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Equalizer Replays a Horrifying Child's Death
by Joyce Millman

San Francisco Examiner (3/30/89)

The case of Joel Steinberg the New York lawyer recently sentenced to 8-to-25years for the 1987 beating death of his illegally adopted 6-year-old daughter Lisa, was the rare true-life crime story that elicited intense shame, grief, anger and guilt from people who merely heard about it in the news. Just as thousands of New Yorkers attended Lisa's funeral, thousands of people all over the country read the terrifying accounts of Steinberg's physical and psychological torment of Lisa and his common-law wife, Hedda Nussbaum, for real and imagined challenges to his all-powerful authority.

The Steinberg case was obviously the inspiration for this week's episode of CBS's series The Equalizer. But this is no exploitive rip-off. Written by one of the show's producer-writers, Coleman Luck, and directed by David Jackson, 'Lullaby of Darkness' (as the episode is titled) is a moving and haunting depiction of a family's implosion; it's one of the series' finest hours.</p><p> Luck's teleplay seems grounded in the conviction that the public was not drawn to this case out of sheer morbid curiosity. Rather, Steinberg's sickening abuse of his family struck deep as a sort of primal nightmare. And 'Lullaby of Darkness' gives us that nightmare--the evil daddy, the passive mommy--from the perspective of a confused and frightened child.</p><p>

It's difficult to think of a scarier TV monster than Joseph Morrison. Played by red-haired, baby-faced Stephen Lang (Crime Story), Morrison turns dinner time into a sadistic ritual. As his young daughter Mindy, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, (Fatal Attraction) cringes and sobs silently over her food, Morrison unleashes a pop-eyed torrent at his bruised, cowering wife, Rebecca, Mary-Joan Negro.

"I'm sick of my orders being totally ignored by my family," he screams. "Your daughter's napkin is not in her lap!"

The next night, Morrison is contrite, seeking Mindy's forgiveness for bloodying her nose. "Oh gosh. I hate when I have to discipline you. But every time I do, I buy you a doll. So it's not that bad, is it?" The somber Mindy has developed a defense mechanism, though. Much of the episode takes place inside the little girl's imagination as her dolls come to life. In these heartbreaking, gracefully written scenes, Mindy reveals her fear, her yearning for parental tenderness and her repressed anger. And Luck eerily portrays the cycle of violence to which Morrison may have condemned his daughter: Mindy is fascinated with a dark-robed sorcerer doll that claims to have the power to kill anyone who hurts her. 'Lullaby of Darkness' offers catharsis for viewers seeking to come to terms with the Steinberg case. This is TV as psychotherapist, picking up the pieces, exorcising feelings of impotence.

"I've witnessed many terrible things. But I've never felt quite so helpless in all my life," the usually indefatigable, Equalizer, Robert McCall (Edward Woodward), confesses to a social worker. "Surely something can be done."

The Equalizer, which premiered in 1985, was the first show to address '80s urban hysteria. In a violent society where each day seems to bring new heights of human savagery, McCall is an omnipresent avenging angel, getting the job done where underfunded bureaucracies and overburdened law enforcement agencies fail....

...Robert McCall is the superhero of the '80s. But what makes this week's Equalizer episode so powerful is that it refuses to completely buy into its own concept of fantasy protectors and vicarious revenge.

The intervention of the Morrisons' neighbor (she contacts the Equalizer after her calls to the police prove fruitless) and Woodward's show-closing public service announcement make it clear that the average person has a role to play in combating child abuse. And then there's the harrowing final shot in which people step over a broken doll that lies in a gutter like a question that won't stop asseting itself: Where was the Equalizer when Lisa Steinberg needed him?

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Home
4 New Shows
Equalizer Movie
Duo To Script
Mad Magazine
Get Tough
Welfare Hotel
All New York
New TV Hero
Squeeze
Jolly Good Shows
Child Death
Gray Panther
Creative Side--1
Creative Side--2
Creative Side--3

 

  

Equalizer Replays a Horrifying Child's Death
by Joyce Millman

San Francisco Examiner (3/30/89)

The case of Joel Steinberg the New York lawyer recently sentenced to 8-to-25years for the 1987 beating death of his illegally adopted 6-year-old daughter Lisa, was the rare true-life crime story that elicited intense shame, grief, anger and guilt from people who merely heard about it in the news. Just as thousands of New Yorkers attended Lisa's funeral, thousands of people all over the country read the terrifying accounts of Steinberg's physical and psychological torment of Lisa and his common-law wife, Hedda Nussbaum, for real and imagined challenges to his all-powerful authority.

The Steinberg case was obviously the inspiration for this week's episode of CBS's series The Equalizer. But this is no exploitive rip-off. Written by one of the show's producer-writers, Coleman Luck, and directed by David Jackson, 'Lullaby of Darkness' (as the episode is titled) is a moving and haunting depiction of a family's implosion; it's one of the series' finest hours.</p><p> Luck's teleplay seems grounded in the conviction that the public was not drawn to this case out of sheer morbid curiosity. Rather, Steinberg's sickening abuse of his family struck deep as a sort of primal nightmare. And 'Lullaby of Darkness' gives us that nightmare--the evil daddy, the passive mommy--from the perspective of a confused and frightened child.</p><p>

It's difficult to think of a scarier TV monster than Joseph Morrison. Played by red-haired, baby-faced Stephen Lang (Crime Story), Morrison turns dinner time into a sadistic ritual. As his young daughter Mindy, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, (Fatal Attraction) cringes and sobs silently over her food, Morrison unleashes a pop-eyed torrent at his bruised, cowering wife, Rebecca, Mary-Joan Negro.

"I'm sick of my orders being totally ignored by my family," he screams. "Your daughter's napkin is not in her lap!"

The next night, Morrison is contrite, seeking Mindy's forgiveness for bloodying her nose. "Oh gosh. I hate when I have to discipline you. But every time I do, I buy you a doll. So it's not that bad, is it?" The somber Mindy has developed a defense mechanism, though. Much of the episode takes place inside the little girl's imagination as her dolls come to life. In these heartbreaking, gracefully written scenes, Mindy reveals her fear, her yearning for parental tenderness and her repressed anger. And Luck eerily portrays the cycle of violence to which Morrison may have condemned his daughter: Mindy is fascinated with a dark-robed sorcerer doll that claims to have the power to kill anyone who hurts her. 'Lullaby of Darkness' offers catharsis for viewers seeking to come to terms with the Steinberg case. This is TV as psychotherapist, picking up the pieces, exorcising feelings of impotence.

"I've witnessed many terrible things. But I've never felt quite so helpless in all my life," the usually indefatigable, Equalizer, Robert McCall (Edward Woodward), confesses to a social worker. "Surely something can be done."

The Equalizer, which premiered in 1985, was the first show to address '80s urban hysteria. In a violent society where each day seems to bring new heights of human savagery, McCall is an omnipresent avenging angel, getting the job done where underfunded bureaucracies and overburdened law enforcement agencies fail....

...Robert McCall is the superhero of the '80s. But what makes this week's Equalizer episode so powerful is that it refuses to completely buy into its own concept of fantasy protectors and vicarious revenge.

The intervention of the Morrisons' neighbor (she contacts the Equalizer after her calls to the police prove fruitless) and Woodward's show-closing public service announcement make it clear that the average person has a role to play in combating child abuse. And then there's the harrowing final shot in which people step over a broken doll that lies in a gutter like a question that won't stop asseting itself: Where was the Equalizer when Lisa Steinberg needed him?

Home | 4 New Shows | Equalizer Movie | Duo To Script | Mad Magazine | Get Tough | Welfare Hotel | All New York | New TV Hero | Squeeze | Jolly Good Shows | Child Death | Gray Panther | Creative Side--1 | Creative Side--2 | Creative Side--3

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