Authority (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit)
|Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode|
|Episode no.||Season 9|
|Directed by||David Platt|
|Original air date||April 29, 2008|
"Authority" is the seventeenth episode of the ninth season of the American police procedural Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and the 200th overall. "Authority" first aired on April 29, 2008 on NBC in the United States. The episode's plot sees Detectives Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) investigating a caller who impersonates a police officer and asks people to perform criminal acts. The detectives learn that the caller is audio engineer Merritt Rook (Robin Williams), a man who opposes authority due to a tragic event in his past. After Rook seizes an opportunity to kidnap Benson, he asks Stabler to inflict pain on her or watch him do it.
The episode was co-written by Neal Baer and Amanda Green, while David Platt directed. It was inspired by the 2004 Mount Washington strip search phone call scam, the Milgram experiments and the New York performance art group Improv Everywhere's "Frozen Grand Central" event. Williams was cast after his friend Richard Belzer (John Munch), approached the producers and told them Williams would like to appear on the show. Executive producer Neal Baer stated that they only developed the story after learning that Williams was available. Filming for the episode began in late March on location at Bryant Park, Grand Central Terminal and Long Island City.
"Authority" was seen by 12.06 million viewers, winning the 10pm hour with a 4.1 Nielsen rating in the 18–49 demographic. Critical response was mixed, with some reporters branding the plot implausible, unsatisfying and inane. Others enjoyed the episode, saying it was "tremendously tense" and chilling. For his portrayal of Rook, Williams won the Favorite Scene Stealing Guest Star accolade at the 35th People's Choice Awards. He also received a nomination for Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, while Karen Stern earned a nomination for Best Edited One-Hour Series for Commercial Television at the 2009 American Cinema Editors Awards.
Detectives Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) are called to a fast food restaurant after employee Trini Martinez (Monica Raymund) is heard screaming in the manager's office. Benson persuades the manager, Dwight Lomax (Scott Adsit), to open the door and they see he has Trini bound and gagged. Dwight explains that he received a call from a Detective Milgram, who told him to detain Trini and strip-search her for a stolen wallet. Stabler informs a devastated Dwight that there is no Detective Milgram. The detectives learn that the same caller has struck before, and they identify him as audio engineer Merritt Rook (Robin Williams). Rook uses his voice skills to give himself a false alibi, but he is soon found out and charged with conspiracy to commit sexual assault.
Rook chooses to represent himself at his trial, where he encourages the jury to question authority. Rook is found not guilty and he goes on to organize various public demonstrations urging people to question and defy authority. Benson and Stabler learn from Rook's colleague that his hatred of authority figures began when his wife died during childbirth, following a mistake made by her doctor. Benson and Stabler discover that the doctor died in a car accident that was ruled a suicide. After finding evidence that Rook harassed the doctor so much that he chose to take his own life, Benson and Stabler go to pick Rook up. They find him at Grand Central Terminal, but Stabler loses Benson and Rook amongst the crowd, and her gun and phone are later found in a trash can.
Stabler locates Rook at a recording studio, and Rook shows him Benson, bound to a chair in a soundproof room, which has been wired up to explosives. Rook brings out a switch and tells Stabler that Benson is connected to an electricity generator. He gives Stabler the option of pressing the button himself or watch while he does it. Stabler refuses to hurt Benson and tries to reason with Rook, telling him too many people have suffered. Rook thanks Stabler for not being a follower, revealing that there are no explosives and Benson is fine, her screams were pre-recorded. Benson and Stabler arrest Rook. As they leave the studio, Benson explains that she left Grand Central with Rook when he admitted to having a bomb. Rook causes an explosion using a detonator tied to his ankle, and escapes. Benson and Stabler give chase, but when they cannot find him, they presume Rook jumped into the river and drowned.
On March 18, 2008, Michael Ausiello reported that actor Robin Williams would be guest starring in the 200th episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Show spokeswoman Pam Golum said Williams would be portraying an "engineer whose life has gone terribly wrong and who faces serious repercussions". Williams was cast after his friend Richard Belzer, who played Detective John Munch, approached the producers and told them Williams would like to appear on the show. Williams previously acted alongside Belzer during an appearance in a 1994 episode of Homicide: Life on the Street. Executive producer Neal Baer stated that they only developed the story after learning that Williams was available. He also said that the producers often try to cast actors, like Williams, that do not usually appear on television, so they can surprise their audience.
"Authority" was written by Baer and co-executive producer Amanda Green. It was inspired by the 2004 Mount Washington strip search phone call scam, the Milgram experiment and the New York performance art group Improv Everywhere's "Frozen Grand Central" event. The episode focuses on Merritt Rook (Williams), a man who is accused of tricking a fast-food manager into molesting a female employee. After Rook is acquitted at his trial, he becomes "a folk hero" for rebelling against conformity. Baer explained that Rook had issues with authority and often got people to do bad things. He said, "It's a story about what makes people do things if they think that they won't be responsible." Baer believed that the episode was "one of the best cat-and-mouse stories" they had ever produced.
Filming for the episode took place in Bryant Park and Grand Central Terminal on March 29, 2008. The cast and crew were also seen shooting a large outdoor pillow fight. In early April, filming took place at Broadway and Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City. A handcuffed Williams was seen running away from Hargitay and Meloni, following an explosion in a building. Actors Scott Adsit, Mo Rocca and Didi Conn also guest starred in the episode, while talk show host Joe Scarborough appeared as himself.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit became only the third network prime-time drama to reach 200 episodes, behind the original Law & Order series and ER. Christopher Meloni (Elliot Stabler) expressed his joy at reaching 200 episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, saying it was "awesome" and "almost surreal." He also enjoyed having Williams on set, calling it "an ultimate acting moment for me". His co-star Mariska Hargitay (Olivia Benson) said she was proud that Williams wanted to appear on the show and that she considered it a milestone to be working with him.
In its original broadcast, "Authority" was seen by 12.06 million viewers. It won the 10pm hour with a 4.1 Nielsen rating in the 18–49 demographic and an 11% audience share. In its original UK broadcast on Channel 5, the episode was seen by 830,000 viewers. It was the 28th most watched show on the channel for the week ending November 20, 2011.
The episode received a mixed response from critics. The Boston Herald's Mark A. Perigard disliked the episode and gave it a D rating. Perigard thought the first half of the episode was reasonable, but Stabler and Benson became incompetent and "disregard basic police procedure to service an inane plot." Perigard added that Williams needed to be restrained by a decent plot and director, but instead he "hurtles off the rails" towards the end. David Kronke from the Los Angeles Daily News thought anyone could have played the part of Merritt Rook, and that Williams spent the episode channelling his character from One Hour Photo (2002). Kronke also noted that "some pretty damning evidence seems to be overlooked at Rook's trial" and believed that Stabler and Benson gave up too easily at the end.
Sophie Heath of the Daily Mail gave the episode a positive review, saying it was "tremendously tense, and the perfect way to mark the show's 200th episode." Jane Rackham from the Radio Times also liked the episode, commenting that she enjoyed the "cracking scene where Rook defends himself in court" and the "intense final showdown." Melissa Gaudron, writing for The Age, was thankful that Williams played Rook with "a little more psychopathic tendency than, say, Mork from Ork." But she branded the plot implausible and joked that the writers should have just romantically paired Stabler and Benson together. Another reporter for the publication, Debi Enker, liked that Williams appeared "in a more controlled mode" and she said he made the episode "mildly interesting". Enker called the conclusion "unsatisfying" and wondered whether it was leading to a future appearance by Rook.
Emily Wright from The Boston Globe included Williams in her feature on the "11 creepiest Law & Order: SVU guest stars of all time". Wright believed after Williams's role in One Hour Photo, Merritt Rook was the creepiest role Williams had ever played. Entertainment Weekly's Lanford Beard included "Authority" in his "16 Magnificent Milestone Episodes" feature. Beard dubbed the plot "chilling" and said the show "cranked up the volume to 11, adding layers of twisted motivation for Rook's action". Beard added that Rook had a "grand exit". Following Williams's death in August 2014, Julie Hinds of the Detroit Free Press named Merritt Rook as one of the actor's "five great unsung roles".
For his portrayal of Merritt Rook, Williams received a nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series at the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards. At the 35th People's Choice Awards, Williams won the Favorite Scene Stealing Guest Star accolade. Editor Karen Stern earned a nomination for Best Edited One-Hour Series for Commercial Television at the 2009 American Cinema Editors Awards.
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The guest shot by Williams is the latest in an SVU string by notable performers. "To play off these people, I know artistically how great they are," notes Meloni, citing past guests ranging from Henry Winkler and Martin Short to Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City) and Angela Lansbury
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