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'Law & Order: UK' 4.04 'Duty of Care' Review

Brittany Frederick Brittany Frederick
March 25th, 2011 10:17pm EDT

Not to be confused with the series premiere episode "Care," this week's Law & Order: UK brings us what seems at first to be a tragic accident - a fire that claims the life of a young boy - but this being Law & Order, that's not the real story. After all, if it was, this would be a very short episode.

Law & Order specializes in showing us that what we believe is simple can be incredibly complicated, whether legally or emotionally. It's revealed by the end of the teaser that the fire is not an accident, which leaves Matt and Ronnie tasked with figuring out if the child's death was collateral damage or intentional. Dealing with the dysfunctional neighborhood makes Matt completely unimpressed with everything. It's almost amusing, and probably healthier for him than that tetchy streak he went on from the end of series one to the beginning of series two. It's not a huge surprise that the boy's own mother is eventually fingered; if you've watched enough crime dramas, it's the least obvious choice that usually ends up being the right one. But that's not the point. I learned long ago that you don't watch any Law & Order to be surprised. The point is this woman was willing to let her own child burn alive. (In fact, the last shot we get of Matt in this episode is a perfectly coiffed glare of doom.)

Alesha and James - who proves that three-piece suits have not gone out of style, at least if you're Ben Daniels - face off against a defense barrister who seems clueless on more than one occasion. (George point-blank calls him an idiot.) It quickly becomes clear to them that he's more interested in hanging her than providing a defense, and from that point on we flip the script. It's up to our prosecutors to keep the woman they're charging from suffering a worse fate than she deserves, while still doing their jobs at the same time. The idea is an interesting one because I can see both sides of the situation. When I was studying law, I knew that I could never be a defense attorney, because my own morals are too rigid. If I knew someone was guilty, I couldn't in good conscience work to get them acquitted. Conversely, when I was prosecuting, I never wanted to go too far, either. Legal ethics can be very thorny, and this episode shows that very well. When James doesn't know what's going on, you know we're in trouble.

When it comes out that the mom actually thought her son was dead when she started the fire, it's almost a painful afterthought. She's already gotten mixed up in the games her defense barrister has decided to play, to the point that even she doesn't know what to believe. It's James to the rescue, convincing the judge to avoid a mistrial, which allows for a degree of leniency at the end of the day. We find out that the mom's eventually released after a psych evaluation, and her lawyer eventually quits practicing criminal law. It's not perfect, but it could've been a lot worse.

That's why I have a soft spot for "Duty of Care," I think. Episodes that remind me of what I went through, and the life I could have led, will always resonate with me. This episode shows the harder side of being a prosecuting attorney, not just the heroic side that most legal dramas focus on. For all the times I was in court feeling good about helping to serve the cause of justice, there's another moment where it's hard, morally and emotionally, because I never lost sight of the fact that criminal law was about people whose lives I was altering. That took its toll on me over the years. And it's nice to be reminded of that in the characters of James and Alesha, who aren't just good lawyers, but also good people. I understand perfectly what they're going through, and what they're trying to do. It's a fictional story, but it's that element of realism that makes it stick after the credits roll.

For more Law & Order: UK, head over to DigitalAirwaves.net.

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