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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Like a lot of TV fans, I watch the various incarnations of "Law &
Order" all week long, as they have become a real staple for both
networks and via syndication indies. I'm used to the high standard (if
sameness) of Dick Wolf's product, but this particular episode knocked
my socks off.
The set-up is familiar, Lahti doggedly pursuing a cold case from 25 years back, a nutso serial killer on the loose and guest star Messing (cast way way against type) as an unsympathetic "good guy" we know isn't what she appears to be. The real-life (always completely fictionalized by Wolf & Co.) source is those TV shows like "America's Most Wanted" which take crime-fighting and prevention oh-so-personally, in this case with Messing as the host, out to avenge her 25-years-ago (the case Lahti's worked on) disappearance of her sister.
The acting by all concerned (including Messing) was very impressive, subservient to the plot for a change, and even a mainly phoned-in "regular becomes guest" role for Chris Meloni worked.
But when Lahti was gorily found dying with her throat cut by the killer, I simply couldn't believe this turn of events -killing off a semi-regular cast member! Wow! The chilling ending was equally spellbinding, as the caught and being grilled (by stalwart Hargitay) miscreant nonchalantly begins to recite the names and situations of his 43 or so victims. This was suspenseful storytelling far superior to so many theatrical films of late.
Kudos to director Jonathan Kaplan, whose career I've been following since the drive-in days of the early '70s, peaking of course with "The Accused".
He seems to have an affinity for the unusual format of two strong female personalities squaring off (here it was really three, Hargitay & Lahti vs. Messing), which won Jodie Foster an Oscar opposite McGillis in THE ACCUSED, and was even evident in his final theatrical film (now over a decade ago, as he was typically farmed out into TV) BROKEDOWN PALACE, pairing Kate Beckinsale and Claire Danes. It was common enough in the '30s (e.g., Bette Davis vs. Miriam Hopkins), but with the decline of strong female roles in recent decades a relative rarity now. I guess Judi Dench vs. Cate Blanchett would be the most recent peak.
This was one of the worst SVU episodes on record it jumps all over the
lot in terms of plot. One of the most disliked and flawed characters
SVU ever had meets her end as well.
Debra Messing plays a female John Walsh type journalist who has made a career out of exposing and bringing in men with a taste for the adolescent girls. She exposes them with cameras rolling after setting up fake sex advertisements on the web.
Like Walsh she had a younger sister abducted like he had a son. But Walsh never entrapped people and this woman does play fast and loose.
She has a relationship with Christina Lahti who was the former sex crimes cop and now Executive Assistant ADA who had a running feud with Christopher Meloni. It ended here because she was killed by the same perpetrator if you can believe got spooked by her and Messing. Lahti was truly a piece of work though, no one's really going to miss her.
From exposing Messing as a potential fraud to actually capturing the man who did abduct her sister so many years ago, this episode jumped all over the place. It really doesn't work on any level.
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