Now it’s official. Law & Order: SVU is on the crazy train, jumping tracks and stranding passengers in Nowheresville. Some of us (okay, mainly me) carped about Christine Lahti’s role as fill-in ADA Sonya Paxton from the beginning. When she wasn’t belittling Stabler (Christopher Meloni) she was sneering at Benson (Mariska Hargitay) or taunting suspects, all the while teary-eyed and callow. The character was inconsistent, insulting, and insufferable. Wednesday night we learned it was all, theoretically, because she’s a lush. Oh, let us rewind this one, because there was plenty to gnash at in this episode appropriately titled “Hammered.”

It started well, as anything guest-starring Scott Foley would. (I was a fan of The Unit until that, too, no longer pointed north.) Dalton Rindell (Foley) woke up on his bathroom floor, a gash on his forehead, blood on his walls, and a dead lady in his apartment. We soon learned that the lady was an abortion doctor (the episode’s red herring) and that she’d left a bar with Dalton after he suffered through a feral meeting of real-estate investors, pissed that he and his partner weren’t delivering on an apartment building they promised. Of course, Dalton remembered none of this, what with his killer hangover. All of which brings us to our Defense Issue of the Week: the altered brain chemistry of alcoholics. Now, I have no intention of wading into that morass (and I’m getting pretty tired of watching everyone in the squad room do it too—it’s so forced and false they way the “debate” every salient societal issue). My only criticism of the episode is that it set up Sonya’s exit in a ridiculous way.

There she was at the bar, waiting for Benson and Stabler, piously hammering at Dalton’s credibility while tossing back more than a few drinks. The irony was so thick it was smothering. Naturally, she stumbled into court the next morning, and rather than simply telling the judge she was ill—as any semi-competent lawyer would—she vowed to fight on with half her brain cells tied behind her back. Dalton came to his takes-one-to-know-one senses, and informed the court that she was drunk. Then, in what was truly a thrilling lapse in common courtroom procedure, the judge ordered Benson to give Sonya a Breathalyzer in open court. No, not in his chambers, where all such sensitive conversations usually take place—in open court! I ask you, faithful Coppers, what can the writers be thinking?

Christine Lahti is too good an actress to waste on ill-conceived characterization and bad plotting. It wasn’t fair to her, and it certainly wasn’t fair to us. It’s also a shame because Foley did some pretty nice work in that episode, only to be forced to play straight man to Lahti’s sad clown. The best we can say is that they’ve done well to rid us of ADA Sonya Paxton. At least for now.

Fortunately, not everything in the procedural universe was mishandled this week.

The more I watch Laurence Fishburne on CSI as Ray Langston, the more the guy grows on me. I really appreciated that the character didn’t jump into the fray and assume the shooter cop was racist, or that the shooting was racially motivated. He casts a scientist’s eye on things, rather than jumping to more visceral conclusions, unlike his own colleagues. The show needs someone with that kind of rational distance, especially with Grissom (William Petersen) gone. And by the way, should SVU need examples, this is how you do complicated characterization: Ultimately, did Officer Finn (Jack Blessing) have race-based animosity toward the people he swore to protect? Yep. Did those people exacerbate that tendency? Yep. Nicely done.

The Mentalist also came in with another solid episode that I really appreciated at the end. What’s fun about Jane (Simon Baker) is just how many tricks he’s got in his fake-psychic bag, one of which is the power of suggestion. During the episode I didn’t pick up on how carefully he planted the idea of a mole in the minds of the bikers. But man, did it pay off in the end when he went to set up biker boss McBride (Mark Pellegrino) as an informant. It’s a lovely little coda when, in the case of a bad guy eluding the law, he manages to make their lives hell anyway. Plus, it’s always a pleasure to see Third Watch’s Molly Price.

On this last one I need your help. I confess that I don’t know how I should feel about the whole Ziva-drops-Mossad plot on NCIS. On one hand, I liked the tick-tock on what went down on the boat—that was solid stuff. But since Ziva (Cote de Pablo) didn’t actually do anything wrong, I don’t understand why it’s taken four episodes (and well into the fourth one) for her to spill. Why all the ominous be-careful-whose-side-you’re-on comments to Ducky (David McCallum)? I guess my issue is that she, herself, seemed to foment the idea that she’d committed some sort of unforgivable act on that boat, when she hadn’t. (What happened once she got to Somalia is perhaps a different story.) But can someone explain it to me? And tell me how you feel about this whole arc? I need help processing.

While you’re at it, tell me whether you’re into CSI: NY’s Compass Killer, liked Criminal Minds’ foray into pack behavior, or have high hopes for tonight’s Numb3rs, since it looks like an early Halloween episode. I think I like that show best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. And hey—let’s be careful out there.

The Mentalist
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