Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Season 12 Episode 18


Aired Wednesday 9:00 PM Feb 23, 2011 on NBC

Episode Recap

When blood is found spattered on a white canvas in an artist's apartment, the detectives are called in to investigate. The apartment above the artist's gallery houses the body of Ellen Sazelin, the CEO of a wine seller named Luscious Grape. She bled to death from a cut on her neck caused by a glass shard. Indication of forced entry in her anus and a high blood alcohol level suggest that she was raped while drunk.

Benson and Stabler interview Ellen's neighbors, who describe her as quiet. One neighbor accuses the artist (Andreas) of being the culprit, but he ends up having an alibi. Out of leads, the detectives head for Ellen's company in order to interview the people who worked for her.

Luscious Grape seems a fantastic place to work, according to the employees. Annette Charbonneau is Ellen's business partner and the public face of the company and she considered herself a close friend of Ellen. Annette claims that Ellen kept to herself most of the time, but she was also close with Bruce Clarkson, who is the company's head of advertising.

When interviewed, Bruce reveals that he's gay, so he had no romantic interest in Ellen. Still, Ellen joined Bruce and his circle of friends, and Bruce convinced her to go to AA with him when she came drunk to work. She'd been sober for 5 years, which is why Bruce was shocked to hear that there was alcohol found in Ellen's bloodstream.

Fin checks on Ellen's phone records, discovering that she received many calls from a single number. The calls came from a number associated with My Leather Fantasy, a store which specializes in selling Italian leather goods. Stabler and Fin track down the owner, Juan Alvarez, but he flees before they can nab him. Juan ends up getting shot in the gut by a man named Dennis, who accuses Juan of killing his wife.

Fin finds out that Dennis's wife had Alzheimer's and mistakenly ordered $5000 worth of goods from Juan's store. Juan refused to take the purchases back, and also began to call her day and night demanding that she pay. She became terrified of the phone and one day her heart gave out and she died. Still, Juan could not have killed Ellen because he was harrassing another customer.

Warner suggests that Ellen's wounds may be accidental or self-inflicted. Ellen also suffered from the impulsive need to pull out her hair, trichotillomania, which suggests that she was under a lot of stress. The detectives go back to Luscious Grape to talk with the employees again. Bruce claims to not know why Ellen was stressed. Corrine, the receptionist, didn't interact much with Ellen. Justin, from sales, also claimed to not know Ellen very well. And wine expert David claims that he loves working for the company and doesn't know about anything bad that might have been happening with Ellen.

Morales uncovers several files which depict Annette verbally and physically abusing her employees. She even grabs Ellen at one point and drags her into her office. The detectives realize that no one wants to say a bad word about Annette because they're afraid of her.

Benson and Stabler show Annette the video, but she's unmoved, insisting that the footage was somehow doctored. When given proof that the footage is real, Annette then says that she was driven to do what she did because of Ellen. Unfortunately, since there are no charges being put on Annette at the moment, she is free to leave.

As the detectives do more digging, it's clear that Annette has been giving her employees gifts and bonuses to keep quiet. Huang even suggests that they have a version Stockholm Syndrome, where they must create an emotional bond with their abuser so that they can survive. Benson suggests that her employees are just greedy. Stabler finds out from a contact in the SEC that Luscious Grape is about to be bought by a multi-national corporation. Fin discovers that one of Ellen's videos is being aired on the news. Apparently she'd sent them the footage as well.

Annette ends up being yelled at wherever she goes, but when she turns to the detectives for help, they're hesitant. Annette should suffer a little of the bullying that Ellen and the rest of the employees survived through. The news reports that the buyout of Luscious Grape has been canceled. Annette calls a press conference, where she verbally abuses everyone and then shoots herself in the head, claiming that they drove her to do it.

Word comes to the detectives that Bruce was the victim of a hit and run. At the hospital, he claims he didn't know who hit him, but surveillance footage shows that he was talking to someone in the car before it hit him, and that someone was Corrine, the receptionist.

The detectives separate Bruce and Corrine before questioning them, with Corrine claiming that Bruce ruined their plan by killing Ellen. Bruce claims that Ellen was dead when he found her. The employees confess that they had a plan to accept Annette's bribes and keep quiet about her abuse until after the buyout, when they'd all get huge bonuses. They worried about Ellen because she'd already started to become unhinged from stress, and Ellen wanted to show the world what Annette was really like. This would screw up the buyout, so the rest of the employees put together a plan to stop Ellen.

Warner finds out that Ellen didn't have any alcohol in her stomach, which was strange since her blood alcohol level was well above the legal limit. On the lip of the broken bottle are cells which are only found in the anus. Warner says that alcoholics use this method to bypass the stomach and allow the alcohol to get absorbed by the bloodstream quicker, which gets them drunk faster.

The detectives go back to wine expert Justin, who says that he did go to Ellen's apartment to try and seduce her. He ended up shoving her, which caused her to trip and fall, and drove the shard of glass into her neck. He made her drunk to suggest that what happened to her was an accident. Annette wasn't directly responsible for Ellen's death, but she did make everyone else as much of a bully as she was.