Thursday, May 22, 2008

Law & Order ‘Excalibur”: Watch Your Back, Jack

Watch your back, Jack

The Law & Order season finale, “Excalibur,” posed an unusual situation for Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston). He tries to do the right thing, and instead he winds up getting himself into deep trouble with the Governor.

The episode involves what seems to be your average, everyday murder, but it leads to the Governor’s involvement in a prostitution ring, coupled with the Feds wanting to take the Governor down for corruption. Think of the Eliot Spitzer story with a few twists. McCoy, out of loyalty and possibly respect, gives the Governor a heads up. The Governor (not credibly portrayed by Tom Everett Scott) repays Jack for his trouble by planting a story about McCoy taking a personal trip on the DA’s office’s dime (it’s not true). It gets worse when McCoy is forced to list the Governor as a witness in the murder trial, and he and McCoy quarrel. Even the Governor’s wife puts the pressure on McCoy, but he stands firm. Still, the Governor – and/or his wife – finds a way to throw a wrench into the case, ending with a plea bargain, and resulting in the Governor not needing to testify. His secret is safe – for now.

McCoy now has a new enemy, a situation that could cause repercussions next season.

This was a great ending to the season for Law & Order. Some say the show is getting a little long in the tooth, many say that it hasn’t quite recovered from Jerry Orbach leaving the show years ago. Even more risky this season was virtually a completely new cast. Both Detectives Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Bernard (Anthony Anderson) are new, with Anderson just joining the show within the last few episodes. While McCoy was bumped up to top dog in the DA’s office, he has a new Executive Assistant District Attorney Michael Cutter (Linus Roache) with ADA Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) in her second season. Sisto and Anderson seem to work well together. Sisto needs to speak up a little and work on his diction; Anderson has possibilities for injecting the sarcastic comic relief that has been sadly missing from the show since Jerry left. (No one will ever really be able to replace Jerry and his character of Lennie Briscoe.) And there have been sparks – both good and bad – between Cutter and Rubirosa, just enough to make one wonder how much of it is sexual tension and how much of it is annoyance. And while this is De La Garza’s second season, it’s almost like she’s a new person. They’ve softened her look, and they’ve made her a woman who can stand up for herself and not hide behind her boss.

But the real change is with Jack McCoy. While one may think he’s the same Jack that he was when he was the EADA, he now seems less impulsive, yet somehow more determined. The passion for his work is still there, he just seems to be pacing himself and is a little more selective on the battles he chooses. But when he chooses his battle, that’s when the old Jack reappears. In the case of “Excalibur,” Jack’s self-righteous streak re-appears, but with good reason. Jack has never been one to tolerate corruption, much less in elected officials. While I hoped that Jack would be victorious in taking down the Governor, his failure adds a new slant to whether Jack will continue to be an effective District Attorney next season, considering he now may have a very powerful enemy.

Comparing Law & Order to one of its sister shows, Law & Order SVU, it seems evident to me that Law & Order is working well while it reinvents itself, while SVU seems to be caught in a bit of a downward trend. It’s not that SVU needs a cast shakeup, it’s more that SVU needs more work in developing the characters it has into character that viewers can see grow and develop. They failed when they added Detective Chester Lake (Adam Beach) to the mix, destroying the chemistry with the squad. They seem to have Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Stabler (Chris Meloni) in a rut. With Law & Order, cast changes have almost become routine, but they also seem to know how to take popular, established characters and improve them. Jack McCoy is the perfect example – his character may be even more interesting now that he’s in a new position. SVU should take some lessons from “the mothership” show and reinvent their key characters.

So what’s on the horizon for Jack McCoy? Probably more trouble. That could mean that viewers could be in for some fireworks next season. You can bet I’ll be watching.

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