Oh boy, this ep is a treasure trove of stereotypes and virulent characterization of people with disabilities!
Law and Order: SVU, season 7, ep 15, “Manipulated,” plot summary:
Police burst in on kids making a student film of a rapist attacking a cuffed woman. They’ve come to the wrong room, though, so they go to the right apartment and find a dead naked woman.
Deceased was Vickie Riggs, engaged to be married the next month. Benson and Stabler find unsigned anti-marriage notes from a stalker addressed to Vickie. The killer also apparently took Vickie’s engagement ring.
Fiance, Alan, says he was at work at the time of the attack and that the only ones to have keys to Vickie’s apartment were him, Vickie and the landlord. A recording of the 911 call reveals that the caller knows her. Alan reveals that Vickie worked as a lawyer, “saving the world, one crackhead hooker at a time.” Also Alan’s vocal patterns do not match the 911 tape.
At the law offices where Vickie worked, Benson and Stabler interview her boss, Tessa McKellen, a woman who uses a wheelchair. She immediately refers to her disability, saying, “Being paralyzed, I guess, makes me a sucker for hard-luck cases.” Anyway, Tessa says that Vickie was working a labor law case at a strip club where the strippers were trying to organize.
At the Foreplay Club, Rimaldi says that Vickie had a job at his club as a dancer. Benson and Stabler interview some of the dancers, who say that Vickie had some trouble with a regular, Tim the Wiener Man.
Under questioning from Fin and Stabler, Wiener Man calls Vickie his girlfriend and says he will propose to her tonight. He shows the detectives Vickie’s engagement ring. Bam! Arrested!
Back at the station, Wiener Man admits to Stabler and Fin that he wrote the anti-marriage notes to Vickie, but, he says, he was “just warning her.” He says that he got the ring from the trash behind the club, where Vickie threw it out “after that jerk Alan dumped her.”
At Alan’s architecture firm, Alan comes clean to Benson: “We were calling off the wedding.” Seems that, for his bachelor party, they “hit every strip club in town,” including Vickie’s. Alan barfed, then called it quits with Vickie.
Back at the station, Alan’s alibi checks out. Also Wiener Man is not the 911 mystery caller. Munch interjects with some footage from the student film – remember that plot point? – showing Vickie kissing some guy and entering the building with him. He had a key. “We’re not looking for her rapist,” concludes Benson. “We’re looking for her lover.”
The office technical team IDs the guy by comparing the security photo to a database of all driver’s licenses issued in New York. A hit says that the guy is Linus McKellen, married to Tessa McKellen, Vickie’s boss. DUNT DUNT!
At the McKellen residence, Linus says that Tessa was in an accident three years ago, after which Vicki took over many of her cases. Tessa comes into the room and says that, “as his attorney,” she cannot let Linus speak to Benson and Stabler in private.
Benson and Stabler extract from Linus that, yes, he did see Vickie an hour before she died, but he maintains that he just walked her home, then left and got stuck in traffic. But Stabler finds blood on Linus’ trench coat, which was the same that he wore in the photo. Tessa says the blood is from her nosebleed. Linus goes without Tessa, but with the detectives, to the station for interviewing.
In the station, Linus admits to Stabler and Benson that his voice is on the 911 call. “We were having an affair,” he says. “I haven’t been able to have sex with my wife since the accident.” Vickie wanted Linus to leave Tessa, but he says, “I couldn’t. My wife’s paralysis is my fault.” He was driving when the two were in a car accident when Tessa was hurt.
In any case, Linus claims that he had sex with Vickie, but left her alive. He came back to her apartment to get his watch and found her dead. He called 911, but didn’t stay because he didn’t want Tessa to find out: “She’s sick. It would have destroyed her.”
As Cragen and Novak, who are overseeing the interrogation, agree that they have Linus by the pubic hairs, the greasy public defender says that he will have the case thrown out for “violation of due process.” Seems that there was no reason for the police to go through Linus’ DMV records.
Judge Petrovsky agrees with the greasy public defender, making any evidence stemming from the ID of Linus by his driver’s license inadmissible. That means, summarizes Novak, that “Linus’ affair with Vickie, the DNA samples, even the blood on his coat,” are out. Said blood, incidentally, was really from Tessa’s nosebleed. The detectives need just one piece of evidence to link Linus and Vickie.
Cragen says that they have Vickie’s phone records. Upon examining the phone records, Benson and Stabler see that Linus made many calls to Vickie and Josie, one of Vickie’s fellow strippers at the Foreplay Club.
At Josie’s apartment, Benson and Stabler find Josie dead. They also find a footprint outside Josie’s window on a ledge nearby.
Forensics tells Stabler and Fin that the same perp rappelled off the top of Vickie’s building and down in through her window.
Under interrogation from Benson and Stabler, Linus can’t think of anyone who wants to frame him. He also says that he never had sex with Josie, even though his semen was found inside her.
Benson, Stabler and Cragen theorize together. Cragen describes Tessa as “completely dependent on” Linus. Benson suggests that maybe the attacker wants to frame Linus to hurt Tessa. “If he goes away, she’s the one that suffers.”
At Mercy General Hospital, Tessa volunteers to Benson and Stabler, “I have pneumonia; the diabetes and paralysis make my body more susceptible to infection. Linus takes good care of me.” She also cites attorney-client privilege as a reason why she will not let the detectives interrogate her clients.
When pulling public records of Tessa’s cases for the past five years, the team discovers that recently she filed a huge lawsuit against Silver Hammer, a company for private military contractors. Silver Hammer lost $10 million.
At Silver Hammer training grounds, the owner of the company quotes stats and info blurbs at Benson and Stabler. Among those employees fired by Silver Hammer when the company lost money to Tessa, the detectives find one Walter Inman, a likely candidate to be the rappelling perp.
Walter runs away from Benson and Stabler when they try to get him in his apartment. He gets Munch in the solar plexus, but the team gets him anyway.
In interrogation, Walter’s not talking. The detectives wonder why he didn’t just kill Tessa. Also how did he get Linus’ semen inside Josie? Just then, the ME pops up with an answer. There was saliva from Tessa in Linus’ sperm sample. Tessa sucked Linus off, saved the semen, then gave it to Walter to plant on Josie. A light goes off over Benson’s head: “Inman wasn’t trying to get back at Tessa. She hired him to frame her husband!” Ding ding ding!
When confronted with the detectives’ deductions, Tessa and her lawyer deny everything. “I need him,” Tessa says of Linus when accused of framing Linus for Vickie and Josie’s murders. “I couldn’t survive without him.”
So Novak needs Walter to flip on Tessa. Fin comes in with info that Walter’s paying his daughter’s huge tuition bills in cash from a Grand Cayman account. Using this information, Novak goes to Walter in Rikers. Under assurance that, if he spills, his daughter will keep enough money for her education, Walter says that he tailed Linus for Tessa and killed Vickie and Josie for her. He also stole “some stuff from a lab. Viruses. Bacteria,” which she then injected into herself.
Benson and Stabler arrest Tessa.
Dr. Huang the sexy makes his per-episode contracted appearance, diagnosing Tessa with “a factititous disorder.” While Tessa does have effects on her health from diabetes and the car accident, Huang says, “My guess is that she just got addicted to all the attention she got from being sick.” Novak points out that Tessa still knows the difference between right and wrong. But then Tessa’s lawyer hands Novak a “not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect” paper, declaring her client “a very sick woman…who is not competent to stand trial.”
Dr. Sexy interviews Tessa. Tessa again volunteers, “The paralysis weakens the immune system and makes the body more susceptible to bacterial infections.” When Dr. Sexy proposes Munchausen’s, Tessa declares, “I’m not making myself sick. Who would ever want to endure what I’ve had to go through?” She also says that Walter is persecuting her: “He hates me and my husband. If I weren’t stuck in this chair, I would kill him myself!”
At the competency hearing, Dr. Sexy says that Tessa is competent to stand trial, despite her “psychiatric condition.” In the middle of Dr. Sexy’s testimony, Tessa has a seizure and falls out of her wheelchair.
In Judge Petrovsky’s chambers, Novak argues that Tessa’s seizure was self-induced from an OD of insulin. “She’s manipulating the court. She’s faking illness to get sympathy and dodge a life sentence,” says Novak. The judge decides that Tessa is not well enough to stand trial and should have psychiatric treatment. The defense lawyer says that, “because of the rarity of this condition [Munchausen’s] and her paralysis,” the treatment should be in a private hospital.
Back in the station, the detectives lament Petrovsky’s ruling. As Stabler says of Tessa, “She belongs in prison with her hitman buddy Inman!”
Benson wonders how to change Petrovsky’s mind. Dr. Sexy says, “Show her that Tessa’s a manipulative, calculating bitch who planned this defense meticulously, just like the murders.”
Benson and Stabler go to Linus and Tessa’s house to talk to Linus, who says, “Tessa’s sick. She didn’t know what she was doing.”
“Your wife is using her illness to manipulate you,” says Benson, “to make you think she’s a victim.”
“She is a victim,” says Linus. “You have no idea what it’s like for her. Her neurologists say she’s in constant pain.” Turns out, though, that he hasn’t actually heard directly from said neurologists in a while, so, as Stabler points out, he has no idea if Tessa’s condition has improved.
Without a word, Linus then pushes Tessa’s wheelchair into their swimming pool. She launches out of the wheelchair, face down in the water, as her wheelchair bobs to her side. Linus, Stabler and Benson make no move to help Tessa. Tessa eventually swims to the side of the pool – “Look – it’s a miracle – she can swim!” Benson says sarcastically – and walks away.
Tessa tries to explain to Linus, but Linus says, “Don’t! All those years, I took care of you because I loved you.”
Tessa protests that she’s sick. Linus agrees and walks away. Tessa says, “What’s going to happen to me? Who will take care of me now?”
Benson says, with something like a vindictive smile on her face, “The warden will. You’ll never be alone in prison.” [Is that a prison rape reference I see before me?]