Thursday, April 4, 2013

Law & Order SVU “Born Psychopath” Recap & Review

Psycho kids are not new to the Law & Order brand; the topic has been covered in 2 excellent episodes, Law & Order “Killerz” (season 10) and Law & Order SVU “Conscience” (season 6). In my mind, the bar was already set very high for this epiode.  Despite this being one of the most predictable hours of Law & Order SVU, “Born Psychopath” was still interesting, primarily due to the compelling characters and the actors who played them.

BD Wong reprised his role of Dr. George Huang; sadly his character was not used to the storyline's full potential. The question of whether Henry Mesner could possibly have been born a psychopath or if something made him that way was given light treatment, and possibly Dr. Huang could have been better utilized to highlight this issue. (Maybe seeing more of Huang's actual tests would have been beneficial.)    On the surface, Henry’s upbringing seemed normal, living in a nice home and appearing to not want for anything. Henry has a pushover for a mother, a father who focuses too much on his work, and a younger, innocent and trusting sister. There’s nothing abnormal about this but there  is a question whether Henry’s behavior started when his sister was born (which meant he had to share his parents’ attention) or if he was born with psychopathic tendencies, or if his parent's permissive attitude only gave any psychopathic tendencies room to grow.  I would have preferred more scenes with Dr. Huang to explore this issue rather than having scenes with yet another ADA, which frankly added little to address the nature vs. nurture argument. An annoyance – the ADA's name was never mentioned. I find this rude to viewers, especially when a character appears in more than one scene (I found the name only by a Google search).

We also see Nick Amaro become more involved in his new-found son's life. His family day presentation at Gil’s school where he shows he wears a bullet-proof vest telegraphed that later in the episode that vest would be put to the test. It also served as an excuse for Amaro to later appear shirtless for a short while. (SVU fans can now debate whether Meloni’s or Pino’s physique makes for better eye candy.) Another point of debate: unlike Stabler, it seems that Amaro won’t shoot a kid. Was that a dig at Stabler, or was foolish for Amaro not to think this was a situation to shoot a kid? A head shot from Henry at that close range would have likely killed Amaro, and if he was thinking that the recoil would only allow Henry to get off one shot, it wouldn’t have mattered much if Amaro was dead AND Henry had time to get his hands back on the gun before the police got into the room, leaving someone else to kill a kid.

In this episode, we have two parents who are blind to their monster of a child, even when he has his own game called “monster.” Can parents really be this clueless? It is hard not to think of the shootings at Sandy Hook,  CT., where one parent’s handling of a troubled child eventually led to the deaths of many children and adults. I suppose that there are people out there who are that naive. But not all troubled kids are psychopaths and parents must not be afraid to get help in understanding whether the child’s behavior is normal or signals deeper issues. A personal story: in the late 1960s, my younger brother (now deceased) slammed a door on my left hand (twice).  I was bracing myself on the door and had my left hand inside the door by the hinges. (After he slammed the door on my hand he opened the door up and slammed it again.) I broke/fractured three fingers and 40+ years later I can still hear the bones crunch and remember the pain. At the time, I screamed and nearly fainted from the pain; he thought it was hilarious. He did later regret what he did and thankfully he quickly “grew out” of his “psycho-like” phase. I wonder, though, had he not changed his behavior, what would my parents have done with him? Sad to say, they may have acted more like the Mesners than I would like to admit.

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

Guest stars:
BD Wong – Dr. George Huang
Hope Davis - Viola Mesner
Ethan Cutkosky - Henry Mesner
Alex Manette - Tom Mesner
Larisa Polonsky - Irina Janovic
Andrea Navedo - Cynthia Mancheno
Jessica Phillips – ADA Pippa Cox
Adam Dannheisser - Adam Burke
Kiley Liddell/Brooke Liddell - Ruby Mesner
Jaden Matthew Rodriguez – Gil Mancheno
Sarah Megan Thomas - Leah
Kyle Sutton - Toby Burke
Emily Dorsch – Hannah Schwartz
Jessica Zinder – Alanis Grey
Andrea Gallo - Nurse
Caleb McLaughlin – Boy
Jerome McIntosh – Fire Fighter

At the Mesner household, Viola Mesner, her husband Tom, the nanny Irina, and the two kids Henry and Ruby, get ready for the day. Henry wants to go to school with his mother, so Viola caves in and has Ruby go to preschool with Irina. Ruby tells Irina she has to pee, and Irina is frustrated as she just put Irina’s tights on. Viola and Henry leave as Irina deals with Ruby,

Later, Ruby is in the school nurse’s office where Ruby complains that her head and her tummy hurts. The nurse notices a bump on Ruby’s head and a large bruise on her side.

Meanwhile, Amaro is at Gil’s school for family day and he explains his job, and, upon being prompted by a question, shows his bullet-proof vest. Gil refers to Amaro as his “uncle.” Amaro gets a phone call and has to leave, but promises Gil they are still going to see the Rangers the next day.

At the hospital, Benson apologizes for pulling Amaro away from his son, and Amaro whines that Gil does not know he is his son. Benson explains a doctor found bruising on Ruby’s torso and swelling on her hip and that she has a cracked rib that occurred within the last 12 hours, plus some other marks. Viola is waiting there and Tom is en route from Hartford. Amaro decides to talk to Viola and has Benson talk to Ruby.

In a separate room, Ruby tells Benson that she fell, but when Benson continues to press, Ruby said she was with a monster who pushed her and then the monster told her to shut up.

Meanwhile, Viola wonders why, if the school said Ruby was OK, that the police got called. Amaro explains that the unexplained injury requires reporting. Viola explains that Irina took Ruby to school and her husband left for work and she took Henry to school. Ruby was fine when she saw her last, it was Henry having the meltdown about Irina taking him to school and Ruby agreed to the switch. Benson enters the room and asks if Viola can tell them what happened but Viola says Ruby was fine when she left. Irina is new and Henry wanted to go with his mommy. She adds there have been some miscommunication with Irina about her hours and whispers that Irina is illegal. After drop off, Irina works for another family in the building. Benson asks if Viola has noticed any behavioral changes in Ruby lately, and Viola says no, Ruby is her easy one. When Benson asks about nightmares or bed wetting, Viola admits Irina said Ruby has had some accidents. When Viola asks if she can take Ruby for her piano lesson and that Henry has swim class, Benson says no, Viola will need to cancel the piano lesson and they will have someone bring Henry here to the hospital.

At the residence of Leah Thomas, Fin and Rollins speak with Irina who says Ruby was OK but Ruby did fall down some stairs. Ruby had spilled milk and she told Ruby to get new tights and she went into the laundry room. When she heard Ruby cry, she found Ruby halfway down the stairs but did not see her fall. She did not tell Viola as Ruby said she was not hurt and she was not supposed to leave the kids alone. She said Henry did not hear Ruby cry, he was sitting eating waffles, smiling. Leah returns home and asks what is going on, and Rollins explains it is just a routine matter.

Back at SVU, Benson explains to Captain Cragen about Ruby’s injuries and that a “monster” pushed her down the stairs. Amaro says the exam showed some healed bruising and an old spiral fracture, Benson adding there were 4 ER visits in the last year. Ruby had a concussion from a fall, a finger pinched in a door, and two  burns. Viola is an AmEx VP and Tom is a systems engineer with Amtrak; they have been married 14 years and Henry is 10 and there have been no domestic violence reports. Fin and Rollins enter and Fin explains that Irina claimed she was doing laundry when Ruby fell down the stairs. Rollins explains Irina is there illegally from Soviet Georgia and she has worked for the Mesners for 5 months, Benson adding it is for all of one of Ruby’s ER visits. Rollins said Irina works for another mother who has reported no problems. Fin says Irina did not see it happen but also did not tell the mother. Rollins explains the father had gone to work, the mother was in the shower, and Henry was at the table. Cragen instructs them to talk to Henry and examine him, concerned that no one is looking out for the girl. He adds they should talk to the neighbors, teachers, doormen, and keep the 2 kids at the CAC until they sort this out.

Later, at the Child Advocacy Center, Benson and Amaro speak with Henry, who says he was eating waffles before he heard Ruby yell upstairs. When they ask about Irina, he gets coy and says he should not talk about it. But when Amaro assures Henry he is not in any trouble, he says he saw Irina at the top of the stairs and she was trying to get Ruby’s tights on and Ruby was cranky. Benson continues to assure him and Henry says Irina made her mad face and pushed Ruby down the stairs. When Amaro asks Henry if he is sure it was not an accident, Henry states that Irina told Ruby to shut up, and then she pushed her. He adds that saying to shut up is not nice. He said he ran back to the table and Irina came back to get the ice bunny, and Henry didn’t say anything. He begs them not to tell his mom, adding his dad always gets mad when they have to switch nannies.

Meanwhile, Cragen and ADA Pippa Cox watch the questioning from another room and Cragen wonders that with Henry’s age if he swearable. Cox says there is a lot of detail and she will see what the judge rules. As Irina is illegal, Cox tells Cragen to pick her up, they don’t need another bad nanny headline. Once they get the full statement from the Mesners they can take their children home.

At the residence of Adam Burke, he tells Fin that his son Toby plays with Henry. Fin asks if they’ve had problems with the nanny and Burke asks which one, the Mesners have had so many. Toby enters and then said the new nanny, Irina, is always texting and Henry hates her.

With Viola, Benson is in Ruby’s room and sees the tights Ruby was wearing and Viola says this is a nightmare, Irina had references but admits it was mostly from moms groups on the Internet. Benson advises they will need to get in contact with them. Meanwhile, in Henry’s room, Amaro speaks with Tom who says he has not seen Irina being abusive and has not spent much time with her. Tom gets a phone call and leaves the room and Amaro searches the room. He finds a cigar box with various things inside, including a box of matchsticks with the heads removed, and a separate box of just the match heads.

At SVU, Fin and Rollins are interrogating Irina who insists Ruby fell. She is surprised when Fin says Henry said Irina pushed Ruby. She says no, Henry is a mean little boy and Ruby calls him The Monster.

At the Mesner household, Henry and Ruby are playing on an upper level and Viola speaks with Benson.  Amaro, getting off the phone, asks Viola if Henry ever plays games with Ruby, like “Monster.” Viola says yes, and Amaro asks if he resents having a little sister. Viola says yes, the school guidance counselor calls it first born syndrome. Viola asked Henry if he did this and he cried and he swore he saw Irina push her. Benson confirms that is what he told her but she has to ask is Henry has ever lied to her before? Amaro asks about the other accidents Ruby had if Henry was in t he apartment, and Viola recounts that he was. Benson concludes it is possible that Henry pushed Ruby down the stairs. Viola whispers “Oh God” and adds that Henry did not mean to, he has a hard time remembering that people can get hurt. The all look to the upper level where Henry and Ruby are playing, and Henry gazes back down on them, glassy-eyed.

Later, in an interview room decorated for children, Amaro questions Henry with Viola present. Henry thinks Amaro thinks he is a liar, and Amaro thinks maybe Henry was scared he would get in trouble for hurting his sister. Henry sees the camera in the upper corner of the room and asks if they are recording this. Amaro says yes, so Henry won’t have to answer the same questions again. Henry says Ruby stopped crying, it didn’t hurt her. Amaro asks him to clarify by “it” Henry means pushing down the stairs. Henry said yeah, after he pushed her she started crying and when he came over she stopped crying so he must not have hurt her.

Meanwhile, Benson speaks with Ruby with Atom and Rollins present. Ruby explains what happened when she went to change her tights. When she came back, Henry was hiding and jumped out and said boo real loud and pushed her. When Tom wonders if Henry was playing monster, Ruby said no, he had his arm out, and she pushes her hand out right up to Benson’s face.

Henry tells Amaro it wasn’t that hard, it was like a jostle and he was not mad at her, he just does not like her; he hates her. Viola calmly tells him not to say that. Henry asks her if she wants him to lie, and then goes on to say that he wasn’t made, it was an experiment. He wanted to see if she would roll all the way down, and that she rolled most of the way, head over legs and she was at an angle so she hit the landing and stopped. He smiles, and Amaro gives an uncomfortable look to Viola.

Benson asks Ruby if Henry has hurt her before, and she replies that sometimes when she hugs him he throws her Gussy out or slams the door on her. When Rollins asks if she told her mom or dad, Ruby asks if they can stop, she does not want Henry to be in trouble, she loves him. As Tom leans back in his seat, Benson says sure they can, adding she noticed that Ruby liked puzzles and Rollins asks Ruby to help pick one out. When they leave, Tom tells Benson that Henry’s guidance counselor at school told them to let them work it out and if they intervene, they reward Henry with attention for bad behavior. Benson comments that Henry seems to have a lot of rage, and Tom admits so did he when he was Henry’s age but then he got into trains and he was fine. He thinks Henry just needs to find his “thing.”

At the Fremont School, the guidance counselor Miss Schwartz explains to Fin and Rollins that Henry has issues but it is not clear cut ADD or OCD or oppositional defiance disorder. Rollins asks if she is a psychologist and Schwartz admits she is working toward that and she has a masters in school counseling. Henry started at the school in the 4th grade as his parents felt his old school was too oriented to testing, they wanted a more open dynamic. Fin wonders if that means less strict, and Schwartz replies that they try to brainstorm solutions so the children learn to take responsibility for their behavior. Some days she thinks she has turned a corner with Henry and the next day he will throw a desk or slam his locker. She thinks Henry is very smart and is just testing them. He has not been tested or seen a psychiatrist as the Mesners are worried Henry will be labeled. They only go up to the fifth grade there and they know middle school competition. Rollins asks about meds and if Henry sees a psycho pharmacologist, and Schwartz says she works with his pediatrician and they have tried various approaches. They have tried the usual meds and some schizo-effective ones and anti-depressants; they will find the right combination. When Fin asks if Henry has ever hurt anyone at school, Schwartz says at first but Henry knows that behavior is unacceptable, adding that Henry is so bright and he gets bored. They spell out the rules and Henry looks for loopholes.

Later, ADA Cox tells the detectives that if this kid was more troubled, there should be more of a paper trail. Fin counters that if the kid lived in the projects he’d be in the system 10 times by now. Rollins adds that Henry has his guidance counselor snowed and the parents have her prescribing meds on the qt so they refuse to get him tested. Amaro thinks they are trying to protect him as a bad diagnosis stays on his record. Benson reminds them Henry needs help. Benson adds he is back home now, and Cox asks when Benson was there did she see any signs of neglect or parental abuse. Amaro replies it was a clean house and the refrigerator was full or organic food and they are good working parents who love their kids. Cox suggests that home is probably the best place for him. Benson angrily asks if she is saying because the home is neat, then they should all pretend it was an accident. When Cox says nothing, Benson says that Ruby said Henry straight armed her, and Benson pushes the palm of her hand right up to Cox’s face. Cox recoils and then puts her hand up and asks Benson if she wants her to lock up every big brother who hurts his sister – Henry is 10 and Ruby is 5 - Benson throws up her hands in frustration and begins to walk off – and Cox says if they ask them what happened 3 more times they will get 3 different answers. Cragen suggests they take a breath and asks if Cox is saying they can’t charge the kid. She explains that she is not going to and if they think a juvenile detention facility will help turn things around…Fin cuts her off and says the parents don’t want Henry to have a record, asking what if they tell them the DA might let this slide if Henry sees a shrink. Cox says if they want to give that a try, go ahead. Cox walks off and Cragen tells Amaro to go talk to the Mesners, but Amaro says he is already running late. Cragen reassigns Rollins who says she is good to go.

Amaro is at Cynthia’s to pick up Gil for the hockey game. Amaro says by refereeing to him as Gil’s uncle it is a lie and Gil has enough secrets in his life and Gil has a half sister he should know about. She thinks it is too much and worries Amaro will just disappear. He insists he is not going anywhere and the longer he waits the worse…Amaro stops talking as Gil walks in with a hockey jersey on from Amaro and Cynthia tell him to say thanks to “uncle” Nick. Gil hugs him and they leave for the game.

At the Mesner residence, Benson and Rollins speak with Viola and Tom about Henry seeing a psychiatrist and Tom says absolutely not, he does not want him turning into a drug controlled robot. Viola explained the lithium made him gain weight and he was puffy and blank behind the eyes. Rollins explains it is just an evaluation but Tom gives her an emphatic no, saying they don’t know him but they do. Viola adds they have all the books on defiant kids and they will find the right strategy. But Benson says Ruby is not save, and Tom counters they have taken precautions and locked up all the sharp objects and Henry will never be left alone with Ruby again. Benson wonders how he can be sure; nannies need breaks, but Viola informs her that she will be here, she has taken a leave of absence from her job and she will be here to make sure Henry gets all the attention and the love he needs. Rollins informs them she is not sure the DA will let this slide, and Tom says she will have to, he spoke to another parent who is an attorney. He said that of the DA decides to press charges, the Mesners can sue the city. Benson argues that Tom does not understand, but he says he completely understands what she is saying. Viola cuts him off and says they don’t want them to have to come back, they will take care of Henry, they give them their word.

Afterwards, Viola visits Henry in his bedroom and he asks if they are gone. She says yes they just left. He does not want to see them again, and Viola says that is up to him as he knows his behavior has consequences. She tells him to remember to use his words rather than screaming and using his hands he will get to do the things he likes. He says he knows, adding that he is sorry, calling her mommy. She says it is OK and they can talk more in the morning, Henry resists, saying he is not tired, but Viola explains it is late. He coldly states he is not tired, and glares at her. She tells him to lie down and she will give him kisses. He pulls a huge knife from under the pillow and says “I said no.” Viola asks him to give her the knife right now, and she hold out her hand. He moves to give it to her, but then hands it to her with the blade side up and slices the palm of her hand. She recoils in shock, but then picks up the knife from the bed and runs out of the room. Henry watches with a blank face,

Later, Benson visits Viola in the ER. Viola says it was her fault, she reached for the knife. She asks Benson how she got there and Benson explains the neighbors called 911. Viola insists she is fine and Henry was upset he hurt her. She says Henry has not hurt her like this before but admits he has hit her a few times when he has had a tantrum but she is always able to calm him down. She thinks he did not mean it.

Rollins is at the Mesner home and Tom asks Henry how he got the knife. Henry says he knows where he keeps the key, and he was just trying to make her laugh, she wouldn't do what he wanted her to do and nobody does what he wants them to do. He says nobody ever listens to him. Rollins says she is listening, but Henry says it was his mother’s fault. Tom becomes enraged, yelling to Henry that he is lying and Henry wanted to hurt her. Henry says he was angry, it was her fault. Tom says it isn’t always someone else fault, screaming in his face that Henry has to take some responsibility, he is 10 years old for god’s sake. Henry gets right back in his father’s face and screams back that it was her fault and he hates her so much. Tom reaches around Henry is a hug and to restrain him, and as Henry says he hates her, Tom tries to calm him and says it is OK. Ruby walks into the kitchen and asks where is mommy and Tom explains she will be home soon and everything is good. Rollins asks if she would like her daddy to tuck her back into bed, and Ruby and tells Tom that she and Henry will wait here. When Tom doesn’t seem to want to do it, Rollins sternly tells him to go ahead. They will be fine. Tom walks off and Rollins asks Henry if he wants to talk. He asks if he can hold her gun, he has never held a gun before. He says she is really pretty and when get gets up and moves towards her, and Rollins pulls back a bit but he walks past her and to the refrigerator. He says he is eating some strawberries as his mother wants him to eat more fruit. He bites into a strawberry and stares at her.

Back in the ER, Viola tells Benson that she thought if she loved Henry enough and held him and made sure he slept and ate right he would get better, but he is getting worse. She thinks he is so broken and she can’t fix him. She tells him she loves him and he has never said he loves her back. Benson says they can get her and her family help and get Henry evaluated and treatment options. Viola replies she does not know what to do anymore; most days she feels like she is combat. Yesterday he told her he thinks she hates him and he is right, sometimes she does.

At a later time, Henry is back in the children’s interview room and Dr. Huang enters. Huang admits he is a little jetlagged. Huang says they will just talk for a little bit, and suggest they start with something fun. He asks Henry what Henry likes to play with. Henry suggests action figures, superheroes, saying Bane is his favorite as he likes to rip people apart, and Laserector, who likes to kill people with his laser beam eyes. Huang opens the box of action figures and Huang picks Capeman and Henry picks a spikey alien. When Huang suggests a scenario where Capeman is doing something that spikey alien doesn’t like – Henry suggests like playing with his Legos – Henry grabs Capeman out of Huang's hands and slams it to the table, and beats it many times with his spikey alien, saying now Capeman is dead, he can’t do anything he doesn’t like any more. Huang says nothing and stares at Henry, who looks back at Huang with a smile on his face and joyful eyes.

Afterwards, Huang tells the Cragen, Benson, and Amaro that he is conflicted about labeling a 10 year old as a psychopath…but…he’s had a chill like that 2 times in his life with death row serial killers. Amaro says he is a young boy, but Benson says he is not like normal young boys. Huang informs them he gave Henry the psychopathy test and he is two standard deviations past the normal range for callous, unemotional behavior. Cragen asks for this in layman’s terms, and Huang explains that Henry does not have any emotions, he does not recognize them in others, he has no empathy and they know he is manipulative, adding you usually see this pathology in cases of abuse or neglect. Benson concludes that parent who love him is not going to be enough. Huang agrees they will not. Benson thinks he is just wired wrong, and Huang says there is a facility in Vermont that treats kids with severe diagnoses; Huang’s conference ends today and he could talk to the parents about the program before he goes back to Oklahoma. Cragen asks what if they are against it, and Huang explains that he will advise them to get a safe room.

With Benson, Amaro, and Huang at the Mesner household, Tom says they put Henry through their interviews and the tests, and he raises his voice and yells he is worse and Henry kicked a hole in his bedroom door and does not know what he will do next. Viola tells Tom not to blame them. Tom does not want Henry locked up and left alone afraid they have abandoned him. Viola says Henry is not afraid of them leaving him; he is not afraid of anything. Tom is bothered that she is agreeing with them, saying if they are right. It doesn’t matter what they think, it is too late. Huang agrees that it is late, it would have been better to catch this at3 instead of at 10, but states there are new approaches. Huang explains that Henry will never grow out of this and he can’t be cured but it is to Henry’s benefit to learn to control his behavior. Tom sarcastically states that it means if Henry slams his sisters fingers in the door, he won’t get to play his video games, telling Huang “we’ve tried that, sir.” Benson explains is that Henry needs more support that they can provide. Viola tells Tom it is their mistake, they thought they could handle it but they can’t. they have to try this for everyone’s sake..

Back at SVU, Huang tells the group they are in luck, Vermont has a space for Henry and he can start next week. Cragen asks if the parents are on board, but Fin says they don’t have a choice. Huang says just like him going back to Oklahoma. Benson says they were glad they got him while he was here, adding that they miss him and their door is always open. Huang asks her to tell that to The Bureau. Cragen says they will walk him out. Fin asks Amaro how the father and son time went, and Amaro tells Fin that Gil is a good kid but Cynthia still doesn’t want him to know he is his father. Fin says Amaro has time for that, but Amaro asks “do I?” Amaro explains that Gil does not have a family and as bad as Henry has it, he has a home and two loving parents. He missed 9 years of Gil’s life, it goes by fast, asking when is he going to tell him, when he is 19? Benson walks back into the squad room, her phone ringing. It appears to be Viola Mesner, but the caller says it is Henry, he is worried about Ruby. He explains that there is a lot of smoke and his dad is at work and she locked his mom in the laundry room who told him to call 911 but he wanted to tell her. Benson says they are on their way, and tells the others they have to go, now.

Henry glares as the contents of a wastebasket burn, filling the room with smoke, and a tied up Ruby coughs and the smoke alarm beeps.

At the scene of fire at the Mesner household, Amaro speaks with a fire fighter who says the fire was very deliberate, he used match heads. The point of origin was a waste paper basket stuffed with paper. They found Ruby tied to the bed and Viola trapped in the laundry room. Benson walks up to Viola who is with Ruby, who is being treated by the EMTs. Benson explains they are still looking for Henry. Fin and Rollins approach ad Fin informs them that the doorman said Henry did not leave and they are checking the security cameras. Viola says sometimes he plays with Toby in 3B or they go down to the building playroom. Amaro says they will find him. Benson asks Viola to tell her how this happened, and Viola explains when she told him about the treatment facility that Henry lost it and had a tantrum. Her husband had a work emergency and Henry started to calm down. Benson is skeptical but Viola says she and Henry talked and he was OK and she just went to put clothes in the dryer and he wedged a chair under the door. She started to smell smoke and screamed to call 911. Ruby wakes up and moans and Benson tells Viola to stay with Ruby and they will find Henry. Viola begs Benson not to hurt hi, as he doesn’t understand, Benson says they will not hurt him.

Fin knocks on the door of the Burke home and home and Toby’s father answers who says Henry is in Toby’s room. They check the room and see nothing, but they hear Toby call from the closet. They find him in there, restrained, and Toby says Henry was hurting Snowball, their dog, and points to the bathroom. Fin walks in the bathroom to find the water running and the leash tied to the faucet, the tub filled and the dog apparently drowned. Fin turns off the water and tells them not to go in there. Toby says Henry said he would shoot him with his father’s gun, Toby knew his father’s combination.
As Benson works to clear the people from the building, one woman tells Benson her boy is still inside the room. Amaro goes into the playroom and finds Henry sitting in one of the play tunnels, holding a gun on another young boy, Sam. Amaro tries to talk Henry into handing him the gun but Henry refuses. Benson walks in. Henry says Sam doesn’t talk much, he has development delays. Amaro tries to talk him out but Henry asks if he could hold his gun. Amaro says maybe, he will talk about it if Henry lets Sam get back to his mom. Henry lets Sam go, and as Benson grabs Sam, Henry tells Amaro that he stays, Benson goes, holding the gun on them. Benson leaves with Sam. Henry asks if his parents are mad at him and Amaro says they are upset. Henry says he called the police when there was a lot of smoke, and Amaro says it was good that he did. Henry continues to point the gun at Amaro and asks if he can hold his gun now. Amaro says maybe later, not right now, but Henry gets upset, telling Amaro he promised. Amaro reminds him he said they would talk about it. Henry says that is what adults say when they don’t let them do what they want to do, adding that Amaro lied to him. He asks Amaro what would he do if he shot him right now. Amaro tells Henry he does not need to do that, and Henry asks if there would be a lot of blood and would his brains come out of his forehead? Henry smiles, and Amaro moves to get his gun, and he pulls out the cartridge and ejects the bullet from the chamber. Henry asks if this is a trick and that he doesn’t like tricks. Amaro says if Henry puts his gun down, he can take his. Henry moves to take the gun but then fires his at Amaro, close range. Amaro stumbles back and Henry also stumbles back from the recoil. Amaro groans in pain and then moves to restrain Henry. Benson calls out and then enters with police, but Amaro tells them not to shoot, they are good. Amaro has Henry pinned to the floor, and Henry screams to be let go.

At the ER, Amaro looks at the bruise from the bullet hitting the bullet proof vest, and says he forgot how much this hurt. Benson comments that Henry could have killed him. Amaro explains he had the vest on and knew that with the recoil, Henry would only get one shot. When Benson chides him how he knew Henry wouldn’t hit his head, Amaro says he is not shooting a 10 year old boy. Gil runs into the room with Cynthia, and Amaro tells them he is fine. He introduces them to Benson, who makes a move for a quick exit. Amaro tells Cynthia they did not heed to come down, he just didn’t want them to hear about it on the news. Cynthia says she thought there was something he and Gil needed to talk about – man to man. She smiles. Benson suggests she and Cynthia grab a cup of coffee, who says it sounds good. Amaro looks at Gil.

Back at SVU, while his parents observe from behind the glass, Henry says he never likes Snowball. Rollins asks what he did, and Henry said he tied her leash to the facet and then turned on the tub and held her down. He smiles. Rollins asks where was Toby, and Henry said Toby started crying and peed his pants so he put him in the closet.. Rollins asks about Snowball, and Henry said it took longer than he thought. Rollins asks what about Henry’s sister and why he tied her to the bed, and Henry explains that he wanted to see if she would melt from the inside out, but it got smoky and he couldn’t see. Rollins comments then he called Benson, and Henry says this is all her fault, she is the one who wanted to send her away.

Viola says she can’t listen to any more, and Tom asks what happens now. Cragen says their son tried to kill his sister and he shot a cop. Tom looks at them and Benson explains that Henry is not going home. Viola counters that Henry is 10 years old, and ADA Cox informs her that Henry will be charged with juvenile delinquency and the judge will sentence him to a juvenile facility and he will get help in a secure treatment facility. Viola comments this means he will be locked away, and Benson says yes, probably until he is 18. Viola begins to cry and then says they want to be the ones to tell him.

Later, with Rollins in the room, Viola explains to Henry what will happen to him and why, and Henry says he does not want to go there. Viola says they will still be a family and they will still see each other. Henry coldly looks at Viola and comments that she said yes. He looks to his father and tells his “daddy” not to let them take him away, and he gets up and hugs his father. Tom says he loves him, and Henry hugs his father, continuing to repeat that he is sorry, and that he loves him. As his father holds him and Viola puts her head in her hands, Henry looks off with a cold, unfeeling glare as we fade to black.

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John Cargo said...

I don't Henry's parents were naive, they were in denial.

When it comes to bad characteristics or behavior in a loved one, they tend to develop a blind spot.

That said, I don't think Henry is going to grow out of this. He has already killed a pet, tried to kill his sister and a police officer, and Benson on his hit list.

Nancy R said...

I prefer the episodes where there are court scenes and I missed ADA Barba. Hope he is in the next new
one "Girl dishonored."

Lori Hein said...

I always love to read your reviews and I actually often use them to determine whether I want to watch a particular older episode on Netflix. I do want to point out here, though, that you refer to Henry as "psychotic" when I think the word you want is "psychopathic." Psychotic is, of course, suffering from psychosis -- hallucinations and/or delusions. Psychopathic people don't necessarily suffer from psychosis. I wouldn't nitpick, but I thought this was an important distinction.

As for Huang -- yes, underutilized! Perhaps that was all B.D. Wong's schedule allowed for. It would be great to have him back more often and more substantially.

BensonFan said...

I give this episode a B+. I think it could have earned an A if Dr. Huang were better utilized, as Chris said.

It is frightening to think that a child can be born bad. Had these parents been stricter would it have made a difference in Henry's behavior?

Although we still don't know much about Adam Lanza, I think the situation in Newtown, CT was different. What I've gleaned from the little information we have is that Adam suffered from some severe emotional problems that he didn't know how to handle whereas this child, Henry, had no emotions at all. (Not to mention, that this is, of course, fiction, whereas the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting was all too real.)

Chris Zimmer said...

Good point Lori, thanks! I updated the wording.

Feisty Foodie said...

I thought this was an excellent episode, and the little boy's acting was so creepy and on-key for everything. I got literal chills.
It definitely gave us food for thought, and while some links to Adam Lanza could be drawn, I thought it was more inspired by the article that came out directly after Sandy Hook - "I am Adam Lanza's Mother" which describes a woman with a child with severe emotional issues and the potential to harm himself, her, and her other children, and then details her struggle with institutionalizing him or not. I applaud the mother in this episode's acting as well - you could sense her desperation, frustration and helplessness that she did everything she could to love and nurture him, but it didn't seem he could be reached. It made me really sad.

The ADA's scoff that she can't send away every sibling that torments their siblings was very apropos, as your own personal anecdote shows.

Anonymous said...

During the scene where Amaro was trying to talk Henry into giving up the gun, Henry pointed out that when the smoke got bad, he called the police - that was good, right? And Amaro agrees, saying, "That was a very good thing you did. It was real good you did that."

And I was instantly reminded of the Twilight Zone episode It's a Good a really, really good way. Henry was almost as creepy as Billy Mumy was back then...I really wonder if the writers did that on purpose? I hope so...

Kittukat1978 said...

I have to say I enjoyed this episode more than I thought I would. The whole psychopath/sociopath kid story line has been worn thin over the years on SVU. The young boy was so creepy and convincing it made the episode interesting. And when I say creepy I mean he freaked me out he was so good! I still have chills.

I was disappointed though for 2 reasons. I was so happy B.D. Wong was coming back and he was only on for like 5 minutes, big bummer. I miss him. And yet another ADA, what was up with that? I hope they aren't going to switch to a new ADA, yet again.

CLA said...

I liked the episode. And let me just say that Mariska was just beautiful. She is amazing. His eyes are still beautiful. Too bad she smiles so little.

xfool said...

The episode was good but as you mentioned Chris, we've sen this story of a pyscho kid done before in the franchise and IMO the episodes you cited were far better than Born Psychopath. This episode didn't delve into the real issue of understanding how children can seemingly be born bad. Is it a brain chemical imbalance? Bad brain wiring? Or, do children become this way because of their surroundings and upbringing of some childhood event that affected them in the wrong way? If a person buys into the "born bad" argument, this implies that the child can't be responsible for his/her acts because it is some sort of birth "defect" issue. So I give this episode low marks for missing the chance to dig deeper into the issue.

As far as the acting, it was good but my opinion of the kid is that his range of acting was based on being able to stare for long periods or smirk on cue. The writers did the better job in creating the actual scenarios for the character to show how demented he was (i.e the drowned dog).

The ADA was just average...but it's hard to follow someone like Barba/Esparza!

Joanne said...

I thought the episode was too predictable and shallow for the reasons that Chris mentioned. The kid looked more dull than creepy so I just didn't really get into it.

And after the treat that was ADA Barba, this new one just seemed to lack spark although to be fair she wasn't given that much to do.

OhSusannah said...

I liked this episode a lot. I wish Dr Huang had been in it more,though. Barely five mins, or so it seemed to me.I think that it was Huang who first used this term First Born Syndrome.If they had not had a second child, the disturbed Henry Mesner would have gone on to torture other people's kids and their pets,which he eventually did in the final scene.Very well-written. I do wonder if this episode was inspired by and paid homage to the young victims of Newtown and Adam Lanza.If only wirtiers could have rewritten the tragic outcome of the troubled young life of Adam Lanza and his victims.

Chris Zimmer said...

Viola first mentioned "first born syndrome" when she was talking to the detectives...she said the guidance counselor used that term.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and in answer to this:

(SVU fans can now debate whether Meloni’s or Pino’s physique makes for better eye candy.)

Pino. Definintely. Because he also has hair and oh, that accent...

CLA said...


I totally agree. Dani Pino is beautiful and talented. I also love her hair. And I love how he treats Liv. He is more affectionate than was Stabler.

BensonFan said...

Warren Leight said that because this was a family court case not a criminal case, Barba was not the appropriate ADA. He wouldn't be trying a juvenile unless the juvenile was being tried as an adult, which Henry wasn't. So, I don't think there's any need to worry, Barba fans :) Or can I call you Barba-ers, Barba-ellans? Haha.

Sean Cooper said...

This episode was too disturbing. I had to change the channel multiple times. If this is the kind of crap Law & Order is going to air it should be cancelled. I'm sorry, but drowning the cat made me really upset. I would be ashamed to tell anyone I watched a horrible episode like this. If I see another episode like this I'll stop watching the show.

Unknown said...

I thought the episode was interesting and since most of L&O's storylines come from real world sources, I assumed the source of this was the 2012 NY Times article "Can You Call a 9-Year Old a Psychopath?" (here: The physical description of the child and the parent's differing reactions to the boy (like the father's belief that his son would outgrow his behaviour) are spot on.

Akemi said...

I actually came here to post that the NYT article was the likely source material, too! The boy's cold, mechanistic curiosity about how someone would react to pain (as opposed to empathy with such pain) was explored with chilling precision in that article, as it was in this episode.

Anonymous said...

@Sean Cooper: Snowball (the pet Henry drowned) was a dog, not a cat, if it makes a difference...

@Unknown & Akemi: Thanks for the link! I want to read that article now.

lois said...

Except for amaros hospital scene (yum) this episode did little for me. Olivia was her usual little immature bitchy self. She should take a clue from Finn and offer up constructive ideas instead of just having a fit every time things don't go her way. She needs to realize that these ADAs know what cases they can prosecute and win.

CLA said...

While you only see defects in OB, I just see qualities. Each episode of SVU more I love the character. Olivia Benson is a modern heroine. She is a mix of professionalism and unconditional love to the victims. Mariska created OB and OB left the screens and took the form of Mariska. Today, I do not know to distinguish the two.

CLA said...

@ Lois

While you only see defects in OB, I just see qualities. Each episode of SVU more I love the character. Olivia Benson is a modern heroine. She is a mix of professionalism and unconditional love to the victims. Mariska created OB and OB left the screens and took the form of Mariska. Today, I do not know to distinguish the two.

Lorin said...

This episode finally aired in Scotland. I thought it was amazing. The acting was great all the way through. Not a dull moment, I still have chills. Has and always will be my faveorite show.

Sarah J. said...

Your recap was great, and I don't mean to be rude, but I'd like to point out that Sandy Hook is not in NJ. It's actually a neigbourhood in Newtown, CT. I'm from the area, and know many people involved with preparing the new school. Being personally affected by the shooting, I thought that was important to mention.

Chris Zimmer said...

Not sure why I typed NJ... I knew it was in CT but I must have had a brain cramp or something! I fixed it.

mrmeadowlark said...

I do not believe anyone is "born" a "psychopath", and I will explain my reasons for feeling this way.

This episode struck a responsive chord with me, due to the fact that when I was a child, I had profound emotional and anger issues.

When I was very young, my parents would physically discipline me by striking me across the face, throwing objects at me, etc. My mom also had issues (I have always strongly suspected she is bipolar although she has never been formally diagnosed). It didn't take much to make her go ballistic, and she was always prone to react to situations in a way that was grossly out of proportion to the actual situation at hand.

For the first 5 years of my life, this was my "model" of "normal human behavior". By the time I started Kindergarten, I had developed the mistaken perception, based on what I had both witnessed and been on the receiving end of at home, that it was perfectly normal, and perfectly acceptable to go into a violent rage whenever people did not do what I wanted them to do or let me have my way.

On top of all this, when I was four-and-a-half years old, I was molested by a babysitter and her two eldest children. However, my parents never believed me, despite the fact that it is universally accepted in the mental health community that children never lie about such things (unless, of course, an adult puts them up to it). At one point they even went so far as threatening to kick me out of the house, unless I shut up about it and never bring it up again. Even today, some 25 years later, I frequently have nightmares about the abuse, and I believe that the abuse, and my parents' subsequent disbelief, were part of the root of my emotional/behavioral issues.

When my anger issues became too apparent to ignore, my parents took opposing viewpoints with how to handle it. My Dad believed that I would grow out of it (and was ultimately proven correct). My Mom thought I should see a shrink. Due to my Dad always being a pushover, my mom won out, and I ended up seeing a shrink. From that point until the time I turned 18, I was forced to take a never ending succession of mood and mind altering drugs, that "worked" with varying degrees of success. The only thing these drugs totally succeeded at was destroying my health with all their side effects. Of course, nothing could be done to deal with the root causes of my problems, because I was forbidden from talking about it, and nobody wanted to listen to me anyway.

My Dad turned out to be right..... I did grow out of it, and have been off the meds for 11 years now, but I still suffer from chronic health conditions, all of which are side effects of these drugs. I often wonder how my life might be different had people been willing to listen to me, and I frequently get drunk in an effort to destroy my memories of the molestation and thoughts of what my life might be like had people been willing to listen to me.

SomeoneSensible said...

@ mrmeadowlark,
thank you for sharing your experience. It is interesting to note the perspective of someone who has been through something like this.
However I dont think that qualifies you to make a universal judgement that 'no one is born a psychopath'
It could very well be that your condition was totally different to what is being portrayed here.
Further more I dont think leaving a child to "grow out of it" is really a good option many times. As depicted in this episode they did leave the boy to grow out of it long enough causing his behaviour to escalate dangerously.
You seem to have issue with the fact that you are sent to a shrink & made to take mood/mind altering drugs. While I cannot comment on the drugs as I am not a medical expert, could it not be possible that part of the reason you "grew out of it" was because you had the help of a shrink?

lukebandit said...

This one should of been a 2 episode show. Then Dr. Wong could of been more utilized. They could of shown him in lockup getting treatment. Team up with an older boy and escaping and plotting to get back at Olivia. They get caught. Also, show Amaro at the end of the show, Amaro dropping him back off at home and he says Love you, Dad!