The last 'Law & Order' review: How can we miss you if you never go away?

The central plot of last night’s final new episode of Law & Order mattered less than all the stuff going on around it. It was the unexpectedly abrupt conclusion of the series after NBC unveiled its fall schedule last week, and L&O was nowhere to be seen. It gave us some closure to the season-long subplot about the cancer diagnosis for S. Epatha Merkerson’s Lt. Van Buren. And Olympic star and prima Law & Order fan Lindsey Vonn made a cameo appearance.

I liked that the final hour featured a pretty standard case for this 20-season-old series: an unstable blogger making death threats and pipe bombs. It’s up to Detectives Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Bernard (Anthony Anderson) to track the guy down, and for attorneys Cutter (Linus Roache) and Rubirosa (Alana de la Garza), and their boss Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) to prosecute him.

With Law & Order, there’s always either a ripped-from-the-headlines crime and/or a social issue to be addressed. This week, it was the difficult, unrewarding jobs teachers often have. The hour came down rather hard on teachers’ unions, I must say.

In fact, it was left to guest star Vonn, behind a nice pair of horn rims, to play an administrative assistant at a teacher’s union office who helped Lupo and Bernard get closer to finding the villain before he blows up a school.

On the personal side — a side L&O rarely ventured into — we learned that Van Buren’s cervical cancer is in remission, and we were allowed to hope that she and her boyfriend, played by Ernie Hudson, would find some happiness.

In the final seasons of Law & Order, I grew most fond of the “order” side of the scales of justice. I thought Roache and de la Garza turned into interesting, unpredictable characters. Last night, Waterston got to have a great scene, ordering a teacher to give up the name of a suspect colleague and to ignore her union lawyer (played excellently by Nurse Jackie‘s Paul Schulze). On the other hand, I often felt Sisto and Anderson were given short shrift much of the time.

But that’s the way it’s always been with the L&O ensemble — the characters’ quality see-sawed back and forth. For some years, the cops (Chris Noth’s Mike Logan! Jerry Orbach’s Lennie Briscoe!) were moreĀ  intriguing than the prosecutors.

I paid my respects to Law & Order at greater length when its cancellation was announced; you can read that piece here.

But now I’ll add that, after spending so many years with a show, you developed fondnesses for characters outside the immediate ring of stars. I admit to a bit of a crush on no-nonsense clinical psychologist Elizabeth Olivet (Carolyn McCormick), for example. But beyond the people, it was, as producer Dick Wolf always said, the structure of the show that was the real hook — that, and the gray grit of the New York City backdrop.

That’s why Law & Order in eternal reruns is so comforting. You can enjoy episodes even when you remember the case or the outcome, because you want to immerse yourself in that Law & Order feeling that didn’t insult your intelligence. Not excessively emotional, rarely maudlin, always open to the notion that law and order might not always prevail, this series was crisp and dry in the most nourishing way.

What did you think of the Law & Order finale?

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Comments (214 total) Add your comment
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  • MaryB

    I felt sad knowing that was the last (new) episode. It would be nice of NBC to do a retrospective on the series as a parting gift to all the loyal viewers. It was always my favourite. I’ll miss the gang, and I’m glad they didn’t end it on a sad note.

  • SHELLY

    I have been a big fan of all the L and O shows and spinoffs. I know this episode didnt deviate from the norm, but I did expect a little more emotional connection between the charactors and audience considering 20 years on the air

    • T. Smith

      The show was cancelled after the finale was already shot. The entire crew was under assumption that they were picked up for the next season.

      • JDMB

        L&O deserved better from NBC, to whose bottom line they contributed so much for so long. At the very least, promotion of their last season like with lesser contributors over the years (Seinfeld, ER, etc. – lesser in terms of on-air time). All things must pass, and I’m not saying it wasn’t time to go, but it should have been handled differently. Can we blame this on Leno as well? ;-)

  • JC

    SO sad to see it go without without a proper conclusion

  • daviddavid

    I haven’t watched it yet, but I think Jeff Zucker should be strung up for canceling the show. I mean, it’s an institution and the current cast is among the best. Boy, between this and the LENO-debacle … who does Zucker think he is? I mean … What The Zuck!

    • Lize

      NBC has had its share of idiot decisions this past season. To blatantly cancel an iconic series with no notice to the crew, production staff and viewers is insulting. NBC – we see your true colors.

      • texaslady2

        L&O was the only NBC prime time show that I watched. Now they have nothing to offer me. Goodbye NBC.

  • KMC

    A worthy tribute to a show that helped define television for a generation. Bravo!

  • Hckymum

    I thought that a show that had been in our hearts and living rooms for so long deserved a better send-off than than this. Though I was very happy for Van Buren!

  • babs

    It was a great episode, but I also think this show deserved so much more for a send-off! In fact, it shouldn’t be getting a send-off at all, it should be getting renewed! But with all the attention for Lost finale, you’d think that a 20-season show like Law & Order would get some love from the media for its series finale, but it’s barely been mentioned anywhere. I wouldn’t have known it was the series finale last night. I will so miss Law & Order. Without it (and Jack Bauer) I hardly have a reason to have a TV now.

    • Sarah

      I see what you’re saying, but keep in mind that we have known the Lost was going to end this year for quite some time. Meanwhile, it was JUST announced that L&O will not be returning, so there wasn’t much time to build up the finale.

      • llevinso

        Either way, the Lost coverage on this website is gag-inducing. As are many things (American Idol, Twilight, Dancing with the Stars, etc…)

      • Beepela

        Except that Lost is actually good, unlike the others you mentioned. :)

      • llevinso

        I’m not saying Lost isn’t good (I don’t actually watch it so I don’t know) but regardless, the amount of coverage on this website is ridiculous!

      • tommy hall

        i was very disappointed in final show. i thought some of the old characters would at least have been mentioned. it was law and order good.

      • t3hdow

        I find it funny that many 24 fans (inside every recent 24 related article here) have complained to the breaking point about how much they hate Lost and the endless coverage that it got, and that 24 never got the attention it “deserved”, yet Law and Order’s ending with barely a peep. Now THAT’S being ignored, as opposed to the numerous articles EW have provided 24 fans, despite the fanbase’s idiocy. Law and Order fans should be more furious for that injustice alone, along with NBC’s swift execution.
        With that said, I’m glad you guys aren’t exploding with idiotic rage towards Lost and/or EW (who’ve somehow turned anti-24 all of sudden…right…) and are a little more mature about this, even though you have every right to be upset about NBC’s unceremonious cancellation after 20 years on the network. Whereas SVU and CI have gotten bad nowadays, the original is peerless. It will be missed.

    • llevinso

      I agree. There are about 20 things on here about freaking Lost which was on the air for what? 6 years? L&O is an institution! It deserves more than just this one article. NBC’s preview for it last week even announced that it was the SEASON finale instead of SERIES finale. Nice going NBC.

      • Rachael

        couldn’t agree with you more. Well… NBC will lose a lot with this switch (at least I hope) but TV is really going to a gag me level. Thanks goodness for TNT and even it is slipping…

    • cynthia

      I feel your pain!! So sad to see 24 go, AND L&O. Have been watching it since it’s been on!!

    • Jen

      I thought it was actually one of the best episodes in some time, and had a satisfying ending. Plus one more righteous speech by Sam Waterston.

      Why on earth this show is going and not SVU is beyond me … oh right, sex sells.

    • Mirna Suazo

      Sin la Ley y el Orden no me interesa ver la tv.

  • babs

    P.S., I thought this season was one of the best and this show just gets better and better. Loved Lupo and Bernard, and ADA Cutter. Can’t understand why they’re axing the original L&O, but keeping that overwrought piece of crap SVU. HATE that show!!!! Ugh.

    • llevinso

      SVU has been getting worse and worse lately. All they do now is rely on guest stars or it’s the Olivia and Elliot hour. The original L&O, on the other hand, was bad several years ago, after Briscoe left, but then these last couple years started to improve again. This season it really hit it’s stride again. Shouldn’t have been cancelled.

      • divanerd

        No, the WORST is Criminal Intent. Ever since Goran and Eames left, I haven’t seen a new episode where they don’t TELEGRAPH the outcome way in advance. I wish I could end up surprised by whodunnit.

      • Vickie

        I liked all 3 Law & Order series. The original went through a rough spot but still great. I for one love SVU, sorry, but I love Olivia and Elliot. Now CI, don’t get me started. I cannot believe they replaced Goran and Eames, I cannot stand Jeff G. That was the worst mistake they could have made. I haven’t watched one episode with him and I will never watch any episodes (except re-runs) without Goran & Eames.

      • llevinso

        I used to like Olivia and Elliot but now it’s gotten to the point where I can’t stand them. The writing is just lazy on SVU. Lazy lazy lazy.

      • sr

        i actually cried when lennie briscoe left the show. he was my favorite (cried when jerry orbach died too). i kept watching for awhile but when jesse l. martin left, i stopped watching. i had a hard time accepting the new characters. i’ve always loved jack mccoy. i admit that i like SVU but stopped watching because i don’t have a tv anymore. i did notice before i stopped watching that it was all olivia and elliot but i loved finn and munch so much more! they are funny.

    • Gillian

      FOR REAL! I continue to resent that SVU gets to stay on the air, while the original L&O (which is tons better) gets unceremoniously put out to pasture.

      • LTC

        Totally agree. I don’t like SVU, I call it “Pedophiles are US” and although I used to like L&O CI, I wish someone would wake up that new actress. I know she’s supposed to be good, but she seems to have barely enough energy to get through the scenes.

  • Donna

    This was actually one of the best episodes of the season and series! It only underscored what a travesty it is to cancel this great show. Loved, loved, LOVED the resolution of Van Buren’s cancer storyline–we get such a rare peek into their private lives, but this woman has been a part of this show for so long, we really did need to know she was going to be okay. I’m devastated to lose L&O. Yes, I’ll watch all of the reruns, but I still will miss new episodes each week. I hate NBC!

  • jess

    I was so sad and mad because of the cancellation i couldn’t get myself to watching it…i’d have to agree ken i grew very fond of the ‘order’ side of the show this season…i loved roache, de la garza, and waterston…they were the main reason i would tune in this season…i’d be great if all three of them could be added to the SVU legal team…just a suggestion NBC!!

    • jerry

      Law and Order is finished. And all those trashy reality shows just keep on infecting our tv watching. There is not one reality show on that I even watch. I know they are cheap to produce, but what idiot wants to sit there and watch this garbage? The sad part is that we will never again see quality shows like Law &Order again. Thank goodness for the cable channels and their reruns of quality shows. The networks are the big losers in the end as their audience dwindles and eventually will disappear altogether

      • TMB

        Don’t give up, Jerry. The reality craze may be on the wane (or at least plateauing), because the networks ordered more scripted shows for next season then they have in quite some time.

      • texaslady2

        Scripted shows are not necessarily good shows, unfortunately.

  • Lisa

    This would have been a perfectly appropriate season finale, rather than a series finale. It seemed to me that this was the episode they filmed as the season finale, and then they found out afterwards that that the series was going dark. The episode didn’t have a huge emotional payoff, but I’ve seen far more cringe-worthy season finales (Seinfeld, anyone)?

    • llevinso

      It was filmed as a season finale. L&O was cancelled well after filming for the season had already completed. The jerks at NBC didn’t have the decency to give a show that had been on air for 20 years a proper series finale.

      • llevinso

        That said, I’m still okay with this being the finale. I think it was a very good episode and while I’m sure it would’ve been different if they had written it actually KNOWING it was the series finale, it worked in it’s own way.

  • doris morrow

    I was so sad to see the show go, I am going to miss the show. I like the spin-offs but Law and Order is the father of all the shows. Sadley missed.

  • Joe

    I loved Waterston’s scene and was so happy to see him get to unleash a little. One of my favorite scene’s of him from the whole series. Loved the attention to Van Buren. Fitting that show’s best moments came from it’s longest-running stars. Am sad to see it go…hope it gets a proper send-off.

    • Brooke

      I totally agree; it was wonderful to see the two cast members with the most acting chops tear into the material without getting treacly. I really hope NBC doesn’t make a movie; I loved how the series ended with a simple “thank you.”

    • jen

      I think it was genius that this episode was much like the others instead of being all mushy. I have to admit, I wanted mushy, but it was the right move to keep it just like any other Law and Order episode. It’s my all-time favorite show. What’s up with Law and Order Los Angeles?

      • G.R.

        “I think it was genius that this episode was much like the others instead of being all mushy.”

        Agreed, jen. :) I thought last night’s show was really good, if a bit unusual (the majority of it focused on either Van Buren’s situation or the detectives trying to get their man, with McCoy and the DAs just putting in appearances). Considering that the cast and crew didn’t actually know this would be their last episode, I don’t think they could’ve had a better or more appropriate send-off.

    • llevinso

      LOVED Jack McCoy in this final episode!

    • julie

      jack was amazing this episode! him tearing into the union lawyer was by far the best part. i was so sad watching, knowing it was not coming back.

    • texaslady2

      It had already been announced that S. Epatha Merkerson was leaving, so I think this episode was intended originally as a send-off to her character, Lt. Van Buren. At least the last episode ended on a positive note.

  • V

    I am so confused. This is such a dumb move on the part of NBC. L&O is a staple in American television an the “du-dun” has become part of our lexicon. To cancel this show, especially one season short of history, but bring in a new L&O in LA!? Part of the cast is the City of New York!! I hope TNT picks it up!

    • Tim

      Don’t count on that. TNT even turned down paying for the RERUNS of season 21

  • meels

    I already miss it. Keeping my hopes up that a new NBC fall drama will be cancelled and they will bring back Law and Order!

    • Rachael

      Hope NBC’s fall season FALLS flat on it’s collective face. Oh, I’m sure there will be some intervention driven, trailer perk dramas to fill the growing holes! Too bad most of the TV audience out there is just chomping at the bit for Lost’s long lost follow-up show, FOUND to come on. well, you know

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