“Hollywood on the Hudson” is how Executive Producer Warren Leight described this week’s Law & Order: SVU. Combining sex, drugs and celebrity hype, with a social media quotient thrown in, this episode accurately portrayed the intersection of fan adoration and image control when money and power are on the line, and how all of it can all go bad in a hurry.
During a slick opening montage, a clearly underage girl pops into a town car, quickly strips off her hoodie to reveal a skin-barring cocktail dress, pucks up, applies lip gloss, takes a quick swig of alcohol and readies herself to hit the town.
Right then we all know this won’t end well, and it doesn’t. In the next scene she’s sprawled out on a bed, the aforementioned lip gloss, along with her mascara and her face in general, smeared.
A non-descript set of darkly gloved hands takes the girl, shoves her in a suitcase, wheels said bag to an alley, lays it down, unzips the top just enough to reveal her face, and leaves. Cue two patrolling cops who quickly react and get the girl to the hospital.
When the young lady, Madison, awakens from the apparent overdose, she’s questioned by Benson and Amaro and begins to spin an intricate tale about what may or may not have happened to her, not one spec of it the truth.
Doing some cyber sleuthing, Carisi discovers that she was exchanging photos and messages via instagram with a hot young Hollywood actor, Scott Russo, in town for a movie premiere.
Ironically, the movie he’s promoting, entitled Falsely Accused, features him as a man accused of assaulting someone.
At one point, and rightfully so, the detectives speculate if all of this is nothing more than a publicity stunt for Russo’s movie, but those thoughts are quickly squelched and the investigation continues.
Fin and Carisi head out to Russo’s rad pad to question him, where they’re subjected to some really bad sitar playing by the new age actor who (of course) says he had nothing to do with the girl and says his co-star Syke, a fellow new-agey ‘meta’ actor dude, can vouch for him. Before he can say anymore, his matronly manager, Lydia, takes control and shoves the detectives out the door.
Cut to the two detectives interrupting a photo shoot to talk to Syke and just like when they talked to Russo, Skye’s manager, who also happens to be Lydia, tries to block them. But, then the pretty boy, trying his best to look like a real grown-up, delivers the hilarious line, “Lydia, I just played a lawyer. I can’t lie to the police.”
In search of video of Russo’s hotel, the detectives are stymied when a hotel security guard says that other NYPD officers had already been there and claimed the footage, taking the whole hard drive.
Knowing they’d been had by someone cleaning up Russo’s mess, the squad is stumped until, low-and-behold, some footage shows up on LMZ (SVU’s version of TMZ). The video clearly shows Madison entering Russo’s hotel room.
This video is more than enough to bring Russo in for a serious chat about what happened that night, so Fin and Carisi promptly do so, in the middle of Russo’s latest live performance event. As Fin and Carisi pull Russo from the performance, the actual arrest, immediately becomes a part of the performance, the footage flashing on a giant video screen as the detectives cart Russo off. (Very cool!)
Back in interrogation, Russo says that, yes, Madison did come to his room but he left her there to go to the adjoining room where his female co-star was waiting for him. He says he didn’t say anything earlier because the co-star, who he actually did sleep with, is married and her husband is the director of their film. The statuesque actress can’t confirm his story as she’s just left on a 19 hour flight to Australia to begin shooting a trilogy. Russo remarks that this whole thing is just like his movie and that the film ends with the cops making a public apology for accusing him of anything. Amaro and Carisi are nonplussed about this.
Going back to Madison, she finally admits that she had consensual sex with Russo, but not before taking some pills and having some drinks and it’s all a little fuzzy, but she does remember having a gentle liaison with Russo. Being a delusional superfan, she tells a tale of how beautiful it was.
Barba insists that they need the rest of the video to move forward, but when Benson, Amaro (and Barba, for some reason) go to Lenny Simmons, the head of LMZ, he refuses to give up his source, so they arrest him and send him to a cell.
Doing some amazing inmate undercover work, Carisi scares Simmons with some crazy talk while Fin, as inmate ‘Big G’ (!) buddies up to Simmons and gets him to make some helpful revelations.
Meeting with Barba and Benson, Simmons becomes quickly aware that the prosecutor has him over a barrel, so he gives it up that he got the video from Lydia.
Back in the squad room, Barba and Amaro confronted Lydia who realizes that Simmons ratted her out to which she says, “That little bitch.” (another awesome line from this episode, and what makes it even more amazing is that it’s Patti LuPone saying it! Her delivery is impeccable.) Lydia cracks and admits that she cleaned up Russo’s mess after he called her in a panic while Madison lie unconscious in his bed. She looks Barba in the eye and says she’s ready to tell him the whole truth about that happened that night.
Smash cut to Fin and Carisi arresting Russo as Skye looks on.
BUT WAIT, Madison rushes into the squad room and says that Lydia’s lying, about all of it. (What?!)
Tearfully, Madison admits that she and Russo made out but once he found out how young she was he got freaked out and stopped. She confirms that Russo’s female co-star was in the room in a robe when she went to his hotel. Russo told her to go home and she went to leave but ended up in Skye’s suite where she took drugs and had sex with him.
Barba says it’s all a little too little too late and that Madison’s lied too much for any jury to believe her now. He suggests going to Lydia and convincing her that they actually have the missing footage and really know what happened. When Benson and Fin pressure Lydia and Skye for more details about that night, Skye loses it and Lydia comforts him in a very touchy, feely, extremely non-matronly, manner.
Russo, in a scene mimicking one in the trailer of his movie, is exonerated of all charges in a packed courtroom. As he leaves to greet the press on the courthouse steps, Carisi tells him that no apology from the police is coming, to which Russo says that none is needed, that he’s just glad that the police were able to get to the truth in the end. He then concludes that this all happened, Lydia setting him up, because he didn’t compromise his integrity’ with her, implying that Lydia wanted more from Russo, which he wasn’t willing to give, but Skye was.
Coming full circle, Benson cringes as she witnesses Russo making serious eye contact with yet another young female fan in the crowd.
The cycle continues…
I was fortunate enough to speak to LuPone about her turn on SVU and since this episode dealt with actors and social media, LuPone was happy to offer her thoughts on the subject, saying, “I was recently asked by a younger actor if he should be on Twitter because he was told that casting agents are looking at how many followers you have. I think that’s terrible so I told him that I think he has to decide what kind of career he wants; if you want to be a celebrity than absolutely go ahead and Tweet it up, but if you want to be a bon-a-fide, respected actor with longevity then don’t do it. Being a true actor requires training and discipline and it’s about that and not about how many followers you can amass on Twitter and Instagram.”
When asked if she had any apprehension about playing a perp, she immediately responded, “Never, never! I don’t understand why people wouldn’t want to play the villain. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to play the bad guy or gal? It’s usually much more interesting playing a part like that because the character is undoubtedly a very complex person. To me, that’s fun.”
LuPone did admit that she’s a bit saddened by that the fact that she was a criminal in this episode because it means she can’t come back to the series. “I’m going to jail!” she said with a laugh. “I’m so bummed about that, but it’s ok. I loved doing this. Getting to meet Mariska [Hargitay, Benson] and all of the other actors was so great. This show is a New York institution and when you’re a New York based actor you want to do to be on the shows that shoot here, you really feel like you’re hanging out with your tribe.”
Too bad Lydia is going off to do time and Ms. LuPone won’t be able to hang out with the SVU tribe again anytime soon. Well, maybe if the series continues for a few more years she can score another guest turn as the character she played on the mothership, defense attorney Ruth Miller. We’d all be good with that, right? Okay, SVU people, make that happen.