Whew! Nolan managed to eke out a win on a seemingly impossible case.
Law & Order Season 21 Episode 3 featured a murder case with no body, a defense attorney who was skilled at painting the victim and at least one witness as attention-seekers and liars, and a pathological liar of a defendant who was good at making himself seem reasonable.
He insisted on completing the case rather than taking a deal anyway. This one could have easily ended his winning streak; I don't think I breathed until the verdict was read!
This story hinged upon the largely mythological trope about not being able to prosecute a murder without a body.
In reality, many cases have been tried absent a body if there was other evidence. That's part of why the judge didn't go along with Knight's ridiculous motion to dismiss.
Defense attorney: She's a social media star; this is all for publicity. I just read a Tweet saying that Amanda is on a beach in the Bahamas.
Judge: I don't accept Tweets as evidence.
The lack of a body might not have been nearly as problematic an obstacle to overcome if it wasn't for the fake photos of Amanda in Cancun, though.
It was a massive coincidence that Knight suggested Amanda was on a beach in the Bahamas right before that phony photo surfaced of her on another beach in Mexico, though.
Knight seemed like a straight shooter despite her ridiculous defense, or I might have thought she was in on it!
She might have gone with other defense angles that could have been more successful. It seemed like she could have easily poked holes in the cops' investigation.
They brought Toby and his girlfriend down to the station after they lied about the last time Toby had seen Amanda, then arrested a burglar who broke into Amanda's van and claimed he witnessed the abduction.
Surely those were grounds for reasonable doubt!
The defense she went with instead technically instilled reasonable doubt... of whether Amanda was truly dead. But the testimony that Amanda's mother gave was strong enough to overcome that, so it might not have been the best way to approach this case.
It certainly was reprehensible, though.
Maybe if there had been any actual doubt that Garrett killed Amanda, it wouldn't have felt that way. But as is, it came off as the defense attorney grasping at straws and kicking people when they were down.
Suggesting to Amanda's mother that her presumed-dead daughter was an attention seeker who was alive but hiding from her family was gross. Did Knight think that was going to score her points with the jury?
As for the cops' side of things, Donovan was mostly tolerable for once and even made some good points.
Dixon: Maybe Amanda has a stalker.
Donovan: She made it easy for him. She shared every detail of what she was doing.
Dixon: I hope you're not implying this was her fault.
Donovan: No. I'm saying... call me paranoid, call me old-fashioned. I don't give a rat's ass. THAT is why my kids will not have social media accounts.
The issue of how dangerous social media can be mostly got swept to the side, but he was right: social media stars, especially young ones, put themselves at greater risk for stalking because they share their locations with everybody.
This was a side road to go down that didn't entirely fit the story, but I wish there'd been more time to explore it.
If this series explored cops' personal lives the way other series in the franchise did, we'd have had the opportunity for somebody, maybe Dixon, to deal with this with their own kids. It would have been interesting if she'd gone home to find her kids on TikTok after her annoyance with Donovan's stance on this!
But this is the original Law & Order, which doesn't roll that way. So unless it materially affected the case, all we were going to get was a throwaway line.
Still, there were more opportunities to explore social media's double-edged sword than the writers took advantage of here.
Dixon: Lab work came back. DNA profile shows the blood in the van didn't belong to Amanda.
Bernard: Could be good news. She might still be alive. Hopefully.
Donovan: But if the blood at the scene isn't Amanda's...
Dixon: It belongs to a guy named Joseph Denzig. We got a hit in the database. His rap sheet looks like a receipt from CVS. Track him down. Before the Internet does. I don't want a bunch of amateur sleuths finding him and taking the law into their own hands.
Throughout the hour, the story touched several times on how social media influenced the investigation.
Dixon worried about vigilantes engaging in street justice after putting the clues together on social media.
Witnesses knew all about the crime scene details because someone posted them online.
A hacker nearly derailed the case by posting a phony picture of Amanda in Cancun.
And a witness who found Amanda's shoe lost credibility because she could have learned enough details online to fake her discovery.
In addition, Knight tried to argue that Amanda was alive based on a conspiracy theory on Twitter, and reporters knew all about the phony picture almost before the DA's office did!
All of this added up to a bleak picture of how social media influences police investigations, but none of it was made explicit. Perhaps that will happen at another time, though, as there are plenty of stories the writers could tell involving social media leaks.
The danger with Law & Order always ripping stories from the headlines is that sometimes it can be painful for the victims of the actual crime.
That was a concern with this one that many viewers speculated was based on the real-life Gabby Petito case.
Since it's only been a few months since Gabby Petito's remains were found, some viewers worried that the victims' pain might be too raw to be televised.
Fortunately, enough details were changed to make this a unique story that didn't directly relate to the Petito case.
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You can watch Law & Order online right here on TV Fanatic if you missed the episode.
Law & Order airs on NBC on Thursdays at 8 PM EST/PST.