Law & Ordocki #49: Welcome to SVU, Diane Neal! Hope You Survive The Experience!

Cast changes are usually tough, because you have to start writing a new voice. That’s of course if you’re competent; if you’re not competent and don’t give a shit you can write the new character like an old character and duck criticism by never going on Twitter. SVU tends to trend towards the latter, because while characters are unique elements they exist within a system that will continue even if the constituent parts are not there. I mean maybe at this point it can’t weather Mariska Hargitay’s departure; otherwise the sex crimes brook no above the line talent dictating the show. I bring all this up because “Serendipity” is one of the first cast changes. Jeffries had been replaced by Ice-T, but he’s one of four detectives. Replacing Stephanie March with Diane Neal, well, that’s uprooting the entire “Order” part of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. What differentiates Alexandra Cabot from Casey Novak? This episode tries to show that, but ultimately the system presents upon itself: Novak becomes expositional wallpaper not unlike her blonde predecessor. They’re hot, they hate crime, what more do you need?

“Serendipity” begins in classic fashion, with unrelated characters going about their day in New York City, the Big Apple That Never Sleeps. Some scientists are testing the sewer water for mosquitos, while a local woman thinks the CDC is there to deal with terrorists and/or West Nile Virus. Nothing to worry about, says, the CDC…until one of them opens up a bag and we see the littlest hand possible. “Please, tell me that’s a baby doll” the lady says. Well, yeah, unless SVU goes real mondo in its props department… Cut to credits, which has already slotted out Stephanie March and replaced her with Diane Neal, who previously played a criminal on this show in “Ridicule”. Ah, remember when the cast was full of memorable characters instead of Velasco and Muncy?


Stay classy, SVU.

On the scene, Stabler and Benson posit that culprit was likely a mother who freaked out. In any event, a mother is involved to a degree regardless, so they canvass the neighborhood. The implication of the show is that the two went to apartment complexes asking supers about whether or not they had a pregnant tenant. For some reason that scenario of Olivia and Elliot asking invasive questions that eventually yield a “yeah, we got a tenant about to pop”. The super lets them in and Brianna Morris is dead. “Then who dumped the baby?” Olivia asks. Mariska Hargitay has received 6 figures for saying variations of that line for 24 years. Think about that and weep.

Brianna’s doctor suggests she was checked out of the pregnancy despite the extra tests and prenatal vitamins, whereas the secretary tells them the last payment, issued by a Roger Wolcott, bounced. Wolcott, played by Betty Gilpin’s father and by all indications a fine John Kerry impersonator, and his wife were to adopt the baby upon its birth. Ambiguity arises as to whether or not she was keeping the baby, placing the Wolcotts at the top of the suspect list. Theory is, Wolcotts confronted Brianna, pushed her around, she went into labor and died, the baby was born and died. “That’s pretty out there” Cragen suggests, before telling them “let’s run this by Warner, see if any of it floats”. Floats like the dead baby they found at the beginning of the episode! I love haphazardly applied gallows humor so much.


“Hm, foreward by Abe Vigoda. Interesting.”

A visit with Warner reveals the exact cause of death, and because this is some bullshit television it’s not your mama’s exsanguination. No, it’s a kind performed by Burke and Hare, the guys who went around murdering people and selling them as medical cadavers. I’m not a television writer, but an actor should never be a position in which they have to deliver exposition that sounds like “[burking is] an arcane method of suffocation, dating back to 19th century Scotland”. You’re solving sex crimes in Manhattan, leave the Wishbone shit to the dog. This scene is a riot. It’s of Meloni and Hargitay looking increasingly perplexed as they describe how a woman was drugged with a paralytic, sat on and then supplemented with labor induction substance up her ass. These people must read the scripts and dissociate, because I’d have a breakdown if I had to process even 10% of the words they must speak any given week.

A search of the Wolcott residence finally introduces us to Diane Neal, to whom Olivia asks “who the hell are you?”. Stabler, to his credit, remembers her from softball. He played shortstop. The cops question why she’s there, and Novak claims she likes seeing her cases through from start to finish. I’m reminded of how in the 90s the X-Men were considered old-fashioned, so here comes X-Force, the “proactive” mutant team full of gun toting physics defying designs. If Diane Neal had that Cable exploding eye and at least one metal arm I’d like her character more. Novak is the proactive alternative to Cabot. She shows up at crime scenes! She processes evidence on her own! She does raise the query of why would a 22 year old pregnant girl check out Skin Diseases of the Elderly from the library. Maybe she was anticipating giving birth to a Benjamin Button.


Give it a few seasons and that’ll be a show.

The answer is less exciting than that. The author of the book is the father of the baby, Archibald Newlands, because I guess we’ve stopped with the pretense of giving characters plausible names anymore. Newlands denies paternity and even readily accedes to taking a test. Munch delivers the grim/not so grim news: he’s not the father BUT “we cleared a cold case”. Cue classic SVU arrest in the midst of a character trying to conduct business. Newlands looks good for raping a 6 year old girl in 1998. If you don’t know how to feel, don’t worry, the music will tell you. It’s sort of like an emotional guard rail for the desensitized.

Novak and the detectives butt heads yet again, with counselor egregiously pointing out statute of limitations ended three months ago so there’s “nothing to charge him with”. Like that’s stopped a good NYPD copper before! Say he reached for your gun! That’s good enough. Their only recourse is to track down the 6 year old, now 11, and ask her if the molestation had a USP to it. A unique selling point, differentiating it from the others. She says the most accurate line of the show: “you guys suck”. After pressing and an emotional breakdown, little girl reveals the perp put honey on his penis and asked his victim to lick it off. “He carries a bottle of honey around?” Cragen asks. Benson corrects him: “A packet. Probably got it at the food court.” I’m glad we’re investigating the important thing, which is where is this serial child molester getting his honey. You know, I also don’t think we the viewing public necessarily need the cops to step by step establishment the guy’s molestation M.O. and signature. Some things are better left to the imagination. My brain can just as easily imagine Chris Meloni going “one lick [of the penis] flips the switch. He rapes her”. I can even make him sound like his character in Wet Hot American Summer.

More squabbling: once they find another victim of the Honey Rapist, Novak wants the 8 year old to look at a lineup. Cragen, Munch and the lot press back, saying adult lineups are risky enough as it is. Still, Novak plows on with the confidence of someone who’s failed upwards her whole life. Stray observation: Olivia really needs to stop calling victims of this particular offender “honey”. I mean, come on. The failed ID sends Novak on a mini-breakdown; she confesses to Liv she wanted homicide but got stuck with SVU instead. We get what is my favorite part of the episode, which is Novak incongruously asking about the SVU’s love lives. It’s as bizarre as Johnny’s “so how’s your sex life” in The Room. Benson sums it up: guys are either not interested enough or too interested in what she does, Ice-T doesn’t talk love at work, Stabler doesn’t talk work at home, “and—and Munch has just given up”. Harsh one, Liv! How do you know he’s not in Jewish Singles right now? Benson sums up the raison d’etre of the program: “because somebody has to”, which is not strictly true. You could just not have SVU on the air. It may seem absurd now, but there once was a time it did not occupy a spot on NBC’s fall lineup.


“How come Pratt got Zero Dark Thirty and I didn’t? I can torture way better than him!”

When Newslands doesn’t show up for court, everyone realizes something is amiss, and sure enough, he’s dead in his office. Elliot’s immediate reaction to Newslands’ death is “saved the taxpayers a pile of money”. He was shot in the back of the head so suicide’s out. Curiously, a little girl was abducted around the same time, suggesting either he wasn’t the guy or he’s molesting from beyond the grave. SVU has not introduced the supernatural yet—there’s still time—so Newslands’ innocence gets established in truly wild fashion. Before that, we get some classic B.D. Wong psychoanalysis. B.D. Wong, who was not in the show until the 33 minute mark, comes up to the scene with an evidence baggie containing a stirrer that dispenses honey. “What’s with the honey?” Olivia asks. Wong illuminates: “Excitement. That straw was sucked dry. The taste alone was enough to trigger his memory of past assaults.” Honey activates his molestation drive. You know, we’re lucky that he only entered the public domain this year or else we’re likely looking at Winnie the Pooh: Child Molester. That’s a MADtv sketch right there.

Warner does the autopsy, during which she finds a tube grafted into Newlands’ arm. B.D. Wong surmises he did it to beat a paternity test. That’s so unnecessary. All you need to do is ask your buddy for some blood and then when you’re asked to bleed into the cup you give them that blood. While this means he likely did kill Brianna and the baby—remember them, the original special victims of this episode—it also clears him of any child molestation accusations. Imagine the luck of implanting someone else’s blood into your arm and it turns out to be a sex attacker. Do they still give out Darwin Awards? He needs one of those.

True to the episode preceding disclaimer, there is some basis in truth to this case. John Schneeberger would escape repercussions for his sexual assaults by using a plastic tube embedded in the arm to substitute another man’s blood for his own. As far as I can tell (as in, I looked at his Wikipedia entry) he is presently a free man living in South Africa. Needless to say SVU took the superior treatment of this freak. Of the myriad SVU episodes that follow the original’s “ripped from the headlines” credo, this is probably  the one I’m most surprised has some basis in reality. That and the original series Pants episode, which I’ll cover if I have some street drugs to abuse. It’s that fucked.

The honey rapist turns out to be Peter Nestler, a client of the Newslands whose apartment is festooned with bear honey bottles, with a closet full of child pornography for good measure. He has so much honey this glorious moment occurs:


I’m sorry, but if I see that I’m thinking he’s a honeyist with child rape characteristics, not a child rapist with honey characteristics. Child rape is something he does on the side, man; honey is his passion. Novak butts her head into the scene yet again but tries making amends by being useful and noting all the fishing equipment in the apartment. No shit, there’s a framed newspaper clipping of him catching some fish that also reveals his boat name, “Honey Do”. What, did they charge by the letter and “Honeydew” was too exorbitant? I don’t get this guy. First the having nonconsensual sex with children and now this.

They track him to his slip and he rabbits. Therein lies the question: where’s the little girl? Using women’s intuition or a spider-sense or something, Casey realizes a cooler is just big enough to fit a little girl, and so we get the most daring rescue in SVU history until the Captain and a certain monkey in a basketball, which I immediately thought of during this sequence. Meanwhile, Stabler has thrown the perp into the water and is essentially torturing him for the whereabouts of the girl. That’s torture, when you dunk someone underwater so they can’t breathe, repeatedly, right? Olivia has to calm her partner down, confirm to him the girl is safe so there’s no need to kill this pedophile. Benson’s job is basically to keep Stabler from killing people, and to her credit she usually does a good job of it.


It’s no monkey in the basketball, but what is?

In our final scene, Novak reports to the principal’s issue, where the DA is Fred Fucking Thompson. I forgot how much his “reign” overlapped with SVU’s heyday. If you ever want to know which seasons aligned with each other, add 9 to the SVU season. For instance, this is Season 5, so add 9 to that and you have this coinciding with Season 14 of SVU. That all goes out the window when Law & Order has that gap between Seasons 20 and 21, but what can you do. Anyway, Novak is rattled and doesn’t want the job, whereas Fred Thompson, who let’s remember is a singing and dancing frog who was elected to the MANHATTAN NRW YORK CITY’s DA position, contends it’s for those reasons she’s qualified. This case was a test of her resolve and she passed. He may as well say “sorry honey, you’re already in the opening credits, and those take a lot of effort to change”. So begins the reign of Casey Novak: reluctant prosecutor! Nah, I’m kidding. Her jitters never come up again. Guess that electroshock the Thompson DA’s office administers to all ladies from clerk on up.


Look at those jowls. They’re like a lava lamp.

While it seemed at the beginning that Casey Novak would be a different kind of ADA, Benson and Stabler brought her to heel within the span of 40 minutes. She’s realized her crime scene visits are inappropriate and exists to meekly point out that it’s not acceptable to choke a suspect with a submarine sandwich. More importantly, she won’t intrude on the sacred Law & Order barrier, which is the detectives get the first 20 minutes and the attorneys get the last 20. With very few exceptions this is followed before SVU transitioned into being a cartoon.  It goes to show formula is king in Dick Wolfland; this new character threatened to disrupt that and was shamed and yelled at enough until she relented and became a Cabot clone. Her next few episodes are indistinguishable from Stephanie March, probably because March was still intended for this scripts. Dick Wolf paints a grim and accurate picture for the workforce: you are all replaceable.


I love these chapter titles. They say so much while still saying so little.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Law & Ordocki. Next one up is #50, a big important number lessened by the fact that it took 9 fucking years to get there. I have a couple of ideas of what to do, but nothing concrete yet. Know this: it’ll be stupid. I’ll try to make sure it’s the dumbest this column has ever been, which is no easy task So good night, and don’t stock up on honey cause people will think you’re a kid diddler. That’s the lesson from “Serendipity”. Is there a lesson or is this just a random assortment of events for NBC/Dick Wolf to make some money? Answer to that is above my pay grade, unfortunately.

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