Law & Ordocki Season 3 #7 (#30): Aunt Maylevolent
What makes a good episode of Law & Order: SVU? What makes a “good” episode of Law & Order: SVU? If this column has an aim to accomplish anything it’s to answer those two questions. In the midst of its 20th season and after 454 episodes (and 1 cancelled on account of Trump) it should be easy to determine the factors that go into separation of wheat and chaff. I contend that it’s easier said than done, because really it all comes down to calibration of tone. Too maudlin, it’s insufferable. Too preachy, it’s headache inducing. Too straightforward, it’s boring. When you get it just right, though, you get something magical. Law & Order: SVU at its best can go toe to toe with any comedy. “Wet” sees the show firing on all cylinders. Speed Weed wrote it, first of all. When the writer’s name is that of a late night infomercial product, you fucking pay attention. “Wet” also passes what I call the drunk and stoned test: would, after the premise of the episode is described to you, watch it while drunk and stoned? This eliminates from consideration all the slow shows, the ones with clearly outlined messages, the Stabler’s shitty family/Benson’s shitty son episodes and leaves the absurd, the insane, the ridiculous. “A woman is killed by toxic mushrooms that turn her into a nymphomaniac.” Spark up a blunt and pour some thinking juice, we’ve got a wild one.
That’s the look of someone overjoyed they haven’t yet been consigned to the CW ghetto.
Supergirl doing the cabbage patch, now that’s how you start off a show. Of course, Melissa Benoist wasn’t Supergirl when “Wet” was being made, but she’s the case of a bystander character from a SVU opening going on to do bigger and arguably better things. Supergirl cavorts with a likewise inebriated guy and they stumble upon a body, ending their E-fueled efforts to fuck. Did you know Benoist also played Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wife in that shitty Peter Berg movie? What a world. The victim drowned in a fountain and someone cut off a chunk of her hair, suggesting a killer’s signature. The M.E. (not Tamara Tunie!) also says “I got blood and semen in her hootchi-hoo. [beat] I’m sorry. I sometimes forget that they’re people.” Don’t worry about it, despite constant cries of doing it for the ‘victims’ these characters don’t give a shit about these people either. They’re jumping off points for outrage and alarmism, not individuals. The hair cutting gives them a lead, a park eccentric nicknamed Sassoon. They catch him by having Benson fake a phone conversation bragging about her new hair, fiddling with it in the hopes that it attracts the pervert. It does. He’s quickly cleared, his “lullaby” of being at a transvestite club at the time of the murder checking out. I like these two minute diversions into unrelated perverts, it really gives the sense that Manhattan is teeming with sexual pathology. The whole city’s a character and it’s opening up its trenchcoat to show us some junk. I think it also imparts a lesson to the viewing audience: you’re all perverts, and most of you won’t get to be the cool nicknamed serial offenders who get written up in the newspapers. You’re more likely to be Sassoon, or James Urbaniak’s toilet cam guy from that other episode.
It’d be funny if he reappeared next season as the suspect in a half dozen murders. It would really emphasize the show’s viewpoint that you should kill people lest they have the opportunity to commit heinous crimes.
The next scene introduces us to the new ADA, Paula Patton’s Mikka Von. One can certainly tell writer Speed Weed wants to create an impression and Patton’s performance complements that. She wants to be an impact character, which is amusing given what occurs later. Von comes bearing the gift of a woman’s DNA match to the semen found in the body, a set up to the fantastic Stabler line of “I got an SVU fun fact for you: semen only comes from guys.” I wonder how often he has to say things like that to those new to sex crimes. Searching for familial DNA is legal in New York so by having found her they know her brother or another close male relative is responsible. She’s in the system for attacking a cop during the 2004 RNC, which likely means “got in a cop’s way”. The woman is a professional (?) mime and doesn’t seem shocked when the detectives suggest her brother hurt a woman. If only he had gotten into mime. There have been no criminal mimes, Matt McNamara in that season of Nip/Tuck excluded.
“This place has everything: gym equipment for kids and soda machines for fat kids!”
The brother gives off definite Tucker Max vibes and indeed his means of living seems to be taping his sexual encounters and putting them online at SexProwl (“the YouTube of sex”). This is how he met the victim: he was walking his dog, he saw her taking her clothes off and rambling about how hot and wet she is and how she wants it. He alludes to her taking out a tampon as proof the sex was consensual, but when prompted for said tampon he claims his dog ate it. Like, this guy is fucking lucky he’s enough of a creep to livestream his sexual encounters and that is what saves him from a jail cell. What saves the victim’s husband from a jail cell is being white, because he walks into this precinct and takes a swing at Chris Meloni when he sees his wife’s porn video on the screen. The only people who get away with that shit are those Stabler can relate to, which is to say white husbands with unresolved anger issues. If you’re black and want to hit Stabler you must be doing it so your family can collect the life insurance.
From the husband we learn the victim’s name is Lindsay Elding. She was the head of PR for the impeccably named soda company ColaNow. “Cocaine fueled her career, but it nearly tore us apart,” husband says, though he claims she was a year clean at time of death. He proves it by sharing with Munch a non-pornographic video of Lindsay and their daughter on some playground equipment ColaNow donated to needy children. With him cleared, the detectives turn to Lindsay’s job as a motive behind her murder. Munch interviews the company’s CEO who has the great line of “You don’t see me out there, forcing soda down kids’ throats”. “Big Tobacco said the same thing. Didn’t work out too well for them in court, did it?” Munch responds. Briefly “Wet” becomes about the impact of soda on children, the role it plays in the nation’s obesity epidemic and companies’ efforts at ass covering via charitable donation. Stabler is against “more taxes”, Benson points out high fructose corn syrup isn’t the only reason kids are committing suicide at age 12, whereas Ice-T and Munch are on the right side of the issue. I do appreciate these moments of the characters just hashing out their opinions on the case’s subject matter because it serves as character development without grinding the plot to a screeching halt.
She’s Aunt May in the What If? comic “What If All Of Spider-Man’s Relatives Were Cunts”.
As they’re discussing whether or not Lindsay might’ve relapsed with a lesser known drug (Benson advocates PCP) in a crisis of conscience, from behind B.D. Wong informs them they’re wrong, and he has a big power point presentation on the South American mushrooms that poisoned Lindsay Elding to prove it. I love this. Did they not see him setting up for 15 minutes before he found the right time to interject? On SVU does anything not onscreen not exist? These shrooms make the recipient of them hot and bothered with a side of respiratory failure. The case changes focus to when she was dosed: dinner. This brings them to the Wishing Time Foundation, a charitable jungle gym manufacturer operated by Rosemary Harris, the first and in my opinion the best Aunt May. You can tell they didn’t give a shit about plotting this because the next development comes with Benson simply seeing a photo of the gala that shows mushrooms on Lindsay’s plate. It’s like when Costanza spotted that dime from across the room without his glasses, it’s absurd. Granddaughter Emma, who met Lindsay through rehab, shows further photos establishing only the victim had mushrooms on her plate. The case circles back to “who would want to kill the face of a soda company’s public relations division” and the answer comes in the hot pix snapped that night, as one of them caught an irate David Krumholtz being led out of the party. Remember him? He was the nerd on Numb3rs. Remember Numb3rs? …Well, why the fuck would you?
It figures. Hudson University graduates are nothing but trouble.
He’s a professor who specializes in “toxic South American mushrooms”, which I didn’t know was something you could do. Krumholtz plays the character as eccentric, edging too close for my liking to “is he on some sort of spectrum?”. When Benson and Stabler show up to apprehend him he’s even cooking up a fresh batch of mushrooms, which Benson inhales after opening up the pot without asking what’s in it or if it’s safe. I guess no knock warrants apply to fungi as well. This becomes important as their first stab at interrogating him is derailed by Olivia TRIPPING OUT, MAN. I don’t give Mariska Hargitay a lot of credit in these articles, largely because I don’t think she’s a very good actress and contend she has settled into complacency starting over a decade ago, but it’s exquisite how she delivers total nonsense in the same tone as the total nonsense she usually spouts. “She had a daughter, Dr. Prochik, who’s now going to grow up without a dad. That Niagra Falls, ring a bell? We saw you on the roof with your gunman. I’m not the one who stabbed the captain with the pickle.” By Season 12, it’s not inconceivable they could be investigating someone stabbing Cragen with a pickle, that’s the beautiful part. This little digression serves the purpose of establishing that mushroom fumes will mess you up. I could’ve used McGruff (the white dog but for crime) to hammer this home. Stabler does a freakout in court, but that doesn’t count because he fakes it to force a recess. That said, the sight of Chris Meloni taking his clothes off while repeating “I didn’t order that pizza” is still wonderful.
Huang has a real “you huffed the mushroom fumes, didn’t you, you idiot?” look on his face.
Dr. Prochik loves talking water, adding hand movement flourishes to draw the attention of the eye and raising his voice for emphasis. It’s only in between “water must be free, man” rants that he admits that although he’s happy she’s dead, he didn’t kill Lindsay Elding. Once Rosemary Harris and her granddaughter arrive at the precinct he changes his tune. I like how comically antiquated Rosemary Harris is in “Wet”, it’s like she’s auditioning to be the butt of a Marx Brothers joke. When her granddaughter sees who she believes to be the murderer at the precinct, Harris’ reaction is to admonish her, saying “don’t stare, Emma, it’s rude”. Were Ice-T to enter the room, she’d say “ooh, it’s not proper for me to be in the same room as an Ottoman”. “Come, Emma, before she sees us”, Rosemary Harris drags Emma from the excitement of the suspect’s outburst. See, defense attorney Michael Boatman is going to enter in a ‘not guilty by reason of mental defect’ plea, suggesting the fumes fucked up the Professor so much he thought it’d be groovy to poison someone contributing to the eventual unsustainability of life on this planet. If there’s one thing Professor Numb3rs won’t allow, it’s people thinking he’s crazy.
“You are the gunk between my toes, and I don’t care if you’re not into it. I do care that Munch is too into it, however…”
So let’s talk about Mikka Von again. “Wet” is a strong enough introduction for the character, giving her a personality (“is from Chicago”), there’s some tension between her and the detectives (when she begs off looking at photos all night, she claims “you guys are the pots and pans, I’m the chef”) and she’s willing to cut corners to get things done, like hooking up Prochik with the most green incompetent defense attorney she could find and then convincing opposing counsel to hang out at her “sun drenched loft” (drink every time you hear that phrase) in Chicago in order to delay the trial and give the SVU team more time to find the real killer. That last act causes Don Cragen to stroll up the courtroom steps and fire her. The reason Von goes through an entire character arc in one episode is Paula Patton was cast in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. She couldn’t do both. Choosing this garbage over a Mission: Impossible movie would be more preposterous than staying with Robin Thicke. It goes to show the diminished stature of SVU in the last few years of Stabler’s tenure; no way would Dick Wolf at the height of his powers let one of his people leave for a ‘film’. You are done when the Wolfman SAYS you’re done. How do you think Benjamin Bratt got those broken legs?
“I had to cut my vacation to Galapagos short just so I could fire you.”
The “She one of the good ones?” “Yeah.” exchange between Cragen and Stabler becomes uncomfortably funny given Mikka Von’s actress is a woman of color. Von will be replaced by Melissa Sagemiller’s Gillian Hardwicke, a character I have to remind myself actually existed and I say that every time I cover an episode that includes her. There’s no more court material this week so it’s immaterial anyway. Prochik is free and clear because the trial is indefinitely delayed and the cops no longer think he did it. When Benson and Stabler show the professor a photo array of potential poisoners, he obviously reacts to the one of Emma (both ‘bad acting’ obvious and ‘this show has no faith in its audience’ obvious) and rushes over to the foundation to inform her that the cops are on to her. They’re co-conspirators! Or so the cops think. The professor claims sole responsibility but fails to correctly identify which mushrooms he supposedly served to Lindsay. (“Is that your final answer?” Benson asks him, reminding us this episode came out 40 years ago.) Yep, Emma was the culprit. It’s the classic “seduce the fungi guy so you can purloin some of his stash and use it to kill the object of your grandmother’s admiration”. Prochik thinks they’re in love, claiming “she’s a subtle person in a loud world,” and I won’t lie to you, folks: I have used that line on girls before. I guess it worked out as well as this relationship that culminates in Emma shoving a bunch of shrooms down her throat in a suicide attempt. You know, maybe Stabler should’ve done something to secure the deadly evidence, perhaps put it in something less pregnable than a fucking ziploc bag? She’s not under arrest so she’s not restrained by anything either. It’s like Stabler was looking for ways to get fired this season. Next up is wearing Jerry Orbach’s old suit and getting it covered in strawberries I guess.
Who said “you know what’ll class up the place: PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM”?
Emma hated Lindsay not for her role in destroying the world – it comes out that Elding cozied up to Granny just to convince her to sell her some upstate New York land that includes a lot of water – but because she was envious of the attention and the affection. It’s classic SVU, feinting at issues of relevance to our current situation and then revealing it’s all about something more mundane and human. Something something everything boils down to petty humanity. She wakes up in the hospital, her stomach pumped. Rosemary Harris finally returns to the episode only to snatch away the family heirloom necklace. She plans on giving it to Lindsay’s daughter instead. This scene is fucking brutal, man. After being told she’ll inherit nothing, Emma says “you think that’s what I wanted? Your money?” Rosemary Harris: “I don’t frankly care.” BODIED! “I just wanted a mom!” “Yes, well. She died.” FUCKING FATALITY. (Emma’s parents died in a car accident when she was 10.) Bitch is ice cold, and Prochik showing up with flowers does little to allay that. He’s transparently in it for the conjugal visit sex, which will still be more sex than he’s usually getting. “Wet” does not give Rosemary Harris a scintilla of likability and I appreciate that.
She’s white, but she killed another white woman, thereby cancelling her privilege-based prosecution immunity. Looks like she’s going to be snorting a different kind of cocaine…in prison.
This hour sees a change in sets for the venerable unit; it’s part of the domino effect from the original Law & Order being cancelled. Now SVU can shoot in the studio space once occupied by the original. These new digs are in Chelsea Piers whereas SVU used to shoot their precinct scenes in, brace yourself, NEW JERSEY. I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t know that until I started doing research for this article. This revelation is like when Kramer found out the Cubans he smuggled were Dominicans. The quality, the texture, the intoxicating aroma… New Jersey doesn’t have that. Nonetheless, the change in scenery isn’t an important one because the geography of the set rarely matters. The SVU precinct isn’t like The Barn in The Shield, where staging is a significant element of plotting and cinematography. No one gives a shit about any of that with this show. I’m an obsessive and even I don’t usually notice the difference. It does provide an in-story excuse to have Munch wear his full sergeant’s uniform, which is always amusing. Richard Belzer has one suit he wears and he’s going to be buried in it.
I bet he looks like Milhouse without his glasses.
“Wet” is a number of disparate concepts hastily jumbled together; in other words, it’s a typical Speed Weed script. Water rights, cola marketing, sex videos, SVU fun facts, inadvertent dosing, chilly WASP family dynamics and someone who would rather spend time with Tom Cruise than pitifully remark “I can’t make a case!” to a boil of Catholic anger every week coalesce into what can broadly be called an episode of television. Why was Elding’s murder still an SVU case after they ruled she hadn’t been raped? I guess Sex Crimes also includes whatever runoff the NYPD has, meaning they get to do mushroom poisonings, deaths occurring as a result of time travel, violations of the Third Amendment and all gerbil crime. Why the fuck not? The show has long since ceased trying to make actual “points” or be about even reasonable facsimiles of human beings, so might as well as adapt crazy news articles your officemate forwards you every so often. Next week: Benson and Stabler examine the unseemly underbelly of carnivals when a little person stunt man is eaten by an alligator.