Law & Ordocki Season 3 #4 (#23): Who’s MINDing The Store?
Besides its focus on sex crimes, Special Victims Unit differentiates itself from Law & Order by lending more screentime to the characters’ personal lives. It’s a nice midway point between the threadbare nature of Law & Order‘s personal storylines (Briscoe’s daughter being murdered and him getting revenge took place over the course of about four scenes in three episodes) and the soap opera of Cock Puppy’s Chicago empire (Fire, PD, Med, Justice, Intersex, Asexuals), but it’s still unfortunate because a little of these people’s backstory goes a long way. Season 8 makes the wise (?) decision to introduce John Munch’s uncle, played by none other than Jerry Lewis. In a true to life performance, Jerry Lewis lives in a box covered in newspaper clippings. “Uncle” is a big dumb pile of nonsense that reminds everyone why Law & Order never introduced Mike Logan’s cousin who’s a famous jazz musician. On the plus side, Mariska Hargitay is nowhere to be found. On the downside, Connie Nielsen is.
See, Mariska Hargitay was pregnant when Season 8 began so the show wrote her out for the first third of the episodes. Recurring character (and eventual retroactive murderer) Marcia Gay Harden recruits her to infiltrate our greatest domestic threat of all: environmentalists. Benson trying to pretend to be a crunchy hippie is a hilarious time that merits further examination, but let’s stay on topic. Connie Nielsen’s Dani Beck replaced her as Stabler’s partner, because him teaming with Ice-T or Munch is just too ridiculous anyway. SVU needs more estrogen than leggy ADAs anyway. Dani Beck was not a particularly endearing, interesting or lovable character. Every episode she appeared in made her the key to solving the case or her actions potentially jeopardized the case (but in a cool way, like beating up a suspect). She even had sexual tension with Stabler that resulted in a kiss! “Uncle” provides a window into why she isn’t liked by either fans or myself.
“An actress, huh? Have you been in anything I’ve seen?” “I had fake bites put on me for a photo shown in an episode of Law & Order: SVU…”
The episode gets down to business quick: it opens with Stabler and Beck being led to a crime scene by a patrolman. Gabriella Travino and her single digit age daughter Illaria have been raped and murdered, packing tape applied to their faces so they’d suffocate to death. For us SVU veterans it’s business as usual, but the show goes very po faced because it’s Dani Beck’s FIRST KIDS CASE. They find a crucifix in the little girl’s balled up hand. “She was praying for help. It never came.” Give me a fucking break. No, I’m not trivializing child rape and murder, this show does that all the time with its over the top bullshit. Anyway, the first suspect is the landlord; Gabriella had money problems and the landlord offered to let her slide on the rent as long she sexual euphemismed his synonym for male genitalia. Here’s the problem with Connie Nielsen, in a nutshell: her character premise is basically “what if Stabler had a Stabler?”. What if Stabler had a partner whose moral indignation, violent tendencies and self-righteousness overshadowed his? It reminds me of that dumbass Marvel Comics premise from a few years ago, “what if the Hulk had a Hulk?”. I’m not into seeing Stabler as the restrained, cool one, all right? We learn from the interaction with the landlord that Beck’s husband was killed. If you don’t think they’ll wring as much angst out of that as Connie Nielsen’s five episode arc, you don’t know what the hell show you’re watching.
Through the landlord they find the woman’s boyfriend, a first year associate at the law firm she cleans. Dani has a good bit in which, after guy refuses to further cooperate because he’s got a tennis game impending, goes to the health club loudspeaker and on it asks him if they’ll find his semen. What would the NYPD be if it wasn’t harassing people who refused to further cooperate? He’s just lucky he’s white. If he wasn’t he might’ve been introduced to a plunger in an unpleasant way. Lawyer kid explains he last saw them on a picnic date that was cut short on account of the kid hugging a homeless man. The little girl, bless her heart, used to give food to the homeless. She was too young to know that giving to the homeless creates a cycle of dependency in which they begin to expect and demand assistance, not unlike the common pigeon. Illaria’s friend’s mother has it right when she tells the detectives “you should round up all the homeless and lock them away”. (Personal aside: my city’s mayor, Paul Soglin, has instituted a bounty system. $200 per homeless scalp. I’m not confirming I’m a participant, but that Star Trek: The Original Series blu-ray boxset didn’t pay for itself, you know?)
He looks like one of the candidates to pull Kramer and Newman’s rickshaw.
They find the homeless man living inside a box and muse whether or not they need to have probable cause before entering. You can fucking bet RBG ruled on that. The bearded, disheveled monosyllabic man is none other than…oh right, I ruined the surprise at the beginning of this article. The late, great Jerry Lewis is here, he’s covered in filth, he doesn’t know where he is and he responds to most questions with “I don’t know”. Was he shooting for an Emmy or what? I can’t ask him his motivation because he’s in Hell, being tortured by those muscular dystrophy kids he failed to cure. It doesn’t take long to realize this isn’t the guy. Although he acknowledges knowing the girl and has a bloody wound, he is no one’s image of an organized sexual sadist. Hobo Jerry Lewis does have the odd scrapbooking habit, pasting sex crimes newspaper clippings all along the walls of his box. Dani reads one of them: “Man wearing George Bush mask pulls girl into alley, sexually assaults her Halloween night.” “At least she assumed it was a mask. We never did catch that guy.” I like when we could joke that our president could be a rapist instead of now when we know our president is a rapist.
This is the “for sale: baby shoes, never worn” of evidence dungeons.
Munch strolls by lockup and recognizes the filthy mass of filth sitting there as his uncle, Andrew Munch. Apparently he left his retirement facility in Florida months ago to visit his nephew in New York and yadda yadda yadda became the owner of the very first scrapbox. “Uncle” is at its best when Richard Belzer is being given something to do. Last two Law & Ordocki articles I wrote he didn’t even appear. I could watch him and B.D. Wong acting off each other for a while. It reminds me of what a tight ensemble SVU used to be before budget cuts fucked everything up and it became The Olivia Show, occasionally featuring Rollins getting maybe-raped. B.D. Wong diagnoses Jerry Lewis with the worst depression of all, hobo depression. It’s similar to Alzheimer’s, but it can be treated by some happy pills. This transforms Jerry Lewis from filthy vagrant to BOISTEROUS AND DAPPER MAN ABOUT TOWN. The only way the transformation could be starker is if he used the Nutty Professor serum and he insisted everyone call him Buddy Love.
“Would you please donate to Jerry’s Kids?” “Uh, sure. Can I donate a kid?”
All this excitement almost made me forget that there’s a double rape/murder to be solved. With Jerry Lewis a dead end, they find out the mom was trying to sell the kid’s bike to make ends meet and was soliciting buyers from a supermarket ad board. Dusting for fingerprints present a match for a registered offender, Brent Allen Banks. You know he’s evil because he has three names; it’s either raping children or assassinating the president for him. His DNA is in the system because he raped and held hostage a 15 year old when he was 17; he only served 7 years because it was his first offense. Cue “THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW!” outrage on the cops’ part. I agree, SVU, people who commit sex crimes should just be shot into the sun. Since B.D. Wong is in this episode, he tells the detectives how to interrogate the guy. Narcissists love to talk, so let him hang himself with his own words, don’t pretend to like him or else he’ll lose respect for you, etc. It seems pretty condescending, B.D. Wong telling them how to deal with a suspect, but this is SVU. If they can’t beat someone or threaten them with regular prison rape, they’re all thumbs. Banks describes himself as “an independent contractor for a soft drink distributor”, which actually means he stocks vending machines. He does have a point when he says “one man’s bite is another man’s hickey”. It says a lot about the overall ability of the Stabler/Beck team that they have to rely on him chewing a piece of gum and matching those teeth marks against those on the dead women’s bodies. Where would they be if the man didn’t need a stick of gum? “I thought he’d never spit it out”, Beck says. ME Warner: “Thank god he didn’t swallow it.” Yes, thank god, because GUM is doing all your work for you on this case. Something something gumshoe…
Highly technical neon green confirmation outline.
Jerry Lewis returns to the precinct to take Munch to lunch (get it?) and in the midst of that thanks Stabler and Beck for freeing him from his semi-mute hell of eating sandwiches prepared by small children and obsessively cutting out rape stories and pasting them to his north wall with the help of a glue stick he stole off another homeless person. “The man you met ten days ago was not me”, he tells Dani. “The real me you should get to know. Maybe over dinner? Say, in Paris?” I appreciate he’s already anticipating that he’ll be run out of the United States and will have to live in exile in a country that still appreciates him. Dani leaves to interview Banks’ first victim, which Jerry Lewis conveniently overhears because I guess this is a fucking episode of Three’s Company. The downside of him taking antidepressants is the improvement in mood has triggered a manic episode, and the one thing more irritating than Jerry Lewis is a manic Jerry Lewis. Munch learns the hard way that you don’t take him to court. “I vowed I am going to be in the courtroom for them [the victims] every day.” It takes him 45 seconds to cause a scene and force his nephew to drag him out. I’m telling you, Jerry Lewis’ schtick just isn’t appreciated nowadays. It’s all Def Jam and Cameron Esposito.
Although they didn’t need a urine sample, there were so many jars of pee in that box it felt like a shame NOT to…
In classic sitcom tradition, Andy Munch misinterpreted a comment Beck made and assumed she said she was going to kill Brent Allen Banks. Hence his pretty awesome courtroom tirade, his rant interspersed with about thirty gavel poundings. “Retribution is coming, buddy. I know a detective who has big plans for you. You can’t bar me from these proceedings. Do you really not know what he’s done? He’s the one that should be put down like a rabid dog. If you don’t euthanize him you’re either corrupt or you’re an idiot!” Man, I wish my manic obsessions manifested themselves in such extreme outbursts. In my case I end up buying half of FOX’s 1995 fall schedule on DVD and don’t sleep for 3 days. Novak shows up to inform the cops that the judge threw out the case, though it wasn’t due to Jerry Lewis’ wild improv antics. Apparently he didn’t believe the bite marks were credible evidence because they were “enhanced” by computer software. It basically comes down to the old man judge being frightened by technology. It’s a nice change of pace from computers solving everything on CSI, but the reasoning still seems pretty shallow. How could this happen? “I guess I suck” Novak says, in one of the few times Special Victims Unit has ever been self-aware. The only recourse is for them to sit outside Banks’ apartment and wait for him to commit a crime, which Beck does and Stabler supports by bringing her a fresh cup of no doubt terrible coffee, because police are so used to bad precinct coffee their tongues would shatter like glass if exposed to some good stuff. That’s actually how George Dzundza’s character died.
“I get the whole dead husband thing. I lost my wife to me hating pedophiles so much I became psychotically rage-fueled.”
Car time allows for more dreaded character development, as Beck reveals her shitty car was in mid-restoration when her husband got killed. So it stays that way, trapped in amber, as a sign of respect. That doesn’t explain the back seat filled with garbage, but maybe that’s HOW HE WANTED IT. Stabler makes it a point to mention he’s sorry her husband was murdered. They were totally trying to set up a romance between the two; both lost their marriages to the job, their genitals are compatible, they share a lot of the same interests (abusing people, hating pedophiles, yelling)… but if they were gonna get it on in that car it was interrupted by a phone call from Jerry Lewis. Look, man, that’s not how a telethon works. People call you. Christ, you think he’d know that by now. “You have to kill before he defiles one more angel.” Munch and B.D. Wong search for him at Munch’s apartment and find the place a mess. They reason Andrew went through Munch’s address book to find Dani’s phone number and found Banks’ address by going through the case file. It does raise the question of why the hell Munch HAS a case file on Brent Allen Banks considering he did nothing in the case. He ran down one lead with Ice-T in the first six minutes of the episode. Why he’d have detailed information on the suspect at home, well, it’s almost as though it’s a contrivance to keep the plot moving. Same with Munch already having a co-worker he’s known for two episodes in his address book.
“We should be allowed to post a warning sign on his door” Beck fumes when she sees a woman approaching Banks’ building. What the fuck would the sign say, “this man was arrested for a double rape/murder and then freed due to lack of evidence”? Again, just throw them all into the sun. Then you wouldn’t be in a cold car at night trying to keep warm by drinking coffee and not by fucking your partner whose dong you definitely saw on Oz. Just as the woman and Banks are leaving the apartment, Jerry Lewis shows up, so they have to sate him and also follow Banks. There’s two of them, so obviously no one stays with the unstable guy who’s been talking a blue streak about murdering someone. It’s not as though Banks knows he’s being followed so they really only need one person. “Can you watch his house for us? Can you do that?” Jerry Lewis knows a bullshit gig when he sees it, Dani. He didn’t get where he was in showbiz taking on losers like “watching a house”. Is it any surprise that Uncle Munch follows them to the subway station and pushes his foe in front of a subway? Well, it is a surprise that a man in his 80s would get to a platform around the same time two cops half his age would, but I’m not going to be Captain Bringdown and harp on all the shit that can’t happen on an episode of SVU. I might as well be doing one of those minute by minute podcasts then. I think this whole storyline is meant to be an object lesson for Connie Nielsen, that probable cause is important or else you just become an ill old man pushing people in front of trains. Inside every proactive cop is a Jerry Lewis. Be cool, like Dean Martin!
“Hey, that light? At the end of the tunnel? Guess what? That’s not heaven… that’s the C train!” – Ben Affleck, Marvel’s Batman
It’s difficult to judge Lewis’ performance. He does the classic thing comedians do when they want accolades: they stop being funny. This, coupled with looking like shit, seems like a lay up to an Emmy nomination. But looking at the 2007 Emmys, he lost out to John Goodman for Studio 60 (who won!), Forest Whitaker on ER, Christian Clemenson playing an autistic attorney on Boston Legal, David Morse for House, Tim Daly on Sopranos and Eli Wallach for, again, Studio 60. I haven’t seen all those performances, but I can’t think TWO Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip performances deserved nods. I mean, come on! Jerry must’ve BATHED IN FILTH! He sat there slack jawed for half the episode! Do you know how hard it is to get Jerry Lewis to shut the fuck up? Of course, given all the shitty things he’s done over the course of his life, maybe he deserves stretching his acting talents and getting NOTHING for it. Chief among those shitty things is never releasing The Day The Clown Cried, the movie in which he’s a clown who entertains children about to hit the showers at a concentration camp. I don’t care if the Library of Congress now might release it ten years after his death. Given my history of substance abuse, how the fuck am I supposed to know if I’ll be around by then?!
There you have it. John Munch is reunited with his beloved uncle…just so he’ll never see him again. In an absurdly stupid coda, Andrew’s at the mental hospital. Munch tries to explain that pleading insanity means he’ll get sent there. Then all he has to do is take the proper medication and he’ll be able to leave and move on with his life. He rejects that, saying he’s responsible for killing a man, therefore he’s going to not take medication and intentionally turn himself back into a silent hobo. How is that punishment? He won’t even remember what the fuck he’s being punished for! He better befriend an Indian chief who will smother him with a pillow when the time comes. Can he just hang around a mental hospital while refusing treatment? Maybe he has become a hobo at heart. If “Uncle” had been about Munch accepting that his uncle now identifies as a hobo, I think it’d be a powerful hour of television.