Alynda Wheat's Beat Cop: We come to bury 'SVU,' not to praise it

Now it’s official. Law & Order: SVU is on the crazy train, jumping tracks and stranding passengers in Nowheresville. Some of us (okay, mainly me) carped about Christine Lahti’s role as fill-in ADA Sonya Paxton from the beginning. When she wasn’t belittling Stabler (Christopher Meloni) she was sneering at Benson (Mariska Hargitay) or taunting suspects, all the while teary-eyed and callow. The character was inconsistent, insulting, and insufferable. Wednesday night we learned it was all, theoretically, because she’s a lush. Oh, let us rewind this one, because there was plenty to gnash at in this episode appropriately titled “Hammered.”

It started well, as anything guest-starring Scott Foley would. (I was a fan of The Unit until that, too, no longer pointed north.) Dalton Rindell (Foley) woke up on his bathroom floor, a gash on his forehead, blood on his walls, and a dead lady in his apartment. We soon learned that the lady was an abortion doctor (the episode’s red herring) and that she’d left a bar with Dalton after he suffered through a feral meeting of real-estate investors, pissed that he and his partner weren’t delivering on an apartment building they promised. Of course, Dalton remembered none of this, what with his killer hangover. All of which brings us to our Defense Issue of the Week: the altered brain chemistry of alcoholics. Now, I have no intention of wading into that morass (and I’m getting pretty tired of watching everyone in the squad room do it too—it’s so forced and false they way the “debate” every salient societal issue). My only criticism of the episode is that it set up Sonya’s exit in a ridiculous way.

There she was at the bar, waiting for Benson and Stabler, piously hammering at Dalton’s credibility while tossing back more than a few drinks. The irony was so thick it was smothering. Naturally, she stumbled into court the next morning, and rather than simply telling the judge she was ill—as any semi-competent lawyer would—she vowed to fight on with half her brain cells tied behind her back. Dalton came to his takes-one-to-know-one senses, and informed the court that she was drunk. Then, in what was truly a thrilling lapse in common courtroom procedure, the judge ordered Benson to give Sonya a Breathalyzer in open court. No, not in his chambers, where all such sensitive conversations usually take place—in open court! I ask you, faithful Coppers, what can the writers be thinking?

Christine Lahti is too good an actress to waste on ill-conceived characterization and bad plotting. It wasn’t fair to her, and it certainly wasn’t fair to us. It’s also a shame because Foley did some pretty nice work in that episode, only to be forced to play straight man to Lahti’s sad clown. The best we can say is that they’ve done well to rid us of ADA Sonya Paxton. At least for now.

Fortunately, not everything in the procedural universe was mishandled this week.

The more I watch Laurence Fishburne on CSI as Ray Langston, the more the guy grows on me. I really appreciated that the character didn’t jump into the fray and assume the shooter cop was racist, or that the shooting was racially motivated. He casts a scientist’s eye on things, rather than jumping to more visceral conclusions, unlike his own colleagues. The show needs someone with that kind of rational distance, especially with Grissom (William Petersen) gone. And by the way, should SVU need examples, this is how you do complicated characterization: Ultimately, did Officer Finn (Jack Blessing) have race-based animosity toward the people he swore to protect? Yep. Did those people exacerbate that tendency? Yep. Nicely done.

The Mentalist also came in with another solid episode that I really appreciated at the end. What’s fun about Jane (Simon Baker) is just how many tricks he’s got in his fake-psychic bag, one of which is the power of suggestion. During the episode I didn’t pick up on how carefully he planted the idea of a mole in the minds of the bikers. But man, did it pay off in the end when he went to set up biker boss McBride (Mark Pellegrino) as an informant. It’s a lovely little coda when, in the case of a bad guy eluding the law, he manages to make their lives hell anyway. Plus, it’s always a pleasure to see Third Watch’s Molly Price.

On this last one I need your help. I confess that I don’t know how I should feel about the whole Ziva-drops-Mossad plot on NCIS. On one hand, I liked the tick-tock on what went down on the boat—that was solid stuff. But since Ziva (Cote de Pablo) didn’t actually do anything wrong, I don’t understand why it’s taken four episodes (and well into the fourth one) for her to spill. Why all the ominous be-careful-whose-side-you’re-on comments to Ducky (David McCallum)? I guess my issue is that she, herself, seemed to foment the idea that she’d committed some sort of unforgivable act on that boat, when she hadn’t. (What happened once she got to Somalia is perhaps a different story.) But can someone explain it to me? And tell me how you feel about this whole arc? I need help processing.

While you’re at it, tell me whether you’re into CSI: NY’s Compass Killer, liked Criminal Minds’ foray into pack behavior, or have high hopes for tonight’s Numb3rs, since it looks like an early Halloween episode. I think I like that show best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. And hey—let’s be careful out there.

Comments (103 total) Add your comment
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  • Susan

    omg!! that was Scott Foley..I couldn’t place him. I remember him from Felicity!! Nice piece, btw, Alynda.

  • Q

    oh I don’t know, as an attorney, I can tell you that probably most of us would indeed fight on with half our brain cells still sleeping it off!

  • Melissa

    I love Beat Cop. Finally, someone who loves procedurals (and L&O) as much as I do! But seriously … SVU has gone off the rails. Scott Foley was great, but the breathalyzer in open court was just beyond ridiculous. Although I can’t wait for the “ripped from the headlines” Jon & Kate episode of L&O tonight.

    • Alynda Wheat

      Oh right! Thanks for reminding me, Melissa!

  • Brian

    I thought it was a good episode of SVU.

  • Stephanie T.

    Actually, it was made clear from the get go that Lahti was in for only four episodes and Stephanie March, aka: ADA Alex Cabot, was supposed to return to her post. But I agree that the way the exit was handled was stupid. Plus, her role was no different than her character on Chicago Hope. Same character but just a lush.

  • Scott

    I am glad someone called out SVU on that nonsense! My intelligence was so insulted that I almost swore to never watch the show again. But considering it is one of my wife’s shows that we are able to watch together, I didn’t delete it from the DVR. I don’t need SVU teaching me an after-school lesson that an alcoholic may be someone you least expect. And why do the writers and producers want us to hate all of the female prosecutors on this show?

  • Sparky

    I don’t think Ziva felt like she had done something wrong. It probably had more to do with the fact that she was still a Moosad agent and could nt break protocol by betraying her own government.

    SVU last season was so-so. This year, with the time and day change and just the lack of cohesiveness between the characters and the storyline, well I find myself switiching the volume down while the show is on – shame, it once was a great show…

    • sherika

      ever heart of torrents, try they put up all the shows, the next day, or stream online, zshare, megavideo……

  • jen

    I haven’t been able to watch any of new SVU episodes until this one so I was confused about why Christine Lahti was there and why she was so horrible to everyone. After her first scene, I actually yelled out, “Oh my God!!! What the eff is her problem???” She was driving me absolutely nuts! I’m very relieved she’s gone. Can anyone explain why NBC doesn’t run full episodes of this show on their website? They only have those stupid two minute recaps. I don’t know how else to catch up on the episodes I missed. help please…

    • sherika

      oops this was meant for you and heard not heart lol

      • jen

        yay! no, I haven’t heard of those. usually I use fancast or just watch from the network website. I guess I just assumed that they weren’t available anywhere since nbc was hiding them. thanks for your help!

    • jacie

      Dick Wolfe wants all the extra $$ he can get from his shows, thus no L&O’s available on You can purchase them on iTunes for $2.99 (in HD).

    • Jackie

      At the moment SVU is re-run on a Saturday night, which is good for me because I can’t watch it in it’s new weekday timeslot.

      • I know…

        I agree. I DVR the Sat. night re-run too. It’s a good thing it’s repeated because NO ONE would be watching it. Modern Family and Glee already on at 9pm Wed and only 2 shows can tape at once. If it was still on at 10p instead of that moron Jay Leno…people would still be able to watch the first run. SVU deserves better NBC.

  • I-Man

    SVU is starting to feel like a parade of guest stars rather than just being SVU. I couldn’t stand ADA Paxton. All she did was put people down, but crazy enough the writers in this episode made her an incompetant fool when the Discs of her presumtuous depiction of the murder was switched. Really the writers made an ADA of high intelect and stature THAT stupid in that one scene.

  • Pat

    SVU has been in serious decline since last season. The writing (always soapy, never a strong suit) has become utterly slothful, producing one “ripped-from-the-headlines” story after another.

  • Lisa

    I think Ziva was reluctant to tell the others what happened on the Damocles because her Mossad colleague had killed the Marine and she worried that it would be held against her, especially since she was trying to become an NCIS agent.

    Maybe you can help me, Alynda: How could Ziva become an agent for NCIS without being a naturalized citizen? Are we supposed to believe she applied for citizenship even though she was technically employed by Mossad for the past four years and actually moved back to Israel? I can handwave a lot when it comes to a TV show, but I’m having a hard time with this one.

    • Alynda Wheat

      I hadn’t even thought of that, Lisa. Excellent point. I think we’re supposed to smile and nod at that one, because no, I don’t think she renounced Israeli citizenship (or has any intention of doing so). Just because a woman has daddy issues, doesn’t mean she’s dropping her homeland.

    • Ken Langston

      They did mention her citizenship briefly. I am sure that a government intelligence agency could expediate the process for someone becoming a citizen by talking with immigration.

    • RvE

      McGee did mention that her becoming an official agent is “conditional upon her becoming an official citizen”, and I don’t know how they worked around that one in the end. Maybe we will find out about that one in the next few episodes.
      As for the other issue: Ziva did assist in killing the entire crew of the Damocles, and lost one of her fellow Mossad officers in the process. While she was under orders to “take everyone”, and so technically hadn’t done anything wrong, I for one understand that she still felt guilty/responsible for all those deaths – even if they were of bad guys bringing supplies to a terrorist cell.
      And from a purely technical point of view, it took this long for her to talk about it because:
      a) nobody really questioned what happened to the Damocles until Cryer’s body turned up somewhere where it was not supposed to be if the “went down in a storm” story was true. And Ziva had been forced to perpetuate the storm cover-up in her report about it, i.e. wasn’t allowed to tell them what really happened because….
      b) (to quote Vance) “if she talked about Mossad operations, she would be in violation of Israeli law”. Ziva pointed that out at the start of the first interrogation with Vance, but he pushed her into talking about it anyway.
      I think that because of the killings, and the fact that she had had to lie to/keep information from the rest of the team about what had really happened on that ship, she felt that she didn’t deserve to have them on her side – even if Mossad had forced her hand.
      Finally, I think she didn‘t want to make the admission she finally made to Gibbs in the end (to him or to herself): that she had volunteered to go into the lion’s den (Saleem’s hide-out) on her own, with no intention of living through it….
      Just my two cents on this. :)

  • Lex

    I agree Christine Lahti was unbearable- her character was too nasty and obnoxious, but also, the actress’ awful plastic surgery was far too distracting for me. Christine Lahti- what have you done to yourself? She looks like Bea Arthur with a brunette wig on!

    • Buzz

      Plastic surgery for Lahti ? C’est impossible! After all she’s the voice over on the L’oreal skin care products ads . I guess they really really work well …maybe too well, even!! Mariska please take note: cosmetics , Yes. cosmectic surgery, No . Spend the moey on a nice vacation and you will better , longer.

      • Buzz

        uh, money , not moey …

  • jess

    anyone else notice the ship was called Damocles… as in the sword of Damocles. nice reference, NCIS writers.

  • Paul

    You’re so right, Alynda. I was so excited about Christine Lahti, but what the hell are the writers doing? I started noticing last season how the show would have the most outrageous twists at the end. It’s really starting to irritate me. Ugh.

  • Matt

    IIRC there was a first season L&O episode where Stone ordered a defendant to perform a reflex test to show that he was drunk while testifying in the courtroom.

    • Alynda Wheat

      I don’t doubt it, Matt, but that was a defendant testifying. Calling one of the officers of the court on the carpet like that could potentially be grounds for a mistrial. Hopefully one of you Coppers with a law degree can explain it to the rest of us.

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