Of all shows, “Law & Order” probably didn’t need a great big, wrap-it-all-up series finale. The show is designed to be close-ended every week, and although character information gets dropped in here and there, we pretty much only know the workaday sides of the cops and prosecutors who make up “L&O’s” world.
So it was a little off script — but really gratifying — to go home with Lt. Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) in the final episode of the show on Monday night (May 24). The episode, “Rubber Room,” wasn’t intended as a series finale, but it became that with NBC’s decision to end the show after 20 years, and it worked pretty well.
Series end or no, we’ve known for a while that this would be Merkerson’s final episode of “Law & Order,” and as the longest-serving actor in the history of the series, she got a good sendoff. While Detectives Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Bernard (Anthony Anderson) were chasing down threats to blow up a school, she was monitoring the status of her cancer treatment. We saw her at the hospital, and even at home with her boyfriend — now fiancee — Frank (Ernie Hudson), as well as stubbornly refusing to let her fellow officers make a to-do about her leaving.
The story provided an upbeat grace note for Van Buren — she gets good news from her doctor in the final scene — and brought all the current cast together for her farewell party, another nice touch that we don’t often see. (The title card naming the bar was amusing.)
As for the final case, it was heavier on the “Law” side of the ledger, focusing mostly on Lupo and Bernard’s search for the would-be bomber. ADAs Cutter (Linus Roache) and Rubirosa (Alana de la Garza) were secondary players as there were no trial scenes, although Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) got to unleash a vintage harangue on an uncooperative teachers union lawyer.
(As a side note, there must be some “Lost” fans in the “L&O” writers room. The bomber was targeting John Locke High School, and at one point a character says “Whatever happens, happens,” an oft-repeated line on the Island.)
NBC says it’s talking with “Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf about a movie or other event that would put more of a bow on the original series, but for now this is the last we’ll see of the 27th Precinct (barring any cameos on the two active “L&O” series, or a bicoastal story involving the new show “Law & Order: Los Angeles”).
“Law & Order” didn’t go out with a huge bang. It just did what it’s always done: deliver a tightly plotted, well-acted hour of good guys and bad guys — which for this long-time fan is good enough.