Thursday, November 10, 2011
Law & Order SVU “Russian Brides” Recap & Review
Law & Order SVU “Russian Brides” was about one Russian bride who was part of an extortion scheme which included murder as a part of the plot. It was probably one of the most action packed SVU episodes that I can recall. It also was an excellent feature for Dann Florek, who, for too many times in years past, has been virtually ignored. In this episode, Captain Cragen goes undercover to convincingly play a lonely man with lots of money in order to snag the murderers, and Cragen fits the bill perfectly. We also get a glimpse into Cragen’s story with his late wife, Marge and how he worries for his SVU team. I’ve always believed that Cragen had a deep inner sadness, and this episode made me feel even more sorry for him. One can only hope that someday Don Cragen will be able to find happiness.
Timothy Busfield was perfect as the man who felt his wife had been kidnapped and murdered, only to find he was just one of many who had been duped.
SVU seems to be opening more episodes with a “Law & Order Criminal Intent” feel, which gives viewers a look – without giving too much away in this case – of the crime at hand. This episode skillfully used almost everyone in the main cast - except for Munch, the only guy who I think knows some Russian. This likely would have saved them a lot of trouble, especially at the end where they rely on Lena to read back a text message in Russian, which she seems to be making up as she goes along. While I give this episode very high marks and feel it offered a fantastic story, I thought that the case was handled sloppily at times and there were some plot holes. Not having someone who reads or can interpret Russian on hand when they are clearly dealing with the Russian mob is a huge mistake. The officer getting shot in his squad car with his own gun – aren’t they supposed to use holsters that lock? – another mistake. (I would like to know exactly how Lena got the gun from him.) And why would Lena shove the gun through the fence and then crawl through it…she couldn’t hold on to the gun and crawl through the hole at the same time? If they were able to verify Lena had a daughter, why couldn’t they also verify that she was dead? I could go on and on but I don’t want anyone to think that I didn’t like this episode. On the contrary – I loved it.
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
Kelli Giddish - Detective Amanda Rollins
Danny Pino - Detective Nick Amaro
Stephanie March - ADA Alex Cabot
Tamara Tunie – Dr. Melinda Warner
Timothy Busfield – Daniel Carter
Izabella Miko – Lena
A woman walking down the street sees a car pull up and a man calls out to her. He tells her stop, then to come back and to get in the car, and she runs. The driver chases her in the car and then on foot, catching up with her. She is trapped when another man cuts off her escape route. When she turns back she is captured. Another man gets out of the back seat of the car with a large duffel bag and walks toward her as we hear her scream.
The next morning, two busboys taking out the trash find her body next to the trash dumpster.
Later, Detectives Benson and Amaro are on the scene with ME Warner. The girl has no purse and no ID but has a butterfly tattoo on her back. The busboys said the body was not there an hour ago, no one heard any screams or saw anything. Warner confirms she was raped by noting the bruising on the thighs and blood on the panties, and blunt force trauma to the head. They flip the body and see that the girl’s face is totally obliterated. Amaro comments that her face is gone, and ME Warner observes that it looks mechanical, not chemical, and that the teeth were pulled, roots and all. Benson notices there are no fingertips either, adding that these butchers knew their business. Amaro notices there is another tat that has Cyrillic writing, and asks if any of them know how to read Russian. Benson replies “I wish.” Amaro comments there are no dental records and no face and fingertips but they left the tattoos. Benson thinks they didn’t want them to know who she was but wanted to be sure somebody got the message.
Back at SVU, Captain Cragen walks in and asks the detectives what they have, Benson replies that the Jane Doe is a female, white, late 20s-early 30’s, raped and murdered. Rollins said they canvassed the neighborhood and no one saw or heard a thing, Fin adding it is like the body materialized out of thin air. Amaro had a buddy in the gang unit look at the tattoos and the butterfly is generic and could have been done by anyone, but the one tat is specific to the Russian mafia, most likely done in the motherland. Benson adds it is the mark of a prostitute and the words mean “Mother, forgive me.” Cragen comments they are getting an idea of who they are dealing with here. Rollins gives them the results from the preliminary autopsy report – sand was found in the victims vagina and rectum and there were cuts from bits of glass and debris. The time of death is 8-10 hours before discovery. Cragen adds she was murdered on a beach and dumped at the restaurant, and usually it is the other way around. Fin thinks they wanted the body found.. Benson recalls the ME collecting sand samples after the Gilgo Beach murders, and Cragen says yes, they wanted to see if the victims had been moved from other sites. Rollins adds the sand was made up of fine particle and white mason, indicating it is from a repaired beach – meaning the city spread the sand. There are only three repaired beaches in the area: Rockaway, Brighton, or Coney Island. Amaro says Coney Island is almost exclusively Russian and they call it “Odessa by the Sea.” Cragen says if this is Russian mob it will scare people off so he tells them to start with the butterfly and maybe they can find out who this poor woman was.
At Brighton Beach, Fin and Amaro show the photo of the tattoo around and come up with nothing. Fin thinks most of the people are illegal and don’t want to talk to cops and a girl who disappears is not their problem. Amaro adds especially if they don’t know who wanted her gone. Fin says witnesses are like children; they respond to bribes and threats. Amaro adds they are easy to trick. They walk into a restaurant and Fin goes to look for the manager while Amaro looks at a wall of photos. He sees a photo of a girl with the butterfly tattoo on her back with a man. Fin shows the tattoo photo to a woman who is barking orders to others, and asks if any of her customers have that tattoo. She says no. Amaro shows her the photo that was posted on the wall and she says she does not speak English. Fin suggests to Amaro to call INS for some translators and Amaro comments they will have to shut the place down until they get there. The woman can suddenly speak English. saying they have a big party coming in. She identifies the woman as Lena and the man is Daniel. They had their engagement party there last Friday. Amaro asks if they paid with a credit card.
Later, Warner is in the morgue while Benson waits. Amaro enters and tells her they have a first name for the girl – Lena. She had a fiancé, Daniel Carter, 48, widowed with two kids in college, and runs a nonprofit NYC habitation and he lives in Kips Bay and Fin and Rollins are headed there. There is no connection to the Russian mob – on paper. Amaro says Benson is a not a romantic but they just got engaged. Benson replies Amaro knows the stats, when a woman is murdered – and Amaro finishes the sentence that you start with the man in their life and that is why he is a firm believer in divorce. He adds when you feel that thing building you just have to get out. Benson asks if Amaro’s parents got divorced, and he says yes, and his pop liked to bounce his mom off the walls. The day he left they had a party and it was one of the happiest moments of his life. Benson asks if he ever talks to him, and Amaro replies the last thing he heard is he got in trouble and went back down to Miami. He asks Benson if this was TMI and she says no. He asks about her father and Benson is momentarily taken aback and then says it is a long story.
Warner comes out with the autopsy results and tells them the woman was worked over and raped vaginally and anally. They used power tools to sand off her face and saw off her fingertips and dead before the worst of it. Benson comments, “small favors”. As Benson and Amaro leave, she asks him again what Lena’s finance did and Amaro says he runs a nonprofit, building houses for the homeless. Benson comments this would give him access to power tools.
At the apartment of Daniel Carter, Fin and Rollins go to his apartment with the super – Luis - and when there is no answer to the knock on the door, Fin reminds him he has keys and they can knock down the door but it is up to him. Luis unlocks the door and Fin and Rollins enter with guns drawn but no one is there. Rollins waves Luis in and he identifies Lena from a photo in the apartment, saying her last name was Russian. He tells them Daniel was not the jealous type and Lena was his sunshine. When Luis asks of something happened to her, Rollins asks him to call Daniel on his cell phone and that Daniel may be in trouble and running scared and thinks Daniel will talk to him. Luis calls him and Fin tells him to put him on speaker. Daniel answers the phone and asks Luis why he is calling him and Luis says he has a package for him and UPS won’t let him sign for it. Despite Luis begging, Daniel won’t tell him where he is and he hangs up. They hear music in the background and Fin takes Luis’ phone to have TARU trace the number.
Elsewhere, Amaro tells Benson there was no GPS on the phone and the call triangulated from a too-wide area. When Amaro tells Benson that Rollins heard kids and music, Benson notes there is a carousel at the pier and they found a body there last fall. Amaro radios for everyone to converge on the Chelsea Piers Park carousel area.
Amaro and Benson approach the carousel and Amaro radios that they have him, at 12 o’clock and they are moving in. Benson calls out to Daniel Carter, who is standing by the carousel. He frantically tells them to go away, adding that he didn’t call them and they will kill her. Benson asks kill who, asking if he means Lena. He says yes, and they have to go away. Benson looks at him and says nothing, and Daniel asks where is she, and then asks is she dead. He sobs and adds they said they’d bring her here, and that was the deal, he paid. He continues to sob and cry out, “I paid” as he falls to his knees.
Later, Benson lead Daniel to the interview room with his lawyer. His lawyer pulls Benson aside and says Daniel is a friend and asks her to go easy on him. She reminds him they are investigating a murder, and he says he understands but Daniel’s wife died 3 years ago from cancer and Lena brought him back to life and Daniel is not prepared for this. Benson asks if his a criminal attorney and he says he is primarily tax law. She suggests he go in and tell his client to tell the truth
In the interview room, Amaro shows Danny the photos of the tattoos and ask if he recognizes them. He identifies where the tattoos were on her body. He asks to ID the body and Benson says later. Benson asks how did he meet her, and Daniel's lawyer urges him to tell them everything. Daniel thinks it will sound cheap – we went on a Russian Bride web site - yourczarina.com. Benson comments they’ve seen scams on sites like that, but Daniel says this was not like them. He said a friend would go to Russian on business and meet 8-10 girls from the site, sleep with them all and marry none. He was divorced and it was like a sex trip for him. When Benson asks Daniel what about him, his lawyer reminds Benson this was his fiancée. Daniel said he was going through a lonely time and started trolling, nothing serious, and then he saw Lena’s profile and there was just something about her right away. Amaro asks if they Skyped, and Daniel said that was not allowed. They chatted a few times on line IM-ing. He had to fly to Moscow to meet here and she took him everywhere, even to St. Petersburg where her family was originally from. He shows them a photo of the two of them in St. Petersburg. She wanted to know everything about her. Amaro asks if this was all platonic, and Daniel says no, he didn’t want them to think…he adds they had a real soul connection. Benson asks if it went both ways and if Lena introduced him to her friends and family, and Daniel says no, she was careful . She had been in an abusive relationship and was scared of her ex, he was stalking her. Amaro questions if that is what Lena told him, and Daniel informs him that he saw him and he was following them. One night he made a big scene in front of the hotel. About how he wanted her back and he could see how terrified she was. Benson asks if that is when he convinced Lena to move to New York City. He says yes, it was like a fairy tale and he was getting a second chance. Benson asks how long they lived together before she disappeared, and he replies 2 months, the night after the engagement call he got a call from the kidnappers asking for $100,000 and all he had was $80,000 but that was his life savings but he never hesitated. Benson wonders why he didn’t call the police, and the attorney says Daniel was told not to call anyone, that they would kill her. Amaro asks where he dropped the money, and Daniel told him it was in a garbage can at Brighton Beach, and they were supposed to bring Leno to the carousel. He says he gave them everything he had and they still killed her. Amaro asks if he has any other photos from his Russian trip on his cell phone, and he says hundreds, and video.
Later, in the bullpen, all the detectives and Cragen watch the video with Daniel and Benson asks him to focus on the people in the background. In a video from the party they spot a man in the background taking pictures of Lena. Daniel says that is Lena’s ex. Cragen pulls the detectives aside and tells them to get the image to real time facial recognition database, NCIC, and Interpol. Rollins says she got something on yourczarina.com which is hosted by a rogue provider which has an office in Manhattan. They claim to do internet security with the company name of Quicksecure. Cragen asks what are they waiting for?
At the office of Quicksecure, when Rollins asks for details on the web site, one of the guys refuses to give it to her, telling her to come back with a search warrant. Rollins says she doesn’t think he understands. Fin gets in the guy’s face and says to get something straight, telling him to spit out the lollipop before he smacks it out his mouth. As the guy takes it out of his mouth, Fin tells him he is not a 5 year old, and Rollins threatens to call the Feds. The guy says they aren’t doing anything illegal. Rollins says their business is a front and their server is illegal and they are going to hold him responsible for all of the crime on all of the sites. Fin says they will shut his little toilet down and put his ass in jail, adding, “You understand me? Jail, where you’re gonna be sucking on something else.” The guy agrees to help him out and gives him he information, and asks them if they are cool. Rollins, as she makes a phone call, says yeah they are done here. As Fin and Rollins walk out, the FBI walks in. The guys gets pissed that they lied, and Rollins replies, “Ain’t life a bitch!”
Later, Fin and Amaro speak with a woman and accuse her of having yourczarina.com run off their computers. She says this is a travel agency and they have to find a bride themselves. She offers to let them check her computer and records, saying she runs a legitimate business. While she agrees to everything Amaro notices a man who appears to be deleting information on one of the computers. As he tries to run out the door Amaro nabs him. Fin asks him what he is running from as Amaro cuffs him. The man looks back at three men watching from the boardwalk.
In SVU interrogation, Cragen, along with Fin, question the travel agent guy who says he just books flights. Cragen asks him to identify the man in the photo form Daniel’s phone, and the guy says they do not know why they are dealing with. Cragen asks him to tell them. He says the man is a killer but this one lives by the code – he is Russian Mafia and if he talks they will kill his family and friends and his dog. Fin says he is scared of the wrong people, and as Cragen says to release him, Fin adding that everyone in Brighton Beach saw him picked up and talking to the cops. They will drop him off on the same boardwalk, Cragen adding that everyone will know he cooperated. He says he is screwed no matter what. When Cragen says if he helps them, they will help him.
Later, Cragen tells Benson and Amaro that they have a name - Liev Bodrov “The Butcher” who is wanted on multiple charges of murder, prostitution, and racketeering. He did 10 years in Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia in the 90s and escaped and they haven’t caught him. Benson says she heard back from Interpol – 4 other murders fit the MO in Moscow, Johannesburg, Vancouver, and Munich. Cragen comments if The Butcher is running an international prostitution and kidnapping ring, saying that is just great, Benson adds that each victim was found with no face, the teeth removed, and the fingertips cut off with no way for them to trace. Amaro mentions that they all had the “Mother forgive me” tattoo. Cragen thinks he is branding them so the mark knows his czarina is dead. Cragen lets out a sigh.
Later, Benson walks into a diner where Daniel is waiting at a table in the corner. He thanks her for meeting him there. He tells her he did his own search on line and shows her a page with a photo of a woman named Irene. He says it is a different name and haircut but that woman is Lena. He thinks she is alive but Benson says they do not know when the photo was taken. He says it was taken after she was kidnapped, he gave her the necklace she is wearing at the engagement party and she disappeared the next morning. He thinks she was playing him the whole time. He says those people faked everything but Benson reminds him there is no fake body in the morgue. Benson asks him to show him how to set up a date on a web site like this.
Later, while walking outside, Cragen tells Cabot that they want to wire up an undercover and send him out on a date with Lena – AKA Irene. Amaro says the UC needs to be her type – lonely, mature, and with money. Cabot asks Cragen if he is sure he needs the wire, as the suspect can say something exculpatory and she has seen it backfire. Amaro says these are dangerous people, adding if the UC gets lured somewhere they need to be able to protect him. When she asks how quickly they need the wire, Cragen says yesterday, these are career criminals with a global network. Cabot agrees and adds she will see if any of the DA’s investigator fit the profile. But Cragen tells her they have it covered – he is going to take it. Cabot asks him when was the last time he was undercover, and Cragen quips probably before she or Amaro were born. She smiles and reminds him that no matter how tempting it might be, he can’t get intimate with a suspect – it would undermine his credibility at trial. He looks at her closely and say he will try to control himself.
Back at SVU, Fin tells Cragen that TARU set up a laptop in his office so he can IM Lena and it won’t trace back here. Fin asks if he wants to come in there with him, and Cragen says not a chance. Amaro starts to suggest how to handle it, but Cragen finishes the sentence to chose an identity that is close to his own. When Cragen says he knows the drill, Amaro teases him that he didn’t know they had tape recorders when he graduated the academy. Fin adds at least they didn’t have to inflate his bank account because he hasn’t spent a dollar of his pay on his wardrobe. “Thank you very much for your help fellas but I’ve gotta prepare for my cyber date.” Fin says, “Knock it out, killer” and Cragen replies, “I heard that.”
At the Duchess Hotel, Cragen is at the bar and Rollins walks up to him and whispers that Lena is getting out of the cab and she arrived alone but they made two guys at the end of the bar. She suggests he get Lena up to his room and they will move in once they are there. She says he will do fine and he looks good, and she walk off. Lena arrive and approaches Cragen, who is using the name Michael. He flatters her and she says he is handsome. Cragen says he has a face for radio, and she tells him his eyes are kind. They sit at the bar for a drink, and he tells her he is having a club soda, admitting he is not a drinking man any more. He says that should not spoil her fun. She says a man that doesn’t drunk – she is new for him already.
At dinner, Cragen and Lena talk about his work with the Children’s Rights Coalition while Benson and Fin watch and listen nearby. He says he stands up for victims that have no voice and worries more about his staff as it takes a toll on them. She asks who worries about him. She asks if he has been married and says he is a widower, and Marge, his wife, died a long time ago. She had a miscarriage and they tried to adopt but he thinks he was too busy all the time and that was his biggest regret. She says he is a man and it is not too late. He laughs and says enough of his violence, he wants to know about her. He asks if she has been married or has children, and asks who are you. She says he hears sad stories every day and tonight she just wants to enjoy and she hope he is enjoying it too. He replies that she knows he is.
Cragen picks up the check, and says his favorite bartender said they don’t have to go home but they can’t stay here. She touches his hand and says she does not want to go home and he says he was a room upstairs with a beautiful view.
They head up to the room and when she kisses him in the hall he balks. He explains that he is old fashioned. When she comments that he got a room, he says he promises to be a gentleman. She asks that maybe they should wait for a second date and when she begins to walk off he tries to pull her back. When she starts to run, Cragen radios she is on the run and Rollins stops her in the hallway at gunpoint and Fin comes in to cover. Rollins moves to cuff her and Lena says they can’t arrest her and they don’t understand, and begs Cragen to help her.
In the hotel room. Fin tells Cragen not to have a drink, he knows he wants one. Cragen is upset that Lena made him. Fin says he did a good job. In the other room, Benson tells Lena she is not the one they really want, it’s Liev, but they need her help. Fin hands her a glass of water, and understands she is scared but says they can relocate her and put her in witness protection. As Cragen walks in Lena says she only has one daughter and Liev already has her. She is worried that they will kill her if they find out she is with the police. She cries and says this is how he controls people and she doesn’t really want to do these things. Benson tells her to tell them everything. She says Liev runs a mail order bride site here and in Russia. Benson says it is just a front for his blackmail operation. Lena adds prostitution. She meets wealthy men through the site and makes them fall for her. She pretends to have a jealous ex and she gets kidnapped and Liev takes all their money. Fin tells her she left out the part about them killing and disfiguring a girl that looks like her. She admits yes, and says at first she did not know he was killing the girls. When Benson asks her to tell them who are the bodies, she says they are prostitutes who work for Liev who have no family and are illegal and no one will miss them. Benson mentions no mothers to forgive them, and she asks what does that mean. Fin explains the tattoos and she says the Russian one is his brand and the butterfly is hers, she had that tattooed before she met Liev. He said it made her special. Benson says she is special, she dies and they live. Lena cries that she begged to stop but he won’t let her and he says she is the best at the job and she is trapped because of her daughter. He moves her from country to country and she never knows where she is. She sees her every once in a while for a few hours in a safe house. She asks for her phone so she can show them. Benson gives her the phone and shows her a photo, saying her name is Anna. Benson hands Cragen the phone and while he looks at the photo, there is a knock on the door.
Cragen walks into the other room and Rollins, who is there with Cabot. Rollins says she checked out Lena’s ID. She is there on an expired work visa but she does not have a criminal record in Russia. She does have a daughter 4 years old. Cabot says they will use Lena to get to Liev, and Amaro says that is if he is not already spooked. Rollins comments that as far as Liev knows, Lena is still in the room hooking her mark. Cabot asks how will they draw him out, and Amaro says Lena will know. When Amaro says they have it, Cragen says he will handle it. He tells Amaro and Rollins to leave the room and asks for Lena to be sent in.
With Cabot and Benson, Cragen tells Lena that right now they have to consider her as part of a conspiracy to commit extortion and murder. She says she is in big trouble and to help herself by helping them get Liev. She wants to get her daughter back. Benson says they will do what they can be she has to cooperate. Cabot says if she wants a deal she must tell them about Liev’s operation – co-conspirator, names, date, victims, places, and she will have to testify. She say no. Cragen says OK, and then says after their date, what was to be the next step with him. She says she would call Liev and tell him she had a big fish on the hook and then she would set up another date and Liev would be watching. Cragen tells her to set it up.
The next morning, at the Frying Pan Restaurant, Cragen and Lena wait at a table and Rollins and Amaro are close by. Lena tells Cragen she knows what he thinks of her but they need to look like they are lovers. She tells him to come closer and smile and kiss him. Otherwise he will know. She kisses him and thanks him for helping her get her Anna back. As Liev approaches, Cragen and Len continue to look affectionate. Liev looks around and seems suspicious of Amaro and Rollins and they both get up. He turns to walk out and Benson is there blocking his way. He looks for an exit but when Amaro announces “police, drop your weapon” Liev fires at him and Rollins shoots back, hitting him in the chest. He drops to the ground. Benson disarms him and Lena rushed to him and screams where is she? Amaro tells Lena that Liev is gone. She screams that they will never find her and the soldiers will kill her. Liev’s phone rings and Benson looks at a text message on the phone which is in Russian. Benson asks Lena what it means and she replies it is one of Liev’s people asking where to meet them after and that they have Anna. She says one of the safe houses is in Brighton Beach.
The detectives arrive at the house with armed backup and Lena waits in the back of the car with Cragen, saying she is scared. He says it will be OK. They hear someone shout on the radio that they are NYPD, and shots are fired from automatic weapons from inside the house. Benson calls on the radio that there is an officer down. Cragen exits the car and tells Lena to stay there. Amaro sticks his head out the door and tells Cragen they are clear, the others are down. Fin got shot but the vest stopped the bullet. Benson races out and says that all the rooms where checked and the daughter is not there. Suddenly, there is gunfire from outside. They race outside and see the police officer that was in the car with Lena is shot dead and Lena is running off. Amaro chases her and Cragen warns him that Lena has his gun. Benson gets on the radio to alert the others and then says “I want this bitch caught now.”
Lena races thought the allies with Amaro chasing her. She gets cut off by a fence and throws the gun underneath and begins to climb through a hole. Amaro calls out to her and, with his gun drawn, tells her not to move or he will blow her damn head off right now. She reaches for the gun but Benson and Cragen come up on the other side and Cragen tells her to freeze, and he secures the gun. She smiles at him and gives him a eerily happy look. As Cragen walks off, Benson tells Lena to get up and then cuffs her. Lena laughs.
Back at SVU, Daniel says that the DA wants him to testify and he asks if he has to, he will look like a fool. Benson says this woman is very good at what she does, and that any man would fall for her. Daniel says the newspapers said she walked into a trap and she said she had a daughter. Benson confirms that she did have a daughter but 4 years ago the child was abducted and murdered in St. Petersburg and Liev found the killers and took them out. Since then, Lena has been in his debt and they worked together as a team. Daniel thinks maybe he made her do these things. Cragen shakes his head. Benson tells Daniel that Lena shot a 22 year old officer at point blank range and that Liev may have brought Lena into his world but she has since crossed over. Daniel says there is another side of her and he knows they don’t believe him but there really is. Cragen says he believes him. Daniel says OK, he will do what they want. Cragen shakes Daniel’s hand and Daniel, along with Benson, move to exit Cragen’s office. But Cragen calls Benson back. He says “About that stuff I said on the wire…” and Benson asks, “What stuff?” She turns and walks out and he nods his head and says, “OK.” As Cragen sits at his desk. Looking out to the squad room, we fade to black.
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