Thursday, January 11, 2018

Law & Order SVU “Pathological” Recap & Review

Law & Order SVU “Pathological” was one of those cases Barba should have abandoned right away as a lost cause. It was obvious that the young Mariel had not only be traumatized by her mother but was also being negatively affected by medication (or medication withdrawal). Even a mediocre defense attorney could have easily won this case or blocked it from proceeding based on some sort of diminished capacity argument. I am also surprised that Benson, who always advocates for virtually every person who remotely seems like a victim, wasn’t more forceful with Barba to find a way to avoid a murder charge for Mariel before it even got to trial.

The case begins when, at a school for special needs, two teens – Mariel (15 years old) and Cody (19 years old) are discovered having sex. Mariel says she was raped, but as the detectives investigate, it is obvious that Mariel doesn’t completely understand the concept of rape, and Cody doesn’t really comprehend the overall situation. Rollins explains to Benson that the sex seems consensual and Barba does not want to pursue it. However, Rollins has issues with Mariel’s mother, Dawn, and has M.E. Warner do a tox screen on Mariel. Warner finds Mariel has drugs in her system that make sense for her treatment (such as valproate – AKA Depakote - for seizures), but also other medications or supplements that have adverse interactions. It was a treat to see M.E. Warner again helping the SVU, but as we get no explanation as to why we haven’t seen her in so long, we can only assume she’s continued to work her job but has had virtually zero interaction with the SVU team, which is a shame.

The detectives quickly realize that Dawn is a master manipulator and has been a little loose with Mariel’s medical history and going to various doctors to get various medications. The detectives get Dr. Elizabeth Olivet to asses Dawn. She determines that Dawn has Munchausen by proxy – meaning she is causing an illness in Mariel in order to get attention for herself. (This story line has been done before in both Law & Order “Precious” and Law & Order SVU “Sick”.) Having Olivet, a Law & Order favorite, come back to SVU to consult was a perfect addition to the story line. Dawn is later arrested and arraigned for reckless endangerment and she is put on ROR despite Barba’s recommendation otherwise.

Things take an ugly turn when the truth about what Dawn has done comes out to Mariel. Mariel’s father Lou comes back into the picture, and Dawn goes off the rails at the hospital where Mariel is being treated.  Dawn is arrested but makes bail. Soon after, Rollins is at SVU with Carisi and she gets a call from a frantic Mariel. The detectives race to her home, only to find Dawn dead on the floor. She’s been killed with a hammer and Mariel quickly admits to killing her. Later in SVU interrogation, Mariel is being questioned by Rollins and Barba;  Rollins mentions that Mariel is being detoxed from a lot of meds. But Mariel insists she felt good and was in control, but was concerned that her mother was never going to let her go. Her father wisely tells Mariel to stop taking and he will get a lawyer.

This brings me to my issue with the defense attorney and Barba. Even though Mariel says she was in control, after being under the influence of so many medications over such a long period of time, did Mariel really have the right mind to determine she was in control?  Even going through detox could have affected her thinking ability. For example, if they were detoxing her off the valproate, that is a drug that must be withdrawn slowly and carefully, especially if the dose is high. (I know this because my special needs nephew has been on this medication for years and even small reductions in dose has caused problems.) Depending on any drug’s half life, they can be in a person’s system for many days afterward. Considering the very short time frame from Mariel’s drugs being stopped and her killing her mom, I would think the defense could argue that Mariel was not in control as she thought. Benson (much) later suggests to Barba that he drop the charges, and Barba counters that if he does so, it’s like saying there is no rule of law and that the judicial system changes its mind and makes exception on a whim or for sympathetic defendants. I found his reasoning ludicrous.  In my opinion, the courts do make exceptions when there are compelling arguments to do so, and in this case, Mariel’s situation clearly was one.

Later, Barba, who should know better, talks about the case in an elevator with two jurors present. This brings the wrath of Judge Barth down on him, who hopes Barba didn’t do this on purpose. Barba suggests the case move to family court, and she allows it. Sometime later - we can’t really tell how much time has passed - Benson stops by to see Barba after talking to Dodds about her return to work. Barba tells Benson that family court gave Mariel a 3 year sentence, suspended to probation and community service plus regular mental health observations. Benson thinks justice was served, and Barba hopes so.

In addition to an SVU case, we see the effects on Benson and Noah from the incident with Noah’s kidnapping. I hoped that we could go an episode without any Noah drama, but my hopes were quickly dashed when the episode opened with Benson - who is on leave - having nightmares rehashing the incident with Sheila. Noah also wakes up at the same time, calling for his grandma, saying he saw her. Noah asks if he can sleep with Benson again (she is already sleeping there with him) but she allows it for one more night. Later, she admits to Rollins she is not sure she is doing that for Noah or for herself. Benson also tells Barba that Noah keeps asking about Sheila and she doesn’t know what to tell him. Why do I get this sinking feeling that the after affects of Sheila’s actions will continue to be dredged up?

Regarding the time frame this episode covers, I found it unbelievable that this case moved so quickly to trial, considering it occurred over the holidays. There was also a total absence of Christmas or holiday decorations, which, for the same reason, seemed odd.

Fin is in charge on this case, and Rollins later comments to Benson she thinks Fin loves it. It was enjoyable seeing Fin running the squad and he knew when it was time to bring in Benson and Barba.

Rollins struggled with the idea of punishing Mariel’s mother. Of course, in the SVU world, once you are a mother you have to feel sorry for all mothers. Carisi suggests to Rollins that she go home, saying he forgets she has a kid too and is a single mom and a full time cop and her life is not easy. He adds it is okay to say that out loud every once and a while. I don’t know why, but I found Carisi’s comment somewhat sexist and/or condescending. Clearly Rollins has a sitter, or daycare, for Jesse and Rollins never seems to have any difficulty juggling her job and her home life. (This is unlike Benson, whose issues with Noah constantly bombard viewers.) At the end of the episode, we see Rollins having some quality time with Jesse and then deciding to call her mother, possibly in an attempt to reconnect. Maybe after seeing how Dawn treated Mariel that Rollins decided her mother wasn’t so bad after all?

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:
Tamara Tunie - M.E. Melinda Warner
Carolyn McCormick - Dr. Elizabeth Olivet
Dendrie Taylor - Dawn McLaughlin
Erin Wilhelmi - Mariel McLaughlin
Mouzam Makkar - Dara Miglani
Jenna Stern - Judge Elana Barth
George Sheffey - Lou McLaughlin
Mandi Masden –
Joanna Parson - Dr. Alexandra Levy
Jon Shaver – Randy Hill
Andrea Cirie – Alicia Flock
Conor Tague - Cody Hill
Tywan Wade – Taylor Jones
Claire Neumann – Juror #1 Susan Glase
Danielle Famble – Juror #2
Ryan Buggle – Noah Porter-Benson
Charlotte Cabell – Jesse Rollins
Vivian Cabell – Jesse Rolllins

Deleted scene added January 12, 2018

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kat said...

I think Barba purposely talked about the case in the elevator so that it would get dismissed.

Jessica F. Norick said...

"Why do I get this sinking feeling that the after affects of Sheila’s actions will continue to be dredged up?"

It was a traumatic event, Chris. You don't quickly get over those.

Jessica F. Norick said...

Yep. He (finally) did the right thing.

Chris Zimmer said...

@kat - yes he probably did but he should still know better; this is a case he should have never pursued to begin with. Now he's made himself look careless. Not a good thing for him with Peter Stone (the character from Chicago Justice) coming into the picture in the future.

Chris Zimmer said...

@Jessica F. Norick - of course it was,
at least for Benson, I'm not sure how much Noah understands since Benson clearly kept the truth from him. That doesn't mean that we have to continue to see Noah drama every single episode! As I mentioned last week, I am suffering from Noah fatigue and I know I am not alone. I would have found it make more sense had they kept Benson out of this episode entirely and then just say she was on leave, and let the rest of the cast shine a little bit more.

Laurie Fanat said...

I don't know what they are trying to do with Barba, but they continue to make him dumber every week. In the distant past, he would have been more likely to cut a deal rather than prosecute a 15 year old who was being drugged for years by her mother and was in detox at the time of the murder. The way they presented the legal aspect was AWFUL. Rather than take it right to trial, it would have been more realistic had we seen the legal challenge by the defense to either cut a deal or get the charges dismissed and avoid a trial. I also do not believe that a case like this could go to trial so quickly, ESPECIALLY over the Christmas and New Year holiday. Does it only take a few days to prepare a murder case? I doubt it.

Did Barba make that mistake in the elevator on purpose? Possibly, but wasn't it too convenient he happened to be in elevator with two jurors in there? I don't know how he would have been able to plan the encounter and time it perfectly. What was his plan B to sabotage the case if he wasn't able to pull off having the jurors overhear what he said on his call? Barba knows better than to discuss a case in an elevator with strangers present, and I bet Judge Barth did not buy whatever BS explanation Barba gave. I would have had more respect for Barba had he approached the defense attorney and tried to cut a deal.

Also, Barba's comment about no rule of law and that the judicial system changes its mind and makes exceptions on a whim or for sympathetic defendants was a joke. A defense attorney's job in part is to bring up those circumstances that may allow the charges to be dismissed or to allow him to cut a deal or minimize jail time. Did Barba forget the whole concept of the adversarial legal system? Mariel's situation was not the norm, are we expected to believe Barba was that dense he couldn't see that? She was a VICTIM and I felt SVU threw her to the curb.

On the Noah/Benson drama, I'm tired of it. Give Benson some vacation and give the viewers one at a same time.

Erin said...

If the next episode doesn't quit with the Noah drama, I'm switching off for the rest of the season.

Scott said...

Only an idiot judge would allow Release on Recognizance!

Chris Zimmer said...

A deleted scene has been added at the end of my recap/review.

Sir.GoodGuy said...

I liked this episode, but I feel like they should've just let Fin lead instead of calling Olivia in. They should have just let her be "on leave" for this week. Last week was such an intense and important episode, that I understand them mentioning it, but I can understand why people are over the Noah stuff. I thought they didn't have a good enough reason for her or Noah to even show up this week. I kinda like the dynamic Rollins and Sonny had with Fin. It felt like watching the mothership...from an investigative standpoint. Still curious to see how ADA Stone is going to factor in.

Jess said...

It would be beyond unrealistic to me if they just glossed over the Noah stuff. I get that there are viewers who absolutely hate that slightly more realistic views of parenting are depicted, but for actual parents, it has always been absurd on procedural shows when principle characters have kids, and they're basically afterthoughts/props (looking at you, Rollins' kid).

Libby Brown said...

This episode is based on the case of Gypsy Rose Blancharde, the subject of the HBO documentary, “Mommy Dead and Dearest”.

JSlayerUK said...

Isn't there a "Battered Child" precedent? I'd have to check to see if it applies in New York, but I know many jurisdictions don't require the immediate threat of harm in the case of battered individuals.

Chris, I disagree that Carisi was being condescending. If anything, I think he was being really supportive. Having someone appreciate the hard work you're doing day in day out is refreshing. Perhaps if it was a stranger saying it then it would be off-putting, but Carisi is a close friend so it works within their relationship.

Ana Maria Câncio Brandao said...

I know many do not like it when you focus on Noah, Benson's son. But as the author of the stories and the production itself can cater to the viewers, if the episodes focused on Benson and Noah are well evaluated. This season, the episode that achieved the best rating in the 18-49 demo, and had the highest number of viewers, was exactly what focused on Noah's abduction.

Chloe Arreola said...

This immediately made me think of the gypsy rose case.

Adam said...

This episode reminded me of Cleaning out my Closet by Eminem

Unknown said...

Barba definitely spoke on the elevator to get her off.