Warning: mild spoilers
The “synopsis” (of the first 10 minutes): A young woman’s body is found stuffed inside a suitcase, and Stabler and Benson find a chief suspect in the victim’s boyfriend, who claims he was on his boat; an uncooperative dating site CEO refuses to comment on the case.
What the synopsis DOESN’T tell you is that the body is found by a couple of geocachers. I had never heard of this hobby until watching this episode, and it turns out this GPS quest for ordinary items has a tendency to freak out the police in real life. A couple of masturbating jokes tickle the audience members who are 10 years old, and this episode is un. Der. Way.
Going from seeking crap as treasure to seeking treasure in exchange for nookie, the suitcase-sized girl identified as Emily Keefe worked for a social networking site called tastysugar.com that matched up gold diggers with sugar daddies. So far the website doesn’t exist yet in real life, although NBC’s parent company owns the domain. And what kind of name is that? Isn’t all sugar, by definition, tasty? Unless you burn it, I guess. Then it’s just tasteless carbon. (tastelesscarbon.com, by the way, would make a great dating website for lonely scientists.)
The “uncooperative dating CEO” is the hip happenin’ Vance Shepard (Eric McCormack of Will and Grace popularity). Shepard runs a fun, progressive Internet venture company who offers free meals and perks like, apparently, discounts on boob jobs to employees who want them. I’ve always wanted one of those!
You’re not gonna believe this, but Shepard had a pre-existing relationship with Keefe. But having just played a rousing game of office foosball with one of his high-moraled employees, he stonewalls Stabler and Benson about knowing anything about anything. (He can’t even remember if he owns tastysugar.com. What a capitalist pioneer. That’s just how successful he is!) Stabler is forced to go undercover on a hot date with Emily’s “sugar baby BFF.” Try putting that on a business card.
Eventually the good guys discover Shepard’s little tryst with the stowed away victim. (Why don’t they ever just admit this stuff in the first scene? It saves the taxpayers so much money.) Shepard’s alibi of attending his 17-year-old daughter’s soccer game at the time of fell through, and blammo. He’s a murder suspect.
On the whole, McCormack did pretty well as Shepard. Then again, Vance Shepard was just a heterosexual Will Truman with weaker father skills and fewer obnoxiously-voiced friends. It was right in his wheelhouse.
The add-on prosecutor that is A.D.A Sonya Paxton (Christine Lahti) showed some claws when she rattled Shepard’s “augmented” assistant into breaking down more of his alibi the night of the murder, which was probably the first time I’ve seen Paxton actually do something worth smiling about. But then her character lost me again after railing on and on about how sugardaddyism (my own word) is basically glorified prostitution and should be punishable by law as such. It’s one of those micro-dicussions the L&O brand loves to interject from time to time. Partnered detectives, for example, would find out (gasp!) they don’t agree on abortion! And you probably disagree with the fictional people too. You’re like one of the gang!.
But it sounds like they’re going to try and grow Paxton’s character as a theory-based lawyer (i.e., stopping ironclad confessions she thinks could get suppressed at trial) who starts seeing some pretty nasty real world experiences, thereby earning the SVU’s trust. They’re going to make me empathize with this woman, and I can already tell I’m not going to like it, but at the same time I will.
Actor/comedian Robert Klein returns as lawyer Dwight Stannich, a small role he also portrayed last season in “Ballerinas” as the lawyer for the Birdie Sulloway, played by Carol Burnett. Nothing really to write home about him, as he’s only in two scenes. But he is Robert Klein, dadgummit.
Aside: how creepy was “Ballerinas?” No, Carol Burnett! Don’t be a murderous deviant! I swear, if they ever cast fellow BGSU alumnus Tim Conway as a pedophile, I might stop watching the elephant story clip with reverence.
Twist Factor — I’ll give the ending a 4 out of 10. This one was a double-twist. The first surprise was pretty much a sudden jerk, but the second one was visible from across the room. As a man who loses his keys quite frequently, if I can see something happening 15 seconds prior, you know it’s blatant.
Munch Watch — Still no sign of everyone’s favorite paranoid detective. The only time he came up was when Stabler got a little weirded out by the thought of “Munch on a scooter” while at Shepard’s playhouse of an office, although why not give it a shot in a future episode? Maybe then we’ll actually see a genuine smile from the Richard Belzer-portrayed cop. How many episodes before we contact missing persons?
The Verdict — We the people find this episode, “Sugar,” guilty of not going overboard on geocaching, which we appreciate. We recommend that tastysugar.com be turned into some kind of online game where we can pretend to shower attractive women with Monopoly money and not be perceived as freaks. We were also kidding earlier about wanting breast implants. That would be terrible for our backs. Oh, and the episode was solid, but not great; engaging, but not creepy. It felt more like a regular Law & Order installment.
Law & Order broadcasts at 9 p.m. ET Wednesdays on NBC.