Law & Order fans debated which episode of the classic series aged the worst, with one 1993 episode standing out from the rest. Titled “Discord,” the episode came from the fourth season of the show. The series was fast approaching the peak of its popularity. The cast included the likes of Jerry Orbach, Jill Hennessey, Chris Noth, Michael Moriarty, and S. Epatha Merkerson.
So what makes “Discord” problematic almost thirty years later? The episode concerns a woman, Julia, accusing a musician of rape and taking legal action against her. It becomes a “he-said-she-said” when the musician maintains that the encounter was consensual. While it is a sensitive topic, Law & Order has handled sexual offenses well. The creators did, after all, create an entire spinoff dedicated to sex crimes.
As discussed in a subreddit, the problem of the episode rests in its treatment of female characters. Throughout the episode, Julia is questioned and doubted by the male characters. The only sympathies for the victim are expressed by the other women, Lt Anita Van Buren and A.D.A. Claire Kincaid. The responsibility of convincing their male peers to believe Julia is put squarely on their shoulders. Detectives Lennie Briscoe and Mike Logan shame the girl throughout the episode. They doubt her story. They ask if she fought her attacker off. Logan and Briscoe even question the role of alcohol in her judgement. Only after more evidence of a prior rape do they take her seriously.
Law & Order Blurs the Lines
Additionally, Executive A.D.A. Mike Stone threatens Kincaid’s job.
According to some fans, this is the most problematic plot point in the episode. The first female A.D.A. in the series, Kincaid is a unique presence. For that reason, Stone’s treatment of her comes off too harshly in 2021. Kincaid pushes Julia to testify in court, where the young woman makes the mistake of saying she had fantasized about sleeping with the musician.
As a result, Stone calls for Kincaid to leave her role as A.D.A. for convincing Julia to take the stand. Only after a successful conviction does Stone change his tune. If they had lost the case, the outcome would likely have been different.
In the comment thread, several debates broke out. Some users felt the original post was too hard on the show. Others felt it was right on the money. A few suggested the merit of looking back on these shows with a 2021 perspective. After all, how else do we learn?
“Back when the early seasons were made, it really was a different time,” wrote one user. “But I personally think it’s good to look at these things through a modern lens and talk about it. Same with things like Song of the South or some of the older Looney Tunes cartoons. We should be able to acknowledge that things used to be this way and talk about why they shouldn’t be that way anymore.”
Perhaps, then it is best for fans to “look at the these episodes as time capsules.” The newer episodes in the franchise contain less offensive themes, and society has changed a lot since the early 1990s.
See how Law & Order stands the test of time when it returns to NBC this spring for its 21st season.