A skeleton is dug up by some salvage archaeologists on Roosevelt Island and it turns out to be that of a man who disappeared eight years earlier. The man convicted of the killing was a Wall Street scam artists, the charming and persuasive Zeljko Ivanek. He's a fine actor, by the way, but he's never going to get anywhere with me until he changes his name to something that's easier to spell and pronounce, preferably some palindrome so that it comes out right even if you get it backwards.
At any rate, Ivanek, who has spent all these years in Sing Sing, was convicted mostly on the testimony of an accomplice, Guy Davis, who may have been involved in the murder but at least has an easy name. Ivanek is a smart young man, though, and has spent his years in the slams studying law. Representing himself, he not only wins a new trial but brings a civil suit against New York and against Michael Moriarty, who prosecuted him and sent him up the river. Says Stephen Hill, "You're being out-lawyered by an amateur." Things get complicated. Davis, Moriarty's prime witness, disappears. There is evidence that he took off for the Bahamas. But, aided by Jill Hennessy in her off hours, Moriarty manages to set things aright and Ivanek is back where he belongs with all the other reprehensible miscreants who have difficult names.
The acting, as usual, is quite good, and the plot is just complicated enough to be thoroughly engaging. Imagine trying to identify an eight-year-old skeleton recently unearthed in a vacant lot in New York City, where there are so many historic unmarked graves. The pathologist was unable to give Moriarty an estimate of the victim's age, but the cops should have asked the archaeologists who dug it up. The sutures in the skull gives you a strong hint, or so I was told in my Physical Anthropology class. We learned to make a good guess while blindfolded. You can do it with one fingertip.
It's interesting, too, because Moriarty's character is ordinarily so unflappable, so earnest and collected. Nothing much is made of his being successfully challenged by a particularly bright jailbird, aside from Hill's remark about being "out-lawyered," and yet Moriarty and the director lend Ben Stone an underlying sense of the anger and indignation of a professional who is being humiliated by an alien from outside the social borders.
The episode ends with Moriarty making a cutting remark as Ivanek is hauled off in handcuffs, and the camera lingers a while on Moriarty's face wearing an expression that can best be described as a smirk.
This episode stands out as one of the best of Michael Moriarty's last season on the show, establishing yet one more case that puts Stone's undying faith in the justice system to the test, with this case as the most personal yet. Ivanek is superb as the slick defendant, who has an answer to every question, and takes an almost sociopathic glee in building the walls around Stone; Moriarty is every bit his equal, subtly conveying the growing frustration with being headed off at every proverbial pass by Swann's machinations. Steven Hill nicely rounds the performances out, as Schiff's amazement at the effectiveness of Swann's plan counterpoints Stone's growing desperation.
***SPOILER*** While the episode is, for the most part, extremely well written, it does have two glaring plot holes (at least, from the perspective of this lawyer) that prove critical to the plot and, specifically, how Stone draws the connection fhat enables him to finally trip Swann up. While Swann's lawsuit against Stone is believable (given the character's ego), Swann's comment in deposing Stone that, because he was acquitted in his second trial, Stone was somehow legally precluded from arguing in his own defense that the key witness in the first trial was testifying truthfully, is simply wrong as a matter of law (something both Stone and Kincaid should pick up on). Further, contrary to what Kincaid states, the names of "jailhouse lawyers" don't normally appear on the briefs filed by inmates in court documents -- thus, the clue that leads Stone to be able to prove Swann's fraud upon the court is nothing more than a contrivance -- perhaps a minor point, but one that kind of what mars an otherwise elegant and wickedly clever episode.