This week's episode of Law & Order: UK perfectly backs up what I've been saying all along: don't screw with James Steel.
He appears at a parole board hearing for a convicted sex offender; not long after that, Brooks and Devlin are called to the scene of a young woman's murder and possible rape with the same modus operandi. I don't believe in coincidences, and neither does James, or Matt, or Ronnie for that matter. Once they start digging into Paul Darnell's past, his present doesn't look too good either. (I do have to take a moment to note that Jamie Bamber's hair seems to get fluffier every episode, which only makes him look more adorable, so it's no surprise that Matt gets flirted with this week. Actually, I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often, though grateful it doesn't.) Turning the screws only makes Darnell flip out mid-interrogation and start crying.
This is another one of those episodes that reminds me of my own legal background. Steel is convinced that Darnell is the murderer, and that sets him on a one-track course; when I sat behind the prosecutor's table, I was so driven that I made one defendant cry and another defense attorney tell me they were afraid of me. It was never intentional, but I was determined, maybe too determined. Apparently, I graduated from the Ben Daniels School of Badass Lawyering, because Steel reminds me of me (except a lot better-looking) as he tears into Darnell until the man freaks out for the second time. The scene reminds us that the courtroom is Steel's world and the rest of us are just living in it.
Yet is he wrong?
A key witness in the prosecution's case, under cross-examination, admits that she's not sure about her testimony. As a result, Darnell is acquitted on both the rape and murder charges. Yet we know a verdict doesn't make James give up ("Love and Loss," anyone?). Most prosecutors would start to look crazy at this point, but when he says it isn't a vendetta, we believe him because he's never steered us wrong. James takes the extra step of confronting Darnell again, and basically warning him that he's not going to let him off the hook because the judicial system did. It's a gutsy move, one that could get him in a lot of trouble, but one of the things I love about James is that he never flinches no matter what happens. When Darnell ends up dead after trying to strike again, we know that he was right...yet there's the question of did he metaphorically jump, or was he pushed? In Law & Order fashion, that's left up to us to decide.
"Hounded" is a solid exploration of one of law enforcement's perpetual questions: is there such a thing as rehabilitation? Everyone has their own opinion, and the episode shows us both sides of the argument through the characters, while giving us an ending that reminds us that there is no right or wrong answer to the question. As I've said before, the best Law & Order episodes are the ones that encourage us to explore issues, rather than just sit at home and watch a story being told - and this entire episode is less entertainment and more an exploration of a still-pertinent issue. What you take away from it depends on what you believe, making it a unique viewing experience. Not to mention, it's yet another reminder of how much the show's lost (or will lose for the US audience) with Ben Daniels' departure. Likewise, he's one of a kind.
For more Law & Order: UK, check out the show category at my blog, DigitalAirwaves.net.