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Allison Leotta Headshot

SVU Takes Sibling Rivalry to a New Level

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Come on, admit it. Who hasn't fantasized about killing their sister's no-good boyfriend? SVU took that fantasy -- along with some realistic points about domestic violence, sibling rivalry, and Internal Affairs investigations -- and turned it into "Deadly Ambitions," a well-plotted episode that scored high on suspense and low on crim-pro mistakes.

Recap: Amanda's ditzy sister Kim is back in NY, with a bruise on her cheek and a bun in the oven, both courtesy of Jeff, her gun-loving good ol' ex-boyfriend. Amanda helps Kim get a restraining order, to little avail. When Amanda comes home from a shift, she hears her sister inside screaming "Jeff! You're hurting me!" and bursts into the apartment. Jeff is in the middle of one of his favorite hobbies: beating the stuffing out of Kim.

Still, he tries one feeble attempt to explain. "She called me!" he yells, pointing a shiny silver revolver at Amanda. Bad move, buddy. Amanda, who's earned the nickname "Annie Oakley" at the NYPD firing range, promptly shoots him to death.

The whole incident, while sub-optimal, seems like an open-and-shut case for NYPD. Amanda was clearly acting to protect her pregnant little sister. You'd think she'd want to tell her story and clear everything up ASAP, right? But Olivia and Cragen urgently tell her not to talk to anyone -- especially not vindictive Internal Affairs Lt. Tucker -- until she gets her union delegate. Meanwhile, she can't be on active duty until she's cleared in the internal investigation into her use of deadly force.

Since Amanda's house is a crime scene, she and Kim crash at Finn's place. For the first time in fourteen years, we see where Finn lives -- which was remarkably normal. There was a questionable ceramic leopard and some framed cartoon posters on the walls, but mostly it seemed like a middle-of-the-road blue-collar bachelor pad. I guess I expected Finn's interior-decorating sensibilities to more closely resemble Ice-T's website home page:

2013-02-21-icetwebsite.jpg

Yowza. I suppose they can't show that album cover on primetime TV.

Anyway, once Amanda is properly represented, she tells her tale of woe. But soon her little sis is alternately undermining her and flirting shamelessly with Nick. Now Kim says Jeff didn't attack her. And she wants Amanda to say the whole shooting was just an accident.

Why the sudden change of heart? Turns out, Kim took out a life insurance policy on Jeff. She could be rich, if only Jeff hadn't died while committing a felony. Oops, Kim hadn't seen that fine print before. Oh, and she forged Amanda's signature on the insurance paperwork and made her a beneficiary. That'll help pay off Amanda's gambling debts, right?

Amanda now goes to scowling Lt. Tucker -- without her delegate, doh! -- and gives him the insurance paperwork. Before the next commercial break, he gleefully arrests her for Jeff's murder.

After a night in lockup, Amanda is freed on bail. "Do not talk to your sister," her lawyer warns. "She's an Internal Affairs witness." Of course, Amanda goes straight to her sister's hotel room and reams her out. Kim admits she set up the whole scenario in order to get Amanda to kill pesky Jeff and collect the insurance jackpot. Kim wasn't even pregnant. And she doesn't much care that Amanda is now facing murder charges. "You always thought you were better than us," Kim sobs. "Mommy always said that ambition would get you in trouble one day."

Much as she screams, Amanda can't get Kim to tell anyone else her dastardly plan. But over bourbon and a candlelit lobster dinner, Nick does. (Catch more bees with honey, eh?) And he records Kim's confession on his cell phone. Amanda is freed, her name cleared.

When the police go to arrest Kim, they find she's skipped town, taking all of Amanda's belongings -- down to the ice in her ice tray -- with her.

Verdict: B+

What they got right:

The brief scene at the beginning, where Finn and Nick went to the bar to give Jeff a stern talking-to was totally realistic. This is perfectly legal, and police friends as close as these characters would do this for each other. That kind of talk can be as effective as a TRO.

Speaking of TRO's, many folks wonder if they're useful in preventing domestic violence, since paper can't stop a fist or a bullet. We hear, too often, of abuse victims killed the day after getting a protection order. However, studies show that victims who seek help from the courts are far safer than those who don't.

The dynamic between Jeff and Kim was realistic. I handled many domestic violence cases where the person who sought the restraining order then called her abuser and asked him to come over. He's still on the hook -- her invitation doesn't cancel out the restraining order -- but the equities are obviously more muddled. (Needless to say, I never had a case where an abuse victim invited her abuser over in order to have her cop sister shoot him.)

The Internal Affairs investigation of the shooting was realistic, as were the officers' reaction to it. Officers have the right to a union delegate when their actions are under investigation -- and they usually exercise this right. Although cops are always trying to get people to talk, they are often the first ones to clam up.

Nick was legally okay to tape Kim surreptitiously -- but that's because he's a cop. Civilians, beware. States have different rules about when you can tape a conversation you have with someone else. In New York, for example, if one party to the conversation consents to taping it, it's okay. But in other states, all parties must consent before their conversation is taped. That's what got Linda Tripp, who taped her conversations with Monica Lewinsky, charged with a wiretapping violation in Maryland.

What they got wrong:

Amanda's decision of when to talk to IAB without her delegate was all wrong. She clammed up when everything seemed like a routine defense-of-others case. But when things got dicey --exactly when she needed a good rep -- she trotted on over to cruel Lt. Tucker with no protection. Unwise, at least. But perhaps necessary to advance the plot, since any rep worth her salt would have advised Amanda to remain silent, and prevented her night in jail.

Finally, Kim's plan was really bad. "Suicide by cop" is a real phenomenon. "Murder by cop" seems a lot harder to pull off. I've never heard of it happening in real life. Kim could as easily have gotten herself killed, Amanda's Annie-Oakley-like aim notwithstanding.

What do you think, SVU fans? When is ambition really deadly? Is there anything more likely to push our buttons than our own family? And should Finn's apartment have featured a well-oiled Coco sprawled on black satin sheets? Leave your comments!