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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Just out of curiosity I once did an inventory of the clothes I was
wearing and the few shirts and trousers hanging in the closet. I
couldn't find any "Made in the USA," but Singapore, Korea, and China
were all well represented. Mexico too. You know, "Hecho en Mexico"? In
this episode, two handcuffed bodies are dragged from the river and the
clues lead Serreta and Logan to a sweat shop where such items as
wedding dresses are made in the good old USA, only by Mexicans, some
illegal, who are paid piece work which, if the days have been good,
provide a much better living than can be had in Nogales.
The problem, the detectives find, is that sometimes unethical means are used to keep the business's head above water. In addition to the employment of illegals and the use of child labor, these means include what amounts to slavery. Recalcitrants are handcuffed to bed springs and confined to the sweat shops and if they make threats they find themselves sleeping with the fishes.
The "legal" part, in which Stone and Robinet try to get the handful of miscreants convicted, turns on intrigues, jealousy, and fear of abuse. Some nice points are made concerning marital privilege. It's usually assumed that "a wife can't testify against her husband" and the other way round, but, as usual, there are exceptions. In this case the exceptions are important.
It's the kind of story that's usually called "gritty." One dead body dragged from the river after eight weeks is nobody's idea of an obra de arte. And seven dead bodies of indeterminate lengths of mortality, dug up in a Brooklyn back yard, are seven times as bad. Everyone holds a handkerchief to his nose. We also learn that it's the job of the forensic anthropologist to strip the flesh from the skull and reconstruct the facial features, only I already knew that. I'm not only an anthropologist myself but I've had the flesh stripped from my skull and my face reconstructed by my ex wife.
The episode illustrates a couple of things I've always found admirable about the series. With one, maybe two, exceptions, you've never heard of any of the guest actors, yet they're uniformly fine. Especially memorable are Jose Zuniga as the smiler with a knife and his wife, Lisa Vidal. The latter has stunning, dark, liquid eyes and is completely believable as the frightened but ultimately defiant wife. The wardrobe and locations are equally impressive. The street people LOOK as if they belong in those sleazy outfits, probably bought at one of those stores where chintzy clothes hang on racks on the sidewalk and sell for ninety-nine cents. The sweat shots are suitably crappy and the hallways are plastered over with graffiti.
Nice job, as usual.
One of the early episodes of Law and Order dealt with the problem of
sweatshop labor and three homicides that arose in this particular
situation. It's a particular favorite of mine.
Two missing Hispanic teens and a Department of Labor Investigator all turn up dead with similar circumstances. Paul Sorvino and Chris Noth catch the case and it leads to a sweatshop involving Mexican immigrants, infidelity, and a chillingly evil man who is living off the misery of his own people.
This loathsome individual is played by Jose Zuniga and he will creep you out. The problem that ADAs Michael Moriarty and Richard Brooks have is that everyone is scared stiff of this man. In the end of the episode we find out they have good reason to be.
Also very good in this episode is Patti D'Arbanville-Quinn who is the co-owner of the sweatshop with her husband who has her own agenda working.
This one's not to be missed when broadcast.
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