Law & Ordocki Season 3 #4 (#27): A Chip In The Old Shoulder
This article is tough to write because, well, I already wrote it. I had my take on the SVU episode “Choreographed” almost complete when OpenOffice decided to turn it into unreadable gibberish. (Well, turn it from unreadable gibberish into literal unreadable gibberish.) There’s little desire to try to recreate what was lost from half-formed memories; in all likelihood I’d end up echolocating jokes I think I had made based on the material presented in the episode. So I took some time so I could approach the episode from a, well, not fresh perspective, but after it’d been out of my head for a while. “Choreographed” has a lot of elements I deem essential to ‘classic’ SVU: the plot begins very far away from where the plot ends, there is some distracting stunt casting, and it addresses a looming societal issue in a dumb, alarmist and confusing way. It also has some high profile guest stars, such as Bob Saget. I’ve never cared for him because of what I deem performative filthiness. Ever since Full House he’s been trying to shed that family friendly image by pretending he’s just this adult, foul mouthed guy who was joking about fingerbanging the Olsen twins in between takes. You’re not Lenny Bruce. Give it a rest. Saget is but the tip of the iceberg of “Choreographed”, however. Chris Sarandon’s in it too! He was married to Susan Sarandon once. He probably divorced her when she refused to support Hillary Clinton and, thus, swung the election to Donald Trump.
Our story begins as so many others do, with a boy trying to convince a girl to have sex in Central Park instead of in a hotel room. Don’t worry, baby, the stories about the ghosts of the Central Park Five haunting the place at night are just that: stories. A dog intercedes and leads them to some trouble. You know, I don’t remember Lassie being a cockblocker, but it’s a long time since I’ve watched that show. They are led to a man jogging away and a beaten woman who’s struggling to breathe. She too is interpreted like a disaster averting dog, her short breaths and nodding taken to mean she was raped. Warner’s at the scene examination (doesn’t she work out of the morgue? Was she on that side of town or what?) rules out rape and suggests she died of a coronary. “Literally scared to death,” Stabler intones. I’ll accept that as a one-liner fade out to opening credits. I don’t like it, but it’s acceptable. It also suggests the SVU might have to apprehend Dr. Jonathan Crane, Mr. Fear or that Marvel version of Scarecrow that shows up in the background sometimes.
I should mention the circumstances of this episode, in that it occurs in Season 8 right after Stabler’s temporary partner Dani Beck transferred out, unable to handle Elle Fanning setting fire to her apartment. She was a questionable character, basically a female Stabler, and the two’s interplay culminated in them kissing. The sudden departure left him in a lurch, as evidenced by him referring to the victim Danielle as “Dani” to her husband. Imagine how embarrassed he’d feel if the dead woman wasn’t named something that could be shortened to Dani! Husband Chris Sarandon is a choreographer, hence the episode title. Danielle was a model. To make things easier, the couple’s best friends, Glenn and Naomi (Bob Saget, JAG and Scientology’s Catherine Bell) show up at the house like they’re Fred and Ethel. “Heard your wife died pretty hard there, Rick!” Glenn calls Naomi artistic whereas he’s a computer nerd. Since we now know from Gamergate and various related harassment campaigns that are nerds are evil, this functions as a clue.
It’s a real dog day afternoon all right.
Suspicion first falls on a nogoodnik hobo spotted on camera near the victim shortly before her death who possesses both a knife and a cut out modeling picture of her. Since this is one of the “wacky” seasons, the guy has a gimmick of aphasia. He can’t form words either through speech or by writing, and it’s been a two year journey from successful attorney to sleeping in a tunnel at night. This obviously makes an interview difficult and essentially it devolves into Pictionary with some charades thrown in. It’s at this point that Benson makes her triumphant return as Stabler whisperer; she outright says she’s to be his “handler” in the wake of him beating the shit out of a homeless dude who can’t speak. Stabler does bring up the good point that he had a knife. By Stabler Beatdown standards, this guy got off easy. Anyway. Through trial and error and generous interpretation and logical leaps, the detectives figure out the guy fleeing the scene was a man with salt and pepper hair, left arm in a sling, who met her at the coffee shop. I thought with the dog and this homeless guy the runner of the show was people having to interpret nonverbal communication. Like, maybe they’d throw in a Mercury Rising autistic boy or a sign language gorilla who saw shit go down. Alas, SVU is incapable of that sort of thematic complexity.
No, no, I’ve seen this before. He’s drawing dignity!
They find the one arm in a sling man and proceed to rough him up and threaten to break his other arm. See! Benson is going to “handle” you at Cragen’s behest, Elliot! She’s going to enable you, like the good old days! He’s a friend of Danielle’s who abandoned her when she started dying because he was HIGH ON DRUGS. Furthermore, he explains he was a houseguest of Chris Sarandon’s and hers and got the broken arm after finding out Sarandon was cheating on his wife. Yes, we’ve all seen Bordello of Blood and know Chris Sarandon is a dangerous man. We still need more evidence than the word of a self-confessed drugs user. So they go see Glenn and Naomi, where they receive two very different stories about the Masoner marriage. Glenn says Sarandon, Wesley, had a side piece, whereas Naomi says it’s out of the question. It’s important to note that in this scene Glenn uses an RFID chip in his wallet to open their front door — SVU never uses cutting edge technology unless there’s opportunity to fearmonger.
Warner finally comes up with the cause of death: seizures brought on by proximity to the chemical Dieldrin. Coincidentally, there’s a vial of the illegal substance right under Wes’ sink. Things are looking worse and worse for him, especially when they look into the couple’s financials to find Danielle a princess and Wes a relative pauper. Who would’ve thought modeling was a more lucrative career than choreographer for a dance troupe? Munch makes a cameo at this juncture. I refuse to call it an appearance. You know how if Grampa Simpson is with the Simpsons in front of the TV or at the dinner table it’s because he has a joke to deliver? Well, the same applies with Munch as the show grows older. Here he exists to make a self-deprecating remark about how the reason none of his wives tried to kill him was because he had no money or assets or worth. Stabler counters with “except for your Warren Commission memorabilia”. Good bit, I appreciate it, Richard Belzer’s paycheck for the week was justified.
Larry David had to actually tell the studio audience to stop bursting into applause whenever Munch would enter a scene.
When they find the Dieldrin at the Masoner place, the cops also find the identity of ‘Jen’, Wes’ mystery lover. It’s Naomi! DUN DUN DUN. This makes more sense than the prior candidate, a woman so signposted as a lesbian the writers gave her the last name of DWORKIN. Naomi can and does provide an alibi for her lover, to which Olivia responds with “you two were doing the mattress mambo – you’re covering for him”. Either that or they killed her together. Unfortunately, the plot dictates more evidence be collected before anyone is charged. This is the problem with convicting white people; you have to actually have a compelling case. Minority suspects you put a drop gun on them and they’ll be lucky not to get life in prison. The search necessitates they go to Homeland Security to find records of the Dieldrin purchase. But actually the scene’s purpose, seemingly, is to establish that Mariska Hargitay fresh off maternity leave is still fuckable. The Homeland Security agent who confirms, yes, Wesley Masoner did purchase the drug. When the loser tries to ask her out, Benson says “why don’t you save your energy to fight terrorists?”. I laughed out loud because the character was sincere in thinking that’s what Homeland Security actually does. The hapless agent reminds me of Pendrell from X-Files, the guy who wanted to fuck Scully and got shot to death before she ever bothered to learn his first name.
Wearing glasses still doesn’t make you a real actor, Saget. Neither do those Entourage credits.
Back at the precinct, Bob Saget drops by because he doesn’t know where his wife is. She’s at the precinct! Oh, what a comedy of errors. They explode their marriage, with Naomi claiming Glenn wants to control her, not love her, and there’s something beautiful about Bob Saget having to talk about himself as being separate from “talented people”. It goes to show that believing she’s out of your league is a self-fulfilling prophecy, folks. See also She’s Out Of My League for that lesson. Since we’re fast approaching the end of the show, the plot puts the pedal on the gas. Naomi immediately falls ill after Glenn leaves. Another great moment: in their argument, Glenn asks Naomi if she was sleeping with Wes to advance her career. She doesn’t answer. When Glenn leaves and Benson enters, she says “I thought Wes would help me. He said I could dance two leads every season”. You slept for career advancement and it didn’t even work! We call that the Jessica McBride special.
“USA STILL #1″ is the saddest fucking bumper sticker I’ve ever seen. “We’re still cool! We’re still cool! Honest!!”
The doctor informs the detectives that they found something in Naomi’s shoulder: a chip. A computer-y chip. Who in this episode knows what computers are? Of course, it’s BOB SAGET! See, that RFID door opening scene was significant after all. The doctor explains the chip must’ve been injected without regard for sterility and without her knowledge and consent. I refuse to believe that the entirety of “Choreographed” was written around this Stabler one-liner: “Guy invented a HoJack”. That’s it, that’s the entire justification for the episode, no information will convince me otherwise. Writers were pitching ideas to Dick Wolf (who, like LBJ, was conducting this meeting while on the toilet) and he only perked up when he heard “what about instead of LoJack there was a HoJack” and fell in love. For weeks it was “HoJack this” and “HoJack that”. They had to invent an occurrence of the knockout game just to catch Dick Wolf’s attention. Since Glenn chipped his wife, the cops figure he probably framed Chris Sarandon for murdering Danielle. “Computer geek like Glenn can probably get his hands on Dieldrin,” Olivia says. ‘Probably’ does a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence. Although given the feats of strength displayed by Penelope Garcia every week on Criminal Minds, computer magic can accomplish pretty much everything. Everything except love, that is.
“I guess we’re back to this unending cycle of co-dependency, huh?”
What I love about this first interrogation scene is it’s Bob Saget’s opportunity to evangelize the wonders of RFID technology as though he’s a goddamn supervillain. I half expected him to call Benson and Stabler “puny mortals”. As it is he calls Stabler a luddite and makes the claim everyone will be chipped in 15 years’ time. Well, it’s been 12 since this episode aired and no such luck. “You’re not even capable of understanding this technology,” Glenn tells Stabler. Technically true (Stabler’s brain looks like a gray fist and is only capable of fight/flight reactions) but still rather arrogant; Glenn inexplicably comes off as a sort of a RFID supremacist. Benson should’ve tugged at his face to take off the mask and reveal him as a mass of RFID chips. It makes it all the sweeter when they wipe the smile off his face by telling him his wife is in hospital with chip poisoning. Munch shows up again briefly to be the show’s tacit admission that civil liberties exist, but all this does is namecheck Big Brother and establish that yes obviously Stabler uses spying software on his kids. We’re lucky he doesn’t have them wearing chastity belts – girls and boys.
Fun fact: Richard Belzer is never in the same shot as Christopher Meloni or Mariska Hargitay. I imagine Belzer records all his scenes like he’s Krusty doing the doll voice track. “Hey hey, it’s Deflective Fin. Hey hey, it’s Detective Fin. DETECTIVE FIN.”
Finally, “Choreographed” transitions into being an eighth different episode as it becomes a debate about whether or not prisoners should be allowed to donate organs. After all, they could escape in the process, because Bob Saget is definitely someone savvy enough to escape a prison transport and go on the lam. Fucker gave up his privacy in order to not have to use keys! Naomi’s liver failed due to a combination of a genetic condition and the RFID chip rendering her septic, and the only compatible liver belongs to the second most depraved cast memberb of Full House. But before this scintillating debate there’s even more ridiculous nonsense in that Benson and Stabler figure the best way to convince Glenn to confess is for him to see Naomi code in the hospital. Can you take murder suspects on field trips? Not only that, Wes shows up and the two brawl despite Glenn being in handcuffs. Maybe the title refers to the bad fight choreography used with these two middle aged men! It’s like the writer wasted all those pages on homeless dudes who can’t talk diversions and have to cram 15 pages of script into 4 minutes. Benson convinces the commissioner of prisoners or whatever the fuck to let Glenn donate a kidney in under 90 seconds. “You’re gonna kill that POOR WOMAN!” basically.
“There’s nothing in the gosh darn rule book sayin’ a prisoner can give his liver to someone! Next thing you know cons’ll be trading their kidneys for cigarettes!”
Finished, right? Bob Saget redeems himself a bit, Naomi is thankful and learns Wes really DIDN’T care for her all this time, never once visiting her in the hospital. To recap: she slept with him out of affection and a desire to advance at work and didn’t receive either. Affairs destroy human lives, I get it, I watched Showtime’s The Affair. In the final moments, Benson and Stabler reaffirm their dangerous codependence by noting they have the same blood type and fighting over who gets to donate a kidney to the other. Womp womp. This is important information to remember if one of them is missing a few parts and they decide to form a gestalt. Or it’s classic partner oneupmanship. “Yeah, I’ll give you a kidney!” “Not if I give you mine first!” “In that case, you’re gettng an eye!” “Both eyes!” “Fuck you, you’re getting my whole head! It’s gonna be attached to the neck so I’ll be on an angle!”
“Choreographed” offers no lessons and isn’t about anything, except maybe the ethics of spreadsheeting your wife’s entrances and exits at various locations. I feel sorry for Glenn, actually. If technology had advanced just a bit more he’d be happily married to a robot as we all know he should’ve been the entire time. It’s okay to chip robots. Robots LOVE chips.