Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Law and Order Gets One Right

I've already registered my dismay with what I felt was a really awful "gay" episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.

But, in the interest of fairness, I did enjoy an episode of the regular Law and Order program about a week or two later. This wasn't a '"gay" episode, per say, as it encompassed a number of different issues, but it certainly had plenty of gay material.

The story had to do with a gay man who is murdered, gay-bashed, by a homophobic young punk. This fellow is arrested, put on trial, and quickly convicted of the crime [a great scene has the prosecutor getting his mother to reveal her own homophobia on the witness stand]. But the members of an Innocence Project take up his cause, and claim that the jury didn't have all the facts: the gay man's lover -- actually his husband, as the two were married in Massachusetts -- was allegedly having an affair with another man at the time of his partner's death, and had even seen a divorce lawyer for advice.

How would I have felt if the gay guy were guilty of murdering his lover? Well, as long as it was made clear that it wasn't his sexual orientation that made him murderous I guess I would have been okay with it, as gay people -- like straights -- are imperfect human beings; the gay community, like any other community, has both good and bad members. Still, I won't deny that I'm glad it didn't work out that way.

From there the story took a dramatic shift into examining the possibility that some of the people who work on these Innocence Projects -- they work to overturn convictions of people they either think are innocent, didn't have a fair trial, or both -- are not only gullible on occasion but massively overzealous. The main witness at a hearing is a drug dealer who sold meth to the dead man and who now claims that the man's husband asked him to find a hit man. To say the drug dealer lacks credibility is an understatement, especially when it's revealed that a member of the Innocence Project sort of wined and dined -- and may have coached and even paid -- him.

Then there's another twist as the woman who heads the project reveals that D.A. Michael Cutter (Linus Roache), who prosecuted the gay basher and is fighting the motion for a retrial [and is also a former student of hers] never really got his B.A. due to a lack of credits [although he did graduate law school], calling his entire career into question. [What makes it worse is that she reveals this to defend a gay-basher who is not innocent.]

In a powerful scene, Cutter --- knowing he could be throwing his entire career away [and who is hetero]-- refuses to give too cushy a deal to the loathsome gay basher, so appalled is he at the thought of the man serving too short a sentence for such a heinous hate crime. It all ends on a very satisfactory note, although the repercussions for Cutter may not be known until upcoming episodes are aired.

The script, by Richard Sweren and Julie Martin, tackled a whole variety of issues, had the obligatory twists and turns [none of which were dumb and improbable as in that SVU episode], and was altogether excellent. The gay aspects were just one aspect of the story, and were handled quite well, presenting gay characters who weren't perfect but recognizably human [unlike Kathy Griffin's supposed "lesbian activist'].


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