Thursday, May 17, 2012
Law & Order SVU “Strange Beauty” Recap & Review
Law & Order SVU “Strange Beauty” certainly did the “strange” part very well. This felt like a Law & Order Criminal Intent case, and like many of the Law & Order Criminal Intent cases I’ve seen over the years, it threatened to put me to sleep as it reached the end. The story begins with an abduction that Rollins witnesses outside the local bar, but soon descends into the creepy life of people who push the limits of body alterations in an attempt to be different.
The episode also gives some back story to Rollins’ transfer to New York City, and also hints at a potentially romantic relationship with her former Captain from Atlanta. All we know is that the deputy chief in Atlanta did something that was out of line, but they never explain exactly what. While I wasn’t thrilled at first with Kelli Giddish on SVU, I seem to be warming up to her character over the last few episodes, and Rollins seems to be fitting in much better with the SVU team.
But back to the story. While the issue of the kidnapping gets resolved promptly, it’s the issue of the victim’s missing leg that stumps the detectives. As they continue to investigate, they are led into a world where some people clearly have a different sense of beauty than the norm. Tattoos and odd body piercings have become mainstream; my personal opinion is that most people look much more attractive without them. Extreme body “art” really was best described in the episode as a “job stopper” as most employers don’t tolerate it, especially for jobs that deal face to face with the public. Needless to say, I am not sure if the public would ever except anyone that would perform amputations of healthy body parts in order for a person to look more attractive.
All in all, this was a decent episode. I must admit that the subject matter was a big turn off for me, so I put it at the bottom of my list for this season.
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
Tamara Tunie – Dr. Melinda Warner
David Eigenberg - Dr. Hal Brightman
Patrick Fischler - Dr. Gene Brightman
Britt Lower – Jess Hardwick
Myk Watford – Sam Reynolds
Bridget Barkan – Lisa, the one legged prostitute
Ilana Levine – Shelly Raedo
Tony Campisi – Lawyer
Constantine Maroulis – Seth Morentz
Paul Whitty - J.C. Cassidy
Morgan Lynch - Nina Reedo
Ralph Lucarelli - Nikos Attellades
Nick Maccarone - Kenji Yashimi
Alex Hernandez - Pablo Desperon
Jennifer Onvie - Robin
Barrington Walters, Jr. - Joaquin
Yanelba Ferreira - Tiffany
Ross Brodas - Bouncer
A young girl races down the street while on the phone with her mother. She tells her she wants to come home and asks if her mother would pay for a car home. She runs into a building for a car service where a security camera records her entry and then being ordered out by a man at the front desk. The camera also sees a cab pull up and the hooded driver step out and grab the girl, pulling her into the cab. The man at the front desk isn’t paying attention.
Elsewhere in the local bar, Amaro and Fin are playing pool and Rollins and Sam Reynolds, her captain from Atlanta, enter. They make their introductions and Rollins says Sam helped her transfer from Atlanta, Sam adding that he and Don Cragen go way back, Amaro and Fin decide to leave and pass the pool cues to Rollins and Sam, with Fin warning Sam that Rollins is a shark.
Sam asks her how she is doing in New York and she replies that New York was a fresh start and she needed it. He tells her she had to get out of Dodge, and drunk or not, the deputy chief was out of line. She says she shouldn’t have taken it personally – no lasting harm, no foul. He asks if she has made any friends and she reminds him he just met her partners. Sam says he means friends, and that anybody that calls her Rollins is a cop, not a friend. He explains that he worries about her as he knows how squirrelly she can get. She says she is fine, calling him “papa bear.” He moves in to kiss her but she pulls back, asking him if he forgot he is married. He sighs and holds up his left hand, which has no ring on it, and explains he is separated. He says she can’t say that they both haven’t thought about it. She says no, but he caught her by surprise right now. He nods and pulls back, saying he gets that. He suggests he get them another round, and then grabs her phone, saying she is going to take the call real quick. She steps outside and while standing there, sees a cab drive by with a woman in the back seat, screaming for someone to help her. Rollins chases after the car and calls for assistance, saying she has a possible taxi abduction in a cab with medallion 6209, and as she says where the cab is heading, the cab pulls away even faster, leaving Rollins standing in the middle of the street.
At SVU, Cragen walks in and asks Rollins if she is fishing for overtime. She explains the possible cab abduction she saw. Benson explains it could tie into the yellow cab rape case, the Sikh, where they have two open cases from last year. Fin says the medallion number matches a cap stolen in Chelsea the day before but the drive says he was struck from behind and he never saw the assailant. Benson explains that the cab turned up about an hour ago by the Lincoln Tunnel and CSU is going over it now. Rollins submitted the description to missing persons but no matches yet, but Amaro gets off the phone and says they may have caught a break. A desperate mother has been calling the NYPD about her missing daughter, saying she got a panicked call from her around midnight and she never came home. The description matches Rollins’ girl. Cragen says Rollins saw the girl so she should talk to the mother.
Benson and Rollins visit Nina’s mother, Shelly Raedo, who says Nina is 19 and she has been in and out of the house for a year now. Rollins looks at photos of Nina. Shelly doesn’t know who her friends are but explains the scared call she got the night before asking if her mother would pay for a ride home and said she felt “out of control.” Shelly says Nina has been going through a phase with piercings and tattoos, and explains the octopus tattoo she got on her left ankle and the next thing she knew, she was covered with them. She doesn’t know her daughter anymore. Benson asks for some DNA samples and her mother gets tearful and asks if she is going to see her again.
Outside the home, Rollins tells Benson that is the girl she saw and Benson suggests their run her cell phone records.
Elsewhere, Fin and Amaro talks with Joaquin, who seems to know Amaro from his work in narcotics. They show him a photo of Nina and he says she used to be with Pablo, pointing to the roof of a nearby building. He says Pablo had some pigeons up there. He tells Amato to take is slow, Pablo is golden gloves. Amaro says he isn’t scared.
The get to the roof where there are a lot of pigeons but they also hear heavy breathing. Fin opens the door to the coop and announces they are NYPD and ask for Nina, breaking up Pablo’s playtime with another girl. Fin talks Pablo aside as the girl – Tiffany – asks who is Nina. Pablo says Tiffany is mad jealous, adding he broke up with Nina months ago as she was too wild for him. She used to cause trouble, she once came on to three dudes just to bait him into a fight with them. Last night she came over and wanted to hook up and said she was scared and only felt safe with him. He said no as Tiffany was on her way over, it was around midnight. He explains that Nina said she got home using a car service down the block, she used it before.
Fin and Amaro head to the car service and the man at the desk tells them if they want a car, they have to call. Fin shows his badge and Nina’s photo and the man said he told her the same thing last night when he ordered her out. He told her twice. She gave him attitude and said she was going to look for another car service but he knows there aren’t any others around there. He saw a cab pull up just as she went out and guesses she went in. Fin asks about the security cameras and says they will need to see his tapes.
Back at SVU, Rollins identifies Nina on one of the videotapes. The detectives see Nina being ordered out of the car service and another cab pull up with the same medallion number that Rollins saw. They see Nina attempt to run off and then be pulled into the cab. Amaro sees the driver is a white male, and not their Sikh. There have been no hits on her cell phone. Cragen comments they know she has been abducted but when is she going to turn up?
Later, Benson and Rollins arrive at the morgue, Warner says she had something come in an hour ago – a young woman’s leg, freshly severed. Benson sees an octopus tattoo on her ankle. Warner explains some guy fishing from a boat on the Gowanus Canal reeled in the leg. The description matched Nina’s tattoo and they are running the DNA. Rollins comments that it is a pretty clean cut, and Warner thinks it was done with a surgical saw. She adds there is evidence of living response to trauma in the boney tissues – Nina could have been alive when her leg was amputated. Warner says there was anesthetic in the marrow and asks why go through the trouble for a corpse? Benson states this was a healthy leg severed cleanly from a living person, and Warner nods her head. As they walk off, Rollins tells Benson she’s heard of that with drug wars but she does not think this is what that is. Benson adds there is something else – a fisherman reeled this in, questioning that no one fishes in the Gowanus Canal, it is so polluted it is a superfund site.
At the houseboat of J.C. Cassidy on the Gowanus Canal, Fin and Rollins speak with Cassidy who uses the scrap from the canal for his inventions and eats the fish for dinner. He explains he found the leg and when Fin asks him what he does with the band saw, Cassidy says he did not use it to cut anybody’s leg off, and gets upset, saying this is why he doesn’t trust the cops. Rollins says they would appreciate his cooperation, but Fin says maybe they should just tear up his workshop looking for evidence. Cassidy tells him to look around and bring the Luminal and UV lights. They won’t find blood; he was just trying to do the right thing, same as he did 11 years ago when he found the other leg. He thinks that is why they are here. He explains he notified the police but there wasn’t much follow through; it was 3 days before the planes hit the towers.
At the morgue, Warner shows Benson and Amaro the stored leg, saying Cassidy told them the truth. This leg and the others were both removed by surgical saw which makes a different kind of scoring on the bone. Both limbs were healthy and removed professionally, and both had the same traces of anesthetic – propofol. Warner thinks this victim was also alive when the leg was removed. As Warner walks off, Amaro asks Benson what they think they are looking at, and she has no idea. Amaro gets a message and says it just got weirder; the crime lab got a DNA hit on the first leg and the woman it belongs to, and she is still alive.
On Beard Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Benson and Amaro approach Lisa Everly and Benson asks her about her leg. She looks towards Amaro and asks Benson if her “boyfriend” is into that. Benson simply asks if she can tell her what happened, and Lisa says it got cut off a long time ago and she is not looking back. Amaro responds that whoever did this to her needs to pay for what he did. She said he already paid, and looking at Amaro, says for $25 grand he can do whatever he wants to her to. Amaro is disgusted that she took money for someone to cut off her leg. She tells Amaro she doesn’t expect him to understand if he’s never been that far down. She was destroying herself anyway; she was going to get clean and go upstate but all the money went into her veins. Benson explains they really need to know who did this to her. She says it was just another john and she was so messed up she would not recognize him if she saw him again. He had a room at the Palace on Bowery. She was under anesthetic, calling it “good stuff” but weird and she was pretty out of it afterwards, she doesn’t remember anything else, saying she is not good with details. She walks off.
Back at SVU, Amaro tells Cragen that the Palace Hotel used to be a flop house, and now down the block they get 2 grand a suite. Cragen wonders if they are really looking for someone who gets the pleasure from amputating women’s limbs. Fin reminds him Nina wasn’t paid, she was abducted, Cragen asks if he is escalating, but Benson thinks he may have burned though his paying victims and has moved on to the unwilling ones. Rollins wonders if Lisa survived, maybe Nina did too. Benson gets a message and says maybe not, a body just turned up near the Gowanus Canal.
At the scene, Benson and Rollins see a body in the trunk of a car, and Rollins sees that Nina's leg has been severed and says she is hoping she was under when she went.
Back at the morgue, Warner says the cause of death was heart failure due to a drug reaction to propofol. There is no sign of sexual assault and all the damage was surgical. Warner points out she had ear pointing surgery where a small wedge of cartilage is removed from her ear and sewn into a point which was done a while ago,. Warner says her body is a record of her journey into body modification. When Benson asks how this fits with her leg being amputated, Warner says that is Benson’s job, but she can tell her that the subculture pushes the edge, saying tattoos used to be subversive and now kindergarten teachers have them, meaning the fringe has to go further. Amputation is the next frontier. Benson wonders if for Nina, that tattoos and piercings were a gateway drug and the amputation may have been by someone who was someone she met in this world. Rollins suggests looking at Nina’s tattoos and one may even have an embedded signature. She takes a photo
At Yashimi Tattoo, Fin and Rollins speak to Yashimi about the tattoo and he says it was a personal favor from 2 years ago and it was one of a kind. When Fin tells her the girl is dead, Yashimi pauses his work. He says he last saw her six months ago and did not do the ear pointing, calling it a job stopper, like face tattoos and elf ears. He calls them idiotic fads by young people too young to realize they will never have a career after that. He looks at Rollins arm and says she knows what he is talking about, referring to her “white” tat. Rollins asks who Nina may have gone to, and Yashimi says Seth Moritz, he heard him talking to Nina about elf ears and says Nina was obsessed. Yashimi fired Seth after he caught him trying to steer his clients for his body mod business.
Fin and Rollins speak with Seth in his bike shop, and Seth calls her ears “Arwen” after the Lord of the Rings movie character. He doesn’t mess with people’s ears, and when Rollins looks at tanks of nitrous oxide he says he uses it to fill up his bike tires. But Rollins sees a face mask on one of the tanks that is marked with a serial number. Fin arrests Seth, saying he is going for a ride and won’t need a bicycle.
At the office of Dr. Gene Brightman, Benson and Amaro are told the doctor is in with a patient. Amaro flashes his badge and the receptionist, Jess, who intercoms the doctor saying she needs him up front. He comes out, saying he is just about to start a crown. Amaro asks to speak in a more private place. They walk into another room and ask him about Nina, and he says he does not think Nina was a patient. He is not aware he is missing any nitrous oxide tanks. Benson says they found one where it should not be and traced it to his office, and asks if he knows Seth. Brightman calls him an imbecile, and says he used to date Jess, the receptionist, and thought she got rid of him. When Benson asks if he could have stolen the tank, Brightman says anything is possible and he will have Jess do an inventory. But Amaro, who had looked back to reception, tells Brightman he’d better do it himself as Jess is gone.
Back at SVU, Benson tells Cragen that Jess Hardwick is not answering her phone and they have her apartment under surveillance. Amaro says she has no priors and worked for the doctor for 5 years, and Brightman swears by her and blames the boyfriend. Cragen tells them to see who the boyfriend blames. Benson and Amaro walk into interrogation where Seth is waiting. Benson tells him they had bad news – Brightman is pressing charges for a stolen nitrous tank. He asks what they care about that, and Amaro says Nina cares, and shows him photos of Nina’s body. Seth looks shocked, saying he had nothing to do with that. Seth says she used to come into Yashimi’s shop and he says he did not do the ears, he’s not good with snipping and sewing. Amaro says he just does steerer – it’s Jess who does the operations. Seth nods. Seth does not know where Jess is, and Amaro yells at him to wake up, they already have him for possession of stolen property and he is close to homicide. Seth swears he did not touch Nina, it was Jess, he did her ears, she has the skills. He tells them to try Coney Island, it is freak night at the Mermaid Hotel tonight and she will be there, working. He says they need a password to get in.
At Coney Island, Fin comments to Rollins that she had a tattoo that he never noticed. It was her reward for getting through March Madness without putting down a bet. He says it is a little tame for freak night. She asks Fin if he is ready to party. When they go to enter the building, a man stops them and asks who they are. Rollins says the password, that she “hardly knows sir, just a present.” He motions them inside, telling them to enjoy their evening. They enter a room with all kinds of freakish people doing freakish things. They sit behind a woman with elf ears and Rollins tells her they are gorgeous. Fin says Rollins has been thinking of getting hers done. Rollins asks if it hurt, and she replies not if you know who to go to. She tells Rollins to go see Josh, he is working tonight, it’s cash only, $600. Rollins looks to Fin and says “baby?” and Fin says, “Anything you want, boo, you know I’ve got you.” The woman directs them to the truck out back. Rollins asks if her man can come as he likes to watch, and the woman says Jess is cool with that. Afterwards, with police reinforcements, Fin and Rollins open the back of the truck to see Jess working on another woman and they tell her to stop and drop the blade. Jess says they don’t need the guns, she is coming out. She only has one leg, the other is a wooden peg leg.
Back at SVU, Rollins questions Jess, who says Jess thinks she is helping people be architects for their own bodies. Jess says plastic surgeons change peoples’ appearance every day. Fin counters that they have licenses and she does not, and they buy their equipment and Jess steals it. She said Nina’s ears were Nina’s choice, and gets shocked when Rollins asks her about amputating Nina’s leg. Fin explains what happened, and Jess is shocked Nina is dead. She says she never uses anything stronger that Lidocaine and would never do an operation like that. Rollins asks what happened to her leg, and Jess says she lost it to bone cancer when she was 15. It took a lot of work and now she is proud because she is extraordinary. She helps people achieve their own perception of beauty, a vision of their true selves. She would never subject anyone to what she has been though.
Fin and Rollins walk outside the interrogation room and Cragen says with some sarcasm that was a pretty moving story and asks if anyone else has a problem choking it down. Benson says Jess says Jess helps people with body modification but draws the line at amputation. Fin doesn’t believe her, saying Jess and Seth have been robbing the dentist blind. They need to check to see if she is stealing anesthetic. Cragen agrees, asking what kind of practice Brightman has. Rollins informs Cragen that his brochure says it is cosmetic dentistry. Cragen comments that he should not have propofol, and tells them to check with the database to see what is on his scrip pads and who is signing them.
Amaro later shows them that Brightman has ordered prescription of Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, and Lidocaine, but no surgical anesthetics in the last 6 months. Rollins adds that something strange did pop up; she found several prescriptions for propofol under the name for Dr. Hal Brightman, one six months ago and one from two weeks before Nina disappeared. Amaro tells Benson that Hal Brightman doesn’t do any surgery, he is a psychiatrist.
At the office of Dr. Hal Brightman, he tells Benson and Amaro he does not know a Nina Raedo. He says there is no way the propofol came from his office, he has no use for it. He says that is his prescription pad but it is not his signature. He tells them to go through his order history, he doesn’t even like to prescribe Prozac, he believes in the talking cure. When Amaro asks if anyone had access to his prescription pads, he said anyone who works in a pharmacy his patients use or any assistant he’s had over the years. Amaro informs him there have been sporadic orders over 5 years. He says there is another possibility that drug can be used recreationally and some of his patients have substance abuse problems. Benson says they will need their names, but Hal says he wants to find who this is but he can’t violate confidentiality. He does know Jess, that he works for his brother Gene, but does not recall Jess ever coming to their country house. He and his brother own a country house that was their mother’s and they have been fixing it up. He takes his scrip pad when he goes there for emergencies. When Amaro asks if his brother would use his scrip pad, Hal asks why would he do that, he has his own. Hal excuses himself to go to a phone session with a patient.
Afterwards, Benson comments to Amaro that Hal shut it down fast, and Amaro comments it was right after they asked about his brother. They discuss the connections between everyone in this case. Benson wonders if Jess is not the only one doing body mod in Dr. Gene’s office.
In the interrogation room with his lawyer, Gene tells Benson and Amaro that he does not know Nina. He says that Saturday night he was at the family county house in Sag Harbor, he had a date there. It was a man, Paul, and no one in his family knows. When Amaro asks for Paul’s number, Gene’s lawyer interjects that this cannot be a matter of public record as outing his client can damage his practice. Benson laughs and says not as much as a murder charge. Gene insists he would never be involved with this and says when he was little boy, his mother lost her leg in a car accident. Benson reminds him he has a woman working for him who does body modifications and uses his surgical instruments and pain killers. Gene says he has no idea what she does outside work, saying he fired her. Amaro reminds him it was after they arrested her. Amaro also bring up the large medical supply orders, which includes a bone saw. Gene has no knowledge. Gene wonders if Jess stole Hal’s scrip pad as she was a patient of her brother’s for a long time and says she was a troubled girl. Hal was the one who asked him to give her a job to help her out. He thought he would stop treating her but from all he knows she goes back to him.
In the other room, Jess tells Rollins and Fin that she does not use propofol to do her work. She had not seen Hal for years. She started seeing him when she was diagnosed with bone cancer at 14 and was depressed and anxious. There is a knock at the door and Fin exits . She was still seeing him when she was 15 when she lost her leg. Jess says Hal was very supporting and encouraging and helped her to see herself in a new way. She stopped seeing him because after a while she started feeling better about herself and stronger but she felt like he did not want to let her go. He kept saying she was not ready and they had more work to do. She felt they were stick and just going over the same issues. Fin has re-entered the room and asks if she meant about her leg and she says yes. Fin asks if Hal ever told her about his mother, and she says not. Fin explains what happened to her mother, and Jess is shocked to hear this. Rollins asks if there is any way Hal knew about the work she was doing on Nina, and she says there was one time he came by the office to drop some keys by for Dr. Gene and Nina was in there. Nina was there, she got an infection after some work Jess did on her eras and needed an antibiotic. She pulled back her hair to show her and Hal just kept staring at her.
In the SVU bullpen, Benson wonders if they have been looking at the wrong brother. Cragen comments that he knows dentists are depressed, but if they are wondering who is the crazy one between a psychiatrist and a dentist, he’s going with the headshrinker every time. Amaro announces that the Suffolk County PD confirms the mother’s car accident and that she lost her left leg when the brothers were 9 and 23. Benson says Jess lost hers when she was in therapy with Hal when she was 15, in 2001. Amaro notes that 6 months later, he amputates Lisa, the prostitute’s leg and he wonders why. Rollins speculates that he doesn’t think he is hurting them. He thinks he is improving them. Cragen reminds them he was smart enough to try to pin it on his brother, Benson says they should let him think they are still on that track.
In Hal’s office, Benson and Rollins continue to question Hal about Gene. The try to get his to explain what let to this. They get him talking about his mother, and he explains the car accident and it changed everything. He said it disfigured her inside and out and was depressed for the rest of her life. He says his brother saw how losing her looks affected his mother, the whole lower half of her face was wrecked which is why he went into cosmetic dentistry. Benson says Gene healed the outside while Hal worked to heal the insides. Rollins tries to understand Gene’s fixation on limps and amputation. Hal says to the lay person it sounds bizarre, be he has seen trauma become sexualized in certain cases. Gene was 9 when his mother was disfigures and feels those feelings may be been reawakened when he introduced Gene to Jess. She faced the loss of her leg with bravery. Benson says Hal is saying that this awakened Gene’s sexual obsession, but Benson informs Hal that Gene is gay. Hal is shocked and says that can’t be, if his brother was gay he would know it. Benson says there is a lot of things he doesn’t know about his brother – or himself. Rollins adds that the pathology that he is projecting doesn’t fit the Gene’s details, they fit Hal’s. Benson reminds Hal that he was 13 and hitting puberty when his mother had the accident and he was the one coming of age sexually. Rollins adds that Jess was also coming into sexual maturation when she lost her leg, and tells Hal he can see how they are a little bit confused. Hal says he is trying to help them to get it straight. But Benson asks if this is just like he helped Nina? Hal claims he does not know who she is but Rollins says they know he saw her at Gene’s office, and Rollins motions with her hair, showing her ears as Nina did to Jess, and adds that Jess told them. Hal says she seemed like a very vulnerable girl and after he saw what she did to herself, he thought he could help her. He said Nina had body dismorphia and substance abuse before he met her and she was out of control He admits he did talk to her and offered her limited advice but that is as far as it went. Benson says they have video footage of him putting Nina into the taxi, and he says he doesn’t think he should say any more. Rollins is standing close to him and says they are not like these other people, they know he was trying to treat her and he was trying to see her own true beauty. He insists he did nothing to harm her, but Rollins says Nina is dead now, asking how, they need to understand how that happened. Benson says he has two choices, either Nina threatened to report her and she intentionally killed her with propofol or it was an accident as he is not trained as an anesthesiologist and she had a bad reaction. Benson asks which was it? Hal pauses and says he tried to wake her up and did everything he could and would never hurt any of his girls, she just never woke up. Rollins asks Hal that he said any of his girls, and asks if there are more, Hal nods yes.
Elsewhere, Hal opens up a large storage room and shows Benson, Rollins, and more police an operating table and large before and after photos of women on the back wall. He says there were six women in all and Nina was a tragedy, but none of the other 5 had any problems and they are more complete now because of him, he transformed them. He wonders why people can accept sex reassignment surgery but not this? He admits this started with Jess but says he never laid a hand on her. He said when she lost her leg, she was so amazing; the way she embraced her new body was the most courageous thing he ever saw and thought all women should be like her. Rollins comments that Hal couldn’t save his mother so he’d save these girls by transforming them. He said the hooker was first – she needed help. He says she was better afterwards and says he would follow her and watch her. Every few years, there would be a new girl, and he would pay her and be grateful for what he did for her, adding there are only a few like that. He believes that if Nina’s heart hadn’t stopped, she would have been grateful too, saying society is not ready for him. He can look at women and know how beautiful and powerful they can be. He says Benson and Rollins think they are special, but they are boring, but they can be so much more. Benson silently cuffs him as Rollins shakes her head in disgust. As they walk off, we are left looking at the before and after posters of the women as we fade to black.
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