‘Ripped from the headlines’ episode nails it

Column

Last Wednesday, NBC’s hit drama “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” premiered an episode that was “ripped from the headlines.”

The show frequently takes stories that happen in real life and makes them its own. Last week’s episode combined the Paula Deen racism scandal with the Trayvon Martin case.

The episode, titled “American Tragedy,” featured Cybill Shepherd guest starring as Jolene Castille (based on Paula Deen) who shoots an unarmed teenager, Mehcad Carter (based on Trayvon Martin), whom she claimed was about to attack her.

Castille believed Carter to be the serial rapist the SVU squad had been hunting. The serial rapist had attacked several women, and Castille thought herself to be the next victim.

Eventually, though, it is revealed that Carter was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Another suspect, Willie Taylor, is captured and found to be the rapist.

Then, the episode reveals more about Castille. Like her real-life counterpart, Castille has a bit of a history with racism against African Americans. In fact, she goes as far to say to Detective Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish) that, “We both know if we were down home, I’d be getting a medal.”

As the episode goes on, it eventually reaches a trial against Castille. Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba (Raul Esparza) attempts to convince the jury that Castille profiled Carter and shot him in cold blood, not, as Castille claimed, in self-defense.

Castille’s attorney, Ben Coen (Jeffery Tambor), however puts up a fight. He tries to sway the jury when questioning Detective Fin Tutuola (Ice-T) when he asks how Castille could know Carter was not the rapist, when not even the NYPD knew who the rapist was.

Predictably, the case against Castille ends the same way the trial against George Zimmerman did. Castille is cleared of a manslaughter charge and is free to go. As she leaves the courthouse, she refuses to speak to the press, still not admitting that she is racist, even thought it’s obvious that she is.

As the episode ends, Barba apologizes to his detectives, including Tutuola, who nonchalantly replies, “That’s just how it is,” as the screen fades to black.

Admittedly, I was hoping for a true SVU twist, possibly with someone shooting Castille on the courtroom steps out of revenge. She was the kind of character you wanted to hate, her acting was that good. However, the episode merely ended on that quote from Tutuola, which cannot be truer.

The episode was a true testament to how the justice system works. Even if it’s clear to the public that someone is guilty, it doesn’t mean they are in the eyes of the law. The episode also demonstrated perfectly how difficult it is to prove state-of-mind during a crime. It was clear that Castille had racist traits, yet Barba couldn’t effectively prove it.

This was a damn good episode. The writers keep outdoing themselves every year. This episode may have been controversial due to the cases that inspired it, but the cast and crew pulled it off flawlessly.