Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Baby Boom

There's an old episode of Dragnet that has Friday and Gannon busting into a house where a "pot party" is going on. A hippy couple is sitting listlessly on a couch puffing away as the officers storm in. The youngsters snap out of it when they remember that they left young baby unattended in the bathtub (shades of Trainspotting). Friday and and Gannon run in to find the poor child drowned in the overflowing tub. Admist the screaming of the parents (one on the floor curling into the fetal position), Gannon hurriedly excuses himself saying "Joe, I think I'm going to be sick." The episode ends with a melodramatic closeup of Friday's hands as he violently crushes a baggie of marijuana.

I was reminded of that Dragnet scene after watching the latest installment of Law and Order. Last week I suggested that after eighteen seasons Law and Order seemed to be approaching "jump the shark" territory (link).

While I'm still not ready to call it, this week's episode hasn't done anything to soften my opinion.

"Misbegotten" starts off with a bang in the lobby of an office building as two security people working the night shift are having the usual benign Law and Order conversation. The female guard is wheeling a load of packages delivered to the building into an elevator when one of the boxes explodes. It's not clear WHY a security guard would be moving such deliveries around in the middle of the night -- but okay.

She's not killed, but left in a coma. Also, it turns out that the injured guard is pregnant. Her unborn baby is still alive and presumed to be viable if the mother is kept alive.

And we see that it's not one big happy family. There's a shouting match in the hospital between the parents and their estranged son-in-law, Ryan Emerson. As usually happens in Law and Order, because her father is played by a well known character actor, Thomas G. Waites, one gets the feeling that he'll somehow turn up later.

Therein follows a convoluted series of events involving various ethical issues that has the Law and Order moral compass spinning endlessly like a wedding ring on Conan O'Brien's desk during one of his writerless episodes.

It's not clear right away if the original target of the bomb was the unlucky security guard or one of the building's tenants. The police discover that the package was destined for a medical lab in the building called Gentech (I'm not sure of the correct spelling -- but it's certaining one of those ominous sounding, yet generic company name).

On the surface there's nothing controversial about Gentech. They just process routine tests for expectant mothers. That changes when the detectives discover that one of the people affiliated with the Lab, Dr. Hoffman, played somewhat manically by Grant Shaud (Miles from Murphy Brown), is involved controversial genetic research.

I'm not sure if it's a coincidence that his name contains the word "man", but Hoffman is a pioneer researcher in the seeking to discover a "gay gene." Because this represents a boon to the gay rights movement, the first suspect in the bombing is a radical Christian name Luke Drummond. Again, the name thing jumped out at me. "Luke" is one of the chapters in the New Testament and "Drummond" was the name of the Clarence Darrow character from Inherit the Wind. For what it's worth, "Emerson" has the word "son" in it (but I digress).

The Drummond lead appears to be a dead end.

Suspicion is then shined on the Ryan Emerson based on the fact that the Emerson marriage was a bit rocky. In this theory of the crime, Ryan and his brother Dean had the bomb delivered to the building knowing that there'd be a good chance Mrs. Emerson would be the one handling it (seemed like a stretch to me).

The motive shifts back again to Dr. Hoffman's "gay gene" research. A new moral wrinkle is added when it's explained that Hoffman's discovery could be used by expectant parents to abort unwanted gay babies. It turns out that the pregnant security guard had been given the test by Dr. Hoffman.

Dean Emerson is gay and he's afraid that the test results for his niece or nephew could out him as well. So, he arranged to blow up the good doctor before that happened. That his sister-in-law ended up with the explosive package first was an unfortunate accident.

By this point, I was a bit exhausted as, like an Agatha Christie mystery, EVERYONE seemed to have a motive.

In case we're not clear on WHAT the issue of this episode is supposed to be, Executive Assist. D. A.Michael Cutter melodramatically declares "A HA...what if it's homophobia?" ("A HA" added for emphasis).

Not to be outdone, Assistant D.A.Connie Rubirosa replies, "I think I'm going to be sick," with the same tone of righteous indignation displayed by Gannon to Friday in in the aforementioned Dragnet episode.

Don't get me wrong, balancing the right to choose between the ethics of "designer babies" and gay rights are all valid topics for discussion. However, Law and Order used to be more adept at seamlessly integrating such issues into the plot. In "Misbegotten," they ham-handed throw all these ideas into the storyline. And I know how I'm supposed to feel about it because they TELL me.

There's even a bit of Terri Schiavo thrown in at the end when Cutter and Rubirosa rush to stop Mrs. Emerson's father, Grant Shaud (I told you he'd be back) from aborting her unborn baby rather than suffer a potentially gay grandchild. The irony of Law and Order taking a pro-life stand is never really explored.

The trademark Law and Order blackout is proceeded by a discussion between McCoy and his ADAs over the ethics of Hoffman's research. I almost got the feeling that Hoffman was being vilified as much as the bombers. McCoy put things into perspective by suggesting that instead of testing for perfect babies, the world needs testing for good parents.

I object.

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