“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: The police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”
For the first time in 12 years, those words (and that iconic sound effect) opened a brand-new episode of Law & Order.
The long-awaited Season 21 revival, The Right Thing, brought the mothership back and ready for a new era of powerful drama.
A “victim” who wasn’t so innocent
On a television show, former star singer Henry King (Norm Lewis) claimed that the accusations he drugged and molested nearly forty women were false. He spent over three years in prison before being released and promises he will prove his innocence.
Detectives Kevin Bernard (Anthony Anderson) and Frank Cosgrove (Jeffrey Donovan) arrive on a scene to find King shot dead. Cosgrove cracks the “over/under on this was nine months” while Bernard says every victim deserves respect, even someone who raped 40 women.
They questioned Henry’s wife, Veronica (Lisa Arrindell Anderson), who said her husband was getting his life together. She also said that, despite the hate for Henry, she didn’t have the security on and hadn’t heard of threats against him.
At the station, Lieutenant Kate Dixon (Camryn Manheim) talked of the pressure she was getting from the mayor and chief, with Bernard cracking “first time in 20 years people care about a black man getting shot.” There was clear tension between Bernard and Cosgrove on the case. They then heard of him getting a threatening text.
The text was from Henry’s agent, who was angry about being fired after helping him land a $50 million podcast deal but had an alibi for the murder. He also related that some “gangbanger” was shaking Henry down.
After Cosgrove clashed with a local punk, he complained about being judged for being white, with Bernard criticizing him. When Cosgrove snapped that “these phones ruined everything,” Bernard replied, “they hold us accountable.” Cosgrove defended he just spoke his mind and actually agreed with Bernard on the last point.
They talked to the punk, Shabazz, who claimed his brother had taken care of Henry when he was in jail and had wanted a reward when he was released. He admitted pushing Henry around demanding the cash and that he wouldn’t get paid with him dead.
An unexpected return
They found a video of Henry arguing on the street with a woman…who was none other than ADA Jamie Ross (Carey Lowell). Ross had prosecuted King, and it was her failure to handle his original immunity deal that eventually led to his release.
King had been harassing her with threats of a lawsuit and angrily threw the detectives out when Cosgrove bluntly asked if she’d killed him with Bernard shocked at his partner’s questioning. Dixon was likely ticked as Cosgrove once more complained about the D.A.’s office judging the cops so much.
The team soon found Veronica had lied about her alibi and been around when King was killed. Questioned, Veronica claimed she had just needed a break and was at a bar when she heard Henry was shot. She revealed she hated Henry for what he did, but “if I wanted to kill him, I’d want to see him suffer with my own eyes.”
A lost cigarette matched the DNA of Nicole Atkins (now Bell), the first woman to accuse Henry of rape. Her husband, Ryan (Marvel Simoneau) was outraged at the search, which uncovered a hoodie.
With more evidence coming in, Nicole (Jeannine Kaspar) was brought into interrogation where Cosgrove flat out lied they had video of her shooting King, and “no one wants to prosecute you.” He even gave his word nothing would happen with Nicole confessing only to be outraged she was arrested.
The prosecutors vs cops
A squad of protestors supported Nicole at the courthouse as ADAs Nolan Price (Hugh Dancy) and Samantha Maroun (Odelya Halevi) entered. The supporters were outraged Nicole had a million-dollar bail.
Price was unhappy to hear Cosgrove lied and talked to Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) about how Cosgrove’s move may have been legal but not ethical. McCoy fired back on what a slippery slope that might lead.
Price pointed out that gave Nicole’s lawyer a way to make her sympathetic, but McCoy snapped to not get in the cops’ way. Eventually, he agreed to cut the confession.
Price’s opening statement admitted Nicole may have had reason to kill Henry, but that didn’t excuse murder. Surprisingly, Nicole’s lawyer Keller (Alicia Coppola) waived an opening statement.
Cosgrove handled Price’s questioning on the stand but got testy when Keller began pressing him on how they could be sure the person in the video was Nicole. After some objections over his conclusions, Cosgrove stated Nicole confessed to him.
That got everyone in the judge’s chambers, with Keller pushing for a mistrial and the judge angry to hear there had been a suppressed confession. She allowed the trial to continue over Keller’s objections.
Cosgrove and Price got into it right in the courtroom hall with Cosgrove snapping to Price to “do your damn job.”
A major wrench in the case
Maroun dropped in to relate that not only was Keller going for a self-defense claim but calling Vanessa as a witness. On the stand, Vanessa claimed to see Henry pushing Nicole in a rage and kept quiet to perpetuate the myth he was a good man.
Price broke down Vanessa was at a bar when Henry died and just trying to absolve herself of covering up for Henry’s crimes. Nicole testified to how she was charmed by Henry years before until he drugged and raped her.
She kept quiet for years, even trying to be friends with Henry, but eventually had to come clean. She saw him after his release and it got heated with her shooting him after he grabbed her. Nicole cried out that she shot Henry so she, and the other 39 women, could move on.
Price could tell her testimony was affecting the jury, especially the women. Maroun revealed that Nicole had left out coming to the D.A.’s office to meet with Ross.
Price confronted Ross at a bar with her invoking privilege to refuse to tell what happened. She was subpoenaed but took the Fifth on the stand with Jack looking disappointed.
Price knew the story was nonsense, but McCoy warned him the jury wanted to acquit her, chastising once more for tossing out the confession. Price realized that he came off as the villain attacking Nicole and thus gave Samantha the job of the final summation.
Samantha told the jury how her own sister was raped and murdered, and everyone knew who the killer was but couldn’t find enough evidence for an arrest. She understood Nicole’s rage, but that didn’t excuse murder. She told the jury to ignore their emotions and stick to the facts of the case.
The jury found Nicole guilty of second-degree murder with her calling out to the gallery of victims, “I did this for you!” As they cheered and chanted, “let her go,” Jamie sat silent.
While Price noted the jury “got it right,” Samantha responded that she felt like she’d sent a victim to prison. Price stated that they had to remind themselves what side they were on and “that’s how I sleep at night.” They parted ways, with Price looking up at the court of justice.
It was a massive return to form for the iconic series to show Law & Order still doesn’t shy from dramatic storylines.
Law & Order Season 21 airs Thursdays at 8/7c on NBC.