Last Sunday I happened to catch”Burned,” an old episode (2007) of Law and Order, Special Victim Units, starring Hargitay (Olivia Benson) and Meloni (Elliot Stabbler). What pulled my attention was the situation: a father (Miles) having a supervised visitation with his daughter, Tessa. The episode starts very well. Any divorced father who had the misfortune to have supervised visitations with his children can sense the tension of such visits in that of Miles and Tessa. Time is counted, it cannot be wasted and fully enjoyed. Realistic touch: the social worker supervising the visit is a bitch. Out of the blue, she decides to cut off the visit, despite Miles’ protest. You just want to have her eat her degree of social worker somewhere, and have her do a job that will entail no contact with people.
At some point tough, Valerie-the divorced mother- is violently dragged out of the shower while at home. She does not see her aggressor and says to the police she has been raped. Fellow Miles, the former husband, is naturally the prime suspect. From then on, the story tends to slide into a politically correct, even-handed distribution of clichés: one bad feature for Valerie, one bad feature for Miles. Valerie is a neurasthenic control freak; Miles is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. There is a potential there for uncontrolled violence. Indeed, Miles has temper tantrums, some motivated by the fact of not been able to see his daughter Tessa as he pleases. Cliché over cliché: Elliott understands this anger, Olivia doesn’t. Miles and Valerie’s antagonistic divorce is the sample of the larger fight between men and women.
I know I cannot expect a TV show to have the depth of Kramer vs Kramer. Yet “Burned” did not do it for me; the story cannot escape its clichéd premisses. While dying, Valerie cannot bring herself to tell Olivia – an understanding woman- that she was in fact not raped (she had the day of the aggression consensual sex with a colleague); the loving Miles is nonetheless a beast: He eventually throws butane on Valerie who burns to death, in horrendous sufferings. The Ice-T touch. Too dammed dark for me.