Law & Order

Season 1 Episode 11

Out of the Half-Light

5
Aired Monday 10:00 PM Dec 11, 1990 on NBC
8.4
out of 10
User Rating
53 votes
2

EPISODE REVIEWS
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Episode Summary

EDIT
Greevey and Logan's investigation into a black teenager's claim that she was raped by white policemen is hampered by a publicity-hungry black politician who will not grant the detectives access to the victim.

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SUBMIT REVIEW
  • Taking on Tawanna Brawley

    8.0
    This episode tackles on the Tawanna Brawley rape case in which the actual case,Tawanna claimed she'd been raped by white men and a couple of the perps were cops back in 1987. We had Reverend Al Sharpton and a couple of others backing her up and making a name fro themselves to the media. But,it turned out the case was a hoax because her mom and stepdad roughed her up for getting into trouble.



    In the fictional story, Greevey and Logan go to the hospital where a teen claimed she'd been raped by white cops. But,a wannabe black politician tells them to back off while he doing this for attention (Show-off). Then the detectives are taking off the case after the girl gets freaked out in church. ADA Stone and his partner Robinette take over the case in court. Robinette wants the truth,but his own people are turning their backs against him like he's sold out. He gets a break in the case when a witness told him that her parents forbid her to see her boyfriend because they have diffrent religious views. Robinette and that politician confront each other at a diner and the guy called Robinette a '***'. But the ADA defended himself by bringing up Martin Luther King Jr. walking with the seals. In the end Stone doesen't think of Robinette he sold out. Good episode.



    In the actual case,Tawanna and her parents are still standing by their story. Tawanna converted to Islam years ago. But making up a stupid story to cause racial tension on blacks and whites,she needs to kill herself.moreless
  • It doesn't have a lot of action. It doesn't even have a murder. But this is a great episode nonetheless, about an important issue.

    9.0
    The inaugural season of Law & Order had something of an advantage over later seasons in that it had a reservoir of several high-profile cases culled across the 1980s to draw from for inspiration. Many of these continue to live on in infamy, signposts marking the dark underbelly of American culture: the Menendez Brothers ("The Serpent's Tooth"), the child abuse murder of Lisa Steinberg ("Indifference"), the Boston-based Charles Stuart murder ("Happily Ever After"), and the Preppie Murder of Central Park ("Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die"). "Out of the Half-Light" takes as its inspiration the Tawana Brawley case of 1987, where a young black girl claimed she had been abducted and raped by six white police officers. The case led to increased racial tensions in New York City, before the following year a grand jury found Brawley to not be credible. Today, her story is regarded as a hoax.



    "Out of the Half-Light" similarly opens with a young black girl, Astrea Crawford, discovered in a dumpster with derogatory words scrawled all over her ("Street Meat", "Whore"). Detectives Greevey and Logan are called in to investigate the crime, and at the hospital, Astrea reveals to them that her perpetrators had been "white cops." Not too long into Greevey and Logan's investigation, their eyebrows already raised by the fact that Astrea's mother didn't file a missing person report for 3 days, they find their attempts to uncover what really happened stymied by the arrival of Congressman Ronald Eaton. Eaton is a prominent and well-respected member of the black community, but also has a reputation for an inflammatory, absolutist stance on civil rights. In reality, Eaton is probably intended to be a composite of the three main advisors of the Brawley case: Alton Maddox, lawyer C. Vernon Mason, and especially the Rev. Al Sharpton. At the first onset of his introduction, Greevey derisively refers to him as "Mr. Civil Rights Soundbyte putting on his makeup." As the episode draws on, it becomes clear that Eaton is using the Crawford incident to further his own larger political agenda. What matters to him is not so much the truth about whether Astrea was raped or not, but what he considers the more important issue: racial inequality and a system designed to conspire against and suppress African-Americans.



    Also conveyed throughout the episode, however, is that there are other hard-working and principled African-Americans who have not bought into Eaton's rhetoric. First, there is social worker Andrea Wilkes, who unlike Eaton is more interested in whether or not Astrea was raped rather than racial politics. Second is Judge Gloria Crutcher, who in a terrific scene shuts Eaton down and actually advises the Crawfords to dump him. Last but not least, of course, is Paul Robinette.



    Out of all the assistant district attorneys that have come and gone throughout the show’s history, Paul Robinette remains my personal favorite. While it is usually customary within the show's format for the Executive D.A. (Stone and later McCoy) to get to 'slay the bull,' occasionally the series lets the other principle characters save the day. For the first season, we had Greevey tricking two suspects in order to salvage a sinking prosecution ("The Violence of Summer") and Cragen, torn between loyalty and duty, exposing the crooked superior who gave him his promotions ("The Blue Wall"). "Out of the Half-Light" is Paul Robinette's episode to shine, though interestingly he only gradually emerges out of the final 10 minutes of the plot to rescue the city from Eaton.



    The eloquent writing of "Out of the Half-Light," especially in two particular scenes towards the end, is no less than outstanding and demonstrates the greatness of this show. First, there is the showdown between Robinette and Eaton in a deserted diner, with noirish stylings almost as if the two men were agents exchanging microfilm. In their secret negotiation of the Crawford case, Eaton accuses Robinette of being "another zombified mind"; a black man who has sold out to the system and who has cast his vote for "negative peace over positive peace." This is a reference to a letter Martin Luther King wrote in 1963 while imprisoned in a jail in Birmingham. 'Negative peace' means the absence of tension while 'positive peace' means the presence of justice. Robinette, familiar with the reference, replies that Eaton in his self-aggrandizement is definitely not a Martin Luther King. He argues that Eaton's absolutist attempts to uproot a 200-year old justice system are futile, and he would be more likely to exert positive changes by working to improve the system that is available, no matter how flawed it is. The second great scene is briefer, understated yet moving. Ben Stone and Robinette are walking out at the close of the work day, after Robinette defused the Crawford situation. Robinette is in self-doubt over how he handled everything and looks to Stone for counsel. Stone tells him in so many words that he can offer no easy answers, and that Robinette has to follow his own heart: "You make a decision based on something from within. You live with it, you examine it, it's all you got." It is scenes like this that affirm to me why the pairing of Robinette and Stone was among the best of the series.



    To match the writing, the acting in this episode is exceptional, particularly from guest star J.A. Preston, who brilliantly portrays in the character of Eaton a calm surface containing a seething, internalized rage. With his impeccable dress, verbal acumen, and polish, we see in Eaton that this is a man who knows exactly how important appearances are. But when he first talks to Greevey and Logan in the hospital hallway, you can practically see steam flaring from his nostrils. Richard Brooks similarly does an excellent job as Robinette, who sensitively and conscientiously navigates between his roots and helping the Crawfords, while still upholding and maintaining a sense of truth and justice.



    The story asks the familiar question: to what extent do the ends justify the means? To use a metaphor, if you were trying to get water to a city stricken with drought, do you blow up the dam, or do you try to modify the paths already in place so that the water can reach the city more effectively, though not as immediately? From the leanings of the story as presented to us, it would be understandable to simply dismiss Eaton as a rabble-rousing, self-serving charlatan, but maybe this is an easy way out. An alternate view (and perhaps the story might have been even more powerful if it had made Eaton selfless and more sympathetic) is to see reflected in the character of Eaton some trace of those who are deeply committed to a principle they truly believe in, and because of that, are not willing to compromise it and are out to achieve it by any means necessary. Note that even Robinette recognizes that Eaton's pursuit towards an ideal of racial equality is noble: "Your intentions might have been good...but your execution stunk."



    When Paul Robinette would later return in the sixth season as a guest, his position would be much more in alliance to Eaton. He refers to the conversation that he had with Ben Stone five years before—-somehow in those intervening five years, his worldview of himself as a black man practicing law had changed fundamentally. For many viewers, this character shift would prove too radical to accept, too opposite the Paul Robinette they had known and loved as a series regular. But such is the power of Law & Order to challenge and provoke.moreless
George Dzundza

George Dzundza

Sgt. Max Greevey

Dann Florek

Dann Florek

Capt. Donald Cragen

Richard Brooks

Richard Brooks

ADA Paul Robinette

Michael Moriarty

Michael Moriarty

Exec. ADA Ben Stone

Steven Hill

Steven Hill

DA Adam Schiff

Chris Noth

Chris Noth

Det. Mike Logan

J.A. Preston

J.A. Preston

Ronald Eaton

Guest Star

Kisha Miller

Kisha Miller

Astrea Crawford

Guest Star

Billie Neal

Billie Neal

Angela Wilkes

Guest Star

John Fiore

John Fiore

Tony Profaci

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions

FILTER BY TYPE

  • TRIVIA (0)

  • QUOTES (6)

    • Don Cragen: Fine! You got anything else under your hat besides speeches?
      Ben Stone: Yeeaaaah! You people are yanked off this case! This is no longer a police matter!

    • Mr. Gaines: Congressman Eaton would like to make a brief statement, Your Honor.
      Judge Crutcher: With all due respect to Congressman Eaton, he has no business in this court.
      Mr. Gaines: Justice silenced is justice denied. Your Honor.
      Judge Crutcher: Congressman Eaton, go ahead sir.

    • Mike Logan: I am just wondering how much gas this fire can take.
      Don Cragen: Meaning what?
      Mike Logan: Meaning she is the victim and we are treating her like a suspect!

    • Paul Robinette: You think I sold out?
      Ben Stone: Does it matter what I think? If it does I'll tell you, but it's something you got to decide for yourself.
      Paul Robinette: You got a 'shave yourself in the morning' speech?
      Ben Stone: Maybe. Do you think of yourself as a black lawyer, or a lawyer who's black?
      Paul Robinette: Depends on the context.
      Ben Stone: You make a decision based on something from within. You live with it, you examine it, it's all you got.
      Paul Robinette: You think by morning I'll come to love it?
      Ben Stone: No, but I don't think you'll have any problem with the guy in the mirror. See you tomorrow.

    • Ronald Eaton: You look me in the eye and you tell me this system is just. This system is equal.
      Paul Robinette: At times the system stinks, Eaton. I know that as well as you do. But don't for one damn minute tell me that your self-aggrandizing polarization is going to solve the problem. Don't tell me that tearing down a 200-year old justice system, no matter how flawed, is going to alter the consciousness of a society. Now, we're past the separate drinking-fountain stage. We're past legal discrimination. We're at the hearts and minds stage. And believe me, there's no quick fix.

    • Ronald Eaton: Another zombified soul casts his vote for order rather than justice. Negative peace over positive peace.
      Paul Robinette: Paraphrasing Martin Luther King's thoughts won't lend credence to yours. King walked with the angels...you'd slide in slime on your belly to get what you want.

  • NOTES (1)

    • International Episode Titles:
      Germany: Schwarz gegen weiß (Black Versus White)
      Czech Republic: Vystoupit z šera (Step out from the Semidarkness)

  • ALLUSIONS (3)

    • Paul Robinette: Do you think Eaton is willing to stake his whole political future on this?
      Ben Stone: If this plays out, he is a genius. He goes from gang member to rabble-rouser, from congressman to spokesperson for the entire Black community. He's an urban Horatio Alger, "Go militant, young man."

      Horatio Alger was a 19th century author known for his rags-to-riches novels. The closing quote is an allusion to the oft cited Horace Greely saying, "Go west, young man."

    • Episode title: Out of the Half-Light
      "Into the half-light" is a line from the U2 song "Bad", which is from the 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire.

    • This episode appears to be ripped from the headlines of the Tawana Brawley case. In 1987 in the small town of Wappingers Falls, Tawana Brawley was found beaten, her clothes tattered, and racial epithets written all over her body. She stated that she had been raped, despite there being no DNA evidence. It was inevitably revealed that the whole thing had been a hoax.

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