Law & Order squeezed two ripped-from-the-headlines stories into one this week.
After a case where Price failed to make a murder conviction on a disturbed man, the detectives handled a case based on Anna Delvey before moving to one on the opioids crisis.
This led to a personal revelation on Price that made The Great Pretender an intriguing penultimate episode for Law & Order Season 21.
A death leads to a fake heiress
At a club, a woman toasted a friend who declared she was “the luckiest person alive.” It then cut to that friend, Ella Whitlock, dead in another club the next morning. But, with her expensive jewels and money on her, it wasn’t a robbery and a card showing she was about to open her own nightclub.
Ella was a popular face traveling on Instagram with her lawyer, David Kornfeld (Bob Pescovitz), talking of her being an “old money” heiress. She was intent on opening the club but admitted she had more creativity than business sense and was nearly out of money.
The detectives checked out the fancy townhouse Ella had rented, finding a framed item of Ella and her father, Walter (Michael McKenzie). They found him at a club to break the bad news–only for Walter to reply he didn’t have a daughter named Ella and that the photo was a fake.
“Ella” was Mary Costello, a New Jersey native. Her real parents, Mike (Charley Tucker) and Jane (Melodie Wolford), thought their daughter was working for a fashion house in Paris. They shared how Ella had shown off an expensive diamond necklace from an admirer.
While the partners talked about lying, they learned Mary was deep in debt, having conned people to build the club. It was thus likely someone realized they were being scammed and killed her over it.
Mary’s friend Reese was amazed to learn the truth about her, pointing them toward a dating service she used. The owner said Mary had found someone else of “old money,” Wyatt Ackman (Patrick Heusinger), who was startled to hear she was dead and a scam artist.
They realized Mary used Wyatt’s car for her bluetooth, where someone had left her a threatening message over her money. It was Matthew Dooley (Eric Freeman), who had an assault record.
Finding who silenced the con
Dooley admitted he was upset about “Ella” leaving him to pay off some of her bills. He’d figured out who she was and related that he wasn’t the only one after her for debts. She had to pay one guy fifty grand and hinted she still owed more.
The detectives tracked a cabbie who dropped Mary off at the murder scene and saw Wyatt at the scene. He was arrested as the cops figured he’d discovered the truth about Mary and pushed her off a ledge at the club.
At the arraignment, Wyatt’s lawyer, Rebecca Greenough (Erinn Ruth), said he had a severe opioid addiction which still had him held over. She then filed a defense that the drug addiction contributed to Wyatt’s mental state to excuse the murder.
Eric Howe (Graham Rowat), a therapist at a treatment center, confirmed Wyatt had been in rehab three times, using his own experience with it to know how tough it was. He also said “Ella” was the reason Wyatt was trying to get clean and loved her.
The judge denied the motion, so Greenough tried to plead for first-degree manslaughter. She played a phone call between Wyatt and his uncle Charles, the CEO of the pharmaceutical company the Ackmans founded, which talked of knowing the dangers of opioid addiction and ignoring it for profits.
Wyatt claimed his uncle was responsible for more deaths than he ever could be. Maroun was shocked to hear Howe had fatally overdosed to show how addictive these could be.
Price was unsure of this, given the “victim” wasn’t that innocent and they could take the deal to bring down a bigger crook. McCoy warned this wasn’t an illegal drug case as, like it or not, opioids were legal.
Price was adamant, thinking this was an opportunity to take down someone involved in this mess to save thousands of lives, with McCoy letting him do it.
Price’s past rears its head
Not surprisingly, Charles (Ian Blackman) and his lawyer, Ed Zanini (Zach Grenier), tried to have the recording suppressed, using the loophole they’d been in Massachusetts, where both parties had to consent to be recorded, which the judge agreed with.
Maroun could tell something was personal about the case with Price but he brushed it off. On the stand, a doctor admitted giving Howe opioids from Ackman for an injury that got him hooked. Charles’ lawyer pointed out that the doctor and Charles had never really talked, so there was no direct link.
Maroun prepped Wyatt in his testimony as he confessed he’d started using again while in jail and actually wanted her to score more for him. He pulled it together to testify to his uncle not caring how many people the drugs hurt.
Of course, Zanini brought up that Wyatt happened to be an addict who killed Mary and tried to save his own skin. Wyatt confessed to getting a prescription and Price was outraged to realize Maroun had gotten his prescription with her defending it on helping the case.
Charles defended himself for selling a legal product and it wasn’t his fault some people misused them. Price was intense in his talk of Charles deliberately killing people.
Zanini made a motion to dismiss the case because Price’s brother had died of an overdose years before, making it personal, which was a surprise to Maroun. The judge refused to declare a mistrial.
Price’s summation was powerful, bringing his own experience on how easily folks got addicted to these drugs and the jury had to send a message to the CEOs who didn’t care about the damage.
The jury found Charles guilty of manslaughter, with Price looking satisfied.
It was a tricky case that showed more depth in Price’s past to make an intriguing hour.
Law & Order Season 21 finale airs Thursday May 19 at 8/7c on NBC.