Once upon a time I wouldn't have been able to wait for this story to get ripped from the headlines and turn up as an episode on Law and Order.
A Long Island couple - who trolled a "swingers" Web site for partners - cooked up a scheme to turn their carnal fantasies into illegal profits: They secretly videotaped and photographed sex they had with consenting adults they met online and forced them to pay up or risk seeing their images in public, Nassau police said yesterday.
One woman shelled out $51,000 to keep the images from getting into the hands of her husband, Nassau police said. That woman, 47, from upstate New York, and a Garden City man, 43, who also was married, were the first alleged victims to turn up in an initial investigation. The two victims did not know one another.
But judging by the large number of seized snapshots and video, dozens more across New York State fell prey to the scheme.
Some are well-known men and women who have been contacted by investigators after a few were recognized in the provocative images, police said.
"We are contacting people with reputations to uphold," said Det. Lt. Ray Cote of Nassau's Third Squad. He declined to name names.
Well-known here means well-known to the Nassau cops. Could be people the cops recognized from TV or the news, celebrities of some kind. More likely it's people they know from around town, prominent businessmen and women, local politicians, pastor at some detective's church, principal of some deputy chief's kids' school. Law and Order would have glammed them up, though, whoever they were.
Question would have been which of the two extortionists would have been found dead (and where and in what quirky but mundane manner by what type of New Yorker) at the opening of the show.
The guy, probably. Looking into his background would reveal the more interesting serio-comic criminal past:
Police sources, court records and police records indicate Largue as the financier who in 1998 duped NHL officials to wine and dine him when he made an offer to buy the Edmonton Oilers.
And you'd want to have his female partner around, after having been caught in flagrante by Briscoe and Logan and hauled out of bed in a teddy or a short nightie (It's the mid-90s in this scenario. Teddies and short nighties were still the fashion for women being caught in flagrante. These days it's a bra and panties, if anything. Don't you keep up?), so she can spill all the prurient details while she's being interrogated. Women talking about their sexual kinks are sexier than men talking about theirs. On TV anyway. I'm sorry, I don't make the rules.
Since the show would likely air during sweeps, the murderer would be a woman too so she could be forced to talk about her sexual kinks and McCoy and Kincaid could look at videos and photographs of her in her teddy or short nightie. McCoy and Kincaid might exchange a line or two of dialog hinting at their affair and Kincaid's taste in teddies and short nighties.
Story might still turn up on one of the Law and Order franchises but I'm not likely to watch it. If it shows up on Criminal Intent, I'd plan to watch it, but NBC has been monkeying around with the scheduling so much that I'd probably miss it, thinking that they were showing another repeat this week. But if it shows up on the original Law and Order I'll miss it just because I've missed every single episode but one so far this season.
For the first few weeks of the season, I was blaming NBC for this.
I thought---still think---the network moved Law and Order to the Friday night graveyard slot as a way of hiding it from its regular audience. The plan was for the show to take a dive. NBC wanted it off the air, but they couldn't cancel it outright while it was popular so they decided to make it unpopular.
So I cursed NBC and went about my business on Friday nights, business that has not included watching network television at 10 o'clock at night since Homicide left that time slot. If I'd had Tivo, I told myself, I would have Tivo-ed it. But without it, sayonara Jack, adios Ed, nice knowing you Van Buren.
At some point though I remembered I still own a VCR.
If I'd really wanted to keep up with Law and Order, I'd be keeping up.
Not to get into a critique of the show, not going to make a list of all the ways the show has slid since it's glory days, except to note that on tonight's episode there's an Ann Coulter-like character who incites a murder---ripped from the headlines. You might remember how a couple years ago Coulter attempted to incite her fans in the audience to attack and beat up protesters. Of course, she was only joking.---and I expect that the whole point of the show will be Jack McCoy's big speech to the jury lecturing/hectoring them on the limits of free speech. The writers have become adept at having McCoy make Right Wing authoritarian points while still masquerading as a liberal.
Which isn't to say that if Coulter had managed to Lady Macbeth one of her bully boy fans into taking a baseball bat to somebody in the crowd that day she should not have been locked up. I'm just saying McCoy has become a self-righteous scold with dubious views on civil rights and the presumption of innocence and the humanity of the criminals he prosecutes, and this is presented as admirable.
Meanwhile...the sad fact---sad to me, and sad as in all good things must come to end, that's life---I lost interest in Law and Order when Lennie Briscoe packed up and left.
Briscoe---and Jerry Orbach---had become the reason for the show in my mind. And it wasn't just that I enjoyed the show because of them. I had come to see the show as being Lennie's story.
Law and Order was The Ballad of Lennie Briscoe, and when that song was sung, the tale was told, and the show was done.
Worked like this, and keep in mind this is purely my imagination at work. I have no real reason to think Dick Wolf saw his show unfolding in this way:
Our story starts before Lennie appears on the scene, before he's even named. Heroes' stories often begin before their births---Luke Skywalker is the hero of the Star Wars saga right from first shot of The Phantom Menace, and please don't try to talk to me about all the Chosen One nonsense. Anakin is there and fails in order to make way for Luke.---Lennie, not being a classical hero, has his story begin the day Mike Logan's first partner, Max Greevy, is murdered.
Once upon a time, there was a great New York City detective, one of the best on the force, who let himself fall on hard times. He became a drunk. He got sloppy, not just in his work, but in his character. He wasn't corrupt himself. But he looked the other way when he saw corruption in others. He came very close to getting himself thrown off the force.
All this happened before Mike Logan became a homicide detective.
Logan was another great talent. He had it in him to go on to join the elite of the elite, the Major Case Squad (where he now works), but he was hotheaded and careless and a little too full of himself.
He had a good partner. Greevy taught him how to be a better detective. But Greevy was beaten down and cynical and too much of a hothead himself. He could help Logan refine his skills, develop his talent. He couldn't teach him self-control.
That job was left to Logan's next partner, Phil Ceretta.
Ceretta, not to go all Joseph Campbell here, was the wise old man who teaches the hero the secret. Ceretta began teaching Logan the discipline necessary to being not just a good cop but a good man. Mainly Ceretta tried to teach Logan respect. For himself, for his job, for the city they worked for, for the people they had to deal with, for the cultures of the streets they walked, for the traditions and histories of the place.
Unfortunately, he couldn't finish. Ceretta was shot in the line of duty and had to retire from the force.
The stage is now set for the return of the hero.
Some angel has decided that Briscoe's days in exile are over. It's time for him to come back. He's partnered with Logan.
Who likes him ok, but really has no use for him. He knows Briscoe's past and he can see that Lennie's not what he was before he crawled into a bottle and doesn't see enough evidence that Lennie's crawled all the way out yet.
At any rate, as far as Logan's concerned, he's already had two of the best partners any cop could ever hope to have. No way anybody, especially a guy like Briscoe, could measure up to Greevy and Ceretta.
Logan doesn't think he needs another mentor, so he treats Briscoe as just what he's supposed to be, his partner. His equal. Sometimes. More often he takes the lead himself. He treats Briscoe as his sidekick. A Little John not a Chingatchgook. Someone to rely on as a right arm, not someone to learn from.
I'm not imposing this, by the way. It's there in Orbach's first season. You can see him holding back, standing off to the side, deferring to Chris Noth. That was written into the scripts. The writers were treating Noth as what he'd become, the star of the show. That's what got Noth fired. Dick Wolf didn't want his show to have stars in the usual sense. He didn't want his show to become Noth's show.
Logan takes the lead in their investigations, which is fine with Briscoe. For one thing, Logan is an inspired detective. He's the better detective. As things stand. Briscoe knows he's rusty. He knows he's lost his edge. He needs to re-learn how to do the job. He's not there to teach. He's there to be taught.
It turns out that Logan's role in the story is to be the character who saves Briscoe, who leads him back to what he was. It's the legend of the Fisher King told from the king's point of view instead of Percevale's.
Over time, Briscoe begins to challenge Logan. Orbach really moves more to the center of the screen and he starts getting the best lines. He stops being a sidekick and becomes Logan's partner, his equal, which means being as good a detective. Since Logan is one of the best, that means that Briscoe is one of the best too.
But things continue. Briscoe, in returning to himself, naturally becomes better than Logan.
And he's learned things from watching Logan that help make him even better than he was.
Because Logan hadn't finished his apprenticeship, because he'd lost Ceretta too soon, he isn't ready.
He's still careless, still full of himself, still a hothead. He begins to get himself into trouble.
Briscoe sees what's happening and it worries him. It scares him too. He still feels he needs Logan to keep him steady. He starts doing something he hasn't done before. He tries to teach. He tries to set an example. He becomes...the responsible one.
And when Logan finally self-destructs, punches that city councilman and gets himself exiled to Staten Island, Lennie finds himself ready to be on his own.
He comes into his own.
He's partnered with Rey Curtis who is neither an apprentice or an equal. Curtis is a sidekick. Lennie is the detective.
For a couple of seasons, he's the hero a flawed hero, but this is Law and Order not a fairy tale. We've reached the apotheosis of Lennie Briscoe. He has only one more job to do before his story's completed.
He has to become the wise old man.
Rey leaves. Ed Green arrives.
With Ed, Lennie is presented with a version of his young self, an extremely talented young cop with a self-destructive streak. Ed's a gambler, not a drinker, but his money problems are working away at his character and self-control as corrosively as the booze did on Lennie's. And Ed has cut himself off from his family and isolated himself from friends on the force. He's been given a promotion he hasn't truly earned and he knows it and he resents it. It makes him simultaneously cocky and self-hating and it's hard to tell if the recklessness he immediately begins to exhibit stems from his determination to prove himself as fast as possible or from an impulsive desire to fail as soon as possible to get it over with and out of the way.
It becomes Lennie's job to pull Ed back from the brink and turn him into the great detective he has the talent and intelligence to be.
That's the storyline that was never as well developed as I'd hoped it would be. Ed's character flaws got smoothed over too fast. It was during the seasons when Ed and Lennie were together that the show began its decline into movie of the week salaciousness and sanctimony.
It was more a failure of the writers and of Dick Wolf that by the time Jerry Orbach left, Ed had been cleaned up and made thoroughly respectable and Jesse L. Martin had been turned into a run of the mill heart throb in a run of the mill cops and robber show.
But I still prefer to imagine that it took many more episodes for this to be accomplished. And I prefer to imagine that when Lennie finally retired, several years later, Ed had become not a run of the mill TV cop show hero, but a fine detective, a younger version of Lennie at a different stage in his hero's progress, when he was partnered with Curtis and Orbach was the star of the show.
Maybe that's why I never cottoned to Dennis Farina's character. He was occupying the spot Ed should have held. Wolf should have made Jesse L. Martin the lead. That's the point that Lennie's story had reached. Briscoe's tale was done when Green was ready to take over. The cycle was ready to begin again.
With Farina's character gone, it looks as though Green has now taken over the role he should have had when Briscoe left. But I don't know because I'm not drawn in. The story's over for me. It was Lennie's tale and the tale has been told.
I'm now caught up in another story. The one that paralleled Lennie's.
The one that was seemingly interrupted when Dick Wolf fired Chris Noth. The one that is continuing on Criminal Intent.
If NBC would ever let them run another new episode.
I want to see Logan solve the case of the murdering swingers.
I tend to think of swingers, when I think of them, as inventions of TV shows and movies and detective novels. They're convenient for getting kinky sex into the story and giving almost plausible motives for murder to "respectable" characters. I'm always a little bit shocked---shocked!---when I'm reminded that there are swingers in real life.
And after I'm done being shocked, I'm always a little bit disappointed. The swingers never turn out to be anywheres near as sexy as they are on TV. They are, in fact, usually rather sad and tawdry people. The Newsday story includes the mug shots of the lover-extotionists and they are not exactly beautiful people. It makes me wonder how desperate you'd have to be to have been drawn in by this pair.
It really makes me wonder about the "well-known" people who were drawn in.
But they were drawn in. And they were really swingers. Or wanted to be. So they're out there. Not just on TV. And not just on Long Island.
They're swinging up in Schenectady.
I grew up near Schenectady.
It's the last place you'd expect to find swingers.
And they're loud and proud too, apparently. Well, proud anyway. Maybe not so loud:
SCHENECTADY -- Three months after the City Council passed legislation to end risque parties at his inn, Union Street Bed & Breakfast owner Bob Alexson said he's still hosting adult gatherings there and that he's received no indication the city is trying to close him down.
Alexson said he still holds the weekend parties for swingers despite threats from city officials to cite him for violating an ordinance that the city contends requires the gatherings be held in industrial zones.
"Same as always. I'm not changing. I'm not doing anything wrong," he said.
"I'm having more people come there than ever," he said, "but it's real quiet."