what it had in the early years. Cragen appears to have re-established himself as boss of SVU, rather than letting the inmates run the asylum has had happened in the last few seasons. (The only exception is his order not to do the perp walk, which Benson and Fin ignore and do anyway.)
Fin also seems to have mellowed, and may serve as a stabilizing force as the team gets accustomed to new additions to their team. And it’s great to have Munch back in the swing of things. The jury is out right now with me on the new Detective Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish). I was surprised that her stunt in getting Roberto Distasio to talk didn’t come back to bite her (especially since she clearly doesn’t undertand what real Italian food is!). It’s always difficult for a new cast member to come in to an established series and be accepted right away so I’m going to refrain giving a full opinion on Giddish for another episode or two.
Law & Order fans are probably apoplectic that there is a new DA. While we can’t expect Jack McCoy to be DA forever, I would certainly love to know the fate of this beloved character. It seems that Mike Cutter as SVU Bureau Chief will be a different man than Mike Cutter the EADA, and I think I’m going to enjoy seeing him every now and then. Having the legal side of the show back made this episode a winner for me.
I know there is some displeasure over Tamara Tunie being bumped to guest star status. In all honesty, since she previously didn’t appear in every episode or when she did, she didn’t have much screen time, this doesn’t upset me. I'm just glad she's still on the show.
A plus was what seemed to be a reduction in the annoying background music that, in the last few seasons, seemed to play over every scene. I liked the more infrequent use of it here – I don’t need constant music to tell me when a dramatic moment is occurring. The story itself was well done and the dialog felt comfortable and believable. The episodes raises the question: does money and power get someone off the hook in the American justice system? It seems in this case it did, but it also brings forward how important a person’s credibility – their words and actions – can be their own worst enemy.
This is a great start to the new season, and I can only hope that fans will stick by the series.
Here is the recap:
Mariska Hargitay – Detective Olivia Benson
Ice-T – Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola
Richard Belzer – Sergeant John Munch
Dann Florek – Captain Don Cragen
Stephanie March - ADA Alex Cabot
Linus Roache – Bureau Chief Michael Cutter
Kelli Giddish - Detective Amanda Rollins
Tamara Tunie – Dr. Melinda Warner
Franco Nero - Roberto Distasio
Mariam - Anika Noni Rose
Jenna Stern – Judge Elana Barth
John Earl Jelks – Mr. Achok
Ron Rifkin - Attorney Marvin Exley
Alexander Blaise - Pietro Fedeli
As Italian diplomat Roberto Distasio leaves his hotel room at the Park Milano, a maid, Mariam Deng, stumbles out of a nearby room. Later, Roberto is at lunch with family, hoping for his grandchild to be a boy. Meanwhile, hotel management calls the police.
At SVU, Captain Don Cragen sends Munch and Fin to the hotel to check out the report of a maid being assaulted in the presidential suite. Benson is just arriving and Cragen apologizes for her weekend but send her to Bellevue to get a preliminary report on the victim. He tells them that the suspect is Roberto Distasio who is the favorite to be Italy’s next prime minister.
Roberto is in his chauffeur driven car, looking for his laptop which he last saw at the hotel. He seems in a frantic rush and decides to call the hotel to check for it rather than risk missing his flight.
Munch, at the hotel, phones Cragen to tell him that Roberto checked out over an hour ago. Fin says security has him on the phone now calling about his laptop he left behind, and that Roberto is on the way to JFK. Cragen is worried if Roberto gets on the plan he is gone for good so he tells them to stall him and he will call Cutter. As Cragen rushes out, Detective Amanda Rollins is coming in. He tells her she picked a hell of day to come, but she tells him she is ready to work now.
At the hospital, Mariam explains to Benson what happened when Roberto attacked her. She said when he grabbed her she scratched him and he pushed her down right outside the bedroom. He forced her into oral sex and he laughed when she spit it out, saying this is the difference between like and love. Benson asks her where she spit it out.
Back at the hotel room with a forensics team and ME Warner, Rollins finds what looks like blood. When Warner asks for a photo of it, Rollins puts down a coin for scale. Meanwhile, Benson makes a call saying that Mariam spit it out in the bathroom.
On the airplane waiting to depart, Roberto oogles the flight attendant. Munch and Fin race to the airport with lights flashing and siren blaring. Back at the hotel, Warner looks at the fluid sample and tells Cragen to get ready to get happy.
Munch and Fin enter the plane and when Fin addresses Roberto, he thinks they brought his laptop. Munch tells Roberto he is under arrest, and Fin asks, “Capisce?”
Back at the SVU precinct, Roberto is placed in the interview room, and Munch tells Cragen that Roberto is claiming diplomatic immunity based on the fact that he is head of the Global Economic Trust. Fin says it is too bad Stabler is still out, he would have loved to crack this guy. Cragen says Benson is still taking the maid’s statement and they will talk to Roberto when they know what they are looking for. But defense attorney Marvin Exley arrives to talk with Roberto.
Exley enters the interview room and Roberto tells him he trusts no one and that Berlusconi will do anything to stop him. He knows the others are observing him through the mirrored glass.
ADA Alex Cabot arrives at SVU and sees Exley in the interview room before Exley closes the blinds to block the view. The SVU team welcomes her back to the “concrete jungle” and Fin asks her how it was the Congo. She replies to pray for them. She comments that this is another DSK, and Munch says it is open season on hotel maids. Cragen adds that the maid made an immediate outcry and her story has been consistent. Rollins adds they found a mixture of semen and saliva at the scene. Cabot says this is enough to hold him, for now.
Back at the hospital., Benson speaks to Miriam about her family. Mariam says she was told the man is rich and important. Benson assures her that regardless of who he thinks he is, he is going to jail.
Back at SVU in Cragen’s office, they speak with Pietro Fedeli, the Italian counsel, who says that Roberto was playing golf with the President that afternoon. SVU Bureau Chief Michael Cutter enters the room and comments this is a delicate situation. Fedeli calls it a farce, saying Roberto has diplomatic immunity. Cabot says he has to take that up with the State Department, and if he has immunity, it is against prosecution, not arrest. Cutter assures Fedeli that Roberto is being afforded the rights of any other suspect. Fedeli retorts he is just not any suspect, asking why else has there been this rush to judgment. Cutter tells him the NYPD did their jobs and now his office must do theirs. When Fedeli leaves, Cutter asks Cragen to tell him he knows what he is doing.
Benson arrives at SVU with Miriam, and Benson stops cold, seeing everyone stopping and looking at her. But Miriam thinks everyone is staring at her. Benson quickly has Miriam take a seat to wait for the lineup. Rollins introduces herself to Benson, who knows she is a transfer from Dallas, but Rollins corrects her that it was from Atlanta. She asks Benson if she likes Distasio for this, and Benson pauses and says he was there. Rollins goes on to say she is really happy to be here and that she has studied her cases and used some of what Benson did on the Brown case - the infant homicide. Benson seems distracted and says she hasn’t briefed the captain yet.
Cragen, meanwhile, tells Cutter and Cabot that Roberto charged his hotel to his personal account and not to the GET. Cabot says “bye bye immunity” but Cutter cautions that is State’s call. Benson enters and tells them the victim’s statement is solid and the exam backs her up. Cutter says they need an ID, and Cragen says his guys are on Park Avenue trying to corral 5 men who match Distasio. Benson looks out into the squad room at Stabler’s desk, the chair empty. Benson tells them that the maid is a hard working single mother with no arrests, and she immigrated here 3 years ago from the Sudan for political asylum. Cutter tells her to go over the past with a fine-tooth comb. Benson leaves the room and Cutter gets a call, saying it is Hillary’s people.
After they leave, Cabot tells Cragen she heard about the shooting and asks if Stabler is coming back. Cragen says it is up to Stabler.
The line up takes place, and Miriam quickly picks Roberto out of the line up.
As Benson fingerprints Roberto, he asks if he is now released, and she replies that he’s going to the hospital. Fin tells him it is a procedure, and Roberto comments “on the word of a maid.” Fin slams the cell door shut and tells Roberto that his grandmother was a maid.
Cragen is talking to everyone in the squad room, saying it was a tough couple months and there is a bulls-eye on SVU from the top down and they are all under the microscope. They are going to work the case by the book like their jobs depended on it. Benson says that the DA’s office will put up the victim and her kids at a hotel to keep her away from the circus. Cragen says Roberto has a PR team that will work to dirty her. When Fin says Romeo is ready for his forensic exam, Cragen cautions him not to let he personal feelings get in the way, and tells him and Benson to take him out a side door, no cameras and no perp walk. Fin assures him they are professionals.
But, as the doors open up, the media is waiting and Roberto leaves the area under a barrage of camera flashes. Roberto comments he thought people in America were innocent until proven guilty. Fin replies that it is freedom of the press.
ME Warner collects samples from Roberto while Fin watches. Roberto comments they are taking care to make sure the evidence is not corrupted but they can’t say that about the whole process. He says they will find no evidence of sex, he’s had a vasectomy. Warner reminds him DNA is everywhere, then tells him to drop his pants.
Back at SVU, Rollins tells Munch she worked up a timeline from the maid’s key card and wonders why Roberto would throw it all away in less than 20 minutes. Munch says that absolute power corrupts absolutely. She asks if anyone has tried to “small talk” Roberto. Munch says she has been oblivious to his charms.
Rollins enters the holding cell to bring Roberto some Italian (it's really Italian-American) food. She tries her small talk with him and to try to charm him. Rollins makes a comment about a woman’s weakness, saying a woman’s fantasy is that she has relinquished something and that is her power. He adds that the parry holds as much power as the thrust. Rollins tells him he has a lot more to lose than the maid does. He gives her an Italian saying which translates to “man has facts, woman has words.” Rollins says they have her words, they would like to hear his facts. He says he is sorry but thanks her for the meal. She says they will talk later, and he tells her later he will be free and she will be out of a job.
At arraignment court, Roberto pleads not guilty, while Cabot asks for remand as Roberto attempted to flee the country. The judge remands him to Rikers.
Later, Benson and Cabot are in the hotel room with Miriam and her kids. She worries about Roberto’s defense team and Cabot says they will try to find out everything about her. Benson suggests for the officer to take Miriam’s kids to the snack machine. As they leave, Cabot tells Miriam the defense will say Miriam did this for money, and she denies it. Benson and Cabot press her to see if she left anything out of the story but Miriam insists she was raped and worries he will find her and do anything he wants to her, just like the soldiers. She explains the killings in Sudan and said he was told there would be no fighting in America.
Benson returns to SVU to see a group from IAB leaving Cragen’s office. She asks him what they want, and then says that was a good shooting and that Elliot was cleared. Cragen says on that one, but now Internal Affairs wants to go over his entire jacket. Benson says to let them, there’s nothing to find. Cragen says it was his sixth shooting and the whole squad is on notice. Benson is upset that Stabler is the sacrificial lamb and asks if he is just going to give him up. He says she knows him better than that; Stabler is like a son to him and he has been pushing as hard as he cans but does not know how this is going to shake out. He adds that if Elliot wants to keep his job, he will have to submit to a psych evaluation and anger management, a lot of hoops. Benson says he will tell them to go to hell. She storms out of Cragen’s office and passes Munch – Cragen tells him, “Don’t ask.” Munch says Cragen looks like he could use more bad news, and tells him that Roberto just won an appellate court review of his bail. Cragen dryly replies, “Great.”
At Sutton Place Townhouse, Exley is having a press conference about Roberto’s release on bail and that once the DA’s office becomes aware of the witnesses credibility issues, they will drop the charges. His wife is there and she adds she never doubted her husband and that he has many enemies. Roberto arrives and steps out of the squad car and walks past the screaming crowd.
Elsewhere, Benson is in a bar calling Stabler on the phone, leaving a message. Munch, Fin, and Rollins meet up with her. As Munch and Rollins get drinks, Benson asks Fin what’s Rollins' story, adding she must have some hooks to transfer from Atlanta. Fin says she is cool. Benson asks if he has talked to Elliot and he says no. Cabot arrives and reports that the DNA came back and it is a match for Distasio and the victim. Munch says that puts him in the room, but Rollins adds that in Roberto’s world, sex is power and whatever happened in that room he does not see it as rape. Fin comments to Benson that Elliot probably does not want her to talk him out of it. She thinks he is not going to quit, but Fin thinks because he shot a teenage girl, he may not want to put his gun on again. Cutter enters and shows them the front page of the Ledger, with the headline “A Maid’s Tale” and says he thought they vetted their witness, adding she is in it for the money. Cabot says not a chance, and Fin says the Ledger will print anything. But Cutter informs them they have her on tape, another maid from the hotel sold her out.
At the DA’s office, Cutter and Cabot play the tape back for Miriam where she says he wants to take millions from him. Cutter tells them her co-worker taped her and sold it to the newspaper. She says she has a right to make him pay, he is rich. Cabot says they defense can now say this is a shakedown, and Cutter adds that Miriam promised Cabot this was not about money. He asks if she hired a lawyer and she slightly nods yes.
Outside the courthouse, Benson is waiting for Cabot and Cutter and asks them if they think Miriam is angling for a payday. Cutter advises that Miriam says no but Exley’s team will claim extortion. Cabot reminds them that even on the tape, her story of the rape is consistent all the way through. Cutter says these cases are about perception, not reality and she is compromised. Benson thinks they are digging up everything they can on her, and asks what about him?
Back at SVU, Benson is on the phone speaking in Italian. She tells Cragen it was another GET official that will not go on record. Rollins adds that 2 months ago in Buenos Aires a hotel maid, Isabel Cortezar, told her boss that Distasio pushed her onto the bed and started to attack her and he only stopped when she screamed. Rollins has not reached her yet and neither have they. Cragen tells her to stay on it. Benson puts in a call to Cabot but tells Rollins good work.
At the pre-trial hearing, Exley is making a motion to suppress this information as it is prejudicial. Cabot argues it is consistent with Roberto’s M.O. and they are making arrangements to fly in Cortezar. Judge Barth will allow her testimony if she is produced. Exley says he has notarized police reports from the south Sudan saying that Miriam was convicted of prostitution in her home country. Roberto grins. Cabot says this is inflammatory and even if this is legitimate, it is in violation of the rape shield. Exley says the rape shield has an exception if the claimant has been convicted in the last three years.
Back at the hotel, Benson asks Miriam why she lied to her. Miriam says she is not a prostitute, she was gang raped. She went to the police and they called her a whore, saying she broke sharia law and they will stone her dead in front of her children. Benson ask if anyone can confirm the story, and Miriam says it is not a story it is why she came here.
At Cutter’s office, Benson walks in as Cabot is telling him the maid from Buenos Aires has moved to a gated community and won’t return their calls. Benson informs them that Marian insists she is telling the truth and that she was a victim of sharia law. Cutter replies that is does not matter now, he does not see a win here. But Cabot disagrees, she thinks when the jury hears her story they will come back guilty on all counts. Benson adds Miriam is heartbreaking but that does not mean she is telling the truth. Cabot is shocked at that comment. Cabot says she believes her, she heard thousands of stories just like hers when she was in Africa. Benson moves to answer, but Cutter says it is not getting that far. The new DA wants to drop the charges. Cabot’s mouth is agape. But then she adds that all she heard was Mike Cutter was a crusader for justice, and asks, “What happened to you?” He replies if they press a case they can’t win, they are telling the next victim to stay silent. Cabot counters if they let him walk, they send a message to the rest of the world that in New York, the law doesn’t apply to the rich and the powerful. She stresses they are here to even the scales, not cut and run. She moves to leave.
Outside the courthouse, Exley is talking to the press while Benson leads Miriam into the courthouse covered in a white sheet. Meanwhile, Roberto and his wife leave their home, also with press coverage. Cutter and Cabot also arrive at the courthouse as the press swarms the area.
In superior court, Miriam is on the stand explaining the attack, and insists she was never paid for sex. She explains the conviction for prostitution in Sudan and talks about her gang rape.
Under cross examination by Exley, he questions her on the gang rape and her request for political asylum. She has to say that she did not admit to the conviction on her application. She insists she is not lying about the rape. Exley sarcastically comments they will just have to take her word for it.
Back at SVU, Fin talks to Benson about the trial. Benson says Miriam brought it on herself by lying repeatedly. Fin says she did what she had to do to get asylum. Benson is skeptical about her testimony on the gang rape, saying it is one thing to be consistent but another to quote verbatim. Fin seems stunned, saying everybody is ripping into her. He asks what is up with her, asking her to tell him she doesn’t think Roberto is good for it. She looks at him, does not answer, and walks off.
Back in court, Roberto is testifying saying he obliged Miriam and afterwards she asked for money. He said he is not accustomed to paying and she became upset, saying she knows how he is. He said she asked for $10,000 and unless he gave it to her, she would say he raped her. He told her many have tried to blackmail him and this will not stand.
Under cross examination by Cabot, Roberto recounts what happened. Mariam came in and he said he would dress in the other room, but she offered himself to him. Cabot asks didn’t he think it was odd she offered herself to him so abruptly. He did not, saying women see power and find it attractive. When Cabot says that we like it rough, Exley objects and the judge sustains it. Cabot brings up evidence about Miriam’s injuries and asks if he thinks is from normal sex. Roberto says the dance is different every time. Cabot also brings up the photograph in evidence of the scratch on Roberto’s neck asking if Miriam scratched him, asking if he got those injuries from her fighting him off. He replies he knew she did not want him to stop, that a man knows. He admits she did not tell him that but it is in a woman’s eyes, no matter what the words say. Cabot challenges, asking even if the word is no and that she is fighting him? She mentions him fleeing the room and what he saw in her eyes, and he is silent. Exley gets news that they have another witness, and Cutter gives a look of surprise to Cabot.
In chambers, Cutter, Cabot and Exley argue the witness with the judge. Cutter saying it circumvents proper discover rules. Exley says he is coming from the Sudan, and Cabot counters Exley had time to fly him in but not time to inform them. Exley says he is informing them now and they can take all the time to vet him. Judge Barth allows it.
Back in court, Mr. Achok is testifying about helping Mariam fill out her asylum applications, saying that the best way to get into the U.S. is to be raped and the Americans cry so hard when they hear it and open their doors wide. He said she told her one soldier had raped her and he told her no, one dozen soldiers is better. He adds they practiced for the interview and she almost made him cry. He said the gang rape was a lie.
Cabot cross examines him about him couching people to lie, and asks how much the defense paid him to testify. She says he was paid nothing. She asked if that is what they couched him to lie, and Exley protests so she withdraws the question.
Afterwards, in the hallway, Cabot reminds Benson that all rape victims lie about something. Benson said Mariam picked the wrong thing to lie about. There are too many lies and too much damaged control. Benson admits that she does believe something bad happened in that room. Cabot says that is all she needs to hear.
In Superior Court in summation, Exley brings out Miriam’s’ repeated lies and that Distasio was an opportunity. Cabot counters that Miriam is less than perfect, but did to get into the country. She says it took courage to confront the man who raped her and that money and power do not tilt the scales of justice. Cabot asks the jury to see Miriam gets justice.
At the DA’s office conference room, Benson and Miriam wait for the jury to come back. Miriam is worried they believe Achok. She says any lie she told was to give her sons a better life but never lied about what he did to her. Cabot enters and tells them the jury is back.
In court, it is revealed that the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict on the rape. On the charge of assault, they find Roberto not guilty. On the charge of unlawful imprisonment, they find him guilty. Roberto is upset and as they cuff him and take him away, he says this is a farce.
Back at SVU, Benson tells Rollins they handed the jury a mess and they split the baby. Rollins says he will appeal, saying the perp walk was prejudicial. Benson says she will take the hit but at least he will do a year in Rikers with the lesser charge. Fin pipes in saying that you have to come over on the Mayflower to make a rape charge stick. Munch asks how she took it, and Benson says hard. Cragen calls Benson onto his office, and Munch says, “Nice working with you.”
In Cragen’s office, Benson tells him she does not think Miriam was lying about being raped. Cragen asks her to shut the door. He tells her Elliot put his papers in – Benson looks stunned – and Cragen adds there is nothing he can do. She nods her head, and says he’s earned it. Cragen adds, “And then some.” He asks if she wants to talk, and she seems on the verge of crying, saying no. He asks if she want to take a day, but she says she is fine, the tears starting to come. Cragen tells her he is sorry. She nods her head and walks out. She walks back into the squad room and Fin asks if she is OK, and she replies yes. Munch gets off the phone, saying they have a 10-34 on Waverly. Munch looks at Olivia and then tells Fin to take Rollins. But Benson says she will go, just give her five and they will roll.
Benson walks into the interrogation room and breaks down and sobs as we fade to black.
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