Last night’s episode, Zero, opened with a scene of a woman puttering around a dim apartment, turning off a phonograph, cleaning up some toys by an old TV, arranging some glass containers on a kitchen counter before grabbing her purse and ducking into a bathroom down the hall. There, a man and a young son are stomping some clothes and soap in a bathtub, their pant cuffs and sleeves rolled up. “Dad says this is how they make wine!” the little boy exclaims, and everyone smiles. The mom tells them goodbye and heads off to the farmer’s market and community garden– where she dies of blunt force trauma from a shovel blow to the head. Yikes!
Up until the shovel thing, it all sounded a lot like the life Colin Beavan detailed on his No Impact Man blog over the year he and his family spent trying to live off the grid in NYC in an attempt to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible: No electricity, simple entertainment, laundry in the bathtub, local food, glass containers. Of course, Beavan’s wife is alive and well, having avoided any unfortunate run-ins with lawn equipment that may have swung her way, but the episode makes very little effort to disguise the inspiration for the characters, especially the husband of the murdered woman.
As you may remember from our list of 6 Great Blogs Spawning Sure-To-Be-Great Books, Beavan’s “no impact” experience will soon be chronicled in hardback. And his TV counterpart? When Detectives Lupo and Barnard go to the family’s apartment to inform him of his wife’s death, they question the man’s elevator-eschewing ways and dark apartment, and he explains his family’s commitment to a zero-carbon-footprint lifestyle. “I started a blog about it, just got a book deal,” he tells them.
But the episode doesn’t just heavily riff on the Beavans’ experience.In a pretty confusing move, given our culture’s increasing sympathies towards environmental concerns, it kind of demonizes it.
As anyone who’s seen the show knows, Law & Order has a sneaky tendency to play up certain characters as if they’re the guilty parties at the crime at hand, tossing out non sequiturs and false leads to delay the show’s inevitable twist ending as long as possible. And it felt like they were doing just that with this No Impact Doppelganger (here, the blog was given the thinly veiled title Zero Energy Footprint). His family’s unorthodox lifestyle, though it’s clearly a personal choice with noble intent and not being forced on anyone, gets him cast not just as some nutty granola weirdo, but as a borderline social deviant. At one point, it’s suggested that he may have forced his wife into the experiment against her will, somehow leading to her murder. And back at the precinct, the detectives and Lt. Van Buren commiserate at length about the family’s new lifestyle precluding their use of toilet paper as if it’s a heinous perversion unto God. “That’s nasty,” Van Buren keeps saying.
Yes, that’s right: Someone just whacked a woman to death with a shovel and the detectives are hung up on judging her family’s butt-wiping methods. You’d think these stewards of justice would want to save their moral disdain for, I dunno, drug dealers? Slimy Wall Street types? Cop-killers? Corrupt law clerks? All of these are encountered later in this episode, but nary a one receives a sneering dismissal like the one levied on the one unassuming dad just trying to make the world a little better by not being a non-renewable-resource pillaging asshole.
Whether the man’s ridicule was intended as a red (or, more fittingly, green) herring to cast suspicion upon him in his wife’s death, or just as comic relief, it smacked of a flippant, regressive, anti-environmentalist stance that I’m surprised the show and NBC itself would be willing to take. Not that it’s in any mainstream media outlet’s best interest to suggest we all go “no impact,” but shouldn’t one of the side-effects of our increasing fixation on all things “green” at least be increased sympathy, maybe even some modicum of moral support, for those who do? Or is the trend really just as frighteningly shallow as it seems? In the end, this episode was more about ADA Cutter’s fight to force a senile judge out of a job than the crime of the woman’s murder, and anyway, the victim was involved with some shady characters and willfully breaking the Zero Carbon Footprint lifestyle she’d agreed to follow with her family. But still, her husband was none the wiser and completely innocent in her death, but got nothing more than mockery of his lifestyle and family for his trouble. And that feels a little nasty.