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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nicely done episode in which plump, middle-aged Shirley Knight shoots
to death her husband, who is about to divorce her, and his new, fresh,
bite-sized, cholesterol-free thirty-year-old innamorata. The two
fornicators are plugged while in bed.
As is usual in this series, the two detectives follow a false lead before getting to Knight as the actual murderer. Ben Stone, Michael Moriarty here, agonizes over the charge to be brought against Knight. His choice is first-degree murder (she gets 25 years to life) or first-degree manslaughter because she didn't plan the crime but committed it impulsively when she found the lovers in the sack (4 years).
Stone reckons, sensibly enough, that the jury can convict on murder or manslaughter, or they can acquit because, after all, who doesn't sympathize with a discarded wife (and widow)? In cases like this, the jury generally takes the middle road and convicts on manslaughter but Stone is not satisfied. She's guilty of murder, not manslaughter. So he eliminates the manslaughter charge and puts the jury in the position of giving Knight 25 to life or else acquitting.
The jury retires and Stone paces back and forth in his office, sweating and biting his lip. Hours go by. He may lose it. Finally he receives a call from Knight's lawyer, who offers to go for two counts of manslaughter (12 years), and Stone, looking extremely relieved, says simply, "Deal." In real life, a defense lawyer named Barry Scheck, if I remember, argued that his client, a young and attractive English au pair girl accused of shaking to death the baby who was left in her care, should be charged with murder or else acquitted. Scheck reasoned: Who would convict a pretty girl with an innocent face and an English accent of deliberately killing a child? The jury did. Defense counsel had overreached. (The judge reduced the sentence to manslaughter and sentenced the nanny to time served.) I hope I remember the case accurately.
What's most interesting about this episode though is not so much Stone's tactics and his uncertainty. It's not the legal questions that are so gripping; it's the moral question. What recourse does a woman have when she is being dumped by the man she's loved and served and suffered with for a quarter of a century because she's now gained weight and developed some wrinkles? As far as we can tell, Knight has been a devoted wife and mother and nothing else, and now she's reading the want ads looking for a job.
You know those want ads look like? They tend to come in two styles. (1) "WANTED: Hard-charging junior executive type, self starter, good salesman and MBA, for small firm." And (2) WANTED: "Young, endowed, dancer, male or female, for private club in Hoboken. No experience necessary. Call 201-5554. Ask for Eddie."
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