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Law & Order Toronto recap: Paint brushes and poisonings

Law & Order Toronto recap: Paint brushes and poisonings

In Toronto’s war on crime, the worst offenders are pursued by the detectives of a specialized criminal investigations unit. Now, some of those investigations are getting the television treatment with Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intenta new, super-local and somewhat verbosely titled expansion of the famous franchise, now airing on CityTV.

Though each story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event, many of the cases and places on screen will feel familiar to Canadian true-crime fans. But will they pass muster with the people who know the city best? Each week, we’ll weigh the evidence, consult the experts and issue a verdict on what the show got right and wrong about Toronto, the Canadian legal system and the IRL headlines behind each episode.

Episode three is set against the backdrop of the local gallery scene. “It was so great to see the art world get this kind of treatment—you see a lot of representations of musicians and actors in pop culture, but not many of visual artists,” says Mia Nielsen, the director of Art Toronto and this week’s guest consultant. 


This week, a beloved Toronto art professor is stabbed to death in her own office—right when her career is taking off. The broad strokes of episode three sound a lot like the 2001 murder of University of Toronto art prof David Buller, whose violent death (he was stabbed nine times) shocked the city’s culturati (+3). Buller had been working on a new collection at the time of his death, which is also true of his L&O avatar Eve Kinwood, who turns up dead just days before her exhibition.

Related: Law & Order Toronto episode two—condo shootings and cold cases

At the top of the episode, we learn that Eve is represented by Lee Sloane (played by The Handmaid’s Tale’s Amanda Brugel), a gallerist who has come a long way from her “little storefront on Dundas” (+2). Now Lee has a brand new gallery space, and Eve’s latest exhibit is to serve as its grand opening. First, though, Lee gives a lecture at the fictional Ontario Art Academy. Everyone is there: her star client, Eve; Eve’s student-slash-lover, Jasper; and Eve’s soon-to-be-ex-husband, Rick, who is going really hard on the free wine. “The idea that you would have an open bar at an art school event is pretty funny,” says Nielsen. “You don’t even get that at most gallery openings these days” (-2).

Bateman standing in Lee's art gallery

Rick getting absolutely blotto, though? That rings a little more true. The guy’s got plenty of reasons to reach for the bottle, what with his own career stalling while his ex is the toast of the town. Eve tells Rick that maybe he would have better luck if he produced more work. “I loved when she said that,” says Nielsen. “Rick feels like this classic cliché of the bitter older artist who would rather be pissed off than focus on his own creative output” (+2). But is he bitter enough to commit murder? That’s the question he has to ask himself when he wakes up in Eve’s office, a few feet away from her body, holding a blood-soaked intaglio printing tool with zero recollection of the past eight hours.

The name Ontario Art Academy screams OCAD reference (+1), but the campus scenes were filmed at U of T Mississauga—which, as we know, is not what an art college looks like (-3).

Graff and Bateman analyze the crime scene and determine that the victim knew her killer, which was what happened in the Buller case (+1). Real-life suspects back in 2001 included a former student and an ex—check and check (+2). The key difference is that, more than twenty years later, Buller’s murder remains unsolved. The lead investigators (including former police chief and bike-lane antagonist Mark Saunders) interviewed over 200 people in connection with the case, which is a great example of how tedious an actual investigation can be. For the TV version, Graff and Bateman do considerably less legwork (-2).

Graff examines Eve's body in her office

Before her death, Eve had recently received the Poletto Award—a huge deal in the fictional Toronto art world. “I guess the Poletto is supposed to be the Sobey, which is Canada’s top art prize. It’s a big deal, but there is no trophy,” Nielsen says. And if there were, it definitely wouldn’t look like a melted bong (-3).  

To the surprise of absolutely no one who has been watching this series, Graff is an expert in both art criticism and painting technique. This week, he gives us a poignant mini lecture on Eve’s brush strokes, which are more intense than ever in her recent work. Believe it or not, our man is not far off the mark. The paintings, Nielsen says, are the work of Toronto’s own Janna Watson, an abstract painter known for her brushwork. “It was great that they used real art and put Janna’s work on display,” says Nielsen. And of course, art created by a legitimately decorated artist (and not a prop intern) lends a lot of credibility (+4).

Lee’s star client may be dead, but the show must go on: she still has her fancy new art gallery to open—a palatial two-storey space that looks like someone took a white paint gun to a WeWork. “I laughed when I saw this because the size is just not what you would typically see in Toronto these days,” says Nielsen (-2). However, it is in fact a real gallery—the new Bau-Xi Gallery on Dufferin (+3).

Gallerist Lee standing between Graff and Bateman

A Toronto gallerist is only as good as her collection of power suits, so of course Lee wears an Aviator jumpsuit by Horses Atelier (+3). Her assistant, Callie, is also nailing the wardrobe with a chain mail T-shirt that she obviously wore to the Comfort Zone last night (+2).

When Graff and Bateman ask to see Eve’s personal studio, they learn that its location is a secret. Nobody knows where it is—not even her gallerist. “There is just no way,” says Nielsen. “Visiting the artists you represent at their studios is part of an art dealer’s job” (-3). Brooding boy toy Jasper reveals that Eve used to paint in an auto body shop when she was a kid. So maybe she works out of Jimmie’s Garage, Graff posits (which would explain the conspicuous zoom-in on the Jimmie’s Garage keychain during an earlier scene in Eve’s office).

When they arrive at Eve’s workspace, our dynamic duo find her most recent work, but—wait!—the paint is still wet. “Unless she’s back from the dead, Eve’s a fraud,” says Bateman. Well, not necessarily. “Eve’s paintings are done in oils, which can take weeks and even months to fully dry,” Nielsen explains (-5).

Graff and Bateman walking into Jimmie's garage

Points for Bateman’s spot-on Graff impersonation as she pokes fun at her partner’s endless knowledge about the art world. He may be a pompous blowhard, but he’s her pompous blowhard (+2).

If Eve didn’t create her work, who did? That would be Nikki, an undiscovered talent who took art therapy sessions with Eve at a CAMH equivalent (+2). Props to the no-nonsense social worker who responds to Graff’s request for her client’s last name with “It’s spelled, Get a warrant” (+2).

Flash forward to Nikki’s one-bedroom apartment on Carlaw (+1), where we see her painting in a Klaxon Howl T-shirt (Toronto designer [+1]) while listening to Caitlin Woelfle-O’Brien (Toronto musician [+1]). “This is a much more realistic portrayal of the kind of spaces most artists work in,” says Nielsen. “Twenty years ago, you had affordable studio space—today we call those condos” (+3).  

Related: Law & Order Toronto episode one—crypto kings and con artists

It turns out that Eve was paying for Nikki’s rent and groceries (and maybe her fancy T-shirts) in exchange for her art, which she then passed off as her own. This sort of art world fraud is rare, says Nielsen, but it does happen (+3). Just last month, an art teacher in a Montreal high school was accused of selling his student’s artwork without their knowledge. As for a Toronto artist (even one with a Poletto) having the funds to float another person’s living expenses? “I kept waiting to hear that one of Eve’s parents was the head of TD Bank,” Nielsen says (-2).

Bateman tried to revive Nikki in her apartment

By the time Graff and Bateman find Nikki, she’s dead. At first it looks like an overdose, but we soon learn that she’s been pumped full of zolpidem (a.k.a. Ambien) by someone else. The bodies are piling up now, and our team is zeroing in on a certain well-suited gallery owner who is absolutely not going to serve sushi at her big opening bash. (“It stays out for too long,” Lee tells Callie). So what should be served? “Find out what MOCA did for their last event,” she says. It’s a great shout-out to a Toronto gallery (+3), but again, the days of moneyed art events are over. “You’re lucky to get sweaty cheese cubes,” Nielsen says (-2).

“Eve is gone, but her art will live on,” Lee tells a wealthy prospective buyer with empty wall space at her home in Prince Edward County (+2). But would the work really be on sale this quickly? Definitely not, according to Nielsen, who says that no decent gallerist would be turning a star client’s death into a fire sale. “Given Eve’s profile, Lee should be calling the National Gallery to see about having a painting in their collection or maybe talking about a touring exhibition” (-3).

But, of course, Lee is not a decent gallerist—she’s a self-serving sociopath who committed a “calculated, premeditated murder” to keep Eve’s fraud a secret. In a dramatic monologue, Graff explains how Eve and Nikki had joined forces and planned to come clean at the big opening. They had even made an art film together: “a statement on the irony of raw talent being subsumed by middle-class greed, ambition and fear of irrelevance.” As is his way, Graff prods a confession out of Lee, who is then handcuffed and escorted out of the gallery. Meanwhile, Bateman reveals the real origin of the paintings to the ritzy opening-night attendees.

Nielsen wonders why Lee decided to go the murderess route in the first place. “Selling art is all about narratives and storytelling, and this is a good story.” Alternate ending: Lee finds out about the forgeries and quickly signs Nikki while also securing the film rights. “That seems like the smarter move here,” says Nielsen (-4). “But I guess it’s Law & Order, so you need a body.” Fair enough.

Bateman watches as the police arrest the murdered

FINAL VERDICT

Accuracy score: +12
Judge’s notes: The juiciest episode yet puts the spotlight on the city’s creative community. If only they’d had a consultant for paint-drying timelines.
Best Toronto cameo: The guy hanging Eve’s art in the gallery scene is actual Bau-Xi art dealer Kyle Matuzewiski.
Worst Toronto cameo: The city’s cadre of put-upon assistants as repped by Callie, who covers up for Lee when she claims she’s too drunk to drive.
Most meme-worthy line: “I never liked art dealers.”