Law & Order: Los Angeles 1.04 “Sylmar” Review

When in doubt on TV, blow something up.

Heaven knows that I love a good explosion; there are times when I like to just turn my brain off and watch a big, loud action movie. Seeing a car blow up in the preview for this episode of Law & Order: Los Angeles, I thought, “Oh, that looks cool!” That was until I found out that there were two small children inside. Like others who have already commented on Twitter, I found that tasteless. It’s not encouraging when the inciting incident of an episode already leaves a bad taste in your mouth. To say nothing of the cringe-inducing last line in the teaser that Skeet Ulrich somehow manages to deliver without sounding like he’s in a PSA: “When visiting your friendly neighborhood meth lab, leave the kids at home.” I half expected NBC’s “The More You Know” music to kick in after that.

The kids’ mom was visiting an unsavory fellow named Ronnie, who had a meth lab in his garage, the explosion of which is responsible for their death. Ronnie was in possession of sixty gallons of plane fuel that can be used to blow up something even bigger. Ronnie’s sister Amy has an equally unsavory boyfriend named Terry that Rex really doesn’t like. (No one can blame Rex for being cranky since he has kids of his own.) Poking around Terry and Amy’s relationship reveals that they’re really Muslim extremists. That’s a curveball. With their motivation exposed, the question is “What were they planning to blow up?”

TJ flexes some brain in figuring out how things were going to go down (yes, an RV is a lethal weapon!) and it’s not long before the boys deduce that the bomb was intended for LAX at Thanksgiving. Rex blows a gasket (literally, Skeet Ulrich’s face is bright red) squeezing Amy, and she tells them where to find the rest of the guilty parties. A SWAT raid ensues to narrowly stop the attack, and then it’s time for the DA’s to prosecute – at least until the federal government overrules them. Dekker throws a fit (and his conviction record in the face of one military lawyer) before going on the offensive to get his case back. The way it’s written, it feels more like this is about him and his ego than anything else, especially when he gets handed a flowery speech about justice and freedom. As his boss says, we’re not so sure that Dekker hasn’t “put your personal interests above this office.”

After all that blustering and posturing, we don’t even get into a trial until the final fifteen minutes of the episode. Dekker is permanently wound, and gets to be annoying, but better him in this position than the more even-keeled Morales. I can’t imagine Alfred Molina being as loud or almost cocky. Everyone throws around the word “terrorist” a lot, in various ways, even though there are no actual terrorism charges being leveled. Dekker manages to get his murder conviction, and tells the father of the murdered kids that he and his wife are welcome to witness the perps’ potential execution. Well, that’s a bit morbid. Wisely, the man says, “We’ve seen enough.” So have I.

It’s nice to see Josh Close (Det. Cole from The Unusuals) as the father of the deceased kids, especially when he finds out that his wife was sleeping with Ronnie. You feel for him when he says, “I started the day with a wife, two beautiful kids, now I’ve got nothing.” There’s also a small cameo by Dee Wallace-Stone (Colleen on Sons & Daughters) as Ronnie’s mom, as well as Conor O’Farrell as this week’s defense counsel and Clyde Kusatsu as a judge. If anything, Law & Order: Los Angeles gets an award for digging up the most guest stars. Every week, there’s someone that I haven’t seen in a while.

However, the writing does no one any favors. Aside from the cringe-inducing line at the beginning of the episode, the script has Amy sounding like a robot from the moment we find out she’s a Muslim extremist, which is all too stereotypical. A whole chunk of the episode is devoted to the jurisdictional issues which don’t add anything to the plot. Terrence Howard can yell all he wants, but that doesn’t make what he’s saying any better, just louder. Script-wise I still find this to be the weakest of the Law & Order series – a fact not helped by SVU airing an outstanding episode right in front of it.

It didn’t entirely take me by surprise that NBC decided to order a full season of this show earlier this week. Not with the brand name and the network’s established relationship with Dick Wolf. Unfortunately, from what I’ve read here and elsewhere, the audience doesn’t have the same confidence. A great many have already checked out, and I can’t say that I blame them. Every week there’s some line of dialogue or hole in the plot that gives me pause, and the acting is hit and miss. Skeet Ulrich and Corey Stoll continue to grow on me, but they’re the only ones that do. I fear maybe we’ve reached the oversaturation point when it comes to Law & Order series. This is number seven, so maybe we’ve just had enough?

Law & Order: Los Angeles is off next week – NBC will be reairing episode two, “Echo Park,” if you missed it – so I will see you in two weeks for “Pasadena.”

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