SVU Episode #15-21: “Post-Mortem Blues”

One week after SVU’s heroine survived the ultimate physical danger, the show plunked her in the middle of a legal and emotional dilemma almost as dangerous. I admit, I had doubts about the premise of “Post-Mortem Blues.” How could this heroic woman be blamed, much less charged with a crime, for the suicide of monstrous Lewis? But the SVU writers showed why they’re the best in the business, demonstrating how skeptical eyes can interpret things differently and the ambiguities to be found in facts that seemed so clear.

Verdict: A-

Recap:

In the midst of kidnapping Olivia and a little girl, Lewis shoots himself in the head. The SVU detectives are running up the steps to rescue Olivia, and are listening to her plight on their police radios, just as Lewis kills himself. His blood spatters her face.

Lewis deviously manages to haunt Olivia even after he’s dead. He shot himself with his left hand, staging the scene to look like Olivia did it. With all the Russian Roulette they played, the M.E. can’t say who pulled the trigger. The little girl was looking away when the shots were fired. Internal Affairs investigates Olivia, wondering if she actually killed Lewis.

Thereupon commences a massive legal nightmare. A sultry defense attorney is appointed to defend her. All of Olivia’s colleagues are called to testify against her; they privately discuss whether to perjure themselves on her behalf. Barred from working, Olivia spends a lot of time with her psychologist and drinking wine. IAB eventually clears her, but an ambitious DA from Brooklyn opens a Grand Jury investigation, trying to indict Olivia for murdering Lewis. (The DA never mentions the dozens of people Lewis raped, tortured and slaughtered over the last two seasons, which didn’t seem sporting of him.)

Acting Sgt. Murphy counsels all the SVU detectives to tell the truth. But when it looks like Olivia is going down, Murphy perjures himself in the Grand Jury – saying that he ordered Olivia’s televised “confession” last week about beating Lewis – in order to save her.

The Grand Jury refuses to indict Olivia. Murphy stays on as SVU’s new sergeant, with Olivia demoted to his grateful Number 2. And some “larger truths” are told.

What they got right:

Whenever a suspect is killed during police action, officers come under scrutiny. Regardless of how heroic or blameworthy she may have been, the system can’t just take the officer’s word for it. This episode realistically showed some officers willing to lie to protect their own, but other officers insisting on telling the truth, consequences be damned. And it showed the complicated character of the new guy, Murphy, who both wanted his officers to be truthful, but was willing to tell “the larger truth” about Olivia’s heroism to save her.

Even when an officer has done everything right, being involved in a shooting is extremely traumatic. It can take an officer years of therapy to recover.

Olivia’s defense attorney’s dialogue was good. When Olivia started to confess to beating Lewis while he was handcuffed (back in Season 14), the attorney stopped her. She said something like, “Hypothetically, if you told me that, I wouldn’t be allowed to let you say the opposite on the stand. I can’t suborn perjury. So let’s just skip that for now.” That’s exactly right, and it’s the reason why some defense attorneys don’t want to hear their client’s version of the story until they know what facts the government has, and can massage the client’s story to fit them. I’ve never been a defense attorney, but I’ll bet there’s a lot of use of the word “hypothetically” in those conversations.

The Brooklyn DA was an ambition-blind jerk, but it wasn’t entirely unreasonable to put this controversial case in front of a Grand Jury. This allows the citizens to police the police, and takes away the perception that police might whitewash an incident. Sometimes a DA will present the evidence in a case where he fully expects to get a “No True Bill.” This allows the citizens the choice to decline the prosecution.

The writers were wise to demote Olivia to the #2 officer. She can do more on the show that way. You’ll notice that she was only the SVU sergeant for a few weeks, during which Lewis kidnapped her. The life of a sergeant involves a desk and many reams of paper, and is not at all telegenic. The demotion lets Olivia get back on the street doing what she does best: investigating cases.

What they got wrong:

Fin was wearing a wedding ring! Did I miss something? Either our favorite bachelor cop eloped during the last SVU hiatus, or someone in wardrobe missed something. Or maybe Ice-T just wanted to show his devotion to his foxy real-life wife, CoCo. Check out this Late Night with Seth Meyers appearance and tell me if Ice is wearing the same ring he did on the SVU episode tonight:

I wish we could get SVU’s decorators into some real-life courthouses. The white-on-white IAB room looked like it came straight out of Star Trek, and the Brooklyn Grand Jury was spotless. In real life these rooms are usually a conglomeration of mismatched formica furniture, putty-colored filing cabinets and walls so scuffed that the pure beige patches stand out.

The silliest part of the episode was the frizzy juror from Lewis’s trial testifying in the Grand Jury about how she felt about Olivia. That was totally inadmissible. If the DA needed evidence from Lewis’s trial, he would just read the transcript into the record. The judicial system goes out of its way to avoid querying into any juror’s feelings post-verdict. Plus, this was the woman who fell in love with Lewis, baked him the poisoned cupcakes, and helped him escape! A prosecutor would need to turn over to the Grand Jurors the evidence of such massive bias. Plus, shouldn’t Miss Frizzy be indicted herself for aiding and abetting Lewis?

What do you think, SVU fans? What level of scrutiny should officers involved in shootings face? Did Fin elope some time in April? And is Lewis actually gone this time? Leave your comments!

Comments

  1. James Pollock says:

    I don’t recall seeing the IAB investigators question the only other witness. I was surprised to see how far the grand jury testimony went before she finally showed up, too.
    There were a LOT of people talking about their grand jury testimony.

    Finally, I can only assume that Det. Sgt. Benson will never, ever be called on to testify in another criminal trial.

    • James Pollock says:

      In retrospect, I think I know why the IAB investigators didn’t question the only other witness… child-labor laws. Since they can’t work minors 12-14 hours a day like you can adult actors, they had to limit the number of scenes that actress appeared in.

  2. “Acting Sgt. Murphy counsels all the SVU detectives to tell the truth.”
    “Murphy stays on as SVU’s new sergeant,”
    I think that Murohy is lieutenant:)
    In other word shouldn’t be here acting commander?

  3. Excellent points as usual, James! And thanks for posting about the Paroline case decision. Be careful, or I might ask you to guest blog. :)

  4. Good, informative and interesting blog post. I liked this episode a lot. I really like the courtroom stuff SVU does, and the “behind the scenes” conversations of the police here struck me as authentic. This show did a good job of building tension and being dramatic without needing (much) blood or violence.

  5. TokoBali says:

    I laughed when the attorney told the entire squad off for discussing the case at lunch, and then went on to ask “what’s new?”

  6. I have been reading for a while, and just read your first novel (great btw!). “Miss Frizzy” made me laugh out loud. Yes, how on earth was she there? She was in love with Lewis, should already have been indicted etc as you say…I don’t know, maybe there is a temporary budget shortfall at Dick Wolf and Co and they needed to recycle some people…we know how they like to have actors come back :). And I hope Lewis is finally dead. Or is he going to rise from the dead out of that morgue freezer? If I remember correctly, they only showed Olivia looking at him, they didn’t actually show his body/face (disclaimer, I was falling asleep so may have missed something). Maybe next time/in a few months, we are going to find out it is a “ringer” dead body, he got a stand in corpse….arranged by Miss Frizzy of course.

    • James Pollock says:

      “Yes, how on earth was she there?”

      There’s no cross-examination in a grand jury (unless, of course, a juror has a question. In theory, grand jurors can ask questions, although in practice they almost never do. (Look how surprised and irritated the D.A. is when Lt. Murphy successfully draws a question from a juror.)

  7. James Pollock says:

    I’m curious about a point that was raised as a side issue on the show. Why was the D.A. calling a grand jury on this case.

    The evidence was inconclusive, which means there was no possibility of proving she did it (“You can’t prove you didn’t do it!” is not the burden of proof in American criminal law.) I mean, totally understand the real reason… we have to put our hero in jeopardy to have a dramatic presentation… but there was no chance of winning a conviction.

    I mean, if you’re trying to prosecute her because you believe she shot him, the justification defense seems impregnable. If you’re doing it because you’re afraid the public won’t react positively to NOT charging her, what do you think is going to happen when the inevitable “not guilty” verdict comes down? The only way I think you can get away with having a prosecutor actually trying to charge in this case would be if you had a green one, who couldn’t see the endgame…. but green prosecutors don’t get homicide cases to try.

    Sure, sometimes there are cases of prosecutors chasing cases that they really shouldn’t have (paging Mr. Nifong) but my general rule is that if your drama requires that people act stupidly, then it isn’t very strong drama.

  8. In response to your decorator comment: Unlike the courthouse in Manhattan, the Brooklyn criminal courthouse is only a few years old. In general, it’s a beautiful building where everything: walls, floors, furniture still feels new, clean and even a bit grand in some parts of the building. I wasn’t on a grand jury, but I did serve as a petit juror within the past year, and the courtroom, though windowless (I hear they did that on purpose), had furniture that still looked new, including comfy swivel chairs bolted to the floor in the juror box. The jury room, though small, also had matching furniture (this time, the swivel chairs had wheels), and a gorgeous view. So while the style of the room onscreen may not have matched the style of the building (for one thing, I’d expect the grand juror chairs to be swivel chairs like ours were) I’d totally buy that it was in great shape. Now, if they showed a grand jury in Manhattan, that might very well be a very different story.

    (Look! I finally commented! And… it was about the furniture. Go figure.)

  9. So what happened to the chubby grand juror who was sitting right in front during the early part of the proceedings? He was the guy with a cup of coffee in his hand. In the last scene in the grand jury room he is no longer there. In his place is a grand juror who was sitting in the second row during the earlier scenes. The chubby guy is nowhere to be seen.

  10. Nate Opgenorth says:

    I’ve seen some scary spotless court rooms, almost always new ones, its been a while but the last federal court room I was in looked so clean it made me feel like I was in some strange hospital :O Anyways the whole “Miss Frizzy” thing aggravated me to no end, I was wondering why know one ever brought that up and to be honest if I were the prosecutor I would have charged her with aiding and abetting and whatever else I could find that would stick…it might sound a little like hanging someone out to dry but you could argue its prosecutorial discretion, especially when one shamelessly helps a person who’s committed so many different variations of homicide, rape, torture, and kidnapping you loose track.

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