A Crisis of Confidence: "Pro Se"
By Ursula


In the episode "Pro Se," Claire is faced with a mentally ill killer with whom she had previously arranged a plea bargain. As the episode progresses, the police, the press, the public and Adam all blame her for the killer's actions, and fault her for agreeing to a plea bargain without complete knowledge of the circumstances of the case.
Faced with this hostility, Claire contemplates leaving the DA's office. In a telling scene, Claire confides to Jack. Relaxing in a pizza parlor, they discuss the case, the legal system and Claire's uncertainties about her career. Jack counters each of Claire's concerns, sometimes before she even voices them. He convinces her to continue working at the DA's office, and with him, at least until they win the trial.
A cynical reading of Jack's motives, in asking Claire to continue in the office and on the case, is easy to find. Jack has a history of being sexually attracted to women he works with, and having Claire leave the DA's office would interfere with their personal relationship. If Jack was inclined to be controlling or manipulative of his lovers, keeping her working as his subordinate would provide him with a great deal of leverage against her. Also, if he is politically ambitious, helping young ADA's who have fallen out of Adam's favor could provide a solid power-base for Jack, should he ever run for DA.
There are, however, other, more positive reasons for Jack to encourage Claire to remain working at the DA's office.
First and foremost, Claire has spent a great deal of her life developing her career as an attorney. Estimate her age at around 30 in "Pro Se," Claire has probably spent one-quarter to one-third of her life working specifically towards developing this career. This is a major investment of time, energy and money, and not something to be thrown away lightly. She is understandably frustrated at the circumstances of this episode. Jack, or anyone else who cares for Claire, would want her to be certain before making any life-changing decisions. It is important for her to understand that the failings in this episode are not hers alone, and that she is capable of righting the situation.
Secondly, this would be a very bad time, professionally speaking, for Claire to try to find a new position. Her name is in the newspapers, associated with a major failing in the criminal justice system. If she were to leave, now, any potential employer would be wary of hiring her. It would seem that Claire was inclined to give up when faced with bad publicity. In addition, if she were to leave the DA's office in the middle of this case, even voluntarily, Claire would be dogged by rumors that she had been pushed out due to her mistakes in handling the earlier plea bargain. It might damage her career permanently. Far better, as Jack suggests, for her to help him win this case, and then, if she chooses to look for a new job, she could do so basking in the glow of triumph, rather than shadowed by scandal.
Third, Claire is, emotionally, quite worn by this case. She feels she ought to have done better. She is being hounded by the press, sued by the victims, and blamed by the defendant. Together, these leave her in no condition to think clearly about her life, or to make rational career decisions. She is all too likely to let depression lead her to choices she will regret. Jack knows Claire, and can see this. Asking her to focus on the potential for success, and to focus on righting the wrongs she let happen, is far better for her, psychologically, than letting her focus on her failures, or adding the stress of looking for a new job under the circumstances.
Finally, Claire has been severely put down by Adam, someone whom she admires, and whose respect she values. When she confides to Jack, another person whom she admires, Claire is looking, not for agreement with her insecurities, but for affirmation. Jack senses this, and directly counters Adam's earlier tirade. Claire doesn't even need to mention to Jack how much Adam's rejection has hurt her. Jack is gently insistent that she continues to work with him. He makes it clear that he values their professional partnership. Emotionally, Jack is giving Claire, not what she seems to be asking for but what she desperately needs: reassurance that she is still a good ADA.
In this one scene, Law & Order adds a wonderful relationship dynamic to an already complex episode. A major theme of "Pro Se" is the both the failure and the necessity of the plea bargaining system in a badly overworked prosecutors' office. The relationship between Jack and Claire allows the writers to explore how plea bargains gone wrong affect the prosecutors' emotions and confidence, as well as the public good. It also allows the show an unusual and touching moment, which is nevertheless completely consistent with Law & Order's customary focus on the purely professional world of criminal justice.

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