Tuesday, October 3, 2017

REVIEW: 'Law & Order: True Crime - The Menendez Murders' - Erik Makes a Shocking Confession in 'Episode 2'

NBC's Law & Order: True Crime - The Menendez Murders - Episode 1.02 "Episode 2"

Detectives Zoeller and Linehan begin to interview the brothers' friends and acquaintances. Overcome by guilt, Erik makes a shocking confession to his psychologist, Dr. Jerome Oziel. Having overheard a therapy session with Lyle and Erik, Oziel's mistress Judalon Smyth goes to the police with a pivotal tip. As Leslie learns more about the Menendez family dynamics, she makes a move to represent the brothers.

The Menendez Murders really isn't leaving anything up for interpretation. That was abundantly clear in the first episode and is an even more profound and precise quality in the second. The creative team has made the decisions regarding what really happened in this case. They've decided what was okay and what wasn't in the handling of this high-profile investigation and subsequent trial. That is definitely affecting the way that they are telling this specific story. It's saying that the Menendez brothers definitively killed their parents, Leslie Abramson only took their case because she sympathized with the reasoning behind it and the prosecution was unfairly biased because of political ambitions. All of these elements are present in this hour. It's having an impact on the effectiveness of the narrative. The audience just needs to sit back and watch this show. It's not asking us to deal with the moral quandaries of this case. It's not asking us to determine what was right and wrong. It's simplified the whole story to make it as entertaining as possible. That's definitely one approach to telling this story. That's what the show is and we as viewers need to respect that. We can't react to it for something that it isn't. We need to judge it for what it is. As such, this episode is an improvement on the first because things are becoming more clear and full of forward momentum that actually has meaningful stakes to it.

The first episode was very melodramatic and meandering because all it needed to do was introduce the main players in this story. It lingered on all of the main characters but focused solely on their reactions to the brutal murders of Jose and Kitty Menendez. And now, the connections are starting to form regarding how people are going to have a big impact in this case while others are destined to go away very quickly thereafter. It's fascinating that the actual detectives in this case aren't all that important to the main plot. The story has definitely followed Detectives Zoeller and Linehan as they look at Erik and Lyle as suspects and no one else. But all they have are suspicions. The brothers are arrested for their crimes because of their own actions as well as someone who seems only tangentially connected to it. It's very weird. The Law & Order franchise has historical showed things from two sides: the detectives and the prosecutors. But here, the storytelling demands are quite different. In this season, the story needs to be told from the perspective of the murder suspects and defense attorneys. That's where the audience's sympathies are suppose to lie. It's just forced into happening because the show doesn't spend a whole lot of time on the detectives or the prosecutors. It's basically just hitting the necessary plot points to make it seem like they are at least competent at their jobs and actually doing them.

But Erik and Lyle are only arrested because Erik breaks down and tells Dr. Oziel about what truly happened that night. That's the turning point in this story. It's a necessary pivot as well because it allows things to finally start moving. That action is him breaking down and needing to release some of this stress and emotion to someone else in this world. He doesn't feel comfortable with Lyle because he's controlling like their father was. He doesn't feel any better after being with him and talking things out even though the two can only trust each other. Dr. Oziel has been helpful in the past and may be here as well. Of course, there isn't actually any time to determine if that's the case. It's immediately played as Lyle threatening Oziel which forces him to fear for his and his family's safety. It's a tense sequence. One that shows just how threatening and dangerous the brothers are capable of being. Oziel has a right to be concerned. But then, the next scene features all of them sitting down and being perfectly civil with each other. It's very strange. The show is asking the audience to make these leaps in plot because it has a lot of story to get through. As such, everything is feeling a little rushed with no specific moment actually being able to land well. It's to be assumed that the brothers saw Oziel for awhile. He has tapes of their sessions. Those tapes will be important. But none of that is seen onscreen. The brothers sit down once and then are off to live their extravagant lives.

Plus, Oziel's story is pretty broad and ridiculous as well. The show is keeping to the real details of the case. Oziel had a mistress who knew about the Menendez confession and went to the police with the information after he broke up with her. But here, Judalon is dramatized as nothing more than an unhinged woman prone to epic displays of life-or-death actions just to get Oziel's attention. It's not subtle at all. She tries killing herself to pull him closer. She moves in with him and his family because she's psychotic. She's upset that Oziel isn't pushing his wife away fast enough. She threatens to go to the police. He threatens her back. It's all straight out of a soap opera. The ending is suppose to resonant because it's the key action that makes the case against the brothers. They can be arrested for murder because Judalon comes forward and the police seize the tapes from Oziel's home. But it feels more like the show hitting the necessary plot points instead of telling an entertaining story. It tries to scandalous Oziel and Judalon by making them these broad characters. It's just not compelling or intriguing to watch at all. It just embraces storytelling sensibilities that seem out of place in this world. Josh Charles carries himself well dealing with this material. In fact, he's quite compelling to watch when acting opposite the brothers. But too much of this weird story is saddled on him and Heather Graham. There's simply no escaping it.

And yet, things have an uptick near the end of the episode because Leslie finally sits down with the Menendez brothers. That's been the main objective of these episodes so far. Leslie has been intrigued by this case. The show makes sure to point out the compassion she has for her clients. She's able to do her job effectively no matter what they have done. But now, it's important that she connects with Erik. She wants to represent him because she understands his motivation for his actions. She was searching for that meaning in this case. It's because of that knowledge that she feels comfortable mounting this defense. It's a very crucial sequence at the end of this episode. The brothers have a lawyer who is willing to fight for them. So far, they've largely been dealing with things on their own because their lawyer was aloof and not making much of a difference. Now, a random conflict of interest comes up which forces Leslie to take the case. It's not really explained what happened. It's just important that Leslie is in that room with the brothers. She has opinions about what's been happening in this case. She's questioned the decisions made by their legal team. So, she's inspired to do her best to get them the best possible deal. The show continues to confirm that the brothers need a good deal. Leslie has just joined this team and will be leading it up. But her judgment is already being decided by the stories of abuse within this family unit. It's not abundantly clear what all the brothers actually tell her. It's just important that she forms a bond with them - especially Erik. Meanwhile, things are more apparent for the audience because we see yet another flashback that shows just how cruel Jose could be even when other people were around. It all makes it so it's empowering to see Leslie on those steps in the end calling into question the prosecution's handling of this case. She believes they have a weak case but are trying to come down hard on the brothers because of the upcoming election. It's an understandable aspect of this story. It still just feels very manipulative and pointed without much nuance.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Episode 2" was written by René Balcer and directed by Lesli Linka Glatter.
  • The passage of time and where the characters are in the world are things that this show isn't doing well at all. There's no sense of how long it has been since the murders took place. Meanwhile, the characters are just jumping around all over the globe. First, they are in Los Angeles. Then, they are in the East Coast. Then, Erik is just randomly in Israel when he needs to surrender to the authorities.
  • Erik's surrender is negotiated by Robert Shapiro. That name is recognizable but is such an afterthought in this story. In fact, Leslie doesn't have many nice things to say about him at all because she believes Erik's surrender could have been negotiated in a different way. It ultimately feels like a buzzword to include in order to get the audience excited.
  • Things seem very erratic in Erik and Lyle's personal lives as well. It's not a creative decision either. It just feels like the show is just jumping around all over the place because it wants to include many details in this story. So, Lyle has friends all over the country who may or may not be good for him in the aftermath of his parents' murders. Meanwhile, Erik just randomly has a girlfriend for a moment only to never be seen again.
  • Erik seemingly confessed to the crime to his best friend as well. He went into detail about what happened that night. And yet, the police can't use any of that. So, they convince him to wear a wire. The two go to lunch. But Erik is back to just being a regular guy who isn't an emotional mess at all. So, it's just a false lead for the detectives to pursue.
  • The family is still being supportive of Erik and Lyle. That's mostly represented through Constance Marie's Marta, the brothers' aunt. She's worried about them and their spending habits. But still ultimately agrees to pay for everything they need. She arranges to be on the plane with Erik when he surrenders to the police as well.
  • Okay, it's just incredibly forced to have Erik and Lyle in two cells next to each other. It allows them to be close even when this life-changing event happens to them. They committed this crime together. And now, they are reunited in jail. It allows things to be symmetrical but defies any kind of rational explanation.