Thursday, March 6, 2014
Law & Order SVU “Gridiron Soldier” Recap & Review
The “Thumperian Principle” states, “"If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all.” I usually don’t take instructions from fictional animated rabbits, but by taking Thumper's double negative statement literally, I decided to continue with my review Law & Order SVU “Gridiron Soldier.” This episode deals with a hazing and ends with a football player coming out as gay. This is not the first time a TV show has dealt with hazing or football players/sports figures being sexually abused or coming out as gay. Recently, college footballer Michael Sam came out as gay, which resurrected talk about whether the NFL is ready for an openly gay player. As this discussion had been out there for quite some time before Sam came out, it’s not like SVU is tackling any new ground here. The scene where the player came out as gay was at the end of the episode and felt like the scene was an afterthought to capitalize on the recent real life news story.
This episode also covered the increasing problems that Detective Amanda Rollins is having with her gambling addiction, a topic also teased in the promo for the next Law & Order SVU episode, “Gambler’s Fallacy”. While I suspect this Rollins drama was included this week to set up for the next episode, this element of the current episode felt shoehorned in and awkward. One can only wonder if, as there has been no news of Kelli leaving the show, this whole gambling thing is not some ruse for some kind of undercover operation or some other double-secret plan. I must admit my curiosity is piqued as to how Rollins will get out of her impending mess that was teased in the promo for the next episode. (But we all know how those NBC promo teases go, frequently taking scenes out of context.) Rollins was also the center of attention in “Gridiron Soldier” as she was acquainted with the uncle of the victim of the week, a plot point that added value only in that Rollins wanted to take this case Because.It.Was.Personal!, while initially Benson did not. I can’t quite verbalize what felt wrong with this episode, just that it felt too contrived and too disjointed.
I’ve gone on record before to say that I don’t care for overly long opens on Law & Order SVU. When I saw the clock tick off over 5 minutes before the opening credits rolled, and nothing I saw grabbed me, I knew that this episode wasn’t going to be one of their best. The acting was amateurish and stiff, the writing equally so, and I never felt invested in any of the characters. That includes Rollins; the gambling storyline - at least right now – is too predictable.
Benson’s comment to Cedric about the sports bar and hockey was inappropriate, showing a stereotypical view of gay men that they don’t like sports. Since we had an episode about rape jokes last week, I find it disappointing that Benson made a gay joke – and a bad one at that. (If it wasn't a joke then the comment was doubly inappropriate.) It could have been all in her delivery; I could easily see Munch making that comment. I miss Munch a lot - he's the only one on the show that had real comic timing.
To proactively deflect the questions I will get from the Raúl Esparza fans: I have no idea why his name is in the opening credits when he wasn’t in this episode and his appearances have been so spotty this season. It’s a shame, as Raúl is the spark that this show so sorely needs.
I struggled with this review. Frankly, the episode bored me. I know some readers may wonder how I can be a fan and then write such a negative review. Being a fan of a show doesn’t mean that one has to love every episode. Sometimes tough love is in order. I think this series can – and has – done much better and it pains me when I watch an episode that is a dog (no offense to guest star Frannie or dogs everwhere).
Here’s the recap:
Mariska Hargitay – Sergeant Olivia Benson
Ice-T – Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola
Kelli Giddish - Detective Amanda Rollins
Danny Pino - Detective Nick Amaro
Raúl Esparza - ADA Rafael Barba
Winston Duke - Cedric Jones
Glenn Morshower – Coach Bill Becker
Greg Finley - Eddie Thorpe
Glenn Fleary - Larry Jones
Michael Mastro – Judge Serani
Tabitha Holbert – ADA Rose Caliay
Jason Cerbone – Terrence Quinn
Toni Campisi - Attorney
Leigh-Ann Rose – Tanya
Thomas Sadoski - Nate Davis
Luke Guldan - Bucky Dinucci
Ty King – Jerome Fields
Nicole Coulon – Zoe
Jake Choi - Tylee
Eric Kappenberg - Anthony Parker
Junior Mendez – Freddy
Brennan Taylor – Detective Tom Haley
Preston Ellis – Jack
Rollins is in a bar watching a basketball game and freaks out when a referee's call doesn’t go the way of the team she bet on, and she loses.
Meanwhile, Coach Becker meets football player Cedric Jones, who is being recruited. He puts Cedric in a limo with two women, Zoe and Tanya, in the back seat, who Becker said are Cedric's hostesses.
Later, the person with which Rollins made the bet meets up with her on the street as she walks her dog Frannie, and he mentions the tough call the ref made. The dog barks at him as Rollins promises to get him his money.
Elsewhere, in a hotel room with Tanya and Zoe, Cedric tells them he is already committed to Georgia Tech but the ladies have some drinks and playtime with him to try to change his mind.
At Nate’s bar, Rollins has a drink and he gives her some money to bail her out, and she promises to work overtime to pay it off. He knows she is good for it but has one condition: he wants her to come to a meeting with him.
Meanwhile, at a group dinner, Coach Becker continues the hard sell to Cedric but Cedric sounds very reluctant.
At the meeting, Rollins recounts a story of her father’s gambling to the group.
Back with the coach, he introduces Cedric to other players: Eddie, Bucky, and Jerome. He explains to them Cedric’s reluctance. He suggests they give Cedric a tour after dinner. During the tour, they take Cedric to the weight room, where he is told it turns boys to men. They bring in the two girls and they seat him in a chair and blindfold him.
Later, back in the SVU squad room, Benson gets on Rollin’s case about Rollins being in the top ten in the city for overtime. Rollins makes her explanations but Benson suggests it’s the beginning of the year and it is best to bank these hours. Rollins then explains it is credit cards and the holidays, but Benson advises her to go through her for now on. As Rollins chats with Fin, a man enters and introduces himself as Larry Jones from Loganville and that Rollin’s mother told him where he could find her. Rollins seems happy to see him, she hasn’t seen him since high school and that they used to run track together. Larry explains his nephew Cedric came to New York City and has gone missing; he was at a football recruitment trip and did not make his flight back. Fin seems to think it’s his first time in New York and maybe he met a girl and partied. But Larry disagrees. Rollins says they will track his cell phone and check with the school. As Fin takes Larry aside for coffee, Benson asks Rollins what this is all about, and when Rollins explains the issue, Benson asks what he is doing at SVU. Rollins adds Larry is from her home town and she promised she would look into it, saying she won’t put in for it. Benson tells her to do what she has to do.
At the Hudson University practice field, Coach Becker is talking to a small group from the press as Rollins and Fin approach and they discuss Cedric. Becker says this happens sometimes when the kids come to the big city. He did not see Cedric leave the dinner. When Fin asks if drinks were served, Becker reminds him the kids are 18. Becker says when Cedric missed his pick up at the hotel he called police and the ERs but there was no sign of him. He calls over Cedric’s assigned chaperone, Eddie Thorpe. Eddie tells them that he did not see Cedric leave and then says he smelled alcohol on his breath, and he gets the feeling he came there to party. Becker cautions Eddie that they don’t know that. When the coach walks off, Rollins asks Eddie why, if he was his host, he didn’t keep an eye on Cedric if he thought he was drinking, and Eddie explains that Cedric was built like a tank and he thought he could handle himself. As Eddie goes to practice, Rollins sees that they got a ping on Cedric’s phone at a bar on 8th Avenue in Chelsea. Fin wonders how well Larry knows his nephew.
Later, at the Gym Sportsbar, the bartender give Amaro Cedric’s phone, which he had been holding. He says Cedric had an ID and with a body like that he was not going to tell him no. One guy tried to talk to Cedric and the guy got too close and he saw Cedric swinging at him and he pushed his way to the front door, so the bartender called the cops.
Rollins and Fin are at a police station where they have been having problems with gay bashing in that area. Plainclothes were in the area when they got a gay bash call and Cedric came out of the bar. It took four guys to get Cedric down and they had to tase him. Rollins explains she has history with the kid and asks if she can take him and she is told to be their guest. Cedric is in the cell and Rollins explains who she is and why she is there. He asks her not tell his uncle.
Later, Amaro gets Cedric out of their holding cell as a man, Freddie, enters SVU with Rollins and Fin, and he clearly has been hit in the eye. They do a line up and Freddie picks out Cedric as his attacker. As Fin walks away with Freddie, Rollins tells Benson she called his uncle who is on his way there. Benson informs her that they will interrogate Cedric in the meantime and when Rollins says she is on it, Benson explains it will not be Rollins doing it, Amaro and she will take it.
In interrogation, Benson and Amaro question Cedric who said Freddie was all over him at the bar and he didn’t want to be getting AIDS. He says Freddie was trying to kiss him and he doesn’t roll like that, wondering why he picked on him as he is straight. Benson explains it was a gay bar and Cedric is surprised, saying they had hockey on TV. Benson asks if anybody was watching. Cedric told the cab driver he was looking for a sports bar and then seems surprised they spoke to the people at Hudson, asking what they said. Amaro explains they said he was at a recruiting dinner and he missed his flight home the next morning. Cedric questions is that all they say, and Amaro and Benson look at each other and Amaro asks if they left something out. Cedric insists no, saying he just wants to go home. Benson explains to Cedric he is in trouble and when Cedric says the fake ID wasn’t his, it was waiting for him in his room. Amaro emphasizes Cedric is looking at assault and maybe a hate crime. Cedric insists that is not him and he does not hate. Amaro asks if there is anything he is not telling them, and Cedric asks for a lawyer.
In Benson’s office with all the detectives, Benson tells Rollins that Cedric was ID’d in a line up and he is not denying the assault so let the 12th book him. Rollins knows he is not denying the assault but she knows his uncle and family his entire life and they raised him right and Cedric swears he is not homophobic. Fin asks what else does he expect Cedric to tell her? Benson asks if Rollins is saying that after one night in New York he goes from boy scout to a gay basher and asks if she is buying the story about the cabbie. Rollins explains Cedric is a small town kid and the driver may have thought it was a funny joke. Amaro adds Cedric did think it was a sports bar. Fin counters that does not excuse him from beating somebody up. Rollins asks Benson that they let them go back to the university and find out if something happened to Cedric to set him off. Amaro supports her, saying these football recruiting weekend get out of control. Benson agrees to let them follow up but adds that in the meantime, Cedric stays locked up on the assault.
Back at the practice field, Amaro and Rollins explains to Becker what happened with Cedric and Amaro watches the players run a “bull in the ring” routine where one player gets constantly hit by other players. Becker explains that they made the pitch to Cedric but he did not sign and this happens all the time. Amaro comments he didn’t realize they still did this drill and when Becker asks Amaro if he played. He explains he did in college, he was a cornerback. Becker says he wants the kids to be mentally tough and Amaro calls it a rough lesson. When Rollins presses on what happened to Cedric at the dinner, he says nothing happened on their watch. They gave him a tour, fed him a steak, and they talked about the team; whatever he did after he left is on Cedric. As Becker whistles to stop the drill, one player hits the other player taking all the hits and knocks him to the floor. Rollins notices that player is Eddie Thorpe, who told them he smelled booze on Cedric. Eddie sits in apparent pain on the floor. They walk over to him and explain that Cedric is under arrest. Amaro asks if Eddie had to do the drill as the coach was pissed off he did not sign Cedric. Eddie explains that Cedric had already committed to Georgia Tech before he got there. Amaro comments that even after the hard sell, Cedric still said no, and as Amaro looks at the cheerleaders, asks if they tried to convince Cedric another way. Amaro is skeptical that Eddie was the only one on the welcoming committee.
Afterwards, Amaro and Rollins speak with Tanya and when Rollins explains Cedric was arrested to assaulting a gay may, Tanya asks if it was Ty.
Amaro and Rollins speak with Ty who says it was just a prank and they were hazing him. He explains Cedric was blindfolded to make him think he was going to be serviced by the cheerleaders but instead it was Ty. It was not his idea; if the football team asks you to do something you do it and neither of them got hurt. Rollins tells him he may be in trouble and Ty is worried when they expect him to name names, then says if they want to arrest him, arrest him. Amaro tells him to stay close to campus, they will stay in touch. As Ty walks off, Rollins is shocked that they straight baited Cedric and that’s why Cedric went off on the guy at the gay bar. Amaro says he can try the panic defense in court but Rollins says there are mitigating circumstances and Cedric was so confused that he didn’t bring them up.
Back at SVU, Cedric insists to Amaro and Fin that nothing happened but then Amaro mentions they spoke with Ty. Amaro continues to press and when Amaro puts his arm on Cedric’s shoulder, Cedric pushed him away and leaps up, telling him to get his hand off him. He insist he is not gay and is not fag, throwing a chair. Cedric sits on the floor and cries, saying he did not want any of it.
Later, Rollins tells Benson that they know there are mitigating circumstances and asks if they can tell that to the victim. Fin says he was gay bashed, he doesn’t care why. Rollins asks if she can talk to the DA to try to make them reconsider charging a hate crime. Benson testily says Rollins can try and they may hold off for a while, but there is no chance the assault charge is going away. Fin mentions Cedric attacking a police officer, but Amaro says he provoked him, and to let that go. Rollins asks when are they going to charge the football team, and Fin says how about never, he was a consenting adult. Amaro reminds him it was with the two female hostesses, not the mail cheerleader. Fin argues that Cedric was consenting until they took the blindfold off. Rollins says it was rape by deception, and Benson explains that is not something they can charge in New York. Rollins asks how about rape 3, and Fin asks Rollins if she wants them to arrest Ty, the gay cheerleader. Rollins thinks that is a start and when she continues to argue her point, Fin says Cedric did not file charges. Fin knows she is close to the family but says she has done all she can do. Benson informs them that Barba told her just last week to pick her battles and this one is not a good one. Amaro says Tanya and Zoe were in on this prank and it can’t hurt to talk to them. Rollins says Cedric is the victim who was sexually assaulted , aren’t those the battles they are supposed to be fighting? Benson glares at them and asks if those two are a team now? They squirm a bit and then Benson shouts “GO. Last chance. But I don’t want to hear about it AGAIN until you have something.” As Benson walks back to her office, Rollins replies “Copy that, Sergeant.” Fin follows Benson into her office and he asks what was that, and Benson explains that he knows those two, the more she says no, the more they dig their heels in. He asks if she wants him to make sure they don’t go off the reservation, and Benson replies, “please.” She asks since when did they become the voices of reason? Fin says sooner or later you play all the parts.
At arraignment court, Cedric pleads not guilty. ADA Caliay advises they dropped the hate crime but when Caliay asks for $25,000 in bail, the defense asks for ROR. As Cedric has no ties to the community, the judge sets bail at $20,000. Cedric explains that his family does not have the money and they were counting on him, and his lawyer says he will move for a trial date ASAP. As Cedric is taken away, his uncle says to Rollins that he can’t believe this is happening. Rollins tells him she is sorry.
Back at SVU, Rollins explains to Tanya what they did was 3rd degree rape and Tanya says it was just a joke. Rollins thinks it was the team getting back at Cedric. Tanya admits the team was upset and Rollins presses on her on cooperating.
Back at the college, Fin and Amaro speak with the other players involved who said it was a prank and it was not private. They were just putting on a show. Jerome says there was no video taken and that Eddie was Cedric's chaperone.
Amaro chases down Eddie outside and when Amaro accuses him of being soft, he says he is not and what happened to Cedric is on Cedric. He says he is not some dumb ass jock and if Amaro has a problem to read him his right, otherwise he does not have to talk to him. Eddie walks away. Fin walks up and says Bucky puts himself in the room but says it was consensual. Amaro says Jerome swore no one took video. Fin suggests they see if the DA’s office can get a warrant, and Amaro says they have to move fast, they’ve closed ranks. He adds that football is all about sacrificing yourself for the team. Fin questions if messing with the kid’s head gets you bonus points, and as asks, as Amaro played football, if this stuff is normal for Amaro. Amaro says he did stuff he was not proud of but you play, study, and eat together, you feel like you are part of something bigger that yourself. Fin thinks the only difference between a football team and a gang is the gang doesn’t wear helmets and kneepads. Amaro asks what do they tell Rollins. Fin says she is wasting her time; Cedric should take a plea and do his bid; as long as he can sack a quarterback, he’ll get a job.
Back at a bar, Rollins is sitting at the bar as Nate walks in and he comments he waited for her at the meeting and asks where was she? Rollins explains he was all caught up in the case, explaining about the hometown connection. Nate reminds her if you is not working on your recovery, you’re working on a relapse. She says she will get his money and he says he is not worried about it. She suggests they get out of there and as she comes on to him, he says she doesn’t need to do that either, right now she needs him as a friend. He phone rings and gets a shocking call from Larry and she quickly leaves.
At Bellevue Hospital, Larry tells Rollins that Cedric tried to hang himself but he is alive but hurt and his neck is in a brace. Larry was told a girl came to visit Cedric today. Larry says Cedric is their 18 year old golden boy who never hit a speed bump and he spends a week here and his life is ruined.
Rollins enters Cedric’s room and asks about the visitor, saying they know it was Tanya and asks if she threatened him. Cedric says he can’t tell her, and Rollins says they can go after Hudson for interfering with the investigation and interfering with witness. Cedric says he is not talking about this – they have a video of him. Rollins says they will make sure it does not get out. He says the doctors say he can’t play football and he wishes he had died.
Back at SVU, Rollins comments to the others that she shouldn’t have pushed him, and Fin had told her to just let Cedric do his bid. When Fin says this is not on her, she counters that she feels like when she tries to help somebody out she makes it a lot worse. Amaro says Fin is right, it is not her fault, that team did a number on him. Benson asks that they had Tanya visit him in Rikers, and Rollins states it was to make sure he knew they had a video of him and Ty. Benson thinks that is their way in, it’s witness tampering and blackmail, and tells Rollins to get her in there.
Later, with Tanya in interrogation with Amaro and Fin, she swears she never meant to have that happen. She says he was a country boy who didn’t know those guys and what they had on him. The coach told her he was worried about Cedric and knew he liked her so he thought Cedric would listen to her.
At the officer of Coach Becker, Benson and Fin arrive and Benson tells Becker that Cedric was sexually assaulted in their weight room. Becker says they have no proof and that Cedric came there under false pretenses and took advantage of their hospitality and wasted his time and theirs. He knows Cedric had a fake ID and was drinking and got himself into trouble and tried to blame his players. Fin says his players did a number on Cedric, but Becker argues no, he asked every one of them and the swore that they didn’t do anything. He thinks Cedric came there to party and showed a lack of judgment and a lack of character. Benson counters that Cedric is 18 years old and his players sexually assaulted him and then he sent in one of his hostesses to blackmail him with the video. Becker replies that he thinks he’s given them enough of his time. He moves to the door and Benson says they will be going after his players for rape. Becker tells her to do what she has to do, it will be a teachable moment for them and he is sure they will come out all the better for it. It’s like he tells them, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Benson and Fin leave.
Later, in SVU, Rollins questions Bucky and Fin questions Jerome and they get nothing. Amaro, along with Benson, have Eddie in an interrogation room and Amaro explains that the others have lawyered up. They question Eddie who is flip about things at first and when Amaro continues to press, Eddie says Cedric is soft. Amaro tells Benson Eddie made a point of telling him who is soft and who is hard and Eddie says he doesn’t know what they hell he is talking about. Amaro says when they first met, Eddie was laying on the field being hazed, and thinks that wasn’t the first time. Eddie says it is nothing he can’t handle, and Benson says unlike Cedric. Benson asks if he treated Cedric like they treated him, and Eddie says there is no room in football for a guy like that. Amaro asks if it is because he went through it worse, and Eddie says if he did, he wouldn’t be sitting there whining about it. Benson asks if he means he would take it like a man. Eddie says he would take it like a man, like coach says, what doesn’t kill you. Benson says he got is worse that Cedric and never told anybody. She adds she has been doing this for a while and can see that he has a lot of weight on him. She can also see that she wants to let it go. He says he can take it and can carry it. She asks what they did to him, and did they do the same thing that she did to Cedric. He slams down his hand and says that was nothing. Amaro adds compared what they did to him. Benson goes on to say that Eddie is tougher than Cedric and is tougher than all those guys. Eddie reiterates that he is tougher than Cedric and all of them. Benson comments that must be tiring, carrying around all that armor and self loathing, and whatever they had on him he put on Cedric. Eddie asks if they think he is gay, and Amaro asks why would they say that, is that what THEY think? Eddie says screw you. Eddie walks to the mirrored glass in the room and Rollins is directly on the other side. Eddie explains he took it like a man and Amaro asks if they raped him. Eddie pauses and then replies that the coach said he needed to toughen up and he did, and ever since then…he slams his fist into the glass, punching in a huge hole and glass flies into the other room, Rollins turns away to protect herself. He says he doesn’t feel anything anymore. He looks down at his bleeding hand.
Later, Benson and Amaro explain Eddie’s situation to ADA Caliay, that in Eddie’s freshman year, he missed a few downfield blocks and the coach was riding him and caught him crying in the locker room. He ordered two of the older players to toughen him up and they sexually assaulted him with a broom handle. Caliay wonders why he stayed on the team, asking why he didn’t transfer out. Amaro explains that college football is a small world and ;leaving a school because of hazing makes you look weak. Benson adds they took video of Cedric which means they probably took video of Eddie as well. Caliay asks if Eddie is willing to testify about any of this, and when Amaro replies he is not there yet, Benson adds that they don’t know that. Amaro says according to Eddie, the coach ordered it. Caliay asks if they believe that, and Amaro replies that with a team like that, nothing happened unless the coach wants it too. She tells them to pick them all up and see if they turn on each other, this isn’t rape 3, it’s rape 1.
Later, Rollins and Fin arrest the coach for rape of Eddie Thorpe. Becker says they can’t just come in here and make accusations, and Fin says they are not making any, Eddie is. Becker asks if they think Eddie has the balls to testify in court with him staring at him. Rollins glares at him and replies not when Eddie first got here, but Becker spent a few years toughening him up. She tells him to take it like a man.
Back at SVU, Rollins speaks with Larry and asks if he and Cedric are headed home. Larry said Cedric met up with the man he beat up at the gay bar and apologized and the DA had explained what happened to Cedric so he wouldn’t press charges, that Cedric had been punished enough. Rollins says she sorry about all of it, and she keeps going over in her head what she could have done differently. Larry said the DA also told him some of the boys at the school are going away for what they did to Cedric. Rollins adds it is a lot of other players too, they are still looking but so far they found 4 guys on the team that were assaulted or raped. Larry realizes this started with Becker and hopes they throw him out of football for good. Rollins tells him he is going to get into a lot more trouble than that, they will see to it.
Elsewhere, Rollins is getting dressed while Nate lays in bed. She tells him she is leaving and when he asks if he will see her tomorrow at the meeting, she says no, she hit a lucky streak. She throws a wad of money at him and tells him this means they are even.
Elsewhere, Amaro meets up with Eddie in a football field and Amaro tells him the coach took a plea and he is spared a trial. Amaro knows Eddie risked a lot, with the NFL draft in the future and if he is worried about the word getting out, it is not going to. Eddie appreciates it but he is done with football. He comments if they ever found out the truth – and Amaro says no one will find out. Eddie says it is not about being assaulted, he is gay. If he thinks college was bad, imagine a pro locker room. He can’t spend another 10 years in the closet. Amaro says after all he has been through, that is a big sacrifice. Eddie explains he is taking the cowards way out, the big sacrifice would be to go pro and come out but he is not ready for that and neither is the NFL. Eddie walks off and as Amaro stands alone in the field, we fade to black.
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