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Diane Perkins And Her Mom From Law & Order S03.E06 Should Have Their Own Crime-Solving Spin-Off

Sarah D. Bunting is not a crackpot. She just thinks the televerse should have enlarged upon the one tiny semi-bright spot in a hall-of-fame-icky episode.

When you watch enough Law & Order reruns enough times over a period of enough years, you begin to form...not relationships, exactly, but fond nodding acquaintances with various tertiary characters therein. For instance, whenever James Noble appears as a drowsy, exasperated trial judge, I say to the TV, "Hey, Governor Hamlet," because Noble -- best known as the Governor on Benson -- played the melancholy Dane to my husband's Spear Carrier #2 many years ago. It's fun to spot Briscoe Jr. in the backgrounds of scenes, or play "Win Lose Or Clohessy" when Robert's name comes up in an episode about hockey dads or bullying.

I have that kind of "aw, hey buddies" relationship with Diane Perkins and her mom in an episode that remains nearly unwatchable thanks to the discomfort it and its villain's moans of felonious pleasure so effectively incites: Season 3's "Helpless" -- a.k.a. "the one where Olivet goes undercover to get GYN-roofied by that revolting Dr. Feelbad who also plays the bad guy's shrink in The L.A. Troika." The aforementioned doctor is played, bless his committed heart, by Paul Hecht, whose commitment to playing a condescending, grunty rapist is unquestionable, and the way the scene in which he assaults Olivet -- again -- is shot is close to unbearable to me even after more than 20 years of Law & Order fandom and having seen all or part of the episode dozens of times. Her paralyzed horror; his rubbery O-face; the icy light in the exam room...it's just awful, and perfectly done.

Just as well done is the muffled, distant performance by a fetal Felicity Huffman as one of Dr. Feelbad's other victims, Diane Perkins, and her acerbically concerned mom, Delores. Delores isn't keen to let Logan and Ceretta speak to Diane, who's recovering from a suicide attempt and whose history of serious emotional problems make her an unreliable witness at best: "We don't know what's real and what's not." But eventually she agrees, and brings the detectives in to see Diane, who's a million miles away and smoking contemplatively in her mother's fancy den.

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Diane asks if it's hot. Queried about Dr. Feelbad, she darkens: "It's always hot, in his office." Delores isn't really about this line of questioning, and while she may have sold Diane out as to her credibility, it's not because she's not protective:

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As Diane relays, while not exactly saying the words, that Dr. Feelbad assaulted her, she remembers what she was wearing, a blue cotton sundress, and I suppose it's a clichéd detail that she fixates on what she had on, but certainly I associate certain clothing and jewelry items with the bad days on which I wore them (for the last time). With a perfect blend of resentment and apology, she reminds Delores that she had bought Diane that dress. An equally perfect blend of fondness and rue is in Delores's response: "It was my favorite."

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The IMDb entry for this episode is a bit cagey as to who plays Delores, and as the character's last name is "Gaines" and there is no picture of her on IMDb, I can't say for sure -- but a little Googling leads me to believe that this is Janet Ward, in her first filmed role in over a decade and her last one before her death in 1995. And what a note to end on: an average-length scene in a procedural that, in concert with Huffman's performance, fills in for this parent and child a lifetime of history, of struggling together with Diane's illness, of a cycle of hope and disappointment for them together and separately re: Diane's coherence and aptitude for life in the world, of all the past battles fought over dresses like every other mother and daughter since time and dresses began. It's a lived-in relationship, and I've always wished we saw more of it -- that, like an inversion of Walter and Peter Bishop on Fringe, they could work together to solve mysteries, and embrace Diane's differences, even leverage them to their advantage, while Delores and her elegant neck-cessories cut wicked side-eyes at clients.

It was not to be; perhaps the idea only ever existed to shield me from the unabashedly vile A-plot. But Diane was not a crackpot, and neither am I.

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