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Law & Order: SVU Recap: Kathy Stabler's Murder Trial Begins

law-and-order-svu-recap-season-23-episode-9-the-people-vs-richard-wheatley

It’s finally time for the man who ordered Kathy Stabler’s murder to go on trial, and this week’s Law & Order: SVU/Organized Crime crossover details both Richard Wheatley’s time in court and the ramifications from his verdict. But before we get there, we have a graveside date, some courtroom outbursts and the return of one Rafael Barba with which to contend. Read on for the highlights of “The People Vs. Richard Wheatley.” (And later, make sure to check out our recap of the Organized Crime half of the crossover, and hear what SVU‘s Peter Scanavino and Organized Crime‘s Tamara Taylor had to say about the trial and its repercussions.)

The first half of the crossover starts at Kathy’s gravesite, where the Stablers and Olivia have gathered to say a belated happy birthday to Elliot’s dead wife. “You shaved,” Bensons says as she arrives, apparently seeing El’s bare cheeks for the first time since his Eddie Ashes stint. “It was time,” he replies. And I know many of you think I read far too much into any Benson/Stabler interaction, but DO YOU SEE THE EYE COITUS IN WHICH THEY ENGAGE RIGHT NEXT TO KATHY’S FINAL RESTING PLACE? That gaze rivals jam band solos and Rapunzel’s hair, it is so noticeably long.

As they wrap up, Eli skips out to meet a study partner. Liv observes that the teen seems to be doing better after the pill incident, but Elliot notes that he’s tracking his son’s cell and that he’s had security cameras installed in their apartment. “Trust, but verify,” he says.

Over in Legal Land, Wheatley changes lawyers for the fourth time since he was arrested… and his new counsel winds up being former assistant district attorney Barba. This, of course, brings Barba back over to the precinct, where he and Stabler make each other’s acquaintance. “I am sorry for your loss,” Barba tells the detective. “Are you? Then why are you defending the man who killed my wife?” Stabler wonders before stalking off.

The reception from Capt. Benson is equally chilly. Barba says some junk that  is right in line with the notion due process and all that jazz, but c’mon dude: Wheatley needs to go away forever. Then the former ADA seems to imply that he took the job to protect Olivia’s reputation and her career, but then he talks about how the New York Police Department might be framing Wheatley… and by the time Liv says “Rafa” in a frustrated whisper, I’m just as ready as she is for him to get the heck outta her office.

law-and-order-svu-recap-season-23-episode-9-livThe trial begins. Carisi and Baptiste are handling the prosecution, and after Baptiste questions Liv, Barba goes in on the way that Stabler went off on that suspect they had in custody the night of Kathy’s car bomb. Stabler’s disciplinary history comes up. It gets ugly quickly. Then Bell takes the stand, which gives Barba the chance to insinuate that the NYPD planted evidence to incriminate Izak Bekher, and therefore Wheatley, in the killing.

Via Barba, Wheatley meets with Liv to tell her that she might not want to hear what Angela is going to say about Stabler when she takes the stand the next day. So when Benson sees El that night, she asks him about it. “Any reason I shouldn’t be there?” she asks, and he gets all squirrelly. “You’re not answering the question,” she presses. “That’s none of your business, or the court’s. The question is: Why are you really asking?,” he asks. Oh, we’re doing this here, in the cold outside the courthouse? Cool. Cool.

“You have not asked me one question about what has happened to me since you left,” she says, adding that he showed up, drugged, when Noah was asleep in the next room, and she found the incident “scary.” Then she asks why he gave her a letter “you didn’t even write. What was that about?” He looks stymied and admits he’s not sure: “I didn’t know how to begin.” She allows him no passes. “Well that makes two of us,” she says, staring him down.

Angela takes the stand the next day, and Barba definitely brings up the fact that Angela and Stabler smooched. After some light badgering, she admits that she was in love with Stabler and actually still is. Next, Richie testifies via videoconference from prison and drastically pulls back on his damning testimony after someone off-camera signals to him. In the courtroom, Richard looks very pleased.

Before Stabler’s testimony, Carisi and Baptiste urge the detective to stay calm and collected instead of his usual hothead self. He assures them it’ll be no problem. And at first, that seems to be the case! But then Barba brings up Stabler’s PTSD, his family problems, his recent undercover stint… and, yep, now Stabler’s yelling. “How much is Wheatley paying you, judge?” El wonders at one point, which gets him held in contempt of court.

law-and-order-svu-recap-season-23-episode-9Then we get a bathroom scene in which Stabler goads Wheatley about how much sex he and Angela had; Wheatley stands at the urinal and very pointedly checks out Stabler’s, uh, sidearm; and Stabler makes it clear that he and Benson are good. The not-so-chance encounter seems to have its desired effect: Though Wheatley does not have to take the stand, and Barba recommends against it, the vainglorious kingpin leaves the men’s room and decides to make sure the jury hears his story in his own words.

If you think that watching Dylan McDermott chew scenery as Richard Wheatley is enjoyable (and I very much do), then you must’ve dissolved in paroxysms of joy watching McDermott chew scenery as Richard Wheatley chewing scenery. Richard pins Kathy’s murder on Bekher, saying he was oblivious of the crime — very convenient, because no one knows where Bekher is (though we know he’s hella dead). It builds, and eventually Wheatley threatens Carisi’s life in open court. Oops.

The jury is deadlocked, and Liv is NOT ready to let Barba off the hook onto which he so willingly hoisted himself. “Just so we’re clear: I feel betrayed by you. And I don’t know how I’ll ever get over it,” she tells him. And before the verdict is handed down, Wheatley offers Barba a position as his consiglieri — which the former ADA turns down like the stinky turd that it is.

The jury reports that it is deadlocked, and Barba moves for a mistrial. Though Baptiste and Carisi object, the judge rules for a mistrial. “It means we lost,” Stabler says, doubly agitated because he’s just realized that Eli has looped the security footage and is MIA.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think about Hour 1? Sound off in the comments!

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