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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't usually bother to comment on these episodes. Like the others in
the first several years of the series, they're innovate, fast, and
instructive. Dick Wolf claims that he divided the stories into two
parts because, at the time he pitched them, half-hour programs were the
rule. No one was interested in an hour-long crime show, so he more or
less cut them in half. The multiple addresses we keep seeing are simply
ways to eliminate the padding that would be required by scenes of
people driving up to buildings, parking, ringing the doorbells, and so
on. It hops up the pace to vivace.
In this episode, a woman and her lover conspire to kill the husband for his insurance money. A black kid is the first suspect but suspicions regarding him are swept away. The difficulty is that the woman and her lover have secretly agreed to portray the murder as a crime of passion, which carries a lesser sentence than murder two.
The ending is a nearly perfect illustration of a variation of what game theorists call "the prisoner's dilemma," except that here the two conspirators are face to face with Ben Stone when he challenges them. The first one to squeal on the other gets the lesser charge. If both stick to their stories they get only a moderately severe sentence. If both confess, they both get the max.
Here's the problem in its pure form. "Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated the prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies for the prosecution against the other (defects) and the other remains silent (cooperates), the defector goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?" That's from Wikipedia.
The dilemma extends far beyond the bounds of criminal suspects and includes collectivities as well as individuals, but there's no time or space to get into it.
Roxanne Hart, by the way, does a fine job as the duplicitous wife, while the rest of the cast is up to their usual professional par.
Chris Noth who aged right before our eyes in the various Law And Order
shows as Detective Mike Logan broke in with a real good partner. In
this episode George Dzundza as Sergeant Max Greavey closes a a murder
case and then gets second thoughts. He and Noth may have arrested a
young kid with a crack habit who just doesn't feel right as a
perpetrator because he never used a gun. Kelly Neal was in an apartment
garage because he was smoking some crack and it turned out to be this
scene of a murder. Hopefully he gets off the crack and sends nightly
prayers to God for George Dzundza whom we know gets killed in the first
episode of the following season of Law And Order.
Neal is an easy collar, but it doesn't feel right. But when Dzundza brings it up to Dann Florek his ulcer goes into overtime. Very discreetly and with a time limit he has Dzundza and Noth reinvestigate and sure enough wife Roxanne Hart and lover Bob Gunton planned the whole thing right down to him shooting her in a not vital spot to make it look like a mugging. Poor Neal almost fell into it just by being there.
When they get it right and both are arrested it becomes a lovely bidding war to see who sells out who first. For ADA Michael Moriarty and later Sam Waterston, this episode shows that a prosecutor probably should take a course in poker because it sure helps dealing with high price defense attorneys like Barton Heyman and Philip Bosco who was making the first of several appearances as a lawyer on Law And Order.
A really good episode from the earliest days of the series.
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