Doctor-patient confidentiality can't fix everything
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders - Season 1
Credit: Justin Lubin/NBC

The majority of the action in the second episode of Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders is divided between the detectives, who are working to build a case against the Menendez brothers, and the brothers themselves — how they’re coping and the tactics that ultimately seal their guilt in the eyes of the police. By the end of the hour, Lyle and Erik are officially in jail for the murder of their parents, and we’re finally getting into the “law” portion of Law & Order.Here’s how all the pieces fall into place to propel us into the years of trials that will dominate the remainder of the show.

We continue to get glimpses at Leslie Abramson’s pre-Menendez life, and she goes above and beyond for her clients. She visits her client from the previous episode in jail after he’s beaten up and washes the blood off his face herself. She convinces him to take a plea deal, and he expresses his utmost trust in her.

But life is not all a bowl of cherries for Abramson — her husband is frustrated with her inability to separate her work and home life. They meet for lunch, and she immediately locks in on coverage of the Menendez brothers on television. Abramson is still convinced they did it, but she wants to know why, given their track record as polite young men who were good athletes/students. “People like that don’t just wake up and turn into Charlie Manson,” she observes. Leslie is leaning hard on convincing us that there was something deeper at play here than just two individuals with homicidal tendencies.

Detectives Zoeller and Linehan are determined to prove their theory that the brothers are behind the murders. Pam Bozanich points out their lack of evidence and puts pressure on them: Her boss, D.A. Ira Reiner, is running for Attorney General and will want flashy headlines and arrests to aid in his election campaign.

A call from one of Lyle’s best friends at Princeton might just be the lead they need to break the case wide open. They travel all the way to New York City just to interview this friend, who says he and Lyle bonded over their “hard-ass” fathers. In black-and-white flashback, he reveals that Lyle told him he wanted to kill his father for hurting his mother by having an affair. Meanwhile, Lyle is still over-spending and trying to jumpstart his buffalo wing restaurant business, while Erik is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He wants to move out of the murder mansion, and Lyle promises to take care of him.

The detectives go to interview Uncle Carlos and Aunt Terry again — as luck would have it, Erik and Lyle are in the house, so the detectives wrangle them into kitchen-table interrogations. They give Lyle the “bad cop” routine, probing him on the expensive watch he bought after his parents’ death and where the movie ticket stubs from the night of the murder are. With Erik, it’s all “good cop,” promising to be nice to him and pushing him to open up until he agrees to call his psychiatrist and ask him to share his files with the police. Erik also reveals he still has suicidal tendencies by asking the police if they would have shot him if he came out of the house with a gun the night of the murder. Lyle comes in to end the interrogation party and take charge, and he is not happy. Later that same night, their family lawyer, Gerald Chaleff, calls the detectives to warn them off any further interviews without his presence.

Back in Princeton, the detectives — who are really racking up those cross-country flight expenses — interview Lyle’s business partner and friend Glenn Stevens. They tell Glenn that Lyle and Erik are suspects, but he doesn’t give them anything useful, aside from the fact that Lyle wears a wig and has since high school because he’s going bald. (God, now I feel terrible for making fun of his haircut last week.) But the real gameplan here is to play the brothers’ friends against them like pawns, so the detectives also give Glenn permission to talk to reporters. Like clockwork, Glenn tells the L.A. Times the boys are suspects and they print it, which Detective Zoeller then tries to use against Erik to tease out further information.

Instead, Erik turns to Lyle, begs him to let him move, and bemoans the newspaper story. Lyle reminds him that their father taught them to master their emotions, so Erik goes to church and looks at images of the crucifixion and the Stations of the Cross to calm down. Ah, Catholic guilt, hello old friend.

Here’s where things get complicated. Erik calls Dr. Oziel in a panic, and when they meet the next day, Erik repeats his suicidal thoughts. The reason he wants to kill himself? He and Lyle killed their parents. “We did it. We did it,” he intones. But because of patient-doctor privilege, Dr. Oziel cannot go to the police with the information. And to be honest, he doesn’t really want to — coercing the brothers into mandatory therapy sessions is a far more lucrative option.

Lyle rushes to Dr. Oziel’s office, where the doctor says Erik told him everything. Still in a fragile state, Erik says he had to tell somebody because of his overwhelming desire to kill himself. Dr. Oziel promises he won’t go to the police, but Lyle still runs off and wishes the doctor “good luck” in a menacing tone. Covering all his bases, Dr. O calls his wife and tells her to take the girls to a hotel for safety and then dictates the details of his session with the brothers to tape, à la Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity.

Erik apologizes to Lyle, and Lyle mysteriously asks, “You didn’t tell him, did you?” TELL HIM WHAT, LYLE? WHAT??? Erik says no, and Lyle promises to keep taking care of everything. (Recap continues on page 2)

The boys go back to Dr. Oziel together for joint therapy sessions to “work out the issues that led [them] to kill their parents.” The good doctor essentially blackmails them into attending sessions multiple times a week (or at least, paying for them) and persuades them that records of the sessions could demonstrate remorse in a trial. Lyle admits his family was a “disaster,” while Erik still grapples with killing his innocent mother — to which, Dr. Oziel replies that he “did her a favor” because of her depression. Yeah, um, can we get this guy’s medical license revoked?

Back in detective land, Zoeller and Linehan are being pressured by the D.A. to find damning evidence against the boys. The D.A. believes they already ruined the case by not putting more pressure on them from day one. Not to mention that he’s doing some seriously restructuring of his staff (including Pam Bozanich) after the high-profile McMartin preschool molestation case ended in mistrial. Reiner is out for blood — or at least someone with blood on their hands.

So, they try a new, more extreme tactic – they put a wire on Erik’s friend Craig (the one who co-wrote the patricidal screenplay) to see if he can get Erik to confess over lunch. Craig is unsuccessful in his undercover snare — Erik instead recounts seeing his parents in heaven during a healing mass and insists he’s innocent. In general, Erik appears to stabilize — he has a new girlfriend, Noelle; he has plans to go to the Tel Aviv Open and play tennis professionally; and he wants Marta to keep paying the bills for Dr. Oziel because he’s so helpful.

Things start to get even messier for Dr. Oziel when his mistress, Judalon, makes an elaborate suicide attempt and begs him to find a way for them to live together. He does the super reasonable thing and invites her to come stay with his wife and children. She overstays her welcome by asking Dr. O for money, and he threatens to kick her out. But Judalon thinks she holds a trump card — if he does kick her out, she’ll go to the police and tell them the Menendez brothers confessed. His retort? He’ll tell the brothers she turned them in, and her life will be in danger. Dr. Oziel is already reluctant to part with the hefty session fees he’s receiving. But Judalon doesn’t take the hint — she tells Oziel’s children about the affair and says she will replace their mother, prompting her swift booting from the house.

It doesn’t take long for Judalon to make good on the whole “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” thing: Her lawyer calls Detective Zoeller and tells him there are tapes of the brothers confessing. When Oziel gets home, D.D.A. Elliott Alhadeff is raiding his home for tapes and other evidence with all necessary warrants. Oziel makes an impassioned plea to a video camera that he did not violate confidentiality.

That’s all the police need. Soon, Lyle is under arrest and Erik is being flown home from Israel to surrender per the arrangements of some little-known, not-at-all-important lawyer named Robert Shapiro. Erik and Lyle are soon imprisoned in cells with a shared wall (so close, so close and yet so faaa-aar), which seems like the police just asking for them to continue to plot things together.

Ladies and gentleman (the moment you’ve been waiting for) — Leslie Abramson finally meets the Menendez brothers. She is furious that Shapiro surrendered Erik without any pre-conditions and that they were arrested based on evidence protected under patient-doctor privilege. Abramson visits the boys in prison with her usual maternal routine and trail mix, trying to feel them out. Erik starts crying (props to you, Gus Halper, for the sheer amount of times you have to cry in an episode), and she makes a firm promise: “Whatever you did or did not do, I will not let you get rolled over.” She advises both Erik and Lyle to not speak with anyone but their lawyer about their case from now on.

Leslie meets with their aunt Marta to make her offer: She wants to lead the defense for both boys, while specifically representing Erik. Like a kid with a scab, she keeps picking at the notion that something drove the brothers to this extreme. Marta reveals their father used to hold “Jeopardy dinners” where he quizzed the boys in front of the whole family and hurled homophobic epithets at Erik for the way he ate his food. This is all Abramson needs to hear.

We end the episode with dueling press conferences — D.A. Reiner announces the Menendez brothers have been charged for two counts of murder with special circumstances and explains why he could overlook patient-doctor privilege in this case. Across town, Abramson rails against the detectives’ violation of the brothers’ 6th amendment rights and argues their disrespect of doctor-patient privilege should be a warning bell for anyone who values their privacy.

Ding, ding, ding — round one goes to Abramson, and we have a hell of a fight on our hands.

Episode Recaps

Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders
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