Tuesday, April 04, 2006

It Used To Be Good

Last night I watched a recent episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. This has been a pretty amusing crime drama, featuring a quirky genius “star detective” (Goren) and his unflashy but effective partner (Eames). Many episodes have featured ingenious plots, clever and/or eccentric villains, and surprising but plausible motives. They usually end with an interrogation in which Goren goads the suspect into confessing by brilliant psychological manipulation.

But this time I was appalled by the shoddy scriptwriting. To explain how bad it was, spoilers are required.

The victim is Trip Slaughter, son of elderly billionaire Jonas Slaughter. Jonas has another son, Chance, a young Chinese second wife, Anna, and a four-year-old daughter with Anna, Emma. Trip was strangled in a hotel room after an apparent session of kinky sex. Oscar Landau, a globetrottter staying in the room next door, heard and saw nothing. He flew to Istanbul the next morning. There is some dispute over the family trust, with Anna seeking a share for Emma, which would reduce the shares of Trip and Chance. Chance's wife is especially bitchy toward Anna and Emma.

The first “clue” is an economics text found in the room. Its author (Larry) is a professor at an upstate college that Trip visited several times. Larry
's into the same kinky sex as Trip seemed to be, and from things he said to his dominatrix, Goren and Eames discover that he is Anna's former husband. Was he trying to blackmail the Slaughters through Trip, or was Trip looking for dirt on Anna? Larry admits he was in New York that night, to meet Trip at a bar, but Trip never showed.

Then Goren and Eames discover that Jonas flew in his private jet to Istanbul the day after - this after Jonas ostentatiously presents some Turkish candy. Landau confesses that Jonas met him there and paid him to keep silent about the pretty Oriental woman he saw in the hall.

Next some of Trip's jewelry turns up in a Chinatown pawnshop. It was hocked by a Chinese dominatrix (Ms. Cho) who says Larry met her in the bar and paid her to entertain Trip as a supposed gift, and to get Trip very drunk in the process. Trip gave her the bling as a tip. Larry denies ever meeting Cho, and Goren spots a discrepancy that confirms this. Cho turns out to be a long-time associate of Landau, who is a fixer-for-hire.

There's a connecting door between Trip's room and Landau's. Forensics discovers that the lock was tampered with. Landau now admits that he was hired by Trip to get dirt on Anna, but when his results were presented to Jonas, Jonas hired him to protect Anna. Did he kill Trip on Jonas' orders? He wants a deal before he talks.

Meanwhile Jonas tells Anna she should take Emma to China to spend some time with “her real family”. (This is a complete non sequitur. Was Emma adopted in some early version of the script? Emma appears purely Chinese, not half-white, and is referred to as a half-sister. Oddly, she addresses Trip as "Uncle Trip".) Jonas also starts drinking heavily and obsessively watching home videos of Trip shot by Emma, who loves to play with her videocam.

Goren and Eames come to arrest Anna. Anna denies everything. They give her a moment to talk with Jonas. Jonas says he has arranged for “reasonable doubt” all over the place, to protect Anna. Then, to Anna's horror, he admits that he had Trip killed, which is caught on Emma's videocam, left on by Anna. When arrested, Jonas turns on Anna, calls her a yellow slut and Emma a mongrel. Anna weeps of her devotion to Jonas.

At arraignment, Jonas denies all charges and is released on recognizance. On the steps of the courthouse, Chance pulls a gun and attacks Anna, but is mortally wounded by Eames. With his dying words, he confesses to the murder of Trip. Jonas stalks off with Chance's wife, whose unborn son is now Jonas' male heir. Jonas exchanges words with a woman who says she got Chance's “dying declaration” on videotape. As Jonas gets in his limo, Goren confronts him and and says “Kill one son and get the other to take the blame." Jonas answers “That's what sons are for."

OK, so what are we to make of this mess?

Landau broke into Trip's hotel room. Why? To kill Trip?

Did Landau kill Trip on Jonas' orders? Why? To protect Anna?

If Landau killed Trip for Jonas, why did Jonas fly to Istanbul to meet him? In a private jet, thus calling attention to their connection?

Why would Landau say that Jonas paid him to deny seeing Anna in the hotel, when she was never there?

Did Cho actually do her thing with Trip? Trip's estranged wife said his idea of “kinky” was turning down the sports news during sex, not a latex bodysuit, such as he was found in. Did Landau stage the sex scene evidence and bring in Cho to frame Larry? But it's a weak frame that depends on the testimony of a single witness of dubious credibility.

And the finale is truly bizarre. Did Jonas induce Chance to commit “suicide by cop” so that he could take the murder rap with his dying declaration, to be recorded by Jonas' pre-positioned cameraman? Jonas is a monster of egoism, but that's way over the top. Why would Chance do that? Likewise, Chance submits to his father, but that far?

And that plan seems extravagantly fluky. What are the odds that Chance would be tackled by a cop, or killed instantly, or survive the wounds? Or accidently shoot someone else? It makes no sense at all.

The portrayed investigation is sloppy. Why is there no follow-up with Landau? Aside from the connecting door, there's no examination of forensics from the death scene. Cho would have left fingerprints, if she was there; the hotel security cameras would have seen comings and goings.

I've seen weak or flawed scripts before, but this one is just incoherent.


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