Episode PremiereFebruary 23, 2011
Show Period1999 - now
Production CompanyNBC, Studios USA Television, Universal Network TV
Cast and Crew
- Mariska Hargitay as Det. Olivia Benson
- Ice-T as Detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola
- Dann Florek as Captain Donald Cragen
- Richard Belzer as Detective John Munch
- Danny Pino as Detective Nick Amaro
- Kelli Giddish as Detective Amanda Rollins / Kara Bawson
- Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler
- Steven Zirnkilton
- B.D. Wong as Dr. George Huang
- Tamara Tunie as Dr. Melinda Warner
- Diane Neal as A.D.A. Casey Novak
- Countess LuAnn de Lesseps
- Kate Burton
Edgy artist Andreas Hemmings is enjoying the opening of his show when wealthy patron Cindi persuades him to bring her to his studio. She wants to see her favorite piece, one that isn't on display in the gallery. It has streaks of red paint on a white canvas. Andreas realizes that it's not red paint, but blood that's dripping from a ceiling vent. Benson, Stabler and Warner arrive on the scene and identify the victim from the upstairs apartment as 43-year-old Ellen Sazelin, the CFO of Luscious Grape, a wine distribution company. Ellen died sometime between six and nine p.m., after bleeding to death when a large shard of glass was embedded in her neck. There was no indication of a forced entry, but there was evidence of a struggle and signs of anal trauma. Benson and Stabler surmise that Ellen was the victim of a date gone bad.
Benson and Stabler investigate Ellen Sazelin's murder at her apartment building. Ellen's neighbors describe her as quiet and shy. One of them, Maureen, casts suspicion on Andreas, who owns the building. Maureen says that several months earlier, she shared a bottle of wine with Andreas, who she claims then tried to rape her. Benson and Stabler track Andreas down in his studio, where he's painting a nude Cindi. Andreas claims the last time he saw Ellen was a few weeks ago and he denies attempting to rape Maureen. Disgusted when they discover that Andreas is using Ellen's blood as paint on a new piece, Benson and Stabler bring him in for questioning.
Andreas explains that he was merely incorporating the blood that had already dripped onto the painting, and that he had to finish the only piece he sold at his disastrous show. He claims to have an alibi for the murder, as he was being interviewed live for a program on a blog for an hour prior to his show. Fin confirms Andreas' story, making Andreas a dead end as a suspect. Ellen is an enigma of a victim, as she had no family and no social life. Benson and Stabler hypothesize that Ellen's attacker could've been random, or possibly someone she met through work at her company, Luscious Grape, which she founded with her business partner, Annette Charbonneau. They head to Luscious Grape.
Benson and Fin interview Annette at her Luscious Grape ("LG") office. Annette is devastated by the loss, describing her longtime best friend Ellen as the sister she never had. Annette last saw Ellen at their weekly dinner last night, just before she was murdered. Annette is the public face of LG, while Ellen was the accounting whiz. Ten employees make up the company, each holding stock. Annette confirms that Ellen didn't date, but she did have a close friend at work. That friend, LG's head of advertising, Bruce Clarkson, was the closest thing Ellen had to a boyfriend.
Bruce dispels any notion that he was Ellen's boyfriend when he shares that he's gay. Bruce tells Benson and Stabler that Ellen preferred spending time with him and his circle of friends because she could only find the courage to approach a straight man when she was drunk. After finding Ellen drunk at work about five years ago, Bruce convinced her to join AA with him and they've both been sober ever since. Bruce is surprised to learn that Ellen was drinking the night she was killed, allowing that she was jittery and preoccupied lately. Bruce describes an incident from the prior week, when he encountered Ellen on her cell phone, listening to someone scream at her on the other end.
Benson, Stabler and Fin track down Ellen's phone records to learn that she received 63 calls from one number at all hours of day and night over the last two weeks. Fin shares an intimidating voicemail in which a man threatens to kill Ellen. The call was made from a business named My Leather Fantasy, which sells high-end Italian leather goods. The number routes to an office rented by a man named Juan Alvarez. Stabler and Fin find Alvarez at that office. He tries to run, but they apprehend him. On the way to the squad car, an elderly man, Dennis Gilchrist, approaches and shoots Alvarez in the gut, yelling that Alvarez killed Dennis' wife. Fin subdues Dennis while Stabler tends to Alvarez's wound.
Fin interrogates Dennis, who explains that his wife, Peggy, suffered from early Alzheimer's. She ordered $5,000 worth of merchandise from My Leather Fantasy, which Alvarez refused to take back. Then he proceeded to harass Peggy day and night. Peggy had panic attacks whenever the phone rang. Two days ago, she collapsed when Alvarez called yet again. Her heart gave out. Alvarez shows no remorse about his tactics, explaining that the more comments his site generates, positive or negative, the higher his Google ranking and the more traffic to his website. Stabler determines that while Alvarez is a terrible, remorseless person, he has an alibi for the time of Ellen's murder, as he was harassing yet another customer.
After confirming Alvarez's alibi, Stabler, Benson and Fin are stumped. Then Warner shares that all of Ellen's wounds could've been accidentally or self-inflicted. Warner guesses that binge drinking and violent masturbation could've been reactions to severe stress, especially because she found evidence that Ellen suffered from trichotillomania, a compulsive disorder in which a person pulls out her own hair. Benson insists that if Ellen was suffering from such a high level of stress, someone at work had to have noticed.
Benson, Stabler and Fin return to Luscious Grape to interview several of Ellen's co-workers. Bruce continues to claim that he doesn't know why Ellen was so stressed out. Corrine, the receptionist, never interacted much with Ellen, but shares that everyone at the company is always happy and it's a great place to work. Justin, a slick sales representative, didn't know Ellen well but calls her death a "huge loss." And David, the snooty wine expert, repeats the party line that LG is a great place to work, insisting he knows of no office gossip. The interviews end when Annette and the staff head out to Ellen's memorial service.
Benson, Stabler and Fin regroup, noting that each of the staff they interviewed made sure to call Ellen's death a "huge loss," as though someone had told them what to say. Just then, Benson gets a call from Andreas, reporting that he heard loud noises coming from above his studio, as though someone was tearing Ellen's place apart. Benson and Stabler find Ellen's place a complete mess, as if someone was looking for something. Ellen's computer is on and a number of random files are open. But CSU already cloned her hard drive and didn't find anything. Benson hypothesizes that maybe Ellen backed something up and hid it. They rummage around until Stabler finds a tiny, furry panda bear - a flash drive.
Morales finds twenty mpeg files, all of which contain videos that were shot at work. They watch one of the videos and see that Ellen had filmed herself at work with a webcam. In the background, Annette is screaming, abusing her employees. She lights into David and Bruce, then comes after Ellen, belittling her, dragging her into Annette's office, and then slapping her. Benson and Stabler realize that everyone at LG is pretending everything is wonderful so they don't get fired... or killed.
Benson and Stabler show Annette the video, accusing her of being the one to break into Ellen's apartment the night before. Annette insists the video must've been doctored, which Benson refutes with information from the techs. Genuinely surprised to learn that there are 20 of these videos, Annette claims she was the real victim and was just pushing back. Stabler and Benson are having none of it, and call Annette out for the bully she is. Benson reveals that the waiter from the restaurant where Annette and Ellen dined the night of Ellen's death recalls that Annette threw her cup of coffee at Ellen at the end of the meal. But Annette still insists that she's innocent of Ellen's murder. Since she's not yet being charged, she leaves.
Benson, Stabler and Fin want to find a charge that will stick on Annette, so they pull Ellen's disability and medical claims. Stabler confronts Bruce with the fact that Ellen had filed five workers comp claims in the last year. Bruce claims he knows nothing about them. Stabler wonders whether the $200,000 car Annette bought for Bruce also bought his silence. Fin confronts Corrine after she leaves an appointment with her shrink, but Corrine still insists Annette is a great boss. Stabler finds Justin at his very nice home, which Annette pays for. Justin still insists that LG is a great place to work and excuses himself to tend to his disabled mother, a former opera singer. Fin asks David about the fact that Annette pulled strings to get his kids into a prestigious school and pays their tuition. David claims it's legal, as Annette is their godmother.
Huang postulates that Annette's employees suffer from a form of Stockholm Syndrome, having bonded with Annette emotionally in order to survive. Doubtful, Benson thinks the employees are just greedy. Stabler has evidence to support this, as a friend at the SEC shared information that LG is about to be purchased by Globocol, a global corporation. Just then, Fin waves them over to the TV, where a news program is playing one of Ellen's secret videos, which they surmise Ellen must've mailed to them before she died.
As Annette leaves work the next day, she's verbally assaulted from every direction. Reporters accuse her of killing Ellen, orders have been canceled, and people are yelling at her. She turns to Benson and Stabler for protection, but they walk away, letting the bully get a taste of her own medicine. Back at the precinct, Benson, Stabler and Fin see the news that Globocol withdrew its offer to buy LG, and learn that Annette has called a press conference for the following morning to explain her actions on the tape. At the press conferences, Annette spews vitriol at everyone, fires her employees, then shoots herself in the head after yelling that her staff made her do this.
Benson, Stabler and Huang discuss that Annette's final rant qualifies as a confession to Ellen's murder - not to mention that she left every penny she had to her dog. Fin interrupts to report that Bruce was just the victim of a hit-and-run. At the hospital, Bruce claims that he didn't see who hit him. Stabler gets security footage from a nearby bodega and sees that Bruce had a conversation with the occupant of the vehicle who hit him before he was mowed down. They use the license plate number to track down the driver. The car belongs to Donald Fielding, an 80 year old, who can't legally drive anymore. The driver was his granddaughter, LG receptionist Corrine.
Benson and Stabler bring Bruce and Corrine in separately for questioning. Bruce watches Corrine's interrogation as she claims that Bruce screwed up everything and ruined the whole plan when he killed Ellen. He denies it, claiming Ellen was dead when he got to her apartment. Bruce and Corrine finally admit that the secret plan was to keep quiet about the bullying in exchange for the bonuses and payoffs, as they all had a lot to lose if the buyout didn't go through. Bruce explains that Ellen was always a little bit weaker than everyone else and was coming unglued. Corrine overheard Ellen talking about "showing the world the truth," and then told Bruce, Justin and David about it. It was David who tried to find the tapes in Ellen's apartment. But Benson and Stabler still don't know if Annette killed Ellen, or it was just a drunken accident.
Warner discovers that there was no alcohol in Ellen's stomach, despite her blood level being 1.6. An exam of the lip of the broken bottle revealed cells that are only found in the anus. Warner explains that it's an old alcoholic's trick to bypass the stomach and get drunk faster. Benson and Stabler return to Justin, who admits that he went to Ellen's place to seduce her, but she rejected him. Justin admits he pushed Ellen, but claims she tripped and fell back, which was when the glass went into her neck. He tried to make it look like an accident by making her appear drunk. While Annette's bullying may not have been the direct cause of Ellen's death, her terrorism of her employees had deadly consequences, bringing out the worst in each of them.