Ever eager to tick all the politically correct boxes, NBC’s veteran procedural “Law & Order: SVU” kicked off its 17th season by fulfilling a laundry list of left-wing fantasies. In an episode that nicely combines the show's signature "ripped from the headlines" storylines with attacks on rich white male one percenters, “SVU” outed Manhattan’s Deputy Chief Medical Examiner (M.E.) Dr. Carl Rudnick (Jefferson Mays) as a cross-dressing, mentally ill, independently wealthy serial killer (sound familiar?) who used his position to cover his tracks as he dismembered women alive for pleasure.
Not many medical examiners could post a $2,000,000 bail on a moment’s notice. But Rudnick is no ordinary civil employee. Backed by layers of trust funds and a vaguely massive family fortune, Rudnick walks free within hours to murder the only witness who could take him down before skipping town on a bus to Canada. Rudnick is intercepted in Rochester in all his gender-bending glory after getting flagged for shoplifting despite carrying a money belt with $64,000 in cash. Given his amateur slip-ups, it’s amazing it took the SVU more than a decade to catch him.
-Troopers picked up the bus about an hour ago, followed at a discreet distance.
-Well, he’s still on board.
-There was an E Howard purchase in Syracuse, bus didn’t make any stops between Rochester and here.
-Okay, let’s do this thing nice and easy, alright. We don’t want to spook him.
-This is your guy?
-I’m Ellie Howard and I fully intend to pay my fine for shoplifting.
-Ms. Howard, stop. Why don’t you come with us, alright. We’ll sort this out.
-Hands behind your back, please.
-Is that really necessary?
-Let him do his job.
-Alright, come on. So you’ve got a crossdressing, rapist, murderer in your ME’s office. You guys down in New York City really are progressive.
The writers should be proud of themselves. They managed to cram a corrupt law enforcement officer, evil rich white male, and leading general of the war on women into a single, compact, soft-spoken package. Although I’m sure someone will complain that a mentally ill character was depicted as transgender, at least M.E. Rudnick is just crazy enough to conveniently confess to his crimes on camera, successfully thwarting his high-priced attorneys’ otherwise impeccable defense performance.
-Given the change in tenor of this conversation, I’m contacting my lawyer. I’d like to exercise that right.
-Feel free. We will wait to continue questioning you until your lawyer arrives.
-They can’t pin these on you. Rachel’s a crack-whore. The green nail polish, the proximity to Yates’ victims, there’s far too much reasonable doubt. And Lena, nobody will buy Yates’ word. My only risk there is Susie. She’s dumb as a post, but she still could put two and two together, and if she does, I suppose I’ll have to kill her just like the others. Kill them all Carl, whatever it takes. Rita, it’s very good of you to come on such short notice.
-Of course, Carl, but I’m afraid I have some bad news.
-This is clearly inadmissible, your honor.
-I understand why you’d like to think that. Walk me through the providence and chain of evidence. How did this fall into your hands?
-We asked Dr. Rudnick to come in for an interview and he gave us permission to record it.
-Your honor, Dr. Rudnick had asked for counsel.
-And when he did, we immediately stopped questioning him and left the room.
-Yes, but you left the camera on.
-He knew that he was being recorded. We weren’t interrogating him. This was a spontaneous admission. Your client talks to himself.
-Not only is this inadmissible under Miranda, but it’s also Brady material that should have been made available to us.
-It was. A copy of this video has been in your possession since day one. You must have stopped
-watching when we stopped questioning.
-He’s right, Mr. Buchanan. If you turned this off, it’s on you. This is admissible.
-I was simply thinking out loud.
-We’ll let a jury determine that.
-You had the recording for the entirety of my ordeal and you didn’t know it.
-Your honor, I immediately move for new counsel on the basis of incompetent defense.
-That’s your right. I should caution you, though: this material is admissible no matter who defends you.
-Dr. Rudnick, I understand you’d like to change your plea.
-Yes, your honor.
-On the charge of murder in the first degree of Susie Frain, how do you plea?
-Guilty as charged.
This eerie admission is reminiscent of the real-life confession of eccentric millionaire Robert Durst who was the clear inspiration for the character’s story arc. Durst was accused of murdering his wife; the fictional Dr. Rudnick murdered his fiancée. Both Durst and Rudnick were accused of executing a witness named “Susan.” Both had a penchant for cross-dressing and were caught after shoplifting despite having thousands of dollars on their person. And both confessed to “killing them all” on a hot mic: Rudnick in a prosecutor’s office, Durst while he took a bathroom break during an interview for the HBO series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.”
Given the damning evidence, Rudnick chooses to change his plea to guilty. The jury is still out on Robert Durst. He was arrested earlier this year and his trial is ongoing.