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Law & Order: Jack McCoy is Playing Politics

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The original Law & Order has succeeded for years on end with a revolving door cast. Sure, there have been names and faces that we came to know and love (we still miss you, Jerry Orbach), but even their leaving the show has caused little more than a ripple. The cast is interchangeable – pull one A.D.A. and pop in a new one, pull one detective and pop in a new one. No mess, no fuss, and the audience simply accepts it and moves on. While the characters have had some of their personal stories told, those tend to be few and far between; the exception, not the rule.

Well, for one character that’s become less and less true. But, that’s kind of understandable, after all; the thought of the show losing Jack McCoy is almost too much to take. I know, “rotating cast,” but Sam Waterston leaving the show would not be cool. Consequently, ever since his promotion to interim D.A. – a role that got about 30 seconds of screen time in the past – they’ve been finding more for him to do, more stuff for him to stick his nose into, including politics, which is a place where – till now – he has deftly avoided venturing.

Over the course of this season we’ve gotten to see Jack ever so slowly get sucked into the art of the possible, most notably with his deciding to seek out the D.A. position on a permanent basis (or at least until the next election). That decision has managed to alter some of the ways he’s ordered his underlings to act in prosecuting cases. It hasn’t affected all of his decisions, but it’s certainly begun to creep in around the edges. But, somehow, he’s managed to still be the same character underneath it all. There’s always the sense that he’s doing what he’s doing so that he can regain the moral high ground later (I’m not saying he’s right, I’m just saying he’s doing it).

With the election getting closer and closer on the show, Jack seems to be struggling less with his decision to run and more with the consequences of his running, and last night he hit a major potential hazard – apparently he and his now ex-wife employed an illegal alien as a nanny for about a year. He said in a private conversation in last night’s episode that once they learned about the nanny’s status they fired her, and it’s a claim that I believed, but one that I’m pretty sure wouldn’t hold any water with the average voter.

The illegal alien-nanny thing is something that we’ve seen derail many a political confirmation in the past (probably an election or two as well, though none spring to mind quite as quickly). I wonder now how exactly Jack is going to overcome the issue. It’s entirely possible that it will just blow over, the press in the show will decide not to run with the story, but that seems terribly unlikely.

So, how precisely is the show going to have Jack overcome the difficulty? Or, is Jack even going to be able to overcome it? Maybe he doesn’t and he loses the election in the season finale and then we, the audience, learn that the season finale was in fact the series finale – after all, as goes Jack, so go we all (not that he was on the series when it began).

There aren’t all that many episodes left this season, so hopefully we’ll find out soon, but who knows, maybe Dick Wolf and company will hold the election in November, maybe there won’t be an answer till then. I’m hoping that’s not the case, but it’s possible.

Whatever happens with Jack, I’m still impressed by the show – Law & Order has created a really great, true to the show, true to life, multi-episode arc. It’s very outside the box for them, but it’s terribly fun to watch.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.