Law & Order: Criminal Intent Goes Out With a Social Network

· Joanthan Poritsky

Last night’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent sign off, just like the original Law & Order’s last year, was an understated end to the always understated show. It is the nature of the procedural to refrain from entering too deeply into the lives of its recurring characters. No series has exemplified this more than the various incarnations of Law & Order. The show is built for syndication, which is why it has found a home on a number of channels seemingly around the clock. Save for age, the first episode is indistinguishable from the last.

So the series finale wasn’t notable as an ending. Instead, the show’s writers brought in an odd plot not ripped from the headlines but ripped from the silver screen. Well, both, technically. The case involved the murder of two twins who were suing the CEO of a multi-million dollar social networking site called “Kismate”. Though the episode could seemingly based on the much publicised rose of Facebook and the ongoing disputes between CEO Mark Zuckerberg and twins Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss, it’s lifted not from real life but from the film The Social Network.

Lifting a plot from a film based on a book based on a true event wouldn’t be all that interesting if it weren’t for how closely linked the film and the episode were. In particular, the character Rex Tamlyn, played by James Van Der Beek, is completely lifted off of Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker in the film. There is even a moment in which the detectives interview Tamlyn in a club that looks identical to the one used in the blaring, now iconic scene from The Social Network. I can’t tell if this is high art or high bullshit.

The episode is admittedly an homage to Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher’s film, but it begs the question, “Why?” Not only was the plot only ho-hum for this last episode ever, the cues going back to the film, save for the club scene, were scant and obvious. The showrunners weren’t taking the foundation of what we know about Zuckerberg’s exploits from the film and running with it. Instead they were taking familiar territory and using it to garner a few extra eyeballs.

Interestingly, Law & Order: CI performed something of a televised coup last week when the episode revolved around a “Spder-Man: Turn Off the Dark”-like Broadway show in which a cast member was murdered. That, at least, was ripped from the headlines and brought some interesting subtext into a highly publicized event. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the episode “said” anything, but it certainly was a fun watch and about an event, a point in history. The finale? Not so much.

Still, whoever was able to convince the network they could shoot the exact same club scene from an Oscar-winning film for an episode of a cable television procedural deserves an award all his/her own. Looks like it was a blast to recreate the thing.