Law & Ordocki #5: Law & Order: SVU and the Case of Colonel Mustard’s Vaginal Candlestick
NOTE: This column was written in front of a comatose studio audience.
After enough seasons of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, one’s interest in the characters calcifies to either indifference or outright hate. Munch and Ice-T don’t grate because they rarely have anything to do; likewise with Cragen and Dr. Huang. They function to provide information Stabler (college dropout who is confused and disgusted that he can’t punch books to death) and Benson (daughter of an English professor who mostly taught gin recipes; years of assignment at SVU makes it physically painful for her to speak sentences without “the victim” in them) could not possibly know. Stabler and Benson, meanwhile, become exaggerated versions of their already caricatured personalities. Stabler goes from overprotective dad who doesn’t like pedophiles (as opposed to all those pedo-friendly people, right?) to a violent psychopath that makes Meloni’s Oz character seem reasonable by comparison and Benson shifts from victim’s advocate to self-righteous, condescending harpy whose desire for a weal famiwy (cause women, right?) actively interferes with the responsibilities of her job. So when in Season 8’s “Dependent” it appears as though Stabler kills a suspect, the question isn’t “would Stabler kill someone?”, it’s “well, did the evil monster deserve it and will the comically arch Internal Affairs guy fail to make a case against him?”. The major difference between the Strike Team and the detectives at SVU is the Strike Team eventually faced consequences for their actions. Here it’s “huh, almost lost my entire life because of my reputation as a vicious, rage filled psycho with a badge. What’s that, Captain? Someone’s smuggling babies in watermelons at the old mill? I’m there!”.
Writing for SVU is the only way you can be paid for writing New York Post fanfiction.
“Dependent” includes a lot of what I call filler, in that the detectives investigate a few false leads before settling on who actually did the deed. That may sound like “creating a mystery”, but in reality it’s a waste of time. Cary Elwes is a mob attorney who gets smashed on the back of the head after walking his son home from a friends’ house. His wife is raped and beaten to death, both presumably by candlestick. (It’s a sign of desperation on the writers’ part that more and more absurd objects have to be used during sexual assault.) The son, witness to the attack, can only say a monster hurt his daddy because he’s small and isn’t intelligent enough to differentiate perceived monsters and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. SVU could really use a Creature from the Black Lagoon. The suspicion immediately falls on the son of a mob boss Cary Elwes failed to get acquitted. After that trial, the Mafia apparently engaged in a series of schoolyard pranks to voice their disapproval of the services rendered. The Fatigues guy from Seinfeld explains the family was besieged by flaming bags of dog doo, swastika graffiti, a missing cat and presumably sugar in the family car’s gas tank. The true culprit behind the attack proves far more menacing than an organized crime syndicate with ample access to unregistered weaponry and laundered cash: kids these days.
Ice-T’s role in the episode is delivering a set of papers from one side of the room to the other.
Especially in the Stabler years, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit loved sounding the alarm about what YOUR KIDS are doing today, be it sexual, drugual or sextual. The issue du jour is the Pharm Party, in which teenagers raid their medicine cabinets and place those pills in a bowl at a party setting. They apparently can determine what every pill is on sight, without any sort of answer key for the pill lineup. Elwes’ absent teenage daughter went to the Pharm Party with her unapproved of by mom boyfriend. One of the white (of course they’re white!) kids played by bad actors defends their Heath Ledger Recreationist Society shindigs with this hilarious “it’s medicine from a doctor, it’s not like we’re doing crack or heroin”. This is the beautiful part about SVU: not only do you not know if that line’s satirical, the writers don’t either. An average episode fools more people than Brass Eye ever did. This features the largest role Dr. Huang’s had in episodes covered for Law & Ordocki, because you do need a doctor to explain why the kids are doing medicine in a social setting. (As a gay Asian man who does not know karate or ninja, Huang serves as the resident introductory means of societal trends unknown to the reactionary, easily frightened Stabler and Benson.) B.D. Wong is a Valium in human form; his soft voice and nonthreatening zip up sweaters lulls you into sleepiness. He’s no longer a regular on SVU (originally departing to recur on NBC catastrophe Awake), so he would do well to host a 1 AM whale sounds talk show called, tentatively, B.D. Wong’s Warm Milk.
No one bothered to search Elwes’ basement, so when they find more pharmaceuticals than a Rush Limbaugh bag packed for his yearly pilgrimage to Shangri-Ladyboy in Thailand it starts looking more and more that the daughter and her boyfriend killed mom and clobbered dad. In case you think subtlety is for pinkos and “confirmed bachelors”, upon first seeing his sister the little boy runs in terror to the second floor of the precinct. Charlotte, played shittily by Emily VanCamp (Revenge, a Peabody-nominated guest arc on Are You Afraid Of The Dark?), shows little in the way of emotion regarding her mother’s fate and dispassionately recalls their troubled relationship. She didn’t want her 16 year old to date a 19 year old possible Cubano, huh? Well, in SVU land that’s grounds for consideration for Mother of the Year. When the detectives reveal to her the evidence on her discarded clothing that implicates her in murdering her mother, she punches through the glass in what’s called a suicide attempt but is something Stabler’s done approximately 30 times before. Cary Elwes’ reaction to her hospitalization is so amazing I had to include it here. Over the span of 15 seconds, he goes in and out of about seven different accents, starting in Elwes-American and driving off Pacino Cliff. Elwes is not my favorite actor, but he earned his guest appearance with that. Listen.
Wild alternate universe where the Post gives a fuck about police brutality…
“Dependent” is another of those “why court case? Fuck it!” episodes, so instead of the last half taking place in the courtroom the plot goes in a different direction. The medical examiners’ office calls SVU up, saying that piss in the basement came from a man and they’re not (this time) going in the direction that Emily VanCamp was born male and had a botched circumcision so they just decided to raise a girl. (Stay tuned for that column…I dunno, two months from now?) The little boy picks the boyfriend out of the monster lineup and Stabler gives chase to the boyfriend in a prolonged scene that makes one realize Christopher Meloni runs like he has duffel bags surgically sewn under his arms. A little game of SVU Guest Star Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out ensues, and Little Meloni hits Glass Castro right in the face and down he goes. Unlike most situations, Stabler then checks to see if the perp’s breathing and expresses chagrin when finding he’s not. This is a character who once went to the Czech Republic and reveled in the fact that he didn’t have to afford suspected criminals the same civil liberties they enjoy in America, don’t try to give me any shit about him caring about humane detainment. The only reason he isn’t sodomizing every sex offender he encounters with a plunger is Cragen can’t justify restroom maintenance comprising 32% of the precinct’s budget.
“Someone’s bleeding in the interrogation room and it’s not my fault! How unexpected.”
IAB is on his ass immediately and things get worse when a cell phone video emerges and is played on every news channel in the city. “Dependent” tries to sell us on the situation being so grave it forces Stabler into self-reflection and doesn’t do a particularly good job of it because none of the regular characters ever express doubt that Stabler could’ve killed the kid, even unintentionally. Nope, it’s repeated refrains of “I’m not a killer”/”he’s not a killer”. I understand it has to go down that way because SVU will not fucking have a character realize violence, bullying and breaking the law isn’t the way to achieve, but that doesn’t mean it has to be so shoddily written. IAB Sgt. Tucker (I’m sure he was named that so it’d sound like “Fucker”) tells Stabler “you really should control your temper” during an interview. That’s good, sound advice! Stabler’s temper detrimentally affects his job performance and compromises investigations, but since the person saying it is a strawman with no redeeming qualities, SVU means us to regard that with the reaction of “fuck that guy! Shine on, Stabler, you crazy diamond!” By the time we get to Tucker bringing up how Stabler once tried to drown a man in order to find the location of a missing girl, WHICH DIDN’T EVEN FUCKING WORK BY THE WAY, Benson can just brush it off. Special Victims Unit deals with “special victims”, she says, so that means they do whatever it takes to do their job. Fucking IAB, not letting good cops beat people to death if they’re really sure they did something wrong!
Al Pacino in Devil’s Advocate was more subtle.
I love that the only reason Stabler isn’t unemployed or in a jail cell is he offhandedly mentions to Tamara Tunie he tried giving the kid CPR. “This changes everything”, says Tunie. There’s a wonderful Sliders universe in which Tamara Tunie decides “fuck it” and doesn’t go visit Stabler as he’s watching the director’s cut of “Stabler Beats A Man To Death” on his TV in his shitty bachelor pad. A season of Christopher Meloni, an ex-cop, trying to survive in prison? Sign me up. Instead, Tamara Tunie determines the kid had a heart condition and wasn’t taking his medication, so he just happened to die shortly before Stabler punched him in the face. He was also 100% responsible for the murder as determined through Emily VanCamp literally taking truth serum to find out what really happened. Hopped up on street drugs, Ryan killed the woman and sodomized her with the candlestick in the study while Colonel Mustard stood in the doorway, masturbating. Emily VanCamp’s white womanhood was not besmirched, except for the drug addict thing I guess. But a white woman’s no white woman at all unless her hopes and aspirations being crushed by society results in her taking pills to chase the pain away. Cary Elwes is shocked that she didn’t do it, though he was going to give her a robust defense. Well, duh! She’s a pretty white girl!
Neither the first time nor the last time a news station refers to Stabler as “crazed cop”.
The events of “Dependent” do put things in perspective for Elliot: he realizes he doesn’t want that shitty bachelor pad with the terrible TV and would rather have the HDTV with premium channels at his family’s house. It’s the last scene of the episode, so astute viewers can turn it off before having to deal with Stabler’s shitty family, shitty kids and shitty divorce separation whatever. One of the benefits of Christopher Meloni leaving SVU to become a vampire or a younger Bill Shatner is his fucking wife and kids never show up again. Sure, it corresponds to an uptick in Benson looking longingly at babies, children and cat calendars, but those rarely become the main plot of an episode. Those hours where Elliot has to find his wannabe soldier son Dickie or dealing with Kathleen’s bipolarism (you’d only be promiscuous if you had a mental disorder, you see)…I’d rather fucking watch a marathon of Cannibal Holocaust, A Serbian Film and The Bunny Game than those piles of shit. See, the plot can never go anywhere. Either there’s a divorce because Stabler spends too much time at work (aka the show) or his wife just rolls over and accepts he’s not gonna come home most nights because he has to revise his “The End is Nigh” sign. The only good thing I have to say is the writers never went for the “Stabler kid diddled by priest” storyline, though even then that may just be because the original had the father bang Mike Logan. (Who could resist? He’s named Mr. Big for a reason, folks…)
Not to derail this piece with commentary on current events, but it’s pretty hilarious to watch “Dependent” in the context of increased awareness of police brutality and officer-involved shootings of black guys whose main crime was thinking The Black Klansman was preposterous blaxploitation with no basis in past or present America. If SVU did an episode on Ferguson, I’m certain an exposition dump by Tamara Tunie would reveal Stabler or Amaro or whomever was right to shoot fake Michael Brown, because putting his hands up in a surrendering position is how they can transform into guns. (Kids these days and their cybernetic body modification! There oughta be a law…) Sgt. Tucker doesn’t give a shit about the truth or the victims of police violence; he only does it because he’s the Dexter for cops. Getting Stabler or Benson on his table is the only thing that quells his Dark Passenger. I understand it’s difficult for television not written by honorary African-American David Simon to address social issues in a complex and nuanced way, but SVU has the understanding and consciousness of a naked mole rat with no formal education.