Law & Ordocki Season 3 #3 (#22): Gibbon Me A Break!
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit was always sensationalistic. It’s understandable; stories about sex crimes can easily become tawdry and prurient in a repressed country such as this, and true to temptation, they regularly became such on the show. As the show goes on, there’s a tendency to want to top oneself. Bigger rapes, crazier violence, more twisted twists, more insane storytelling. SVU hits its peak – or its nadir, depending on your perspective – with “Wildlife”, a Season 10 episode that does for this program what Fonzie jumping the shark did for Happy Days or that second helicopter incident did for ER. That’s not to say this isn’t a great episode. It is. The problem is that nothing can ever match or surpass “Wildlife”. It’s all downhill from here, despite occasional blips of insanity over the course of the subsequent nine seasons. This has it all, from a guest appearance by Big Boi to Stabler marital troubles to unexpected things being found in basketballs. Let’s dive in.
What if Elliot Stabler was in The Hangover? I think it’d look a little something, like this…
In a rarity for SVU, the episode begins in media res, with Stabler shot and clinging to life. What balls Richard Dog would have if he offed the show’s co-main character in the middle of the season. Cut to a week earlier and the detectives come across the impetus for their investigation, a murdered woman with slash marks over her body and a dead bird in her purse. Stabler thinks it’s a message from the mob; “dead bird won’t sing”. I mean, purse parakeets to indicate it’s a mob hit while actually having the victim bitten and slashed seems to muddle the message. “Dead bird won’t sing and also…dog bite? I don’t get it.” Stabler takes along Ice-T to run down leads; I forgot how much I enjoyed Ice-T out on the street. See, the writers of SVU aren’t good enough to give the character of Odafin Tutuola his own hopes and dreams, his own thoughts and perspective, so everything he says is a one-liner. It’s like Stabler is partnered with a jukebox and I fucking love it. In the span of a few minutes, he says the following:
- “Probably more than you. Probably get more, too.” [after Stabler muses about women still dancing on the show’s shitty nightclub set at what is supposed to be 7 AM]
- “Maybe you need your nose adjusted.” [after the nightclub owner mentions he smells pig]
- “Even less than before.” [after a scumbag ‘talent scout’ asks rhetorically, “how you like me now?” after introducing them to a crash pad of wannabe models/actresses/cocaine addicts]
- “Who decorated this place, a tornado?”
I’d like to meet the one person who didn’t find it interesting.
Through three scene changes they come upon the only evidence that helps them, a second cell phone the victim Natalie kept. She used it to dial only one number. Thankfully, the NYPD can track any powered on cell phone using their advanced “moving dot on street map” technology. They immediately confiscate the phone of a guy who looks like a hipster version of Langley from The Lone Gunmen but learn the lesson that perhaps more than one person in a coffee shop has a cell phone, as they find Natalie’s sister. I like how they first confuse her for her dead sister. “Dead girl walking?” Ice-T quips. Better episode: SVU has to solve a case that involves someone resurrected from the dead. “You can’t charge someone for murder if the ‘victim’ has come back!” “MAKE IT HAPPEN, Assistant District Attorney Indistinguishable!”
I did think she was behind it for a while because on TV, ugly or disfigured women are always evil.
The sisters hailed from West Virginia (home of the Fightin’ Redneck Cannibals) and wanted to become models. Annie got a huge facial scar because of a damn SUV so it was up to Natalie to follow the dream. Unfortunately, she got caught up in all the glitz and glamour New York City affords if you don’t have a horrific facial slur, including entering the orbit of “chump” rapper Gots Money (portrayed by non-chump rapper Big Boi of Outkast). Annie tries to relate one of Gots’ threats and it’s just hilarious to hear spoken seriously, stripped of context, so much so that I felt the need to share it with you.
“Casting notice. AFRICAN-AMERICAN MALE, AGE 18-35. Needs to look like he’d latch onto a successful rapper for financial security and social capital. Must know how to synchronize hand movements.”
The best thing about Gots Money is he has a posse of black men that stand against a wall to provide the response “GOTS MONEY!!!!” (complete with fantastical hand movements that don’t come close to miming any way of producing, making or counterfeiting money) to his query “and what do Gots got?”. I imagine when Gots leaves the room they cease to exist, and when he enters they spring into consciousness. What a life that must be. Gots confirms Natalie was his “Freaky Friday bitch”, but that since “that girl has seen more nuts than a can of Planters” he had to break things off. Ice-T, who I prefer to believe has the same backstory on SVU as he does in real life (that is to say, was in Body Count, portrayed a Kangaroo mutant in Tank Girl, escaped Rutger Hauer and fellow homeless hunters), takes Gots to task for his Al Pacino posters (he only has one) and his bling. He counters by offering Ice-T a half priced ringtone. “Still too much money, PLAYA”, Stabler responds.
If the NYPD arrested every rapper for appropriating imagery from Scarface, every rapper would be in jail.
M.E. Warner, who I guess is a goddamn animal expert now, confirms that the saliva found on the dead body comes from a tiger, “probably Bengal or Sumatran”. The writers do know medical examiners aren’t also vets too? She even remembers that a lion in NYC once mauled a guy who was keeping it in his apartment! It’s this tiger connection that gets Stabler to try his dumbest justification for a search warrant yet. Gots had Scarface posters at his place. In the movie, Al Pacino bought a tiger. Ergo, based on the evidence of him being a fan of a Brian De Palma slaughterfest, Gots probably has a tiger. Warner comes in again with Jack Hanna knowledge, identifying the dead purse bird as a Spix’s Macaw (I believe the correct term is Latinx’s Macaw), so rare it’s extinct in the wild. This means animal smuggling. “[Its eyes are] perforated with tiny slits…so it won’t sing in changing light levels”, Warner explains. Again, how the fuck does she know all this? Did she take summer courses? ADA Indistinguishable finds a way to get a warrant, by labeling the possible tiger that may not actually exist a public health risk. “Weird germs live in a tiger’s mouth. Who knows what lives in the other end?” That’s really how Kim Greylek should’ve been written off the series. If her final scene was wondering what kind of germs you’d find in a tiger’s asshole I think she’d have been more positively received by the fans.
“Repeat, suspect is a dot, suspect is a dot.”
“What’s Gots got?” “Gots trouble. Warrant.” He’s understandably brought in when he tries to surprise Stabler with a bedroom tiger, and no that’s not a sexual euphemism. In interrogation, he confesses he’s not actually a Brooklyn drug dealer but rather an ordinary black man from Westchester. There are two options, “get an office job or play the role [of a violent, drug dealing criminal cum rapper]”. He’s such a charlatan he isn’t even in deep with any animal smuggling ring. He was looking for a tiger on eBay and Nicole contacted him. I’ve been on eBay a lot, especially when drunk, but never have I found a wannabe model who’s smuggling exotic animals to make ends meet. Although DNA confirms a different tiger killed Natalie, Ice-T still wants to prove a point by getting something out of his desk. It’s dice, and he uses them to illustrate a prison game in which the roll determines how many days you have to be anally raped by another prisoner. This is what sets “Wildlife” apart from other episodes. In pedestrian hours, the cops would simply verbally threaten suspects with prison rape. In this one, however, they go all out with visual aids. I kept expecting Stabler to wheel in an old TV that’s just playing that scene in Oz where Schillinger paints his dick black and rapes Peter Schibetta over the pool table. “Get it? That’s you!”
The original line was “Wanna buy a monkey?” but David Letterman threatened a lawsuit.
So Stabler decides, without clearing this with anyone, to pose as a rogue US customs agent and meet with the animal smugglers through Gots. “Next time, you follow the chain of command”, Cragen fumes, as though Stabler will learn due diligence the 138th time he’s gone off half-cocked. Some Fish & Wildlife agent steps in to provide exposition on the bad guys: Andre Bushido. Half-Russian, Half-Italian, so he gets his meatballs from Brighton Beach. Reg E. Cathey is an American-born Kenyan who used to give Pakistan parts of nuclear centrifuges on behalf of the Albanian mob. Is it just me or were their old jobs cooler than stapling sea turtle eggs to their scrotums? That’s neither here nor there, as the next scene consists of cops wheeling out hyenas who apparently killed/ate Gots Money. “They’re his calling card and his murder weapon.” Fun fact for all you kids out there: hyenas cannot swallow bling, so they will vomit it up. Give a few thorough washings, shit’s good as new, sell it on eBay, maybe start talking to a model/smuggler/Nazi memorabilia hawker. Despite having his dogs eat Stabler’s entrypoint into the wild world of living in a warehouse full of smelly animals, Bushido immediately invites “Mike” for a sitdown. He explains pretty girls make the best animal mules because people are too busy thinking of fucking them than to wonder “does she have turtle eggs velcroed onto her midsection?”. He also reveals what really happened to the impetus for the whole goddamn show. She let the tiger out to pet him, tiger killed her, now Bushido and Stabler are eating tiger meat. “Wildlife” wouldn’t have happened if a dummy hadn’t decided to pet a full-grown tiger. Bushido boasts he sold pit bull testicles to the KGB; believe you me, I spent a lot of time wondering what the KGB would want with pit bull testicles. It’s a far cry away from using primate balls for rejuvenation purposes. That at least makes sense.
Surprised they didn’t do a “Gots Digested” remark.
Bushido wants Stabler/”Mike” to help him smuggle in a gibbon that will later be used to make chopsticks. If I didn’t already know, thanks to a steady diet of animal rights literature, the stupid shit people make from exceedingly rare animals I’d label killing 1/17ths of a rare gibbon population just to saw down the breastbone to make million dollar dining utensils excessive and unrealistic. Instead it’s the realest part of the episode. They tell Mike not to do anything besides go to work and go home, stick a tracker on him (how would he explain that to his co-workers at Customs? “No worries, just a huge bracelet on me so the guy who played Querns on Oz can know where I am at all times”) and threaten him approximately 32 times. Elliot immediately fucks this up because Benson shows up to tell him his marriage is falling apart and when Bushido comes by Olivia has to improv as a Southern prostitute. Despite Mariska Hargitay’s convincing performance, Bushido still takes Mike out to the middle of nowhere and shoots him twice. This being TV, one bullet goes through and through and the other gets lodged in Stabler’s bicep, probably the one with that tat that depicts the entire Passion. He’s out of bed within two scenes and ready to bring down the ring. Bed rest? Fuck you. Bed rest is for pussies. I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was a scene of his bicep literally spitting out the bullet.
“Well howdy, y’all! Paron mah tits!”
A lead involving the ring’s meat supplier brings in one of my favorite kinds of characters, the weary guy who knows his job is bullshit. It’s Michael Massee from Se7en all over again.
Ice-T: “You delivered truckloads of meat to a warehouse in the middle of nowhere.”
Faux Massee: “Yeah, so?”
Ice-T: “And you didn’t think that was strange.”
Faux Massee: “If I was a thinker, I wouldn’t be selling animal food for a living.”
Fair point! The credit card used to pay for weekly shipments of 2000 pounds of deer meat leads them to the gibbon’s flight, so there’s a great visual of Cragen and Stabler looking through binoculars for anyone suspicious. Since they don’t find a guy in a big hat (seriously the last way they smuggled on into the US), they see a black guy rolling a basketball with his foot. “Liv, Kobe from Jakarta. The monkey’s in the basketball.” Needless to say, the man looks nothing like Kobe Bryant, so Kobe is either Stabler’s term for black men or basketball players, neither being a particularly good look. “Yeah, I know police shootings of unarmed Kobes have gone up in the past five years…” The cops follow them to their secret action scene factory warehouse headquarters and break up the trade, Reg E. Cathey pointlessly reveals he’s super-undercover, Bushido gets stuck in an conveyor belt and shouts at Stabler to shoot him (“ME IN A CAGE ARE YOU CRAZY?”), and most importantly Cragen immediately bonds with a monkey he rescues from a basketball Bushido tosses at him. These 75 or so frames are the most beautiful thing Special Victims Unit has ever given us.
That after Dann Florek left the show we never got “Donald Cragen, Animal Rescuer” show is a travesty.
“Wildlife” contains a subplot of Stabler’s wife not really getting her husband lives a life of ramshackle adventure in which telling spouses about going undercover with unstable individuals who feed their enemies to hyenas like it’s the fucking Lion King is considered “gay shit”, despite having separated from and reconciled with him over the course of the series. She’s on kid #5 now, a sprog conceived when they were separated but hooking up, so she should really just be accepting her husband’s unconventional work hours while fucking, say, Richard Belzer on the side. (“Why do you think your kids have always called me UNCLE MUNCH?”) There’s a real unfair sequence that cuts between Kathy and little Eli expecting daddy to come home and Stabler plus Bushido and Reg E. Cathey arriving at “Mike”’s house. The way it’s edited we’re definitely supposed to think Kathy and son are about to be mowed down by Dago Drago when actually it’s Benson at the door, explaining that Stabler is a shitty husband and father for what has to be the billionth time. The subplot resolves itself when Stabler asks Reg E. Cathey, since revealed to be an undercover cop who needs to be arrested to infiltrate the prison gang that’s REALLY running the animal smuggling, if he wants his family contacted. “Family’s gone. Lost them a long time ago. This life proved too much for ‘em.” So Stabler learns an invaluable lesson: don’t go around pretending to be customs agents, dining on tiger meat and buffalo penis, if you want to have to settle your infant son down in the middle of the night. This is certainly the end of Stabler’s family problems.
I guess getting shot twice and resting not at all does not impede your ability to hold a child whatsoever.
Writing this article was hard in the sense that my first inclination was just to provide a dry, beat by beat summary of everything that transpired because none of my rhetorical flourishes could improve upon, say, undercover Stabler saying he’s a customs agent and then pointing to the customs patch on his uniform or Tamara Tunie becoming an expert on animal saliva for this and only this episode. I love how tenuous the case is to the special victims unit remit. Had the tiger not chomped on her genitals this would be, I guess, animal control’s case? Clearly the writers were running out of ideas that actually held any relevance to the subject matter, and so they’ve crammed all their interests/grievances into a chimera of ludicrous nonsense. Rappers who lie about their street cred are THE WORST, right? What if one of them was eaten by HYENAS! Also, Stabler must learn whether to prioritize his nagging wife and kids whose number fluctuates based on actor availability or retrieving gibbon basketballs. No other show would let such a script film as is, so I appreciate the coasting and give-no-fucks nature of SVU in its tenth year. If only the show hadn’t recentered itself with Season 13, by now we could have Ice-T becoming an ice golem or B.D. Wong revealing it stands for Bad Dude and leading the viewers on a weird and racist homage to The Raid, only it takes place in one of those sex offender trailer parks.
“Save me… I don’t want to be remembered for being in Fantastic Four…”