Law & Order SVU “Reasonable Doubt” was clearly a ripped from the headlines story based on Woody Allen/Mia Farrow and their marital problems and allegations of child sexual abuse made against Woody. (It also had a dash of Roman Polanski thrown in.) It even had what I thought were look-alikes; for example, Daniel reminded me of a young Woody and Mavis reminded me a bit of Mariel Hemingway, who starred in one of Woody’s movies, “Manhattan” when she was 16. In “Reasonable Doubt.” Frank Maddox and his ex-wife Catherine had a nasty divorce. Frank is portrayed as an exacting director who is a jerk and Catherine is painted as being a nut who surrounds herself with dogs. It isn’t until the divorce – and Frank falling in love with Catherine’s younger sister Rose - that Catherine accuses Frank of molesting their daughter Chelsea. It’s unclear whether Chelsea is being coached by Catherine or if the allegations are true, and it does seem true when the nanny initially supports Chelsea’s account. The story was very predictable but still highly enjoyable, with Bradley Whitford doing his usual fine work as Frank and Samantha Mathis as the slightly unhinged Catherine.
As the case plays out, the nanny suddenly changes her story on the stand which is less than helpful to Barba’s case. Benson convinces Mavis, the middle sister, to tell her story of being abused by Frank. She doesn’t tell it on the stand but does tell it via the media. Despite the fact that some jurors heard the news story, and, coupled with the fact that Frank has fled the country (as did Roman Polanski) before Barba can cross examine him, the trial moves on with alternate jurors and Frank is found guilty. This is unlike the real life Woody situation where he has only been accused and never been put on trial for sexual abuse of a child. That situation – and the fictional SVU case – highlight the fact that allegations of sexual abuse of children can sometimes be hard to prove without hard evidence, especially if the allegations occur during a domestic dispute between spouses/partners. It is even more complicated when, like Woody, it involves a public figure who is greatly respected for his/her talents and those around simply cannot believe that a person like that could do something so heinous. It also doesn't help when one of the parties pointing the finger has a axe to grind or seems mentally unbalanced. Stories of the sexual abuse of children in entertainment go back to the early days of movie making and new stories continue to surface to this day. These days, however, with constant media scrutiny, it’s becoming harder for predators in the entertainment industry to hide their behavior, and it’s becoming easier for people to spread accusations without having hard evidence. Sadly, like Chelsea in this case, nobody is truly looking out for the kids being abused.
As far as Amaro and Rollins, I say NO. Just NO. They have ZERO chemistry. Even if it is simply a sexual relationship, neither of them looked naturally comfortable together on that couch. The scene looked forced. (But I will say thanks for the shirtless Amaro shot!) If Law & Order SVU lacks anything, it is believable sexual tension between any of the characters. Benson and Stabler’s chemistry is a perfect example of what the show should strive for – and no, this is not a plea to bring back Chris Meloni. It’s merely an example of the spark that the characters must have in order to get viewers interested and be believable. Amaro and Rollins don’t have it. Benson and Cassidy didn’t really have it, either.
I also didn’t quite follow Murphy’s line of thought with Rollins that she has a blind spot with men in power, as least as far as bringing up Cragen as an example. It would have made more sense for Murphy to bring up HIMSELF. That interaction with Rollins felt like a set up for something down the road, but it still seemed awkwardly wedged into the story.
Here is 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
Donal Logue – Lt. Declan Murphy
Bradley Whitford - Frank Maddox
Samantha Mathis - Catherine Summers
Emma Bell - Rose Summers
Clare Foley - Chelsea Summers-Maddox
Jeffrey Tambor - Counselor Lester Cohen
Celia Keenan-Bolger - Mavis Summers
Aida Turturro - Judge Felicia Catano
Godfrey - Adam Church
Julyana Soelistyo - Dohna
Kate Shindle - Julianne
Keidrich Sellati - Daniel Summers-Maddox
Geraldo Rivera - as himself
Ann Curry - as herself
Gonzalo Vargas - Fontana
Nicole Sudhaus - Brie
Jacob Wallach - PA
Elizabeth Wardland – Juliet
Danielle Guldin – Female Detective
Francis Dumaurier – Translator
Pablo Gonzales – Pimp
Hettie Barnhill – Jury Foreperson
While filming the show “New York Hustle”, director Frank Maddox goes on a rant about everything going wrong, especially with one of the stars, Rose. He shows one of the stars how he should be kissing Rose. He continues his rant outside where he is met by Benson and Murphy, who he first thinks are extras. They tell him they are from NYPD and it is about his daughter. Frank wonders if it is Chelsea and asks if she is alright. Benson replies that is what they are trying to find out. Frank explains she is with his ex, Catherine, and Murphy says she is, asking if there is somewhere private they can talk. Frank wonders what Catherine is accusing him of now. Murphy explains it is Chelsea’s pediatrician, and Benson adds he thinks Chelsea may be a victim of sexual abuse. Frank scoffs that Catherine thinks it is him, he explains they are in the middle of a custody battle, and walks away, saying he has to call his lawyer.
With Barba, Rollins and Amaro watch a video of Chelsea Summers-Maddox, 8, being prompted by Catherine, explain the abuse. She said Frank said she spilled ice cream on her dress but HE did it. He said they had to go to the laundry room and took off her dress and sat her on the washing machine and said it was fun the way it moved. He held on to her so she wouldn’t fall. Frank and Catherine are divorcing after he was caught sleeping with Catherine’s younger sister, Rose, who is starring in Frank’s show New York Hustle. Catherine made the video and Amaro noted the time jumps. Barba moans about this being a high profile couple in a divorce and tells them to get ready for the media circus.
Later, Benson and Murphy are at SVU in the interview room with Frank Maddox and his lawyer, Lester Cohen. Frank says he has a reputation as an ass, admitting he is an ass but he is not a child molester. He thinks this is Catherine trying to get back at him for his decision to “consciously uncouple.” Murphy asks if that was before or after he got caught sleeping with his little sister. Frank claims he and Rose are in love Cohen states they are her as a courtesy and Frank is late for a story meeting. Murphy says they understand the importance of the world of fictional character. Cohen asks if he understands that the pediatrician should be charged for making a false report? Benson replies that before they do that, they just need to hear Frank’s side of the story. She asks Frank if it is correct that he and Chelsea were together in his ex-wife’s apartment. Frank states that is correct, he is her father. He adds that the Tibetan nanny was there; they weren’t alone and his son Daniel was there. Benson explains that Chelsea told the pediatrician that he and Chelsea were playing games…private games. Frank replies that is absurd; it’s Catherine putting words into his daughter’s mouth. He adds that Catherine is borderline; the house is full of cats, bunnies, she has 16 stray dogs, and she talks to the dogs and thinks the dogs talk to each other. Cohen tries to get him to relax and Frank continues, saying she is nuts. Murphy asks if he can answer with a yes or no and they can end this, asking if Frank sexually assaulted his daughter. Frank calmly says if he wanted to sexually assault his daughter, why wouldn’t he wait, sue for custody, he’d have total access. Murphy asks if that was a yes or a no. Cohen says that was a no – a clear no. Benson asked what happened last Sunday, and Frank says they were playing chess. Benson mentions if it was in the laundry room and Frank explains no, there are spiders there and everybody who knows him knows he has arachnophobia.
Afterwards, Barba comments that is not exactly a confession. Murphy counters that it is more about what he DIDN’T say, and Amaro adds that they asked him point blank if he did it and sometimes at SVU they work up to that question. Murphy tells Amaro there is a technique behind it; he gave Frank an opportunity to deny it and he didn’t. Amaro retorts he knows about psychological techniques but Frank could have been rattled. Fin counters that Frank didn’t seem rattled to him, he came up with that arachnophobia excuse. Benson adds that Frank also used distancing language, he never said his daughter’s name and he never even looked at her photo. Rollins comments that none of which proved guilt. Barba says Rollins is right and they can’t move forward without the girl’s testimony. Murphy instructs Benson and Amaro to go to the country house and work the mother, adding that this alleged incident took place in her New York apartment, and Benson chimes in to Rollins and Fin that they should talk to anybody who was there – the nanny the brother. She adds that they will need a warrant to get into that laundry room. As they all leave the room, Rollins approaches Murphy and says that Frank IS afraid of spiders. Murphy counters that someone who is afraid of needles, if they are a heroin addict, will find a vein.
At the Summer-Maddox Farmhouse on Monday, April 14, Benson and Amaro speak with Catherine who explains Frank’s obsession with Chelsea, but Benson explains they need to hear the story from Chelsea and Amaro said they also need to do this to pursue the case. Catherine doesn’t want to pursue it, and Amaro explains they can do it without her. Catherine protests that she is a good mother and loves her daughter but Benson asks again to speak with her as they want to keep her safe. Catherine agrees.
Inside, Chelsea explains to Benson and Amaro about playing pretend with her father and Amaro asks if she knows the difference between the truth and pretend. When Catherine seems to interfere with the answers, Amaro takes her out of the room to have Benson speak with Chelsea alone. Benson talks about the video she made with her mom and Chelsea said her mom just said to say what happened.
Meanwhile, Amaro speaks with Catherine who said her nanny let Frank into the apartment; she was at a matinee with her sister. When Amaro mentions Rose, Catherine snaps that they are not speaking. She was with Mavis, her little sister from Oregon who was visiting, Frank has a set visitation schedule but Frank won’t pay attention to is. Chelsea said they played a secret game in the laundry room and her vagina hurt. Amaro asks if this were Chelsea’s words or hers, and Catherine said they were Chelsea’s. She took her to the doctor and Frank can deny it all he wants but he was in that laundry room.
At the apartment of Catherine Summers on the same day, Rollins and Fin speak with the nanny who says she let Frank in and she never let the kids out of her sight the whole time. She admits she went out for a smoke, with Frank’s encouragement, while Frank and Chelsea were playing chess; When she came back, they were coming out of the laundry room and Chelsea’s dress was unbuttoned and her tights were gone.
Rollins speaks separately with the son, Danny, who says Frank thinks boys are dirty and Frank likes girls, dressing them up and making them do what he says, like his mom, Chelsea, Rose, and all his actresses. He said Chelsea could be in his show but not him because he is a boy and boys don’t play dress up. All his parents do is fight and the nanny tells him it is bad karma.
Back at SVU, the detectives review what they learned with Murphy. Rollins shows a web site LMZ which released nude photos of Rose that Frank took when Rose was 18. Benson thinks she looks younger than that. Amaro thinks Catherine released the photos and Murphy then suggests that if Amaro thinks that, Fin and Rollins should go talk with Catherine and tell her Frank may be charged with kiddie porn as if this is part of her vendetta, she will steer right into this.
Fin and Rollins get to the house and the media is swarming. Fin thinks if Catherine wanted this she would have gone public with the photos from the get. They get to the front door and Mavis – the un-famous middle sister - opens it. Rollins identifies themselves as police. She lets them in and tells Chelsea to go find her mom. She then says she was afraid something like this would happen as Catherine had a strict rule that Chelsea and Frank could never be alone together, since the Rose issue. Before that, Frank always had his hands on Chelsea, and Mavis set up nanny cams here and in the city on her last visit. She had to tell Catherine. Frank knew there were nanny cams and that there wasn’t one in the laundry room. Catherine walks in and cuts off Mavis and complains about the media, saying Frank released the photos to humiliate her. She does not know how old Rose was in those photos. Rollins asks for the jpegs to determine when the photos were taken but Catherine said if she had them she would have used them in the divorce and Frank would be sleeping in his Tesla.
On the set of New York Hustle on Thursday, April 15, Benson and Amaro speak with Rose who says Catherine just can’t let it go. Frank told her that their love would cost her her relationship with Catherine and that’s what happens with older siblings. They think it is all about them and then the younger one comes along and suddenly they get thrown out of orbit. She hopes Catherine can move on in time and it was never her intention to hurt her.
Meanwhile, Frank is in SVU interrogation saying this is ridiculous and invasive. But Murphy thinks this is pattern of behavior and Frank is just moving down the line. Cohen explains Rose was of age when those pictures were taken and it is irrelevant. Benson tells Frank his hair was found in the laundry room and when Frank says it is all over everything and when Benson says it is not that kind of hair, Frank says Catherine planted it. Murphy asks if she planted the fingerprint too as they found Frank’s fingerprints on the washing machine where Chelsea said she was sitting when he touched her, and Frank comments he may have looked in there on his way to the kitchen. Cohen tells Frank he doesn’t have to answer these questions and Frank says he knows he doesn’t. Murphy continues to press and Frank admits he was in there for a moment. His daughter climbed up on the washing machine and he did not want her to get hurt. Benson asks why did he lie, and he says look what they are accusing him of and would they believe him? Cohen says Frank has answered all of their questions and they are out of there. As he and Frank leave, Cohen suggests that they charge Catherine with endangering the welfare of a child, she is far more dangerous than Frank is.
Later, at Rollins' apartment, she is on her sofa with her dog Frannie, watching a clip from the show New York Hustle on a talk show hosted by Geraldo Rivera, who talks about the allegations. Rollins calls over to someone in the apartment to come in and see this, and Amaro walks into the room, just out of the shower, and clad only in a towel. They listen to Frank talk about Catherine and that their marriage is over and she is manipulating the kids and Catherine like drama. Rose is also there on the show and Frank talks about them being in love. Amaro leans back on the sofa next to Rollins.
Meanwhile, on the New York Hustle set, Catherine arrives and she confronts her sister Rose, saying Rose is selling herself for a role. Rose accuses her of being drunk, but she says she is clear headed. She makes accusations about Frank sexually abusing Chelsea. Frank walks up behind Chelsea and puts his arm around her. Chelsea looks sick and begs her mother to leave.
Later at SVU in his office, Murphy watches the video footage from this encounter with Benson and Rollins. Catherine storms in with Chelsea and Mavis and she says she wants to go after Frank as he is a pedophile. As Catherine starts to freak out, Mavis decides to take Chelsea out of the room. Rollins leads them into another room. Catherine asks Murphy that he said if Chelsea testifies they would have a case, and Murphy asks if she is ready for it. Catherine says they are, adding that Frank cannot get away with this.
At a later date, Benson and Catherine are in the interview room with Chelsea, and she is testifying via remote video feed. She explained what Frank did and how he touched her and Barba shows a drawing of where Chelsea marked where Frank touched her, Cohen cross examines her tries to get her to admit that her mother had her practice her lines. She said she did not practice but her mom reminded her what to say so she would not forget in case people tried to confuse her and she had to remember or they would think she lied. Cohen states so they did practice, and when Barba objects, the judge allows it. Chelsea said it was just so she wouldn’t forget.
Later, Catherine is on the stand, saying she did not coach Chelsea. Chelsea came to her and said her vagina hurt. She asked her if she had been wiping too hard but she said no, her daddy had been playing with her down there. Barba mentions that she took her to a pediatrician but she didn’t want to call the police because she was panicked and in denial. She asks who wants to think or believe their spouse would do something like that. She was still reeling from the knowledge that he was sleeping with Rose. Barba states that is Catherine’s teenaged sister. Cohen objects to the relevance, but Barba counters that it goes to a pattern of behavior. The judge allows it but tells Barba to tread carefully. Barba asks her to tell them about Frank’s relationship with her teenaged sister, and Catherine states he was her brother in law but Frank knew her since she was a toddler. He would play with her and dress her up and call her his leading lady. Frank says “Oh for god’s sake,” laughing, and putting his hands to his face. The judge tells Cohen to control his client, and then tells Barba to make sure it is relevant. Barba states there is a direct line. He asks Catherine after she discovered his affair with her sister Rose, what did he notice about Frank’s behavior toward Chelsea? She says he was obsessed with Chelsea the same way he had been with Rose when she was that age. With Rose, she thought it was just eternal affection and she has since come to realize it is common behavior with pedophiles; it’s called grooming. Cohen makes a motion to strike, saying an alienated wife is not an expert witness. Benson makes a face of disbelief and the judge instructs the jury to disregard Catherine’s last comment. Barba asks her to explain the behaviors she witnessed, and Catherine explains that Frank was always pulling her onto his lap and stroking her hair, tickling her and playing games with only her and changing her clothes. She told her staff never to leave them alone together but that Sunday he gave the nanny permission to go out for a smoke. Cohen objects it is hearsay and Barba drops it.
Cohen cross examines her and makes Frank’s behavior sound like he is a loving father, and Catherine mentions Frank never plays with their son Daniel. She admits she has never actually witnessed the behavior and says Frank doesn’t do it when she is watching. Cohen makes it sound as if she became aware of this only after Frank started dating her sister, and when Cohen makes it sound like she is doing this out of anger, but that is not why she took Chelsea to the pediatrician. Cohen brings out a porcelain figuring that she sent to Frank which is of a woman pulling her heart out of her chest. She gave it to him the day after the divorce was filed and she found out Frank had been sleeping with Rose. She wanted to know how she felt, he betrayed her and destroyer her family. Cohen says it would be natural for her to seek revenge. Barba objects, saying it is badgering, but the judge allows it. Catherine admits she may have wanted revenge but she would never would have done this to Chelsea just to get back at Frank. Cohen comments – yet here they are.
Later, the nanny testifies and then completely changes her story that she told to Fin, now saying that she saw Frank and Chelsea only playing chess, she did not see them coming out of the laundry room. She says she just does not remember. She says Chelsea loves her father.
Afterwards, Fin tells Barba the nanny was crystal clear when he talked to her. They wonder if Frank got to her. When Benson asks how, Barba comments that she is Tibetan, for all he knows, Frank called the Dalai Lama. Catherine admits the nanny is on her payroll but knows that Frank writes the checks. Mavis adds this is Frank’s MO and he always get what he wants because everything is for sale. Benson asks what he means by always, and Mavis says it doesn’t matter, he has talent and connections and success, and people always bend the rules when it comes to Frank. She chides Catherine for putting Chelsea through this and Catherine asks if she thinks this is her fault. Catherine asks what about what she had been through? Mavis reminds Catherine that she married him and made her a star and can she actually believe that people didn’t think that she didn’t know what kind of man Frank is? Mavis storms off and Catherine is stunned.
Back at SVU, Murphy asks for an update on court and Rollins says defense brought in an opposing psychiatric expert who says Chelsea has an overactive imagination and his female producer said Frank is a swell guy and he supports charities and empowers women. Fin adds they had to admit Frank gave the crew an iPad after the charges were brought up. A Times critic called Frank a national treasure. Fin says none of them can admit he could ever do this; guys like Frank do the deed in private. Rollins mentions Frank’s talent and the custody battle, and she just doesn’t see it. Fin thinks he is guilty. Murphy asks Rollins if he can have a word with her.
In his office, Murphy asks Rollins if there is something going on he should know about, asking if she is protecting Frank. She says she doesn’t like seeing innocent men getting railroaded, mentioning a case of a music teacher last fall. He mentions she has had complicated relationships with older male mentors, mentioning her captain down south and with Cragen. She asks what was complicated with Cragen, and Murphy mentions Cragen being found with a dead hooker in his bed. Rollins explains Cragen was set up. He asks about her dad, who was a gambler, asking if he ever got in trouble. Rollins says yes, mostly with his mom, she rode his ass and nagged him until he had to leave. Murphy asks if she ever thought her mother had a reason, and Rollins says nothing. Murphy asks if she had a blind spot with men in power. Rollins gives him a look and says nothing.
In Supreme Court on Friday, April 18, Frank testifies about Catherine being her muse and it was hard for her to make the transition to characters with depth and it is hard to portray characters with more maturity than she has. Frank said he and Rose never meant to hurt anyone but it has not been easy. Cohen brings up Catherine publically embarrassing him and Frank says this has been a tough time for her and her only fault he sees is Catherine dragging Chelsea into their sturm und drang. He loves his child and he would do nothing to harm her, and now this charge is out there. He thinks when Catherine realized she could not get him she tried to destroy his reputation. Cohen asks about the day in question, and Frank says he did not harm Chelsea. He said he did play dress up with her and wants his daughter to feel like a princess and tell her he wants her to be his leading lady. She is a brilliant actor and is playing a part written by her mother. He understands how this looks on the outside and he is not naive. He apologizes to Catherine that they are here and they loved each other and created these beautiful children but here they are. He wants to apologize for being arrogant and insensitive but he has broken no law and he could never hurt his daughter, asking why would he risk everything he accomplished, it does not make sense.
Afterwards, Murphy tells Benson and Barba that Frank is better than any actor on his show and he had the courtroom charmed. Barba says when he cross examines him on Monday, he does not care how many fans he has…Benson says not everyone is a fan, noticing that Mavis was not there today.
At the apartment of Catherine Summers that same day, Benson meets with Mavis and Mavis said she wasn’t there as she’s heard enough of Frank’s lies. She admits she was 12 when he and Catherine got married. Benson mentions about her not wanting to be an actress and Mavis says she never wanted to be a star. Benson asks if Frank "noticed” her when she was that age. Mavis says she would not matter if he did, he is Frank Maddox and gets away with everything. Benson says she can protect Chelsea in court, on the stand. Mavis thinks his lawyer will ridicule her and call her crazy and says no, she learned long time ago it is Frank Maddox’s world, they just live in it. Benson tells her it doesn’t have to be that way – for Chelsea.
At a later time, Mavis is on TV being interviewed by Ann Curry and she says when she was 13 Frank gave her a part in one of his shows and if she performed well she could do more. After they taped the episode, she was at a party with one of Frank’s producers in LA and there were all these famous actors and all this attention and then he asked her if she wanted to try the hot tub. He did not waste any time, and he put his hand under her bathing suit inside of her and then raped her and said that was all his leading ladies got their roles. She was 13 and she believed him. She did not tell anyone, asking who, how? Catherine was in love with him and he took care of her family and she saw it happen with Rose and she tried to warn her but Rose thought she was just jealous. Catherine didn’t want to know. She found out when she saw the photos of Rose and admits she leaked them on line. She had to do something because he hasn’t stopped and he hurt her niece and everybody just looked the other way. She adds that all those people who sat in silence and watched are all Frank’s accomplices and those who think talent negates responsibility are just as guilty as Frank. She does not want to be one of those people. She states she did not make this up and she didn’t imagine it and he knows what he did to her.
In Judge Catano’s chambers on Monday, April 21, Cohen argues with the judge that now Frank cannot get a fair trial. Two of the jurors admitted to seeing the interview. Barba counters this is why they have alternates and the judge agrees and says they will proceed with Barba’s cross examination of Frank today. Cohen says he won’t be able to do that as his client won’t be able to appear today. Cohen doesn’t think he can produce Frank ever and Barba and the judge conclude Frank has left the country. Barba says he is willing to waive cross and will proceed straight to summation and he would never imply that the defendant’s flight indicates guilt because that would be…wrong. The judge says their summations and the verdict will be delivered without Frank and the trial will proceed.
Back at SVU, Amaro tells Rollins that Frank turned up in France. She wonders how, as the court took his passport. Benson says Frank flew out on a private jet and he has dual citizenship. They watch a news conference from Paris where Frank states his ex-wife has a vendetta and he will not come back to the US. The country that he knows has changed ans now a man can be accused, with no evidence, of heinous crimes and have a show trial and be vilified in the media. Rose, who is with him, says if the allegations were true, she would not be there next to Frank. She adds that he is an artist and her hero. Murphy asks if the side show is over, and then says the jury is in,
In Supreme Court on Tuesday, April 22, Frank is found guilty of sexual abuse in the first degree. Murphy comments to Benson and Amaro that Frank will not be coming back any time soon and Amaro thinks that is what Catherine wants. Benson comments the press will be all over Catherine and Chelsea and Murphy suggests that they get them an escort.
Afterwards, Benson and Amaro arrive with Catherine and Chelsea to Catherine’s home to a crowd of reporters and cameras. They attempt to move the crowd to let Catherine and Chelsea through. Catherine quickly thanks Benson, who tells her to take care of her daughter. Catherine speaks to the press, saying all they ask for is their privacy; the jury has spoken and Frank is a convicted felon in the eyes of the law. As Chelsea hides behind her mother, Benson comments to Amaro if Frank is a pedophile, at least he is out of their lives, and Amaro comments that if Frank is telling the truth, Chelsea gets to grow up with a full blown narcissist who convinced her to lie. Benson replies “Either way, god help that child.” Chelsea looks stunned as the cameras continue to flash, and as Benson looks on, we fade to black.
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