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LAW & ORDER & FAITH

        

The 2009 primary cast of 'Law & Order,' from left: S. Epatha Merkerson, Jeremy Sisto, Anthony Anderson, Sam Waterston, Alana de la Garza, Linus Roache.

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s a lot of discussion about religion and churchgoing these days, especially given the current heated political climate, so it seems like a good time to ask about how the subject is portrayed on television. When this column was written, some 12 years ago, it was unusual to see anything but negative portrayals of faith and believers, which is why this episode of ‘Law & Order’ late in the series’ run seemed to stand out. Today, partly because there are so many accessible programs on broadcast and cable networks, and streaming sites, you have at least a few shows that treat religion and the religious with more respect — most obviously ‘Blue Bloods.’ But that was very much not the case when this was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 27, 2009. (And we’ll explore this subject a bit deeper next week.)

 

Prime-time network TV feels the need to shock these days, with depictions of violence and gore, sex and nudity, profane and vulgar language getting stronger all the time.

 

And that’s just the news shows.

 

But last week, “Law & Order” had a real shocker.

 

That is, the original “Law & Order,” the 19-year warhorse with Sam Waterston as District Attorney Jack McCoy, where the first half of each episode is about the police investigating a murder and the second half is about the prosecutors taking the case to court. And the plot starts out being about one thing and ends up being about something else.

 

This is a show that is mostly about the crimes, not the people who try to solve them each week. But sometimes we do get bits and pieces of backstory that tell us something about the recurring characters.

 

And one recurring theme we have seen over the years regarding many “L&O” characters is a skepticism, if not downright mockery, of all things religious. Especially organized religion. Chiefly with McCoy, who is a bitter lapsed Catholic.

 

        

 

Anthony Anderson, left, Jeremy Sisto, 'Law & Order' (2009)

 

Anyway, here’s last week’s shocker:

 

Two of the regulars on the show — Anthony Anderson’s police detective Kevin Bernard and Alana De La Garza’s prosecutor Connie Rubirosa — revealed that they are churchgoers. And Rubirosa knows her Bible. Yikes!

 

This may not seem like a big deal until you ask yourself how many characters on prime-time TV today attend church or even verbally acknowledge God with anything short of derision.

 

This episode begins with a murder investigation but quickly twists and turns into something else. The general theme is the Rapture, described on the show as “The last days, the book of Revelation,” “When Jesus comes back and takes all good Christians to heaven.”

 

The focus is on two zealous cults, one involved with a faith website designed to automatically send e-mails to loved ones left behind when the Rapture comes, and the other with returning Jews to Israel before the Rapture. And there’s the usual mix of naïve believers and scam artists.

 

Early in the show, while questioning a confessed murderer, Bernard is asked if he believes in Jesus. “I do,” he replies.

 

Later Bernard is asked by his partner Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) if he’s really a believer or if he was just trying to get information from the guy. Bernard replies, “I’ve been seen in the church from time to time,” although he adds some skepticism regarding the Rapture.

 

        

 

    Linus Roache, Alana de la Garza, 'Law & Order' (2009)

 

Toward the end of the show Rubirosa’s moment comes as she challenges a reverend who is a reluctant witness in a separate murder case.

 

She and lead prosecutor Mike Cutter (Linus Roache) find the reverend in an empty church and approach him about his testimony (he has perjured himself in court).

 

At one point, Rubirosa reaches for the reverend’s Bible, opens it to Matthew 24 and reads a scripture, which prompts the reverend to reconsider his actions. Then she leads the reverend and Cutter in a prayer.

 

After they get their conviction, McCoy asks if it’s because God told the reverend to tell the truth. Cutter replies, “And Connie.” He then turns to Rubirosa and adds, “Matthew, Chapter 24? You study the Bible?”

 

She responds cryptically: “I prepare for court, I prepare for church.”

 

Fair enough.

 

And for a 21st century TV character, a little shocking.