Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Law & Order SVU “Info Wars” Recap & Review

Law & Order SVU “Info Wars” tapped into today’s highly-charged political environment, with extremists battling each other for the upper hand and loudest voice in their respective positions. This was a tightly written story with dialog that felt natural, believable, and, for the most part,  fitting to the characters.  The episode highlighted the ugliness of fanatical views from both extreme right and left groups, peppered with some choice insults from the key characters. This included a jab from the defense attorney about a potential suspect’s “tiny, tiny hands” (we know who they are really skewering here) and the rape victim’s annoyance with Barba, saying he is incompetent and referring to him as a “little schnauzer.”  Barba perceives the trial as being “the Titanic meets the Hindenburg meets my first year of little league.” (It was the case that was a dog, not Barba.)

What is most surprising is that nobody wins in this episode, and I was okay with this.  This doesn't mean I didn't want justice for the victim, but SVU and Barba had a weak case, and Barba was right to cut his losses.

In this case, a loathsome, right-wing, Ann Coulter-like pundit, Martha Cobb, is raped at a protest where she is speaking. This was a Facebook event held at the forever problematic Hudson University, (the local hotbed of crime!).  But there’s no semen to be found at this rape as her attacker used a protest sign pole to assault her. There’s no video surveillance in the area where she was attacked, so the SVU detectives only have as evidence what Martha recalls (which isn’t much), a protest sign pole with her blood on it, and some DNA found under her fingernails. This was one of those unusual SVU cases where the detectives had little definitive evidence to work with, and that’s what made this story interesting. Everything that seemed like a sure thing was far from it. This also is a rare case where Benson doesn’t treat a victim like a saint, going so far to say that in Martha’s case, her assault “doesn’t endow her with sainthood.” I would have expected this comment coming from Barba, but never Benson, who, in her advocacy for a victim, usually jumps in head first before looking.

It’s protester Justin Vichinsky’s DNA under Martha’s fingernails, and he is quickly arrested by Fin and Carisi,  for menacing. Martha, who has a chip on her shoulder the size of Manhattan, gives Benson a hard time all the way through, and it’s obvious that Benson’s usual sympathetic tone doesn’t work on Martha. Justin’s’ lawyer, Jed Karey, thinks he will have an easy go of it, but Martha quickly identifies Justin from the line up as her rapist. Jed makes quick work at trying to defend his client to the press.

Benson isn’t completely sold on Martha’s identification as Martha was slightly hesitant when she made it, and Benson thinks Martha’s memory is suspect. This is also unusual for Benson as she frequently has blinders on when it comes to victims. Benson admits she loathes what Martha stands for, but knows she has to trust, but verify. She also comments that with the case getting fast tracked, they didn’t have time to rule out other suspects. I found this an interesting observation on her part, seeing that every week it seems the SVU cases are moved into the courtroom at abnormal speed. Barba encourages Benson to do her due diligence.

Benson and Rollins connect with Martha at her book signing to see if Martha can recall any more from that day. When they show her a photo array, she hesitates upon seeing a photo of Randy Platt, and then admits he’s been at a few of her speeches but her security checked him out and thinks he is completely harmless. This of course is a signal to viewers that there is trouble brewing for the case as “completely harmless” means he is likely an extremist nut job.

We later find that Randy Platt is the founder and “Grand Wizard” of the “Patriots of the American Way”. He lives at home with his mom and spends his day blogging and tweeting. (Translate: loser.) But the riots at Hudson turned Randy into an Internet celebrity via a misogynist video he posted that immediately goes viral (don’t they always go viral in the SVU world). While Carisi and Rollins are questioning Randy’s mother, someone throws a Molotov cocktail into the front window of her home. When Randy gets home to the waiting detectives, he willingly comes down to SVU when they make the request. But in SVU interrogation, when Rollins and Carisi bring up Martha’s assault at the protest, he makes a quick exit from SVU.

Benson and Rollins speak with Martha at the hotel and bring up Randy, and then add that Justin’s lawyer thinks she is a opportunist and is just looking to sell books. While there, they see a new video from the protest that Martha stated a reader sent to her. Back at SVU, Rollins looks at this video which shows Justin clearly holding the sign used to assault Martha, and Rollins thinks Martha's ID is rock-solid. This is another signal to viewers that a twist is coming!

As Barba and Benson discuss the case with Martha, she seems over-confident and Barba worries she will turn this into an info war. She says she will be who she is and tells Barba to relax, “this is in the bag”. This is yet another signal that it is NOT in the bag. After Martha leaves, Benson seems to have even more reservations with Martha. When Barba reminds Benson that the unlikable Martha has been raped Benson says, “And that doesn’t endow her with sainthood.” This, coming from Benson, made me chuckle.

No matter that Benson has issues with the victim, Barba is past the point of no return and goes to trial. Martha testifies to what happened. The defense brings up Randy Platt, and the Park Milano Hotel, where Martha is staying as a guest of the Young Conservatives club. Later, Barba runs into Jed, and over drinks, Jed tells him he doesn’t think Justin has it in him and goes to these protests to meet girls.

The next day, Justin testifies and while doing so, goes off on a rant and makes himself look bad. But Jed calls Randy Platt to the stand, and his bigotry is apparent, especially when Randy points out all the black jurors, and maybe one Jewish or homosexual juror, that Randy’s group would want to purge. Jed brings up that three witnesses heard Martha call Randy “an ignorant troll who fetishizes guns because of [his] tiny, tiny hands” at the bar at the hotel the night before her speech when he made a (failed) pass at her. Randy comes back with name calling at Jed, and Barba luckily gets time to stew over this news as the trial resumes the following day.

Barba later tells Benson this was like “the Titanic meets the Hindenburg meets my first year of little league.” The fact that Martha never mentioned she spurned a sexual overture from Randy the night before the assault is a huge problem. Benson then has a forceful heart-to-heart with Martha, and Martha admits that she remembers Justin screaming at her and his rage, but recalls nothing after she was hit on the head and maybe she conflated things. She is “pretty sure” it was Justin.

“Pretty sure” doesn’t cut it with Barba, and, in dramatic fashion while questioning Randy, he pauses and then announces that the people are unable to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Justin sexually assaulted Martha and he moves to dismiss the indictment. He adds the perpetrator of this crime will never be known to a legal certainty. Benson is stunned and everyone seems confused. The judge comments that while this is unusual, he appreciates Barba’s candor, adding that few prosecutors have the courage to make this call. The case is dismissed. Does this signal problems for Barba down the road, from those people who don’t necessarily agree with Barba’s courageous decision?

On the courthouse steps, as the discussion continues to the press who are eating up the controversy, Barba comments to Benson “Do you just love free speech? You get what you pay for.” He adds that the case stopped being a search for the truth and turned into a political Rorschach test about which side butters your political bread.

Later, Benson breaks the news to Martha, who is at the restaurant where Justin works. Martha knows she won’t be the first or the last woman who was raped at Hudson University not to get justice. (No kidding; crime at Hudson is critical to the whole Law & Order brand.) She is also writing another book, a screed on the whole criminal justice system, and she will send Benson an advance copy. Benson responds that she doesn’t have much time for reading, and tells Martha to be well and take care of herself, then exits and leaving Martha to sit there, alone.  But the person who I think needs to be well and take care of themselves is Barba; based on the next episode, “The Undiscovered Country”, I think trouble is on his doorstep.

Mariska Hargitay - Lieutenant Olivia Benson
Ice-T - Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola
Kelli Giddish - Detective Amanda Rollins
Raúl Esparza - ADA Rafael Barba
Peter Scanavino - Detective Dominick “Sonny” Carisi, Jr.

Guest stars:
Rhea Seehorn - Martha Cobb
Kurt Fuller - Jed Karey
Jonathan Judge-Russo - Randy Platt
Adam William Zastrow - Justin Vichinsky
Lee Roy Rogers - Selma Platt
Joe Grifasi - Judge Hashi Horowitz
Adam Zastrow - Justin Vichinsky
Lisa Helmi Johanson – Esme Parker
Tuck Sweeney - Henry Anderson
Maceo Oliver – Sergeant Miller
Lars Engstrom – Campus Cop
Amber Jauni – EMT
James P. Chery – Antifa Protester #1
Tam Young – Antifa Protester #2
Sophie Zucker – Female Student
Alan Kelly – Alt-Right Dude
Brocton Pierce - Juror

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Shaheed Simon said...

Great review and I agree with everything you stated. Next week's episode looks intense

Laurie Fanat said...

I liked this episode much more than the previous episodes with Benson and Noah and Sheila. This felt MUCH more like Law & Order or even the older episodes of SVU. There were a few things that people said that felt out of character but in the same line, that's how people really are, more than one dimensional characters. Rollins' comment about seeing Martha's side of the issue was a little concerning but I understood where she was coming from. Disagreements on these issues happen all the time and at least it shows that the detectives can see both sides of a situation.

Benson making that comment about Martha and "sainthood" was a hoot. Benson canonizes victims the minute the walk in the door and it's usually Barba that takes a skeptical view. I wonder how the Benson fans handled that comment she made.

I thought of Ann Coulter first when seeing Martha, but there are a few other blond pundits out there that also could have been in the mix.

Good episode, I can't wait for next week to see Jack McCoy!

Jane said...

I’m really struggling with this show. I know Law and Order has tackled political stories but it’s So heavily tilted toward the left....It’s becoming unwatchable for me. And the fact that Olivia had visible contempt for a rape victim was very disturbing.

Jodi Stephens said...

I think the writers did a great job showing both sides of the political atmosphere. I was glad to see the right being in trouble this time. This episode was based on free speech and how it is received when you don't agree or the lengths one will go to. Knowing also that many of the cast members lean left (Esparza[and I love his acting] sang at Dems convention, and they've had Joe Biden on before), I know it must have been difficult for him (personally) to look like he was supporting the right, but as an ADA he doesn't get to chose which cases he prosecutes. As an actor, they take the script and perform it. I, for one, was glad to see something where the right was being abused and they had to defend the person. Liv let her own political position get in the way, and she didn't insist on the due diligence usually put into rape cases. Other victims have been difficult to "bond" with but she continued to try to gain their trust; she didn't with Cobb. Therefore, this time SVU setup Barba to fail, and they've done this before. I believe you will see his part become even more suspicious of what SVU is bringing as evidence. They've set up him to get in trouble, hence, the episode next week (although we all know Esparza is doing other things; not sure which came first, smaller part or other acting invites). As with all long running shows, new characters have to be brought in to infuse new interest.

Yes, I am tired of the right being portrayed as Nazis (Seth Rudetsky actually called me a Nazi because I support the right) and part of the White Suprematists. The left has those who are just as far left as those on the right who believe in white supremacy. We are told we should not condemn all Muslims because of Taliban, Al Queda, and ISIS, yet, those on the right are condemned just as much for those few subset who have a louder platform.

Douglas Trapasso said...

Do you think Martha will be brought back at a later date? Maybe not as a victim again, but it would be cool to see her, maybe as a witness, in a different case.

My guess for where the story was going last night . . . is that the attack (did Martha even do a rape kit?) was staged.

Autumnamberleaves said...

I have to fully agree with Jane. I'm conservative, and I know tons of us who are- the bad subsets are actually very few and doesn't represent us- just as the majority of liberals aren't violent (yes, they portrayed a group of them as violent, but it seemed obvious one group was portrayed worse than others). I don't normally comment but despite them trying to portray both sides, I found this episode disgusting. I get this show is run by very liberal people but in my opinion, it's irrensponsible to depict one side so horrible and the other as having bad people but mostly good. Also, I agree with Jane that Olivia's behavior was disturbing. They've had victims they couldn't stand and were professional. I think Rollins or Finn would've been a better choice to interview her as they seemed more able to be objective. Yes, the victim was a piece of work, but still they have had worse ones.

Carisi is my favorite character but it was disheartening that to hear that he was betting on it was the right wing one and was disappointed it looked like at the time it was the antifa guy. I did like Finn's response to that.

Js McFail said...

First let me say, "I'm pretty liberal when it comes to my politics but I always vote the person Not the party!" I've voted BOTH sides in my past for various reasons/concepts...
I thought Liv did an excellent interview keeping it NON-political & dealing with "Just the facts, ma'am..." as Jack Webb used to say years ago on Dragnet.
I knew Barba was in trouble & would have to drop the charges when Martha told Liv she was just 'Pretty sure' it was him...That's kinda like meaning I'm NOT totally convinced... OR A 'LITTLE BIT pregnant' which will not cut it in court! (You either or you're NOT!)
I liked this episode because it was so typical of the 'real world' where everything is NOT always black or white but so many times varying shades of gray...AND Barba did the right thing in spite of his ego & reputation as having those 'big brass bal, um ego...'. LOL

I too am looking forward to next week's episode but fear Barba may be in 'deep XXXX' but hope not.....

BensonFan said...

This was like a sophomore in high school's idea of a script. Basically Ann Coulter gets raped and we don't get to satiate our partisan appetite by making who raped her a mystery. Come on. I don't need a lecture that we're partisan and biased. Television, don't lecture me. I have my own brain and can make my own decisions.