Thursday, May 3, 2018

Law & Order SVU “The Book Of Esther” Recap & Review

“The Book Of Esther” was a “ripped from the headlines” story. drawing from the Turpin case where malnourished, abused children were imprisoned in their home for years. Amanda Rollins decides to use her own time to pursue the case, with disastrous results. Rebekah Kennedy was perfect in the role as Esther Labott, a 27-year-old woman who escapes the home and is so malnourished that she looks like a teenager. Kelli Giddish finally gets an episode where Rollins is the focus of the attention, giving her the chance to show her acting range. It also continued to muddy Rollins’ persona; is she a compassionate, caring detective or is she too cold (tempting a victim with food as she does with her dog), impulsive, and not a good fit for the job? We saw all these traits here. She showed more compassion as the case progressed, culminating with an emotional meltdown. Benson seems oddly nonchalant about the scrutiny Rollins will get with the force investigative group and IAB, making it seem like Rollins will be back on the job in no time at all with no ill effects or repercussions from her actions. In my opinion, it’s not just the shooting that Rollins has to worry about; it’s the breaking into the home, it’s about not alerting the local police before going in, and it’s about Benson sanctioning Rollins to work the issue on her own time when technically there was no SVU crime. Rollins likely caused the tragic ending for Esther and other members of her family by working this on her own. I’m on the fence about Rollins in this episode but don’t confuse my uncertainty about Rollins with Kelli Giddish’s solid acting performance.

Before digging into the details of the episode, I want to skip to the shooting scene at the Labott home. With bullets flying, Benson STANDS UP from a crouched position protected behind a police car, and calls for everyone to hold their fire. Seeing that this was ESU Captain Sasso’s operation, shouldn’t this have been his call, as he already told her to stand down? Why would she stand up and put herself in a position to be shot while shooting was still occurring? It doesn’t matter that she saw two guns pull back inside the window of the house, there could have been others trained on them. I don’t know what proper procedure is here, but in my opinion she could have told Sasso to order the halt to firing as he was standing nearby, or at minimum, call to hold their fire while she was still partially protected by the police car. I would also be interested in how Rollins' bullet reached Esther. Rollins’ shot angle was toward the bay window, but based on the scene inside the house where her body was found, Esther was far inside the house at an angle where the bullet could not possibly reach through that window.

I’ve added many more comments within the recap as they are best taken in context!

When Esther escapes the family home and runs onto a train and hides in the bathroom, the SVU is called. When Fin and Rollins arrive on the scene, Rollins makes an attempt to connect with Esther to get her to talk. The problem I have with how Rollins’s handled this is that she tempts Esther with food – candy – a method she says works with Frannie, HER DOG. In obvious disgust, Fin makes note of this. It sickened me. Who would anyone withhold food from a possible VICTIM in order to get information? I can understand if the person was a suspect, but I was appalled that she tried this method on someone who clearly appeared traumatized. This is only the start of strange judgment by Rollins in this case.

Esther is quick to spout scripture, even when Rollins questions her at SVU. It is clear Esther is being controlled. But there is no missing persons report on her. Semen found on her shows a familial match. Fin and Carisi check the Long Island Railroad security cameras and it appears two men wearing army surplus jackets like Esther’s appear to be following her. At a local Army surplus store, they are able to track the purchase of the jackets but not enough information to track the buyers. While the detectives discuss this at SVU, Esther’s father William Labott arrives;  his wife saw Esther’s photo on the news. He had called the Tom’s River New Jersey police but was told they had to wait 24 hours to file a missing person’s report. He never saw the two men in the LIRR video before and states Esther does not have a coat like theirs. They also find that Esther is 27 years old, not a teen as she appears. Esther sees her father and is terrified. William explains the semen, saying that his wife found Esther and her brother had "lain together" and he paddled her but did not abuse her. He states he is not starving her, she is fasting to gain more understanding of scripture. Now Rollins – the person who withheld food from a victim to get information – gets enraged and gets in William’s face about whether he doesn’t eat for those three weeks. William admits to living an unconventional lifestyle, off the grid, but they are a loving, law-abiding family. He refers them to his lawyer and Benson tells the detectives to give William his phone call.

Later, they find the birth certificate and drivers license are legit and that incest is not illegal in New Jersey.   William is allowed to leave with Esther. Rollins freaks out over this and argues with Benson that Esther is brainwashed and is not competent, but Benson says in New York State there is no crime they can charge him with. Rollins storms out of Benson’s office and angrily tells William and Esther they are free to leave.

Later, Rollins apologizes to Benson. Benson tells her she knows how hard it is to walk away from something when your gut is screaming something is wrong. Rollins admits she overreacted and asks for a mental health day or two. Benson, knowing that Rollins wants to work the case on her own, allows her but says not to ruffle any feathers in New Jersey and keep her in the loop.

After some investigating, Rollins finds where the Labotts are living. She sees the Labotts drive off in a van and follows them to a bowling alley and gets a picture of them standing together while they are taking a group picture of their own. Esther sees her there but says nothing. Back at SVU, Rollins shows Fin and Carisi her photo showing there are 9 children. She says William bought 5 hot dogs and split them among them, and each kid got to bowl one frame. The kids all look underweight. She says this is a patriarchal cult, Carisi noting it is like the Turpin family. Rollins says if the incest happened in Queens, it is a felony and who knows if it was even voluntary. She admits there have been no complaints to child services in either New York or New Jersey. Fin says, “You’re taking this kinda personal, Amanda.” She replies, “If I don’t, what am I doing here?” (I don’t agree with her logic here; a person doesn’t have to take it personally to be effective.)

Rollins gets to the house and when she hears someone cry out from inside for their mother and that they were hungry, she looks inside a window and sees someone chained, sitting on the floor. She decides to break in. I don’t think this was the right decision. She didn’t know who was in the house or where they were in the house. She didn’t know if anyone in the house had a registered gun. She had no back up. Rollins could have easily been shot and killed, or even held against her own will. As she was operating out of her jurisdiction and didn’t tell local police what she was doing, she had no idea if they had any background on the family that had not been shared with SVU. Maybe I missed this, but I don’t recall the detective saying that they had contacted the local police for any background on the family.

Esther eventually spots Rollins, and so does Esther’s mother and William, who, at gunpoint, tells Rollins to leave. Rollins complies.

Soon after, local police are on the scene, and ESU and hostage negotiators are on the way. Benson also arrives and when she is asked by Sgt. Patrick Costello to explain why Rollins was there without giving them a heads up, she says she doesn’t want to turn this into a turf war. When he states that doesn’t answer his question, she says, “Hey, how about we get something straight. I ask you the questions here.” This seems a little harsh, seeing that Rollins was in another jurisdiction without telling the local police beforehand. Benson may be carrying a higher rank but that doesn’t mean that the Sergeant doesn’t have a right to a straight answer. Rollins does explain the situation and Benson is shocked to hear Rollins was inside the house. Benson tells Costello when ESU shows up to keep them out of sight as she does not want this to escalate. Rollins explains William didn’t take the phone that the officers tried to loss to them so Benson asks for a megaphone. Benson, not wanting to wait for ESU or hostage negotiators, uses the megaphone to try to connect with William. A shock – William does not succumb to Benson’s words! Rollins also tries to connect with him by referencing Esther and he comes out with her. William goes on preaching his theories and resists letting her go and they go back into the house.

ESU Capt. Sasso, now on the scene, begins to take control of the situation. Benson asks for an hour before they escalate this, but he orders her to stand down – or does he have to get the chief of patrol out there? I am cheering as someone finally tells Benson to back off a situation where she doesn’t have the best of track records. ESU manages to get a smoke/tear gas canister inside, the officers shot at through a skylight in the process. Some people race outside the house and soon, gunfire erupts from the house. The police respond with gunfire of their own, Rollins firing only two shots. Benson and Rollins are crouched behind a car, but Benson stands up before the gunfire has ended and tells them to hold their fire. In fact, there are many officers standing up during this hail of bullets. They hear Williams shout “No, no!” and then see the guns being thrown outside the house. William comes out with his hands up. They enter the house and find some of the children hiding, some shot dead. Rollins finds Esther on the floor, dead from a bullet in her head. As William is being taken away, he tells Benson and Rollins that they killed his children, for what?

Back at SVU, William is questioned by Fin and Rollins, and Carisi questions William’s wife in another room, who looks like she’s never missed a meal. She says she was told they had to be strict with the children to teach them to be righteous. She was afraid and stayed there to do what she could to protect her babies. She also says she is pregnant. William insists he was a good father despite being severe. Rollins isn’t having any of it, and gets angry and gets in William’s face, Fin having to pull her away. Rollins then throws a chair and Benson enters the room and orders her into her office. Rollins is clearly agitated and Benson tells her she knows this is hard, but Rollins angrily counters how hard it was for those kids. Benson tells Rollins she needs to get her head on straight. When Rollins says she can do it, Benson adds that when this case is finally over…when Rollins says it IS over, Benson replies she wishes that were true. Benson explains that preliminary ballistics came back and it shows it was Rollins’ gun that killed Esther. Rollins is stunned and cries in shock and grief. Benson explains that Rollins knows the drill, Rollins will talk to the force investigative group and IAB and Benson is confident that she will be back on the job in the next few days. Rollins is inconsolable.

Later, Rollins heads to a church and gets a strange smile on her face as we fade to black.

Mariska Hargitay - Lieutenant Olivia Benson
Ice-T - Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola
Kelli Giddish - Detective Amanda Rollins
Peter Scanavino - Detective Dominick “Sonny” Carisi, Jr.
Philip Winchester – ADA Peter Stone

Guest stars:
Rebekah Kennedy - Esther Labott
Shawn T. Andrew – ESU Captain Sasso
Ray McKinnon - William Labott.
Eric Elizaga - Dr. Stephen Hale
Stan Demidoff – Sgt. Patrick Costello
Brandy Zarle - Debbie Labott
R. Ward Duffy – Van Norris
Margaret Champagne – Conductor
Ron Scott – MTGA Cop
Stephen Payne – Beau Helm
Nimo Gandhi – Gupta
Donna Wandrey – Charlotte
Jean Goto – Neighbor #1
J.D. Mollison – Neighbor #2
Chris Russell – EMT #1
Sami Bray – Rachel Labott
Sebastian Hedges Thomas – Human Shield Son

"The Book of Esther" Deleted Scene

"The Book of Esther" Deleted Scene #2

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Lisa said...

Olivia and Stabler tempted suspects with food before, I can’t recall the episode but it had to do with the homeless cult family who was killing people . They caught one of the kids who was starving and wouldn’t talk so they bought all kinds of yummy stuff and started eating in front of her , saying she could eat if she started talking

Sharla Madewell said...

That was worst episode ever. Including finding Noah. Drama queen Rollins again. How stupid she went to the people's inside house without a warrant. Olivia should transfer or fired her . Rollins never listen to Olivia. Can't stand Rollins since she came to SVU. Watching Rollins constantly this episode. It was so slow and listen to Rollins winny constantly.
Next week, I hope that they show Rollins "poor me".

Jessica F. Norick said...

Sharla, I would think that seeing that little girl chained up like a dog would be "probable cause" to enter the house.

Chris Zimmer said...

@Sharla Madewell & @Jessica F Norick - Of course I am not a lawyer but I think while Rollins may have been able to use the "probable cause" excuse, she still went in alone without knowing who else or what else was inside. So she may have been within her rights to go in there, it was certainly risky.

Lisa said...

I’m agree , that was probable cause however with all the Illegal crap Olivia has done over the years it would be pretty hypocritical of her to fire or transfer Amanda

Shaheed Simon said...

@Lisa I believe you're referring to Season 9 Episode 11 "Streetwise"

Catherine said...

"Sharla, I would think that seeing that little girl chained up like a dog would be "probable cause" to enter the house."

No. Rollins would have had probable cause to get a search warrant for the house based on what she saw. That is what she should have done.
What you are probably thinking of is exigent circumstances. Had one of those been present Rollins could have legally entered the house. But there were no exigent circumstances here. There was no imminent danger to the little girl's life. So what Rollins did was illegal as well as stupid.

Sharla Madewell said...

I am sorry but Rollins never learn a lesson. Really, I can't stand Rollins at all. She did many stupid things and I am very tried that Olivia don't do anything about it. At the end, Rollins going to church . Oh please, no one can't save her and I am sorry I have to laugh when she went to church. The writers must be stupid writing that .

Chris Zimmer said...

@VCatherine - you're right, it's exigent circumstances. This is why I am not a lawyer!

Laurie Fanat said...

They've done a great job in spicing up the series this season. I am grateful for an episode that isn't a "rape of the week". This episode did not make me like Rollins any more, in fact, I like her even less. It was obvious that girl was so hungry but Rollins literally treated her like her dog by dangling food in front of her as an incentive to talk. Rollins later has the nerve to get in that scumbag William's face about him withholding food from his kids. Yes, what William did was abuse, but Rollins apparently can't see that she did the same thing to control Esther, only on a much smaller scale.

She had no business going in to that house. The girl was changed but her life was not in imminent danger. She should have contacted the local police, maybe even taken a photo as proof, and get child service out there. Instead she breaks in blindly. Bad police work on her part and she put her own life in danger. She contributed to the police stand off and those kids getting killed. With all those bullets being shot in rapid succession, it is hard to believe that Rollins firing a couple shots hit the mark.

Fin says she was taking this case personally but does anyone have a clue as to why she seemed so vested in it when we haven't seen her do that in the countless other cases she's been involved in. Why was this so different?

Chris Zimmer said...

This is a totally random idea that just floated through my head, but maybe they are setting up Rollins for some kind of emotional "crisis" which causes the character to exit SVU? We don't know yet about renewal for season 20 (we should know soon) but I wonder if there may be a cast change if they do? Just a thought.

Jessica F. Norick said...

I hope she doesn't leave. I like her. That said, I really haven't liked the last several episodes. In fact, I disliked the last several episodes almost as much as I dislike the Stabler years. (In case you are wondering, I just can no longer watch the Stabler episodes because of his anger and brutality issues.... He reminds me of the cop who slugged me when I was 11 years old for not making eye contact.... I'm autistic.... We are not known for making eye contact)

la214la said...

Amanda's actions in this episode were some of the dumbest I've seen in the history of this show. When she broke into the home, my jaw literally dropped. I didn't understand why she wouldn't contact local police and tell them what she saw or try to get a warrant to enter the home based on what she saw. Breaking into the home was just dumb! As many have pointed out, Amanda had no idea how many ppl were in the home of if they were armed, and when she was kicked out of the house, she had no idea if that family would go "Jim Jones" and everyone would end up dead. Her actions literally made no sense.

Jessica F. Norick said...

I do believe the ending was very contrived, even for a TV program (Oh, BTW Amanda, you killed Esther, you know the drill, IAB, see you in a couple days).... Liv's nonchalance seemed totally out of character and honestly quite bizarre.

WestVirginiaRebel said...

Rollins needs to go. Maybe things will be better if Finn gets to be in charge.

Margot Undercliffe said...

I’ve never been a big fan of Rollins. Although at times they show her as a really good detective, but mostly she is reckless. Her behaviour tonight was extraordinarily reckless and there was a huge cost. However, the last 2 seasons there has been little accountability for some of the actions of SVU. I have wondered why there has been no review of the unit.

There seems to be a focus on her with her attitudes to differing types of victims. She seems to be the next one broken by SVU. Still not happy with them breaking Barba, then Alex was almost unhinged last week and I get the feeling Rollins is next. It’s interesting that Olivia has the most reason to be retired on psych grounds, it keeps absorbing everything whilst everyone around her, Stabler, Alex, Casey, Barba, break.

Chris Zimmer said...

@Margot Undercliffe - Rollins is probably the worst formed character on the show right now. She's been all over the place. Maybe that is to offset Benson's perfectness? (wink)

Chris Zimmer said...

A deleted scene with Ice-T and Kelli Giddish has been added!

Sharla Madewell said...

I agreed with Margot , about Rollins. Why you want write about she slept with many guys, have a baby, no father showing up, gambling, lying, mean to everybody, not good detective, and doing things that she should do and don't listen to Olivia.
It is getting old and I just tried of watching her. I just mute her when I watching it.

Sharon Polikoff said...

Very odd police work: Rollins going into the house alone, where she could have been shot and very nearly was, and no backup or even keeping the local police in the loop. In the little town where I work, the police don't even write up a speeding ticket without backup, which makes sense since you never know who's going to pull out a gun with even minor provocation.

Chris Zimmer said...

Another deleted scene has been added after the recap!

Mending Wall said...

She didnt know that before entering the house illegally. I dont blame her but it was technically an illegal search because she entered without a warrant

Mending Wall said...

Olivia has disobeyed orders and broken the law. Cragen tore into her quite a few times. She would be a hypocrite if she fired her.

J.R. Stevens said...

The candy thing was a behavioral technique. It wasn’t withholding food it was to reinforce her behavior, ie telling Amanda info or going with her out of the bathroom. Please don’t confuse the two. And sorry to say that the same technique is used for potty training, for reinforcing positive behavior with ppl w autism and MR, and dog training. Don’t believe me? Google Big Bang Theory when Sheldon reinforces Penny for behavioral changes.

Ernie's Mother said...

We were all thinking about the Turpin case during the whole episode because this is one of those ripped from the headlines episodes. Carisi even mentioned the Turpin case, so in the fictitious L&O world, the Turpin case really did happen. Wouldn't the SVU team realize the parallels, too? There were too many parallels like Ester having long brown hair and the kids being starving and chained up. If they wanted a fictitious Turpin case, that's fine, but Carisi shouldn't have made that remark in passing.
Also, it seems like every time that SVU portrays homeschooling, it's a plot element. For example in this episode, homeschooling adds to the concealment of the long term abuse and brain washing. I would like to see one SVU episode where homeschooling is a normal thing and not something that is part of a crime.

EchoInTheSilence said...

I was thinking the same thing Lisa said (with the added comment that talking, as they pressured her to do, ended up getting that little girl killed). You can argue good or bad but it's not like it's just a "Rollins is a bad detective who does things no one would do" moment. I do agree the dog comment was unnecessary.

Lestrange said...

she saw her through the window didn't see?

About Me. said...

I’m actually a lawyer. Can confirm that police need a helluva lot less to lawfully enter.