Law & Ordocki #11: Law & Order: SVU and the Case of Fuck It, I Don’t Even Know Anymore
Did You Know?: Dick Wolf hunts human beings for sport.
Season 12 of Special Victims Unit is simultaneously its worst and best season. Worst because based on all objective measures of analyzing television entertainment it’s atrocious, shittily acted, preposterously plotted with a narrative attention span of a small dog that only intermittently remembers what the fuck its premise is. Best because of all those things I just mentioned. Which end of the spectrum you regard as valid depends on what you seek to get out of the show: those with attachment to the characters and desire to see a primetime program deal with the myriad issues in society that foster and abet sexual abuse in a thoughtful fashion will see Season 12 as cartoonish bullshit; those who contend the show was always shrill, stupid bullshit that at best acted as a spleen drainer for the easily outraged are delighted that the apotheosis of crud is a Grand Guignol of dozens upon dozens of professionals coming together to produce absolute dross.
Sans industrial fires or a money laundering operation that hollowed out the carcass of a TV show, it’s difficult if not impossible to make something this terrible. “Bully” isn’t the worst episode of SVU in year 12, partially because choosing between 24 installments of incoherent gibberish is Sophie’s Choice all over again (only I guess in this case you’d want the Nazis to take all of them). But it certainly plays as a script adapted from a “hey, let’s call the intern into the writers room and make him tell a story extemporaneously for five minutes” situation. None of it makes sense, there’s an homage to splatter artist Budd Dwyer and a wine bottle masturbation catastrophe determined to be a plausible theory for a crime is the thing that requires the least suspension of disbelief. All aboard the stupid train, folks.
“I’m the third most important cast member this week. Yeah, I know, I’m surprised too.”
We open at a pretentious artist’s place (if you write a down-to-earth, thoughtful artist into a script, Dick Wolf breaks your fingers), where one of his patrons is gushing effusively about one of his newest pieces, but the twist is the frankly brilliant “lines of blood on a canvas” isn’t his work at all, it’s the result of blood from upstairs dripping down. Initially the cops think the artist’s behind the death upstairs, because “get this, the show is called Dollars and Death: The Politics of Blood”, but things turn out to be much, much dumber.
Upstairs, there’s a dead woman in the vicinity of a vase, of a bottle of champagne, so Stabler gets the mediocre smash to credits one-liner of “so much for romance”. Jerry Orbach he is not. I imagine in Heaven or Hell or the Negative Zone or wherever he is, Orbach curses whenever someone on a Law & Order show botches a cold opening one-liner. “No, DRYER! DRYER! Not enough world weariness! Put some fucking English on the sardonic!” (He of course sees the show by accessing those eyes he gave up for donation. Check out my horror movie The Man With Orbach’s Eyes, coming in 2017.) What’s common in Season 12 SVU is the numerous false leads that don’t actually do anything to convey a mystery but instead fill up time.
The central premise in “Bully” is lean enough that it needs to be padded with shit that may as well be called “we couldn’t come up with a full episode with this plot element, so enjoy these repurposed scraps”. Take the self-righteous artist. He owns the building and another tenant says he tried to rape her once, but she didn’t file charges because she was drunk and he gave her a break on the rent as a sort of “sorry I tried to commit sexual assault” apology gift. He’s cleared of the murder as Ice-T astutely says “the guy may be a pretentious douche, but he’s not lying” when the artist points to an online interview he was giving at the time of the murder. I love whenever SVU interacts with this “website” “blogosphere” “computertron” world, because you can tell the depictions are dripping with contempt and alarmism. 10 years ago Dick Wolf read an IMDB comment that called him “Dickless Wolf” and he hasn’t had time for the Internet ever since. Well, you know, here it is in 2014, some jerkoff making fun of him for being an untalented, terrible person. He called it!
Fucking Joe Scarborough cameos on the show so often (i.e., more than never) I’m beginning to think Dick Wolf was responsible for the dead intern in his office and Law & Order gigs are his way of saying sorry for causing such a hullabaloo.
That lead exhausted, the detectives find out the victim, Ellen, was in debt to this website called My Leather Fantasy (leather products, no kinky sex shit Stabler finds so repulsive he once punched a 8mm Blockbuster promotional stand until the cardboard Nic Cage grimacing in the chair actually started bleeding) and had been receiving dozens upon dozens of threatening phone calls. As they interview him on the street, an old man comes out of nowhere, shoots the guy and screams “You killed my wife!”. Classic latter day SVU: people come out of nowhere to shoot other people and it’s just to spice things up a bit. I’m surprised the writers showed restraint and didn’t set this shooting at the precinct. By the end of the Stabler era, like nine people are stabbed or shot to death in the precinct a season. Metal detectors? Screening visitors? What the fuck are you expecting, competence? Fucking police stations in Mexico have more security. Old man shot the suspect because one of the harassing phone calls caused his wife’s heart to explode. I don’t know why he’d let his Alzheimer’s afflicted wife spends thousands of dollars buying shit online, but whatever. Who knows if he’s charged with anything; the cops likely gave him a pass, figuring, hey, it’s not like he’s going to have another wife scared to death by crank phone call anytime soon. What clears the phone harasser guy occurs in my choice for the dumbest scene ever on SVU. It’s so profoundly stupid, pointless, incoherent, that I had to include the exchange verbatim. You’re welcome in advance!
Stupid Asshole #1, played by Christopher Meloni: “You hounded Mrs. Gilcrest to death.”
Stupid Asshole #2, NOT played by Christopher Meloni: “No I didn’t. I told her if she wasn’t happy she could post negative stuff about me on the Internet.”
SA #1: “Come again?”
SA #2: “The more comments you get online, good or bad, the higher your Google ranking.”
SA #1: “Scaring people to death is now a marketing ploy?”
SA #2: “For every pissed off customer, 100 new people visit my website. 10 to 20% of them buy something, ka-ching!”
SA #1: “You are some piece of crap, you know that?”
SA #2: “But I didn’t kill nobody!”
(His alibi is he was heckling someone across the street from their house, incidentally.) What is there to say? At what point did episode writer Ken Storer decide his script needed a scathing indictment of search algorithms, a problem people face in their day to day life all the fucking time? A third of the episode is fucking finished and I’m over 1000 words into this shit and we still haven’t even gotten to what “Bully” is about, if it’s even about anything (which is questionable). Ellen worked at a wine company, Luscious Grape, which from the shitty promotional video on their website is said to be a great place to work. The twist is it’s not a great place to work. Again, amazing observation that the advertised image of a company doesn’t reflect what it really is. Did you also know that when Leatherface’s family sold their meat to people they didn’t say it was of human origin? I know! Crazy, right?
Tamara Tunie, who I believe in her contract is paid double if she has a line of dialogue in an episode that isn’t exposition and therefore never paid double ever, reports that Ellen might not have been murdered after all. In life she tore her hair out, and “along with the violent masturbation and binge drinking” that suggests extreme stress. Curiosity piqued by the “violent masturbation”? Tamara Tunie theorizes she might’ve been getting off with a wine bottle. Finally, a sexy sex crime. She had a 1.6 blood alcohol level, which a beautiful pedant on IMDB went to the trouble of listing as a goof, as 1.6 would be 4 times the amount of alcohol that killed Amy Winehouse. It’s okay, no one in the show’s universe is actually good at their job. 1.6, .16, 16, all the same number if you think about it.
Rape? Well, at least the newspapers remember Special Victims Unit is supposed to be about rape cases.
A stressed out violent masturbator drunk doesn’t fit with the Luscious Grape seen in the video, and her boss and co-workers all parrot the same party line that the company is great and so is working there, which I agree with if a wine company is what I think it is (getting money for drinking in an office building all day). Some of the co-workers include: a British wine taster whose accent renders a line of dialogue “her death is a terrible bleow”, aka fucking hilarious; Gale from Breaking Bad; a beefcake traveling salesman; and some girl whose job is to be pretty and answer the phones I guess. Gale was closest to Ellen; they’re in Alcoholics Anonymous together and Ellen was considered a ‘fruitfly’ for socializing with Gale and people of his ilk. Yes, of course Gale is gay! (I used to have a roommate during the middle seasons of Breaking Bad who always rebuffed my contention that Gale was gay. “No, no, he’s eccentric!” Let’s just say I was vindicated when that karaoke video happened.)
The detectives sorta sit on their thumbs until outside circumstances move the plot along. Someone breaks into Ellen’s apartment and roughs up the place. Stabler finds a little panda near Ellen’s computer that is a flash drive containing videos of the CEO and Ellen’s supposed “best friend” Annette verbally abusing the entire staff. “Bully” loves calling Gale a fruit. It’s always fruit, never another slur that, you know, starts with an ‘f’ that people actually use. I kept waiting for that specific word choice to pay off, like Gale screaming “THIS FRUIT IS RIPE!” when he inevitably falls off the wagon, but no. If you expect anything from SVU, you really ought to stop doing that. The employees still won’t badmouth their boss, though they all have hooks in them. Gale got a new car, Limey Bleow’s children got into a posh private school, the young girl goes to therapy (I love how Ice-T tails her to a therapist and basically yells at her for going to therapist and also assuming she has sessions due to her job instead of, I don’t know, being molested by her stepfather) and the ladies man still lives with his disabled mother. She’s my favorite character, because she never appears onscreen and her line of dialogue is “mother needs her juice!”. Fuck it, retool the show and make it all voices screaming from offscreen. Saves money and it’s not like the directing is anything special anyway. The investigation catches a break when Ellen posthumously leaks the abusive videos to the media and to the Internet. Why yes, the murder victim is better and more proactive at solving her own murder than the goddamn cops.
They actually got Mariska Hargitay to say “evah”. I imagine after that she politely but firmly told the showrunner “double my pay and I’m still not saying that ever fucking again”.
Shit goes viral, putting the kibosh on the company buyout that would’ve made everyone rich and allowing for the interns responsible for coming up with funny headlines for SVU’s litany of fake New York Post ripoff newspapers (cartoon TV show only acknowledges cartoon newspaper as an influence) the opportunity to go hog wild. Annette holds a press conference that starts off as humble and apologetic until she bitches everyone out and blows her brains out in front of the cops, the press, her employees. It’s great and not just because her actions mirrored my feelings by that point in the episode. I love that the public suicide is good enough for both the cops and the DA’s office. They charge a dead woman for the murder. Justice has been served and the characters we follow did fucking nothing.
If Stabler, Benson and Ice-T called in sick that week, Ellen’s videos would still go public, Annette would still plaster her brains all over the wall. Strong message, “Bully”: the cops are so stupid and worthless they make a negligible impact. Usually SVU is unintentionally about an overreaching, corrupt unit of self-righteous psychopaths who never learn anything from the unintended consequences of their actions, but with “Bully” they’re as necessary to the story as the voice over in Blade Runner. Oh wait, there’s another fucking 10 minutes. You may ask how do you top a Budd Dwyer. Well, you don’t. George Costanza learned to go out on a high note, why can’t these people?
I hope Filter haphazardly releases an Annette Cole version of “Hey Man Nice Shot”.
SVU swoops in when Gale is hit by a car, as I suppose their jurisdiction is both sex crimes and any crimes that branch out from that crime, whether it’s hit and run, illicit CFL gambling, the Mars rover program or Ice-T’s father using a time travel belt to prevent MLK’s assassination but whoops he fucked up and now Chicago is ruled by giant ants (special guest star Kirk Douglas voices the King Ant). Surveillance footage establishes Gale knew the assailant but more importantly allowed me to spend hours of my time reinstalling programs so I could make an animated gif of him hilariously getting run down. The cops finally do something of value, running down the car’s registration and finding out it belongs to the Luscious Grape little girl’s grandfather. Again, the interrogation scene that results sorta falls apart into her and Gale, rushing into the room on crutches, yelling at each other a lot of exposition. Benson and Stabler are glorified fucking stenographers. The employees had a pact to keep quiet about the abuse so the buyout would go through and they’d all be rich, and Gale went over to Ellen’s apartment to talk her out of releasing the videos, and she was already dead when he got there. Annette exonerated by their discussion, we’re left with three candidates for the murder: the British guy (who disappears halfway through the episode presumably to chimney sweep Parliament or whatever the fuck those inbred snaggletoothed empire envy-heavy Limeys do), the ladies man and the little dog that inherited Annette’s estate. You know, by Season 12, a dog orchestrating a murder and pushing someone to suicide in order to obtain ownership of a wine company is a plausible explanation. I wish they’d gone with the dog.
Tamara Exposition pops up again to walk back her “violent masturbation mishap” theory and confirm Ellen was truly murdered. DA maybe should’ve waited before charging the skull fragments the cleaning crew put in a little ziploc bag labeled “Annette Cole” with murder. Again, everyone sucks at their occupation. See, Ellen didn’t get drunk in the conventional way, she got champagne through the anus. I was wondering when butt chugging was going to make an appearance on SVU and I’m not disappointed. Pretty boy sales rep did the deed, since his mother (a former opera singer, current juice hound) imparted the secret of butt chugging to him one night, surely not unlike the night Ma and Pa Kent revealed to little Clark that he came out of a spaceship that landed in Kansas. Can’t sing opera while drinking from your mouth, like a plebeian. Classy ladies sip sparkling champagne with their asshole.
I’m never going to stop watching this.
We’ve got yet another instance of SVU deciding “you know, fuck it, we don’t have to rent those courtroom sets for the week” and it got me thinking: Gillian Hardwicke may well be the worst ADA SVU‘s ever had. Sure, Greylek is much more intolerable, but at least I can remember things about her. A stonefaced dolt played a terrible actress is better than nothing. Hardwicke, who’s mentioned multiple times in the episode but not shown, I don’t know if I could pick her out of a lineup. The Dick Wolf method of casting pretty white women of questionable ability reaches its apotheosis with this character. She’s so pretty and so vacuous she doesn’t need to physically exist! The only better thing would be pulling a Trudeau and representing the characters with abstract objects or symbols. So much of SVU Season 12 lends itself to an apocalyptic metastory, what with the ever frenzied approach to make every other scene a twist and the body count that’s somewhere between Jeffrey Dahmer and the Green River Killer; really, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the finale was Dick Wolf with a gun, killing the execs of NBC subsidiary Spectacular Optical and then turning the gun to his temple, a “Long Live The New Flesh!” before the blam.
Cragen and Munch are absent from the episode too, meaning the most senior officer at SVU is Stabler? That can’t work! No wonder the case is shaggier than goddamn Finnegan’s Wake. No one gives a fuck about anything in “Bully”, from the characters to the actors to the writers to the director to the special guests to the set dressers to even the lighting guys. If I may, crazy garbled nonsense in SVU works best if it’s coming from a sincere place, regardless of if that sincerity is coupled with competence, subtlety or intelligence. When a patchwork of “what’s in the news today” hackery that would give Jay Leno pause emerges and takes the form of an hour long timeslot filler to later air on USA Characters Welcome marathons on 3 AM that will surely give America’s gun cleaner aficionados some inspiration, you wonder why NBC doesn’t just shut everything down and exit TV for a business they’d be better at, like street umbrella sales.
I wish just once on television, a dipshit investigator would go “hey, looks like we got a hidden flash drive” and then rips apart a little rubber knick knack a person would put on their desk.
It should be noted that Season 13 repositioned itself from the nadir of the prior year, changing not just by losing Stabler and gaining Hispanic Stabler and Hotlanta Gambling Lady Stabler. The new showrunner, Warren Leight, toned down the excesses. No more magic robots. Only half as many out of nowhere murders. Leight went so far as to execute noted “really, someone named that is on the credits of a show that has nothing to do with Snoop Dogg” legend Speed Weed in front of the entire writing staff, just to show there was a new, more melodramatic sheriff in town. While Season 13 wasn’t, um, “good”, episodes like “Bully” illustrate why changes needed to happen. I had a rough go of trying to summarize and explain whatever the hell they intended this to be because it all sounds like somebody telling you a half-remembered story about something that happened to a buddy of yours while he was on peyote three years ago. Instead of smooth transitions between separate events or proper linking for repercussions of an inciting incident, inevitably the best one can do is “yeah, I guess, fuck it, I don’t know”. Somehow blood falling onto a canvas turns into an evidence obfuscating postmortem anal imbibing a man learned from his mother. Your guess is as good as mine.