In Law & Order SVU “Wonderland Story”, fictional (and beloved) character Sergeant John Munch retires from the Special Victims Unit. Munch is an iconic TV figure, born in 1993 on the excellent yet under-appreciated series “Homicide: Life on the Street.” In addition to living in the SVU universe, Munch also popped up in various other fictional stories such as The Wire, 30Rock, and my personal favorite, The X-Files (in the episode “Unusual Suspects”). Richard Belzer has brought such life to the character, and, coupled with excellent writing for the character over the years, it may be hard for some to tell the difference between the fictional Munch and the real Belzer. Fans have been somewhat disgruntled over the lack of regular Munch time on SVU over the last few seasons but fans should not be sad over his retirement. John Munch will continue to live on, working - much like Lennie Briscoe did for a short time - as an investigator for the DA’s office. Various entertainment sources state that we could see Munch in future SVU episodes.
Retirement is mandatory before one reaches the age of 63 in the NYPD, so, as Cragen mentioned in last week’s episode “Internal Affairs”, his time will be coming soon. It seems odd that in this day and age that there are any jobs that have a mandatory retirement age, but I suspect in the case of the NYPD, they assume that at the age of 63, a person’s physical stamina may not be at the level required for certain parts of the job. As Munch seemingly has been absent more than he has been on the job the last few seasons, the series may be able to move along without replacing him. If the series goes past season 15 – or past Cragen’s mandatory retirement – another captain will be needed. Setting up for his eventual departure, Cragen suggests to Benson that she take the Sergeant’s exam. What seems like a few seasons ago, a possible new or expanded role for Benson was mentioned, and taking the exam makes perfect sense to advance the character’s story line (assuming, of course, that she takes the exam and passes).
The episode featured a tepid, predictable story about a victim from a previous case (from the season 13 Law & Order SVU episode “True Believers” ) but in a grand case of missed opportunity, the story had no trace of John Munch’s fingerprints on it. I would have been great to revisit a case that Munch worked – even if he wasn’t working the present case – giving the chance for the cast to flash back to Munch. The only flashback scene we get is from Munch himself at the very end, and it looks like a scene not from SVU but from Homicide: Life on the Street. A strange and disappointing writing choice to say the least. The real mystery here is why we didn’t get ANY SVU flashbacks. It was nice, however, to bring back Munch's 2 ex-wives, a colleague from Baltimore, and his brother (who I don't recall seeing depicted before) for the party.
While the detectives bid farewell to John Munch, I prefer to just tell Munch “So long for now” as I hope we’ll be seeing him – on SVU or somewhere else – at a later time. And best wishes to Richard Belzer, who has entertained and informed us in many various ways over the years – and we all hope he never stops.
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
Raúl Esparza - ADA Rafael Barba
Dean Winters – Brian Cassidy
Sofia Vassilieva - Sarah Walsh
Finn Wittrock - Cameron Tyler
Amelia Rose Blaire - Nicole Price
Todd Almond – Andre
Aisha De Haas – Wedmore’s Mother
Jacqueline Hendy – Cameron’s Lawyer
Michael Mastro – Judge Serani
Matt DeCapua – Matthew Forte
Clark Johnson – Party Guest (Former colleague from Baltimore)
Carol Kane - Party Guest (one of Munch’s ex-wives)
Ellen McElduff – Party Guest (one of Munch’s ex-wives)
David Steinberg – Party Guest (Munch’s brother David)
Kaneza Schaall – Ilana
Leslie Shires – Celine Dubbois
Ilona Saic – Lia
Dee Dee Vega – Singer
At a bar where a farewell party is being held for Munch, Rollins comments to Cragen that it is a pretty good turnout, and Amaro observes there are 3 judges there. One guy walks buy and adds that they had him at “open bar.” Cragen asks Fun if the bartender knows it is well drinks only, and Fin says he is on it. Benson and Cassidy arrive and Cassidy comments about the full house, telling Benson they will take a hit on this one. Benson asks the others where is Prince John, and Amaro says he will call him. Benson asks Cassidy if he wants the usual, and he suggests she make it a double. As Benson walks off, Rollins asks Cassidy how Benson is doing, and Cassidy replies she is good – he thinks – adding that Rollins knows Benson, don’t ask don’t tell. Munch enters the bar, wearing a white tuxedo and carrying a cane, to much applause. He tells them not to make a fuss, saying “as you were, hoi polloi.”
AS the party progresses, members of the SVU squad speak about their memories of Munch. Benson talks about her first day with SVU meeting Cassidy and Munch. When she jokes that she felt this had to be a mistake, thinking it was traffic enforcement or post office security, Munch comments “Prick me Olivia, do I not bleed?” She adds that Munch was a brilliant detective and a very soulful man, and she will miss him. To the sounds of “awwww”, they hug. Munch mentions his ex-wives are there, and they want to have a three way – unfortunately, with his brother David, the story of his life. Cragen stands up, saying none of them want to be there more than he does, and they were hoping, like a good soldier, Munch would just fade away. Cragen quips that their loss is the DA’s loss, as, in a couple weeks, Munch will begin the third – or the fifth – act by becoming a special investigator for the DA’s office. There is much applause. Fin also stands up and thanks Munch, saying he taught him a lot: that Oswald never fired a shot, we probably never landed on the moon, and that Hoover had a gay hit squad. He tells Munch he loves him and will miss him. He also gives Munch a shadow box with his NYPD shield and Baltimore shield. A colleague from Baltimore shouts out that they ran his butt out of B’more. Munch then says what he had to say tonight does not come from here – pointing to his head – but it comes from here – pointing to his heart…where he pulls out a large piece of paper – his notes. He tells them not to cry for him, but then points to Benson and says she can cry for him as she is the heart of SVU. He adds that Fin is the pancreas. He recounts that 12 years in, he showed Fin a report that a rapist strikes somewhere in America every two minutes, and Fin told him that they have to catch this guy. When he first saw Amaro, he realized he - Munch - is still the best looking guy in the squad, but it is kind of a blessing that now in the squad room there is someone even more paranoid than he, and he thanks Amaro. Amaro jokingly asks what does she mean, He tells Cragen he knows what he is saying to himself tonight, and then says, “Ask not for who mandatory retirement tolls, it tolls for thee. “ Meanwhile, Benson gets a message and tells Amaro they have to go and Munch notices they are getting up to leave, asking if it is something that he said. Benson replies it was everything he said, Munch quips that he hasn’t gotten to the Cassidy jokes yet, and as Benson and Amaro leave, he says when he sees Benson and Cassidy together, he thinks that they both can do better.
As Benson and Amaro leave the bar, Benson asks if Amaro remembers Sarah Walsh, and he does, it is the piano student whose rapist got away. Benson said Sarah just texted her; she thinks she got raped – again.
At Sarah's apartment, Benson asks Sarah if she thinks she was raped, and Sarah explains that she woke up naked and her clothes were on the floor and she is sore down there. Benson asks what happened to her ear, and Sarah sobs, saying she thinks he must have ripped out her earring and pulled her head down by her ear. Benson tries to assure her, and says something happened, but Sarah asks again? Amaro asks what is the last think she does remember, and Sarah says she met her friend Nicole and her finance Matthew in the meatpacking District at 8:00 at the Brass Monkey. They were playing Jenga. Amaro asks if she had been drinking, and she said maybe one beer or two. He asks if it was from a bottle or glass, and Benson gives him a “what are you doing?” look as Sarah says a glass. Sarah chides herself, saying she was so stupid and should not have gone out, and Benson tells her to take it east and sit down. Benson assures her it is nothing that she did. Amaro asks her if she remembers leaving the bar, and she says yes, Nicole and Matthew walked her out at 10 or 11 and after that it is a blur. She does not remember how she got home. She gets frantic and then says it was Michael Wedmore, and Amaro asks if that was the man who raped her two years ago, asking if she saw him last night. Sarah replies that she thinks so, and in the past few weeks he has been following her. Amaro asks if it’s been in her neighborhood, and if she is sure. Benson seems concerned at Amaro’s tone. Sarah insists it was him, commenting about his grin – she doesn’t forget that.
Later, Fin tells Rollins that Wedmore’s boss says he is off today and he worked a 12 hour shift last night. Rollins comments about the proximity of his work to Sarah’s apartment, and Fin says the supervisor says he has been there 2 years and his mother works there too. They find her nearby taking a smoke break. She seems annoyed with them and explains her son is at a church retreat with his fiancée. He knows not to go near Sarah and admits he has seen her on the street but if she says more than that, she is lying, just like the last time. She and her son were on duty all night and had dinner in the cafeteria. She says they are done talking.
Back at SVU, Benson and Amaro explain Sarah’s status to Cragen and what they know so far. Fin and Rollins enter and explain where Wedmore is and his mother alibied him for last night. Benson argues as if she doubts Wedmore’s innocence, but Rollins gets a text that the rape kit came back and Sarah was drugged with GHB but no DNA from semen. Benson thinks he used a condom, and thinks it is him. Amaro counters about the timeline and that Sarah does not remember anything after 10:00 in Manhattan but Benson says that does not mean she was drugged there, memory loss could be retroactive. Rollins has doubts that he did it and Cragen suggest they talk to Sarah’s friends in the city, maybe they will put Wedmore at the bar. Benson worries that in the meantime, Wedmore is violent and could go after her. Cragen replies that when Wedmore gets back, he will see if he can put a squad car on Sarah’s block.
At an apartment on Lafayette Street, Fin and Rollins speak with Nicole who is house-sitting. She and her fiancé went out with Sarah that night and Sarah left a message and she has not called back. She did not see Sarah with any guys last night and Fin shows her a photo array and she does not recognize anyone. Rollins asks how long she was out with Sarah, and Nicole says 11, they gave her the watch and then she and Matthew went home. The watch is an entry pass to an underground party. The location changes, you meet a guide on the corner, give the guide the watch that you got from someone who went to the last party. She has another watch and she gives it to Rollins. Rollins reads back the inscription on the watch which says, “Alice came to a fork in the road - which road do I take, she asks” and Nicole explains it is an Alice in Wonderland theme, which Rollins already surmised. Matthew enters and Nicole explains what is happening. Nicole asks if it is OK to call Sarah back, and Rollins says yes and Fin says they will keep the watch.
Meanwhile, Benson and Amaro arrive at Sarah’s apartment and it has been trashed, just like the last time. She explains Nicole called her and Amaro explains that Wedmore was at work that night. Sarah thinks he is lying and continues to think he did it. Amaro thinks this was a different kind of predator, and when she asks if they think she was raped twice by two different men, Benson explains they do, saying it is called re-victimization and it happens more than one thinks. Benson tries to assure Sarah it is not her, adding predators pick up on vulnerability. Sarah thinks she let her guard down and set herself up, and Benson continues to try to calm her but it is not working. Sarah gets more upset and says to forget she called them and then tells them to go and leave her alone. The do so.
Back at SVU, Cragen asks if Sarah was a cooperating witness as long as they were going after Wedmore. Benson says she is not backing off on her story, but realizes now that she was assaulted again – and Rollins adds that you blame yourself. Cragen asks about tracking the underground party, and Fin mentions the corner where she met the guy, and Rollins adds the people that go to these things don’t have day jobs.
Later, at the Astor Place Cube, a woman approaches Rollins who has the watch and asks if her old man (Fin) is alright climbing stairs. Rollins says he will be just fine. They walk to a location where the woman says to go to wonderland you start by going up, and she moves to a ladder which goes up the side of a rooftop water tower. Rollins starts to climb but Fin holds back, saying he will be up in a second. Rollins climbs up and then looks down to see a small nightclub in the tower. She calls down to Fin and tells him to call it in, no one is getting out of there.
Afterwards, Rollins shows the woman who led them to the place the photo of Sarah who does not recognize her. Meanwhile, Fin speaks with A man who says his date Lia had the watch and he just does what she says. Rollins later explains Lia is a 3 times Maxim cover girl and her boyfriend is Cameron Tyler just sold his game app Sweetsrush for $180 million. Lia claims she was not there but the club promoter is an ex boyfriend.
At SVU, the club promoter Andre says they had to ask Sarah to leave as she had too much to drink. She does not recall if she was there with anyone, and when Amaro presses for a guest list and credit card receipts. Andre says it is cash only and there is no list, they can’t control who gets the watch. Benson and Amaro exit the room and Benson tells Cragen she thinks he is covering. Amaro explains there are no cameras of the area and Cragen tells them to have Fin and Rollins check with the 11th to see if there is a watch group in the area.
Later, Fin says they found an old lady across the street who lives at the window sill. Rollins brings up photos the woman took and there is one of Sarah being carried out by a man. Fin recognizes the man as Cameron Tyler and he told Fin he was in the Hamptons. Rollins says Sarah is a caterer and he is a socialite and they could have crossed paths. Cragen tells them to find out if there is a relationship and will let Sarah make a controlled call. Cragen asks Benson that Sarah does not want to talk to her any more, but Benson thinks Sarah will have to get past that.
When Benson and Amaro get to Sarah’s apartment, Sarah opens the door – and Cameron is with her. Sarah explains they are friends, Cameron adding when he heard what happened to her he wanted to be there with her. Nicole house sits for Cameron and Sarah has been a caterer at some of his parties. Sarah said Cameron was just telling her about being there Friday and when Amaro comments that Cameron went back Sunday night, Cameron says he can explain and Amaro tells him outside. Benson goes inside to speak with Sarah and shows Sarah the photo of Cameron carrying her. He had admitted to her he was worried about how out of it she was and they go out in groups and he is nice to Nicole.
Amaro speaks with Cameron who says – man to man – he knows this might look bad that he didn’t tell the other detectives he was at the club that night. Amaro says “man to man” that does look bad. Cameron explains his girlfriend is Czech and has a hot temper and she did not need to know she was out with another girl but says it Sarah just showed up.
Benson asks Sarah if Cameron came up to the apartment with her and the explains what Cameron did not say to the police. Sarah is in denial about it and thinks Benson is making a mistake.
Amaro continues to question Cameron who admits he helped her out of the building a took her home in a cab, adding it was the gentlemanly thing to do. He did not take her up to her apartment but he offered but she said no. This was after 1 AM. He took a walk home across the bridge but Lia was at a late shoot and Nicole was at Matthews when he got home. He says he feels like this is his fault, he should have never left Sarah alone.
Back at SVU Benson and Amaro explain to Cragen that Cameron admitted what he can’t deny but says he did not go up to Sarah’s apartment. Benson thinks Sarah does not want to admit it is him and Amaro thinks the condolence call by Cameron is him just getting in front of it. Rollins gets off the phone and says that was East Hampton PD, a year ago Cameron was accused of sexual assault by a catering waitress, Celine Dubbois, who later recanted. Fin asks how much did that cost?
At Café Celine, Rollins and Fin speak with Celine about Cameron and Celine says the accusation was a mistake which has been taken care of. Rollins explains about the nee rape case. She says he can’t help them and Fin asks when she opened her store. Celine says last fall, Rollins noting it was not long after she dropped the charges against Cameron. Rollins asks about how she financed the store, and Celine explains she has investors, people there are very generous. Rollins asks if this includes Cameron, and Celine says they make their own potato chips and to help themselves to a bad on their way out. She walk off. Fin picks up a bag of chips and Rollins tells him to put that back, it’s graft. Fin replies – seriously, they’re purple. Rollins thinks Cameron likes to get rough with the help, and then wonders who gave Sarah the watch.
At SVU in an interview room, Fin and Rollins speak with Nicole about the watch and Cameron knew they were all going out, Matthew texted him. Cameron just hired her this summer as there was a party at Cameron’s house on the 4th of July weekend and she got wasted and missed he Sunday brunch shift and she got fired. Cameron said that he would take care of her. She explains she must have passed out on Tequila and thinks she fell, she was sore all over and tore her ear lobe. Matthew was in California on business and Cameron found her the next morning and she was a mess but he was great, he gave up his Sunday to take her to the doctor. Cragen, who is observing the questioning, tells Benson and Amaro that Cameron raped her too.
Afterwards, while Nicole waits in the other room, they all discuss what Nicole said. Benson wonders if they have to tell her and is worried this will make her a victim. They all debate the point and clearly Benson is not sure. They wonder if maybe they can get Sarah to wear a wire to catch Cameron and then maybe ger a warrant for the GHB but Benson thinks this is a whole lotta maybes. She thinks if they tell Nicole she will never be the same. Fin asks what is more important, adding Cameron is a rapist. Amaro says they are cops, not social workers. Cragen feels they are right, they don’t have a choice and suggest Benson and Rollins speak with her.
Benson and Rollins speak with Nicole and eventually Nicole comes to the realization what has happened to her at the 4th of July party. Nicole admits that she was sore and the next morning she had a bladder infection, she just took some leftover antibiotics. She says she doesn’t want to know what happened, she didn’t want to think she cheated on Matt. As Benson and Rollins explain that they think she was raped and that Cameron is a predator who also went after Sarah, she starts putting the events of that night together and realized Cameron raped both her and Sarah. She asks what she is supposed to tell Matthew, they were supposed to stay chaste until they got married. Benson explains this is not her fault and he will understand that. Rollins says Cameron is a serial rapist and they need to put him away, but Nicole says she can’t help them as she can’t remember what happened. Benson reminds her that Cameron does.
Later, Nicole is at Cameron’s place as he arrives home with Lia and Nicole says she needs to ask him about something. Lia says it is OK, she will be upstairs waiting for him. After Lia walks off, Nicole brings up the 4th of July party while the detectives watch a video feed from another nearby location. Nicole explains she is pregnant and says it is not Matthew's. She continues to play on this lie and then works her way around to ask for all the names of the guys at her party for a DNA test as one of his friends must have had sex with her while she was passed out. Cameron caves and says she was really aggressive with him, she is attractive and he was high, and then admits he figured she knew. The detectives continue to watch, noting it was Nicole’s idea to say she was pregnant. Cameron says he wore a condom and it was just them, and she presses for a DNA test, saying she needs a screening. She is worried Matthew will leave her and Cameron says Matthew will not need to know, he will take care of this. He says it is not just for the procedure, but for the stress of it, saying this never happened. She mentions all her injuries and he says he will wire money into her account. She says if he thinks he can pay her to not tell people he took advantage of her, he says it wasn’t like that, she was all over him. She counters that she was passed out cold. He asks if Sarah put her up to this, and she says no, asking if anybody else knows. He says no, of course not. He moves in closer to her and she pulls back, saying not to touch her, and we hear the detectives call out his name as they break down the door and enter the apartment. Cameron looks to Nicole and calls her a bitch. She yells back at him that he raped her and he raped Sarah. He yells that she set him up, and as he moves closer to Nicole, Fin grabs him back and throws him against the wall. Benson consoles Nicole and asks if she is OK. Nicole says she will be. As Benson walks off with Nicole, Cameron yells he will call his lawyer. Rollins informs him they have a warrant for his house, his phone, his computer. Fin says he is under arrest.
At SVU in the squad room, Nicole tells Benson and Rollins that she tried to talk to Saran to say she is sorry but Sarah did not want to hear it. Benson says Sarah has a lot to deal with , and Rollins says so does she and Matthew. Matthew is speaking with Amaro who says he and Nicole are still getting married, it is not her fault, thinking it is his as she met Cameron through him. As Fin brings in Cameron, Matthew sees him, and calling him a son of a bitch, lunges for him. The detectives pull them apart.
Later, Cameron is in interrogation with his lawyer, Amaro and Fin explain what they have on Cameron, who says Nicole was blackmailing him about being pregnant. Cameron denies everything but Amaro says they found his cloud with videos of him having sex with 8 passed out women. His lawyer looks less than thrilled at this news. Amaro also shows the evidence of all the earrings Cameron saved from the victims as his trophies, and adds when the DNA comes back on them, the jury will connect the dots. He says he never saw them before, and his lawyer cautions him not to say another word, and then says she will need to speak with the DA. Fin says they will see if he is interested.
As Benson and Rollins and Cragen observe, Cragen says that should make Barba happy. Rollins quips that she does not think anything will make Barba happy. She walks off to call him. Benson tells Cragen she was wrong about not telling Nicole she was raped, and Cragen says she is allowed. He adds that before she leaves, he has been meaning to give something to her. He hands her a folder and Benson sees it is the Sergeant’s exam. Cragen reminds her she is his senior detective and now that Munch is gone, he does not want One PP sticking him with some tube of hair cream. She does not think she is ready for the desk and he replies he knows she is not, but admits she has been his number 2 for a while, and let’s just make it official. She nods and leaves his office.
Later, Benson speaks with Sarah and tells her the DA will take a plea for Cameron for 4 counts of aggravated sexual assault including hers and he will do 10-15 years. Sarah says good and Benson asks again if she is OK with that. Sarah says after the last time, she has no faith in the jury. Sarah could not believe it was him, he seemed like a nice guy. Benson explains that with some rapists, that is their MO, they can be very charming. Sarah says obviously she has not radar, and Benson reminds her this is not on her. But Sarah asks is she supposed to stay home the rest of her life. She says Michael – and other men – are still out there and her dad wants to get her a gun. Benson says she carries a gun and she has been assaulted twice. Sarah is shocked. Benson says the hardest part is not beating herself up every day for getting into that situation. Sarah asks that Benson said it wasn’t her fault but for Benson it is her own? Benson explains it is a feeling, not a fact, and her therapist suggested that it can help to change her routine and do things that make oneself happy and focus on the good and positive and this can shake the negative emotions and patterns away. Sarah asks if that works for her, and Benson replies some days, it is a process, little steps add up. Sarah comments if she says so.
Munch sits down at his desk and picks up a plate and looking at it, recalls his days in Baltimore homicide, working late, alone at his desk. Back in reality, he hears the phone ring and reflexively answers it, saying "Homicide - I mean SVU - hold on I'll get you a detective.” He presses a button on his phone and then hangs up the receiver. He puts the plate in his box, covers the box, and takes one last look around as he walks away from the desk with his belongings…and we fade to black.
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