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Reviewed by Will Harris
hose who describe the fourth season of “Law & Order” as a transitional one for the series are kind of missing the point. Sure, the cast changed... but that’s the beauty of the show: it’s a format that can survive any number of changes in cast. As long as there’s both crime and punishment in New York City and the ratings remain substantial, the series can go on indefinitely, no matter who’s playing the cops or the attorneys.
For the record, however, Season 4 began with Captain Donald Cragen (played by Dann Florek) and Assistant District Attorney Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks), who were then replaced by Lt. Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) and A.D.A. Claire Kincaid (Jill Hennessey), respectively; unlike in previous seasons, however, the disappearing acts occurred offscreen and weren’t even mentioned. Scenes were filmed which referenced Cragen having been promoted (he would, of course, later turn up in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”) and Robinette taking a position in a law firm, but they were deleted from the final product; they can, however, be found amongst the 40+ extended and deleted scenes included in the set. In the real world, the reason for their departure was an attempt by NBC to incorporate more women into the cast of the show. It sounds like a well-meaning gesture, but it’s much more likely that the suits just wanted to play a round of Demographic Bingo and, if they could, pull a win in yet another column.
Notable guest spots this time around include, among others, a very young David Krumholtz (“Numb3rs”), Allison Janney (“The West Wing”), and James Earl Jones as an attorney defending a bigot. Two of the particular highlights of the season come via “Mayhem” and “American Dream,” each of which provides a spotlight to the two teams (the police and the D.A.’s office, respectively); the latter explores a case that comes back to haunt EADA Ben Stone, while the former finds Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and Logan (Chris Noth) dealing with five unrelated murders in one shift and features an unfortunate ending that will give you chills because it could so easily (if unintentionally) happen.
Season 4 would prove to be the last for Michael Moriarty as Ben Stone; in the last episode of the season, Stone resigned from his position after forcing a witness to testify, only for the witness to be shot and killed by the mob as a result. It’s a shame that the character of Stone hasn’t reappeared since – Jack McCoy is great, but Stone was unmatched in his ability to pack infinite amounts of defiance into the simple words “sir” and “ma’am.” – but, hey, as of this writing, the show is on its 15th season and continues to go strong; as long as Moriarty is among the living, there’s no reason it couldn’t still happen.