Law and Order UK series 1, episode 2 rewatch: Born Bad

Law & Order UK -- Courtesy of Acorn TV
Law & Order UK -- Courtesy of Acorn TV /

Law and Order UK series 1, episode 2 commentary.

While waiting for Dick Wolf‘s franchises to return to NBC, we’re taking a look back at an outstanding Dick Wolf series you can watch now but likely haven’t discovered—the British import Law and Order UK.

LOUK, as it’s referred to for short, brought the original Law and Order to British audiences starting in 2009, while also lining up an all-star cast including Bradley Walsh (Doctor Who), Jamie Bamber (Strike Back), Freema Agyeman (New Amsterdam) and Ben Daniels (The Exorcist).

SPOILER ALERT: This commentary contains spoilers for Law and Order UK series 1, episode 2. You can watch this episode on Sundance Now.

Note that this commentary corrects our earlier announcement that LOUK would be available on Acorn TV beginning in November 2020. Acorn TV has delayed their premiere until an unspecified time in 2021, so episodes are only available on IMdB TV.

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Series 1, episode 2: “Born Bad” (originally aired March 2, 2009)

Who murdered a 13-year-old at a London train station? That’s what Ronnie Brooks (Bradley Walsh) and Matt Devlin (Jamie Bamber) have to determine when they’re called to the scene of Danny Jackson’s death.

Like most episodes, this Law and Order UK installment unspools a story that isn’t at all what it originally looks like. First Danny appears to be a runaway who met a bad end, then he might be the victim of a gang attack, and then it comes out that he was actually beaten to death by his best friend—fellow 13-year-old Jonathan “Jono” Blake—whose defense attorney argues that he’s genetically predisposed to violence and therefore not responsible for his actions.

It’s a bold defense, but argued in front of a sympathetic judge, it becomes a nuclear bomb for prosecutor James Steel (Ben Daniels) to try and defuse.

“Unloved,” based on the Law and Order season 4 episode “Born Bad,” retains the original’s central dilemma but infuses it with some great character moments.

For example, it feels like later on in the series, by making the defense attorney Beatrice McArdle (guest star Dervla Kirwan) a previous love interest of Steel’s from his days on the other side of the aisle. Steel may be based on Ben Stone, but it was Stone’s successor Jack McCoy who had history with defense attorney Sally Bell.

On any other show, that’d just be a salacious throw-in, but the Law and Order format and a sharp eye by writer Terry Cafolla keep this episode on track. Instead, the history winds up helping when it comes down to brass tacks, because when we get to the key scene where McArdle realizes that her defense has done more harm than good, her admission of such feels like it means more. She’s a character that we know somewhat, not just a random adversary (and indeed she’d return for one more episode later on).

The legal points of view also have more impact because of the characters’ reactions. When Alesha Phillips (Freema Agyeman) is arguing that sending Jono to prison could mean they lose two young lives, you can feel from Agyeman’s performance how much she believes it; it’s not a simple point-counterpoint. Likewise, Jamie Bamber gets to go off the handle as Matt opens up a little about his rough childhood, and we feel his frustration. Law and Order UK lets its actors breathe a bit more, and for not the first time or the last, it works in the show’s favor.

What one ultimately comes away with from “Unloved,” though, is a good lesson in the consequences of defense tactics. We read and hear about all kinds of outlandish legal defenses, but as observers, we don’t see or really think about what those mean beyond being attempts to keep someone out of prison. In this (fictional) case, claiming that a kid was predisposed to murder makes the public demonize him, gives his negligent mother a gold-plated excuse, and ultimately has him believing he’s a lost cause. This is a reminder that trials aren’t just wins and losses; they change lives.

Ironically, for a show built on a strict procedural formula, the original Law and Order ended up being great at encouraging viewers to think outside the box. And Law and Order UK, by bending that formula a bit through its brilliant actors and the writers who knew how to support them, is even better.

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