Law & Order

Season 14 Episode 6


Aired Monday 10:00 PM Nov 05, 2003 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (2)

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  • Law & Order breaks from the usual formula in this story of an unemployed executive who swindles an elderly man out of his home.

    Episodes such as this show why Law & Order continues to win over new fans while keeping a loyal base of viewers. First of all, there is the compelling story of Lonnie Jackson, the World War II veteran who still wears a bow tie and holds the door for a lady. Mr. Jackson has worked his whole life to own his home outright, but at the point where he could actually enjoy the fruits of his labor, he begins the slow, painful slide into dementia. He has a son who dismisses him as a crazy old man, and he misses his dear wife who died in the 1970s. When Jackson is finally arrested at the predictable midpoint of the episode, this episode could have easily taken the road commonly traveled.

    But the episode's writers have an unusual twist in store, because Mr. Jackson's attorney decides the best defense may be a good offense. She seeks to have her client declared incompetent in order to prevent a murder conviction. Instead of the usual courtroom setting with attorneys grandstanding for jurors, both sides are forced to stick to the facts and the law in arguing to the judge for and against Mr. Jackson's mental capacity.

    However, it's in the episode's final minutes that the heart of the matter comes to light. Mr. Jackson's pride and independence shine through as he admits to tracking down Hitchens, the man who stole his identity and erased him from society. Mr. Jackson's assertion that Hitchens robbed him of his sense of self acts as a statement of society's younger generation and its tendency to marginalize its elders, and his eloquence captures to rage and despair it causes more accurately than a year's worth of sociological studies ever could. In the end, as it usually does, the matter gets resolved and neither side is completely happy, which is probably an indication that justice was done.
  • One of the most empathetic offenders the show has yet offered, in an emotional case of identity theft that shakes up the prosecution as much as the viewer.

    In its long history of memorable criminals, "Law & Order" has rarely offered the audience one so sympathetic that he tugs on our heartstrings. The seemingly uncomplicated murder of a young man recently terminated from his day job unearths a startling chain of criminal behavior that leads to a seventy-nine-year-old black man in Harlem. The police are convinced he murdered the man that stole his identity and used it to mortgage his house, but the charming Lonnie Jackson refuses to admit he was conned out of his property. What begins as a good-natured prosecution between his "ancient but agreeable" lawyer and the district attorney's office turns into a fierce battle prove his competency to stand trial, when his uncaring son hires the formidable talents of a popular criminal attorney to prove his father is not mentally responsible for his crimes.

    It is rare that I identify with the man on trial, but this well-written episode touches all the right strings. It presents us with the ultimate devastation of loss, of being manipulated and taken advantage of, the humiliation that comes with waking one morning to find the bailiff at your door. Even the prosecutors realize the depth of meaning behind the case, and McCoy admits publicly that he's not too keen on its nuances. If he proves Jackson competent, it only means he gets to prosecute him in court. What issues it raises revolve around identity theft but boil down to the meaning behind honor. The murder was committed because it slammed home something beyond theft, beyond deception. It went straight to the man's pride and left him stripped of dignity. Morally we know that it was wrong, but emotionally we empathize with a man who knew his son would use anything as an excuse to have him institutionalized.

    Society and the justice system have no answers for cases such as this, when a sentence of ten years in a plea bargain may just be a life sentence. The law attempts to treat everyone as equals, but sometimes that feels infinitely wrong... until we look into the faces of the victims. But it is not the face of the stricken wife that we remember, as the screen fades to black. It's the determination in the eyes of a man who sacrificed everything to regain his dignity, and it's a stirring and often disarming image.