Astral's review of a Law & Order episode is, we hope, just one in a continuing series! Email us if you'd like to do one of your own...
Wannabe gets to the heart of what I think the best L&O's are: it's the story of ordinary people who are just trying to live their lives as best they can when they get caught up in extraordinary circumstances -- and then try their hardest to get rid of any attention and go back to their lives where they can sort things out themselves. Here's Tom Harrigan, a hard-working blue-collar type of guy who was just trying to make a living walking the subway tracks, but he looked at his bright, talented son Colin and didn't want him to end up the same way. He worked day and night to get Colin into a snooty prep school where he'd have more opportunities and a better educational "pedigree" so maybe he could become a doctor or a lawyer or a star hockey player someday -- anything more successful than a subway track walker. Nothing really unusual here, right? Isn't it every parent's dream to have a child who makes more money, has a better job, is "happier"? Colin, however, didn't exactly fit in to the Luther C. Chase Academy.
Though the Harrigans may have been able to afford the tuition, they couldn't afford the blue blood, the WASP family tree, the upper-class "breeding." The Academy wanted to churn out legions of preppie Vaughn Prescotts, as it had for 130 years by selectively "weeding out" the unsuitable students, but if it weren't for Colin's background, he might actually have succeeded at the Academy -- according to most reports he did well in his schoolwork and was proficient on the hockey field. However, he was looked down on by many of the students as well as the faculty and forced to trade on his street-smarts and attitude in order to win himself a small gang of friends who idolized his brains, his athletic ability, and especially his rebellious, independent temperament, completely opposite from the stuffy, traditional dispositions they'd been taught to cultivate. Unfortunately for Colin, this temper went too far.
Colin didn't just give his father's gun to Stuart Barclay; it was also his influence that inspired Stuart to threaten Vaughn Prescott with it, and later to make the threatening phone calls to board members after Colin was kicked out. Later, Stuart even convinced Colin to "scare" Bill Prescott into letting him back into the Academy -- he was so eager to be like Colin that he instigated a murder. When Prescott told Colin he would never be good enough for Luther C. Chase, Colin's anger got the best of him and he shot Prescott twice, then ran back home.
Tom Harrigan, no matter how upstanding he tried to be, was always more loyal to his family, for better or worse, and when his son confided in him about the crime he'd committed, Tom agreed to help him, instead of going straight to the police. He hid the murder weapon along the subway tracks and gave his son an alibi, and when the time came that Colin was flat-out accused of murder, his father took the fall for him. It was this fierce loyalty that Colin thought he was emulating when he refused to name Stuart as an accomplice in the murder, even though it would have reduced his sentence.
It was this already complicated, emotional scheme that our detectives and DAs intersected, applying the exact same methods of cajoling, threatening, bargaining, intimidating that they use in every case, with admirable success. Getting any information out of the school was like walking on eggshells -- one false move and the school officials would clam up, screaming "Privacy!"
Later, I actually began to feel sorry for the pathetic liquor-store-robber that Logan was beating up, especially when he told a curious bystander to back off for "official police business" -- chilling. When Tom Harrigan finally plead guilty, McCoy was ready to lock him up and move on -- until the self-sacrificing father screwed up at the allocution, proving that Jack wasn't just out for a high solve rate after all. Finally, the scene where McCoy and the cops interrogated the rest of Colin's gang must be mentioned, if only for the sight of Logan snatching the hats off of all those pseudo-tough little preppie snots.
I always like the episodes that deal with teenagers -- they remind me of all the things I was sure my classmates were doing at that age. And this one has taken on new significance after the season premiere, in which one of the witnesses was a school girl at the Luther C. Chase Academy. If only the detectives or lawyers could have had another meeting with the highbrow director and rubbed his students' criminal records in his face just once...;) I thought all the performances in this episode were great -- Chris Noth even made Logan's usual fifth-season grouchiness & violence seem less random and more like a response to the "tough" attitudes of the prep school boys who took everything for granted, the kind of boys he probably hated as a working-class Irish teenager. And Sam Waterston certainly scared me in that interrogation room -- I was ready to confess to anything he wanted.
It seems to me that many of the later episodes (fifth season and beyond) slide much more smoothly from the Law to the Order side than did the early ones, and this was no exception. The police didn't have to beat around the bush and follow up three red herrings just to fill their half hour, and even when the DA was slapped with that old cliche of suppressed evidence due to an illegal search (close enough) it didn't feel too forced. I have to wonder, though, about a school so intent on protecting its privacy that it throws a wrench into a police investigation -- I would have loved to have seen that administration brought up on charges. Even so, this is one of my favorite fifth-season episodes.