“Law & Order” and all its various offspring are known for ripping stories from the headlines, but some are so irresistible they’ve been ripped more than once. Given that Andrew Jarecki took more than one shot at Robert Durst’s case, through fiction in “All Good Things,” through investigative nonfiction in “The Jinx,” you can’t blame L&O for wanting more than one bite at the apple especially when you’ve got the irresistible combination of a wealthy Manhattan real-estate scion, gruesome dismemberment and a man wearing a wig.
The “Law & Order” mothership took on Durst in the 2004 episode “Hands Free,” which is described on TNT’s website thus: When McCoy fails to win a murder conviction against an eccentric cross dressing millionaire for the death of his neighbor, he redoubles the effort to convict the man for murdering his second wife years earlier by demonstrating that he murdered a witness to the crime.
But scrappy upstart “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” got to Durst first, with a 2002 episode called “Maledictus” that, while primarily inspired by the murder of Susan Berman, mixes in elements from all parts of Durst’s life, along with plenty of crazy inventions of its own.
“Maledictus” begins with the beheading of a Russian mob boss’s daughter-turned-true crime novelist, whom Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio, who likes to pause at… odd… intervals so you know that… he’s thinking) and Eames (Kathryn Erbe, just trying to get through the day) initially believe was the victim of a hit ordered by her father. It turns out she would have been, except the real killer got to her first. You can watch the whole episode if you’re so inclined, but if not, here’s the upshot:
Spoiled Manhattan scion Kenneth Strick (David Thornton) enjoys a tender and more than slightly incestuous relationship with his sister, Martha (Veanne Cox), but other than that he likes it rough, hiring prostitutes to kick the crap out of him while he mutters “I didn’t mean it,” and “I’m sorry, mommy.” He has a long history of dressing up as a woman, which as Goren helpfully informs us, “usually goes hand in hand with masochism.” (It doesn’t.) When the late, headless Ilana threatened to write a book about his past, he murdered her, dissolved her body with lye — or, in Eames’ words, “turned [her] to pudding] — and threw her bones into the river, much as Durst admitted to dismembering Morris Black and tossing his body into Galveston Bay.
As in “The Jinx,” Kenny Strick’s insanity is traced back to the death of his mother when he was a small child, but, this being “Law & Order,” there’s more craziness to come. Rather than merely witnessing his mother’s fall, Kenny fed her ant poison in an attempt to kill the potentially threatening stepchild in her womb, and ended up killing her instead.
Even for a “Law & Order,” “Maledictus” is pretty low-rent, and its ugly transphobia mars what could otherwise be a safely guilty watch, but it’s worth hanging out for the demented piano music over its climactic scenes, which threatens to turn the whole thing into a cross between “Criminal Intent” and “Flowers in the Attic,” and because, well, if you’ve never seen a man in thigh-highs and a fur coat tossing bone shards into the water on a clear New York night, it’s really quite the sight.