Law & Ordocki Season 5 #11 (#45): Boreganized Crime
Image inspired by Chris Ludovici.
I think I hate Organized Crime more than I do Special Victims Unit, after only two episodes. Let me explain. SVU is terrible, yes, but it’s terrible in a way to which I’m accustomed. It’s like a pair of jeans one size too small; you can fit in them, but they provide constant irritation and you’re constantly wondering why you don’t just buy new fucking pants already. But hey, you’ve had ‘em for years and you’re not made of new pants money. Organized Crime, I’m not used to the ways it strives to be shitty. It’s forging a new path—well, new for the Law & Order franchise—and it’s one that I do not appreciate. There’s an ambition that’s unbecoming. At least with SVU I know there’s going to be a rape and Mariska Hargitay will pull a face and Carisi will chug some Pepto and at the end they’ll meet up at a bar and exchange pithy one-liners. The show will never challenge my preconceptions of what it is. Organized Crime is still finding its bearings, but it seems to be settling into two equally lousy halves: character study of an aging cop overcoming the grief of losing his wife while reckoning with a NYPD different from what he knows, and “well, our idiot writers watched some crime movies and thought they could do it too”. Throw in an astoundingly terrible Dylan McDermott performance and hey, you’ve got some television going, baby.
“I could’ve sworn it happened last summer, though…”
I’ll begin with a compliment: the pilot started in media res, so there was no indication there’d be opening narration that is part and parcel with the franchise. Thankfully, the second episode includes it. “In the nation’s largest city, the vicious and violent members of the underworld are hunted by the detectives of the Organized Crime Control Bureau. These are their stories.” It’s a perfectly cromulent opening. Then we’re taken on a very melodramatic “previously on” that doesn’t bill itself as such. Meloni’s wife is dead, he vows to find the culprit, and so on and so forth. The use of freeze frame and black and white coupled with the melodramatic music makes the segment more unintentionally hilarious than it perhaps ought to be. There’s a moment where Stabler is in black and white, Benson says “Elliot?” offscreen and the frame shocks to color. I laughed so hard at that. Overall, I just wish they had informed us ahead of time there’d be a clipshow summarization of the premiere, because then I wouldn’t have had to watch that shit.
Something the second episode also does is it revamps the opening title sequence to include, you know, people who aren’t Christopher Meloni. I suppose it’s not a “good look” in this day and age for a diverse cast to be represented by Meloni’s visage, but I actually would’ve preferred his head on other cast members’ bodies. So, like, Chris Meloni sitting at a computer, hacking. Chris Meloni with Dylan McDermott’s dumbass turtleneck. The cast consists of Meloni’s black female boss, the hacker, Dylan McDermott, and Dylan McDermott’s ex-wife. Credit where it’s due: majority female main cast. I’m trying to come up with positives here so I don’t ragestroke before the season’s in the books. This marks the first occasion a criminal has been credited as a main character, so congratulations on the distinction, Mr. McDermott. Now could you be, like, compelling or something? More on that later, because we’ve got a whole lotta plot to deal with.
Look, no matter how much mirror staring you throw in here, you’re still not getting an Emmy nomination. Stop pretending this is for real people.
Sgt. Bell and Stabler scope out the Wonder Wheel where Spaghetti Sinatra-Marioluigi or whatever his name is was murdered while a phone call informing him of his father’s death interrupts McDermott and his wife schmoozing with another couple about a “vaccination party” in their future. This is a cop out, I think, them potentially getting the vaccination. What’s the point of having a pandemic if shitty characters on procedurals I abhor can’t drop dead of it? Imagine tuning into SVU and finding out between weeks Rollins died of COVID. That’d be so cool. Anyway, the inciting incident for this week’s plot is some armed masked goons stealing vaccines off the back of a truck. When Bell questions why a gunman tied a tourniquet on the driver’s leg and saved his life, Stabler suggests it’s a message. Resist, you die. Comply, we’ll shoot you but apply some medical attention to the situation. Meanwhile, Stabler’s calling Olivia and asking her not to mention he had a freakout last night akin to King Kong reacting to the flashbulbs of the Big Apple. I guess he also doesn’t want someone who outranks him letting loose that he appeared disoriented and disheveled right after Mussolini Ravioli got shot. This series should be about Meloni trying to keep his nose clean amidst a seeming changing environment but he keeps getting into mishaps that he has trouble explaining. Organized Crime as farce could work.
“Am I not *turtlenecky* enough for the *Turtleneck* Club?”
“Not Your Daddy’s Organized Crime” (yes, I know) goes heavy on the Wheatley backstory. Apparently as a college student he created amazing encryption software and got involved in the sale of “Purple Magic”, a drug that’s 50 times deadlier than fentanyl. He has access to the main ingredient, Nardol, and Bell muses that the drug is expensive and has a “mystique”. So they’re setting him up as sort of a Gus Fring/Walter White combination. I mean, these comparisons will be invited because the Organized Crime writers’ idea of research is not finding out how organized crime syndicates operate in the real world but watching other, better TV shows. A dollop of Breaking Bad here, a smidgen of The Wire, some Sopranos… it adds up to a piece of shit that superficially reminds you of things you liked. This is Dick Wolf as a diminished hitmaker: he can’t revolutionize the procedural or the soap anymore—all he can do is stitch together shit people liked and hope for the best.
New character time: Diego Morales, transferred from GVSD (“Gun Violence Suppression Division”, established 2016, to which Stabler reacts like Jasper does when he sees moon pies on The Simpsons), gives Stabler somebody to boss around and allows the writers another interchangeable exposition bot for the police side of things. Freddie Washburn from Narcotics soon joins, introduced answering the evergreen question of “why would Dylan McDermott purchase a dessert company named Nitro Nibbles?”. I guess I’ll take this opportunity to discuss the supporting cast’s personalities. In short: they suck. Organized Crime definitely wants us to think hacker girl in spectrum or spectrum-adjacent because the alternative is they believe “moody prick with no knowledge of social cues whose competence outweighs their HR red flags” is still a novel characterization for a computer expert. So far Diego and Freddie serve the same purpose as Cory and Trevor do on Trailer Park Boys; that is to say they exist as jail cover that do menial tasks for Bell and/or Stabler. What I’d give for Chris Meloni to call the pair “fuckgoofs”.
Washburn does have arms perfect for garbage scooping…
I couldn’t care less about scenes between Wheatley and his ex, or Wheatley and his shitty family, so I’ll be brief in summarizing them. It’s about birthday parties and securing an alibi for the time of Chazz Palminteri’s death. Later McDermott has a meeting with his dad’s old gallery of guys who didn’t get a second audition on The Sopranos. “You want to become the Jeff Bezos of organized crime” Wheatley’s son Richie tells him in the car, and indeed that seems where this is going. (Isn’t Bezos the Bezos of crime considering his obscene fucking wealth?) McDermott is going to use his encryption skills to something something take a cut out of everything illegal while appearing nominally clean. Look, I don’t care, nor do I care about daughter chewing out son for caring grampy is dead, because he was “a murderer, a racist, a sexist and a thug”. So? YOU’RE ALL TERRIBLE PEOPLE. YOU’RE CRIMINALS! I think it’s meant to be a poignant point that, hey, it seems sometimes mobsters talk about “family” but disregard “family” that don’t share their skin color. Maybe I’m not seeing the forest for the trees, but I don’t think the problem with organized crime is that it’s not a rainbow coalition. Sure, we all want crime to have the level of diversity reflected in Clarence Boddicker’s gang, but RoboCop is sci-fi for a reason, folks.
Another thing The OC (don’t call it that) does in relation to Stabler is make him even more of a grampa terrified of new emergent technology than he was on SVU, when he squinted his way through learning about “messaged boards” and “the blackened berry”. Jet Schumacher or whatever, hacker girl, her job is to routinely spout words like “blockchain” and “onion router” that confuse and terrify Stabler, the audience stand-in. There is an honest to god “in English” in this bullshit. “In English” is not only funny, it’s an admission that what technobabble you previously wrote makes no sense to anyone. I don’t care enough to ask my tech savvy friends, but I imagine to a trained ear Jet’s dialogue is little more than stringing together some buzzwords, like in those parody movies where racist Asian caricatures’ dialogue is “Mitsubishi Kowasaki”. Why doesn’t Jet assume her 55 year old colleague isn’t up to date on tech du jour and spell it out in the first place? Part of the seeming novelty of Organized Crime is that Stabler will be confronted with all sorts of things he missed out on when fucked off to Italy. More instances should happen each week. Marvel as Stabler stares blankly at a “microwave”! Basically he’s Unfrozen Caveman Cop and I appreciate it.
Come on! Kiss!
The cops think Wheatley stole the COVID-19 vaccines but don’t have the proof. Stabler, here a Goofus forever in search of a Gallant, does some A+ cop work in his confrontation with Wheatley. He calls him “Dick” instead of his preferred “Richard”, which is funny because “dick” is slang for “penis” so he’s basically calling Dylan McDermott male genitalia. Then Stabler accuses him of murdering his father, which again, it’s very clever to tell a suspect the exact amount of information you have about them. This should be a meaty, propulsive scene akin to when Vic Mackey first meets Jon Kavanaugh in the flesh, but it comes across as a damp squib. I blame Dylan McDermott. I don’t get it. I know he is capable of good acting—I know he’s capable of recent good acting because he was great in The Clovehitch Killer. It might be that coming from film he treats television as beneath him, something worthy of contempt. I never watched American Horror Story but I’ve heard not great things about him there too. Whatever the reason, the scene is like if Meloni was getting up in Ross Geller’s grill, only that sounds infinitely funnier than this is.
AHHHHH! I watch Organized Crime to GET AWAY from this little snot!
Since it’s inevitable that the fucking show contains a Mariska Hargitay appearance, we get a hilarious scene where she drops off her garbage son to school and seconds later Stabler skulks up to her car. He gets in and he literally tells her to “back off” regarding their run-in at the end of last episode. It had been lurking in the back of my head, but with this scene it coalesced to me that the writers of Organized Crime have created in post-Season 12 Stabler a sort of bear man you must tread lightly around lest he maul you. CGI Meloni out and replace him with a brown bear and I guarantee it’s basically the same show. I eagerly await one of his co-workers trying to get on his good side by offering him salmon or Dylan McDermott ominously intoning “you know, he’s more of afraid of you than you are of him” in a moment destined for “next time on” trailer adverts. Anyway, Benson whisper suggests (so much whispering) that Stabler has PTSD from watching his wife get blown the fuck up, to which he laughs. “I’ve been on the job 35 years” he says and wait a minute, 35 fucking years?!?! NEW RULE: if your association with the NYPD predates The Simpsons, you can’t be a cop anymore. In an episode with a number of bad, breathtakingly stupid scenes, the one between Benson and Stabler takes the cake. It ratchets up the sexual tension even more (Kathy’s body isn’t cold yet BTW) and my apprehension about the endgame Dick Wolf may have in place grows.
You know how long it took her face to freeze into that? Talk about your 18 hour filming days.
Back to the case. In one of the many digressions of the episode, Stabler has to go undercover on a dating website to find women who have been bragging about getting private vaccinations. Now, I know this sounds stupid, and it is, but the scene in which he confronts the woman he matched with is a glimpse into how good Chris Meloni is as an actor. It’s the first time the entire shitshow I could actually enjoy his acting. Instead of trying subterfuge, upon meeting her Stabler immediately confesses he’s a cop and he’s looking for the doctor administering the vaccines. Meloni goes into this heartfelt speech about how he’s doing this because vulnerable people, vulnerable people she knows even, need this vaccine and that he took no pleasure in misleading her. The woman, Elaine, gives him her number also and Stabler has to say it’s nothing about her, it’s his whole “dead wife” situation. She hugs him. It’s an honest human moment. I wish more of Organized Crime were like it!
Unfortunately, the rest of the episode is buried under a pile of gaffes and bad puns. I’ll rush through the rest of the plot for those you who read these but refuse to watch the actual show. The cops arrest the doctor handing out the vaccinations but can’t catch Wheatley in possession of them at his dessert subsidiary. Stabler has night terrors his shitty son (Eli, not the bearded one) witnesses. Bell and Stabler go to dinner whereupon Stabler learns that black people order waffles for dinner like this. They install a bug in one of the offices. Finally, when walking home Stabler sees a guy in a ski mask and they become guys with skis masks that beat him bloody, which makes sense because Christopher Meloni was old enough to experience the Crimean War. It’s not a particularly appealing cliffhanger, unless next episode establishes Stabler died of internal bleeding offscreen and now we’re watching Diego Morales Presents Law & Order: Organized Crime. Like, we know that the bad guys are on to him, he fucking introduced himself to them this week! Last week he dodged an assassin’s bullets! We do not need reminders that his life is in danger!
Gavin Newsom’s America
MASKWATCH: Now this is funny. I wasn’t going to include this section for reviews of Organized Crime because, well, it’s a bit repetitive already when every week for Special Victims Unit I spend a paragraph complaining about how nobody wears a mask in close quarters indoors and at best masks up when walking around outside, the situation where you’re at much lesser risk. You can only phrase the same criticism so many ways, you know? Well, I think OC deserves it just this once because of the cognitive dissonance required to center the plot on hijacking vaccine shipments—thereby making the pandemic integral to the series’ plot—while people don’t fucking wear masks in any appropriate situations!!! They’re fucking with us at this point, I swear. The show does make a point to depict the help at the vax party wearing masks while the partygoers do not. Mask for thee but not for me seems on point. But overall, “stealing vaccines to give them to rich people” is the kind of preposterous ripped from the headlines garbage that simultaneously seems absurd and on brand for Law & Order. So what if it doesn’t make much sense, it’s relevant! You ought to try a mask drinking game. Take a drink whenever you see someone wearing one. You’ll be lucky to get a bit tipsy.
Part of what promotional materials emphasized a lot with Organized Crime is that it’s Stabler coming back to an NYPD he doesn’t necessarily recognize. Some surface elements bear this out, like a black female superior (I mean Law & Order has never had that before) and Elliot not beating suspects every 15 minutes. But because this show sucks, it doesn’t stick the landing and its attitude toward police corruption is at best schizophrenic. Let me give you two examples. Jett Jackson finds out some information, and Bell or the Lesbian ADA goes “you can’t hack into Nitro Nibbles’ cameras without a warrant” and Jet goes “I DIDN’T, I CREATED A PROGRAM THAT COLLATED ALL THE EMPLOYEE’S SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS INTO A SEARCHABLE INDEX” and you’re like, huh, they feinted at breaking the law and then wowed us with some computer magic. Later at dinner, Stabler finally tells Bell he was at Chazz Palminteri’s murder scene and took his phone. Bell cautions him not to admit this, because she’d have to arrest him for stealing evidence. She then lays down a hypothetical about how if he did steal the phone, he should’ve turned it over to hacker girl so she could get all the info off it. Nothing more is said and they enjoy their alligator dinner. So let me get this straight: Stabler commits a crime for which the penalty is arrest, and he’s let go because wink wink he got results? How the fuck is this different from the shenanigans he got up to on SVU?
I guess I’m intrigued to see where this goes, but I can see Organized Crime going south in a hurry, especially if great emphasis is put on Stabler’s PTSD and his recovery from dead wife pain. Practically every one of the Top 40 TV shows in America is a message about reclaiming trauma, and once you see the pattern you can’t unsee it. Law & Order: Organized Crime is no exception, as it continues to place focus on Elliot feeling bad about his wife’s murder, and I’m sure subsequent episodes will be about him acknowledging he suffered a traumatic event and, you guessed it, taking ownership of that trauma for cathartic ends. It’s clear what Dick Wolf thinks is prestige television, and it’s not bigger budgets or better writing, it’s slop germinated in the bowels of social justice Twitter.