The Passion of The Hargitay

The Law & Order abstainer is a member of an elite squad. This is her story.

This is the week when I learn the most about myself and my need for Law & Order—the show, but also the institutions. At first I had thought living in New York City would blunt the escapist joys of the show, since the crime scene addresses that pop up on the screen with every chung-chung are real places to me now (or, at least, they could be). The show's real-world feel is part of its charm; the Times recently named Law & Order one of several prime-time shows that have engaged in Bush-bashing this season, and quoted creator Dick Wolf: "Virtually everyone who lives in the lower 48 states at one time or another has been offended by Law & Order." I suppose this is true; I personally find it offensive that every Catholic priest on the show is a redhead named "Fr. Mickey O'Irish." But generally I am comforted, not shaken, by the TV version of life in the rotten Big Apple.

In the television version of the criminal justice system, all cops are dedicated, hardworking, and good-looking. Time is telescoped so that every criminal is captured and prosecuted within an hour (and the confusing or boring parts of the legal process are silently skipped). Unsolved crimes are not an issue; the TV-NYPD has unlimited resources, and forensics experts can extract damning clues from the tiniest bit of evidence. Murder will always out, whereas in real life police waste a lot of time directing traffic and wrangling drunks, and big crimes often go unsolved because there's no scriptwriter to match the soil on the soles of the suspect's shoes with a kind of dirt found only at the crime scene.

The NYC of Law & Order, however gritty and "ripped-from-the-headlines," is a simulacrum where I can take refuge after a long day living in the real thing. The terror that permeates even the most affecting episode is artificial fear, and a strangely comforting escape from the everyday terror I feel walking around this nervous city, clutching my purse on the subway or freezing at the sight of perfectly legitimate low-flying planes. Furthermore, those perps aren't really criminals; I saw that drug pusher in an Off-Broadway play last week.

Week Six:I can't decide if the man I see on the bus on Palm Sunday is really SVU cast member B.D. Wong, or if I am hallucinating after my long fast. As Lent draws to a close, I find I am looking forward to Easter with greater zeal than usual, although perhaps not for the right reasons. I cannot wait to return to the comforting embrace of the artificial criminal justice system, where each chung-chung means the city of New York is safer than before. I know I can take for granted that justice is still being served, day or night, on cable; maybe next Lent I can focus on strengthening my faith in real-life law and order.


Mollie Wilson would love to take Detectives Stabler and Benson out for cheesecake

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