Law & Order Season 3 #8 (#31): Who Munches The Munchmen?
Superheroes! Who doesn’t love them? Well, me, after they got so ubiquitous I couldn’t fucking ignore them anymore. Still, I have multiple bookshelves of comic book trades, owning way more Namor storylines than anyone has any business owning. I thought to ‘celebrate’ the release of the 47th Marvel Cinematic Universe movie-film, Avengers: Chunnel by covering the infamous superheroes episode of Law & Order: SVU. There’s an infamous superheroes episode? Of course there is. There would have to be, dear reader. Just as by sheer dint of quantity there’s a Simpsons episode on every imaginable topic, so too is there an SVU episode for every crime, paraphilia, social issue and celebrity scandal. Animal trafficking? “Wildlife”. Killers speaking in twin language? “Identity”. Ludacris manipulating the legal system to get away with committing double murder? “Screwed”. Ice-T explaining gay sex to people? “Lowdown”. I think I’ve made my point. “Street Revenge” addresses the topic of real life superheroes, a topic that comes up about once every five years when some dipshit in a costume decides what will really liven up community security like “writing down license plate numbers of a suspicious nature” is dressing up like a dingus. If that’s not enough, the episode also features a substantial subplot starring everyone’s favorite Totally Not A Stabler Replacement, Nick Amaro! You’ll be wishing Michael Chiklis put Amaro’s face on a stove grill by the end of it, guaranteed.
It’s an impressive gender swapped Nightwing costume used for the purposes of roller derby.
The West SoHo rapist has struck again, the episode opening with his fifth victim being wheeled into an ambulance. West SoHo’s modus operandi is wearing a dark hoodie, cutting off some of the woman’s hair and saying “you think you’re special, bitch?”. SVU hasn’t made progress despite instituting stop & frisk on white males (“that’s a nice change of pace,” snarks Ice-T). Thank God the rapist is suspected to be a white guy or else Cragen’s “I want a noose around that area” line would not come off well. (“I want a burning cross of police surveillance on every corner!”) He and Benson attend a community meeting that is really just an excuse for the unwashed masses to shout abuse and bad faith readings at our heroes. If they knew how much these detectives cared about these cases they’d shut their goddamn plebe mouths. At this meeting the NYPD have to continually stress they’re not blaming the victims, they’re not letting the rapist win, they’re to do everything in their power to find the Boston Marathon Bomber, I mean the SoHo rapist. Unfortunately it’s a costumed vigilante who thwarts the next rape, so confidence in NYPD descends to a new low. It’s like they sodomized somebody with a mop or something.
Evidence of the poor reputation comes in the ludicrous form of a conspicuously British reporter whose job seems to consist of shitting on SVU. Every time he’s on camera he’s going on about how the cops suck. They are Spider-Man to his J. Jonah Jameson. He even praises the vigilante like Jameson might the Scorpion or the Spider-Slayer before they inevitably turned on him. It comes as no surprise the cops are antagonistic towards the press; they report all that piddly shit like “civil rights violations” and “oops Stabler’s gun went off and a black guy threw his chest at the bullet again” that make their jobs more difficult. Institutions besides the police are always presented in a skewed manner on the show and this reporter is no different. “Street Revenge” and actor Gavin Lee work hard to make the guy as reprehensible as possible; note his previous appearance on the show was in an episode taking on the News of the World phone hacking scandal, which may help explain why the character is British. (Phone hacking is so beyond the pale only a Limey could do it.) Here he’s still one dimensional and confrontational, a figure of scorn. He seeks specifically to make the cops bad. If your priorities and the NYPD’s priorities don’t 100% align, you’re fucking scum.
“Watch out for, uh, Skull Guy!”
The rapist/vigilante scuffle left behind blood so they finally have DNA. But even without using that they still find the suspect on subway station surveillance footage. There’s a way too long scene in which Amaro has to charm the classic black woman bureaucrat into matching the metro card number to the department of education employee to which it belongs. (Rollins: “Well, it’s a police matter, so you’ll have to make time.” Black Woman Bureaucrat: “Excuse me, all I have to do is stay black and die.”) He does so by asking about her children and establishing kinship with tales of his shitty kid. She obliges and then asks if he’s part Indian. “I can tell. Them cheekbones.” What the fuck are we doing. Said department of education employee claims she sometimes lends out her card to her son, who has recent facial bruising and more than a passing resemblance to the suspect described and seen on surveillance. Only he’s, uh, Asian. Yep, Andy Chen is Asian. Who would’ve thought.
There’s a fun sequence where the suspect throws a basketball at Olivia and runs away in the midst of explaining what happened to his nose that culminates in Benson slapping him, punching him and bending his arm enough that he fears she’ll break it. This is funny because right before it Andy Chen goes into a fighting stance like he’s going to do some Street Fighter moves and Benson just slaps him upside the head. I say if you’re going to do police brutality, do it in a way that provokes some laughs. Since we’re only 10 minutes in, Andy must be a copycat. He did assault that woman, the one the superhero rescued, but he’s lying about committing the other rapes. He can’t get any of the details right. When asked what one of his victims was wearing, he offers “the skirt thing. Right?”. The skirt thing. Honestly, man. The arrest of a copycat prompts the real rapist to send a letter to British scumbag reporter, one containing the woeful lines of “the NYPD can’t catch me, copycats can’t touch me, Batman can’t stop me.” It’d be funny if this episode used the word ‘Batman’ as a general slur for vigilantes and costumed people. “Look at all those Batmans over there!” “You can’t trust a Batman to look after your kids.” “Don’t let a Batman into OUR bathrooms – I don’t want GUANO everywhere!”
Olivia Benson – now with wind up slapping action! Only $12.99 from MATTEL!
Chen is released on bail – he’s a model student so his Jehovah’s Witness church puts it up – and is promptly almost beaten to death by the Justice League of New York. Understandably he blames SVU for branding him a rapist, since it’s not like he bragged to them of raping multiple women. “If I wasn’t a cop, I’d smack you around too,” Amaro says, straining credulity with the claim that the badge is what prevents him from assaulting people who break his moral code. That night the neighborhood decides to throw a slut walk, even though a Take Back The Night makes more sense. Far be it from me to accuse NBC of artificially boosting sex appeal, but the only advantage the slut walk has is female extras are dressed in less clothing. There’s also a missed opportunity for the doughy men of the community activist group to show some skin. But hey, Rollins gets to wear a black wig! So the slut walk doesn’t succeed in that about a minute after it starts someone is raped and stabbed on a rooftop. Fantastica has been assaulted while her sidekick is left screaming “rape!”. Alan Moore, tune the fuck in: a superhero has been raped. Olivia tries to get her to leave this “preventing rape” thing to the police, leading Fantastica to respond “that hasn’t worked, has it?”. Benson: “Well, this didn’t work, did it?” GOT HER! You fucking showed that raped woman immobilized in a hospital bed!
“It was either this or host a Doctor Who aftershow.”
Amaro is interviewing the dude, who reveals himself to be the guy who stopped Andy Chen in the first place and to have the worst superhero name ever, Romans 12:19. It makes Fantastica sound inspired by comparison. He has the numbers tattooed on his hands! It’s pretty clear “Street Revenge” will be a treatise on the effectiveness of vigilante justice and whether justice can even be meted out by self-appointed guardians, with all the sensitivity and subtlety expected from a show that once had Don Cragen pull a monkey out of a basketball. The detectives realize the rapes have been an inside job and so go ask Henry the anti-rape community activist group leader if anybody he knows seems like a rapist to him. Henry is a crusty old gabagool Italian, the restaurateur smart enough to ensure there are an appropriate amount of brothers on the wall. He happens to have poultry shears that look like they could create the injuries inflicted on Romans 12:19, but that circumstantial evidence pales in comparison to the Justice League jumping up on him in his parked car, beating the shit out of him and finding a bag of locks of hair (trophies!). For an episode about superheroes the costuming on these guys are shit. Like, I get that’s the point, that these are makeshift uniforms put together by amateurs, but it becomes understandable the camera doesn’t linger on them for too long. It’s like skull masks and football padding? Sub-cosplay shit. That Justice League of America pilot from 1997 with David Ogden Stiers as Fat Martian Manhunter had better costuming.
It doesn’t matter where you are, Oakland Raiders fans are terrible.
I know what you’re thinking: Manhattan having an explosion of wannabe Outsiders is great and all, but what about the shit that matters, aka Nick Amaro’s marriage? Well, his wife Maria returns stateside after a spell overseas in Iraq. The powers that be at SVU realized that the only way to make the unending Stabler marital drama better would be for Stabler to fear being cuckolded, so they add that wrinkle with Amaro. He follows his wife regularly and sees her meeting a man for lunch, and when he asks her about it she lies. Playing princesses with Zara? More like balling some MAN! It’s therefore entirely reasonable to drive to Philadelphia, where the lunch man lives, and punch him, saying “stay away from my wife”, then drive back to Manhattan and continue on at work like everything is normal. It’s only 2 hours between Manhattan and Philly. Lunch guy is a total bitch and rats on Amaro to his wife, setting the stage for a classic precinct marital spat shouting match. The only useful thing Cragen does this entire show is tell Amaro “not here”. The steady hand of SVU leadership again exceeds expectations. Continuing their argument in a supply closet or whatever, Maria reveals she’s been seeing a psychiatrist and doesn’t take kindly to finding out her husband has been tailing her for days? weeks? I dunno how long, but Amaro does not come off sympathetically. He seems offended at the notion that his wife would talk to any man other than him about her problems. Yeah, you know, that is what Stabler was missing: being really creepy and controlling towards his wife! Next he can start poking holes in his condoms! This woeful subplot is nonetheless worth it for the Munch one-liner.
HE’S STILL GOT IT!
So where we were on the actual plot? Oh yeah, Henry is the SoHo rapist. The man who played Jackie Aprile Sr. did it. Or did he? Fantastica’s rape kit does come back positive with his DNA, but he has an excuse: they’re having an affair. In his words, “the rapes started, we grew close, she was nervous being alone”. Women feel much safer when getting packed in by Wario without the mustache. She does back his story up, and it comes out he has alibis for the nights of other rapes, such as his pastry chef and his sister-in-law. How the fuck is Jackie Aprile Sr. getting so much pussy? This is the most unrealistic part of an episode that involves costumed people stopping crimes. So if Pasta Vanzetti isn’t the culprit, who could it be? Well, there’s like three characters in the episode besides the main cast. It probably isn’t Amaro’s wife, so that leaves reporter Upstairs Downstairs and Romans 12:19. It’s a well known fact British people are incapable of penetrative sex, so the hero must actually be the villain. The local superhero beloved by tens of people is actually a rapist. Again, Alan Moore must fucking love this episode.
His restaurant isn’t even real Italian, it’s called “Brick Chicken”. Where’s the pasta?! Fuggedabout this place.
Amaro and Rollins decide to confront Stuart, aka Romans 12:19, on the very rooftop on which Fantastica (Leslie) was attacked. They try to get him to walk them through the crime scene again and point out his injuries seem self-inflicted. The episode really ramps up the “Stuart is a loser” aspect in the last act, since in addition to being a wannabe superhero with a prominent stutter he is also a comic book store employee with a massive unrequited crush on Fantastica. They apparently met when she came into the shop looking for a gift for her nephew. “I-I showed her Jimmy Corrigan. And obviously The Dark Knight Returns. And The New Avengers.” I want to stop for a minute and say that is a fucking terrible array of recommendations. I’m assuming the nephew is a child. Jimmy Corrigan and DKR are not appropriate for a child, the latter more because the comic doesn’t make any goddamn sense without the context of having read a lot of shitty Batman comics. As for New Avengers, no ‘the’, it’s plain cruel to expose a child to the writing of Brian Michael Bendis. Why not just punch them in the face or throw them down a flight of stairs, you fucking sadist? I am impressed the show managed to come up with real comic book references instead of going with fake sounding shit like Rodent Man and Sarga. Lumberjames.
“The way he plays with the styrofoam cup is a window into his madness” is a paraphrase of something Rollins actually says.
Stuart has a hero complex and wanted to get with Leslie, though she only had eyes for the obvious Chad the 50 year old Italian restaurant owner whose arteries are made of pasta. She also didn’t think the neighborhood was dangerous, so Stuart changed that by…raping multiple women. (I like how the only time he doesn’t stutter is when he’s doing his rapist catchphrase. “You think you’re special bitch” is his “Imperius Rex!” or possibly “Goongola!”.) This convinced her the Justice League of New York he prattles on about isn’t a total waste of time/”gay nerd shit” and so she became Fantastica. Finally while on a stakeout he rapes her and makes it look like he tried and failed to stop it, the surefire way to win a woman’s heart. (“I failed to stop your rapist. Wanna get a cup of coffee? P.S. The rapist is also me.”) Throw in a giant psychic squid in the middle of Manhattan and this is basically the end of Watchmen. The lesson “Street Revenge” seeks to deliver to the watcher is this: if you’re a comic book fan, your desire to be seen as special will manifest in raping women and badjacketing a pillar of the community who is so nice he would’ve paid Mookie at the BEGINNING of Do the Right Thing. As far as villainous plots go it’s not very well thought out. It should go without saying but rape is not a good way to get a girl to notice you. Remember that.
Amaro: “Are you having an affair with somebody inside that wine glass? ANSWER ME!!!”
“Street Revenge” has a lot of thoughts about vigilantism’s place in society, and by that I mean there is a quantity of thoughts and not a quality. Not surprisingly, SVU comes down on the side that real life superheroes are bad, that they obstruct the police from doing their jobs. Rollins outright compares the Justice League beating up the copycat rapist to the Trayvon Martin shooting, which makes sense because Andy Chen, like Trayvon, had something happen to him. Other than that, get Trayvon’s name out of your fucking mouth. Community groups are ineffective and their leaders only oppose rape in an transparent effort to have extramarital affairs. The police are also criticized for extrajudicial actions, as Amaro driving to Philadelphia and punching a man is punished by his wife knocking all his papers off his desk. Only is Olivia Benson’s violence accepted, and that’s because she slapped the shit out of a guy while on police business. Hurting other people is fine but you have to do it in an appropriate context, like if you can convince your boss after the fact that it was self defense or the target was “asking for it”. If you don’t do that, you should not raise a hand. The other problem is superheroes have no oversight, whereas cops have Cragen occasionally telling them to go home, usually after the cop in question has thrown a suspect in a garbage truck and pulled the switch like Casey Jones (“OOPS”) or gotten the governor killed. The answer to the implicitly asked question of “who’s better at stopping rapists” is moot considering one of the vigilantes turned out to be the rapist. It’s the equivalent of taking a test and flipping the desk over halfway through.
The “best” episodes of SVU carry with them the tag of “seeing is believing” and I’d say “Street Revenge” qualifies for that, because even with all my descriptive powers I am no substitute for a quartet of football player skeleton men assaulting an old Italian man or Benson getting into a literal slapflight. I don’t know exactly what the good people at SVU were trying to do or reacting against – the episode opens with a “this story is fictional” card – but the overall message is hilariously muddled. This show has a streak of cynicism to it so I suppose we’re meant to glean Phoenix Jones took to the streets not out of altruism or a desire for fame but because he’s a rapist. Works for me!
Congratulations, you’re no longer the most embarrassing Justice League.