We start with a guy dying of dehydration in a prison mental ward. OK, good, ripped from the headlines start. Then we find out that Goren's nephew, who he never met, saw the death and put two and two together. OK, now we're straying from the formula. To add to the absurdity, Goren goes undercover as an inmate to find out how bad it is? What next; he'll spend his suspension in Australia chasing Nicole Wallace? Then, after he's sprung, he goes psycho on his brother and we're left with him searching fruitlessly through Times Square?
The formula for a successful L&O ep is as follows. Start with a ripped-from-the-headlines story. Add two detectives and their boss, who chase down all possible leads. For Criminal Intent, cross-cut to the criminals to add the cat-and-mouse element. Then, have the DA handle whatever legal maneuvers to resolve the story. For CI, Goren as Sherlock Holmes--brilliant, detached, relentless--worked. Goren as unstable and flouting orders from up top doesn't.