Coffee? Tea? Synopsis? Lupo and Bernard discover disfigured remains with the word "FED" written on the chest, and as they retrace the victim's steps they uncover dirty politics, a perplexing past and a growing list of suspects who would want the campaign volunteer dead.
Okay, did you follow all that? Because that has squat to do with Benjamin Bratt, who returned to the show after 10 seasons as Detective Rey Curtis. But first … "FED."
Based on the real-life suicide of Bill Sparkman, community organizer James Landy (Dan Bittner) was found dead, shirtless, and with that big black "FED." But while Sparkman, a census worker, faked his murder so his insurance money would be given to his family, Landy sure as heck didn't beat and strangle himself.
But he was deceitful. Despite working for the Rights Alliance (presumably an ACORN-type organization), Lupo and Bernard found that four years ago he worked on the Bush re-election campaign, and might have been intentionally trying to cook up seedy plots with his "new friends" in order to either get them in trouble or to put the organization into a tailspin. Not a terrible ploy if you can pull it off. Although, hey, if you watched the show, it can get ya killed.
After a long and winding road, the hammer of justice falls on his friend at the Rights Alliance, the petite Marissa Rumstead (Keona Welch) and the muscly Arturo Ramirez (Ramon Fernandez). Or maybe it was his superior, Courtney Owens (Danai Gurira), or her superior, Rights Alliance CEO Davis Webb (Sam Robards). Or maybe it was the militant government-despising Jerry Ganz (Boris McGiver). Bonus points are awarded to Lupo who, after Ganz calls the detectives "Obamabots" during interrogation, holds his finger to his own ear, as if to receive orders from above.
But who the heck knows? Between all these possible suspects, the detectives and prosecutors point the departmental finger all hour long. Until justice is finally reached, of course.
For some reason, the squabbling and "thrill of the chase" mystery just didn't jell this week. Perhaps that's because the return of Det. Curtis was the promotional item.
The guest appearance was unrelated to the synopsis. Having moved to California with his family, he returned to New York to bury his wife, who finally succumbed to multiple sclerosis. Lt. Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) gets a call from Curtis during the investigation and finds time to meet him at the cemetery to catch up.
Again, it had nothing to do with the plot in hand, but it effectively underscores the show's intent on displaying fragmented character development. After a decade of absence, I am presuming this was the final chapter in the life of Rey Curtis, but nobody would have been left hanging otherwise. Much like ER rolled out the cavalcade of doctors past, L&O is in its 20th (jeez) season, so why not have a ticker-tape parade of all your favorite cast members and perhaps Elisabeth Röhm? And why not actually incorporate them into the case, instead of tacking it on?
Van Buren's cancerous subplot really usurped the focus. Previously she would get her personal scene and the hunt for the murder would continue. There was a concern I had early on when they would recur the cancer storyline throughout the season, that it may disrupt an episode at some point. And here's where it happened.
The Verdict: Hung jury. There were some fun contrasts between the community organizers and the militant libertarians. But squished between the overcomplicated perp lineup and the albeit touching reunion, it was difficult to gauge "Fed." You might as well scrawl a giant question mark on my bare naked chest.