The Menendez Murders Reminds Us Mistresses Aren't A Joke

Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC.
Pop culture has a thing for The Other Woman. It’s why there was all but an FBI investigation into the identity of Becky With The Good Hair, and audiences cheered when Beyonce dropped Ali Larter to her death in Obsessed long before the pop queen ever belted out “Sorry.” Usually, when you see a mistress on your TV screen or hear about one on the radio, you know she’s either going to be vilified or infantilized — what a dumb girl! How did she ever think he would leave his wife? — to the point of absurdity. Yet, you won’t see any such poorly-drawn sketches of the other woman in Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders. Thanks to a real-life twist in the infamous murder investigation, the NBC anthology series avoids the cheap trope all together. Instead, Judalon Smyth (Heather Graham) ends up being the most powerful person in the whole show.
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Tuesday night’s “Episode 2” is the Menendez episode that truly proves mistresses are no laughing matter. Throughout the installment, Judalon manipulates her married boyfriend Dr. L. Jerome Oziel (Josh Charles) into letting her live in his home, right under the nose of his wife and two daughters. She gets him to spin some bizarre tale about concern for his patient’s safety, and, all of a sudden, Judalon is sleeping in the maid’s quarters. Every time things look like they’re not going to go Judalon’s way, she threatens to tell the police Lyle (Miles Gaston Villanueva) and Erik Mendez (Gus Halper) killed their parents, Kitty (Lolita Davidovich) and Jose Menendez (Carlos Gómez), and Oziel is covering it it up.
Judalon isn’t lying, since Oziel is Lyle’s therapist and has heard his confession; there are recordings to to prove it. Oziel attempts to intimidate his girlfriend, telling Judalon if she snitches he’ll tell the Menendez brothers she is the one who ratted them out, which could possibly lead the murderous brothers to kill her in retaliation. Despite Oziel’s threats, Judalon still goes to the authorities about the Menendez murders the moment Oziel tosses her out of his home. Soon enough, the police are tearing apart Oziel’s mansion and officers are arresting both Menendez brothers. For months, detectives simply couldn’t prove the siblings committed the crime — and possibly never would have been able to without Judalon’s tapes. All of this is thanks to one spurned mistress’ power.

"A woman can be beautiful and sensual and enjoy sex and also be respected and intelligent."

Heather Graham
Clearly, Judalon is able to enact her revenge on Oziel because he never thought she could get the upper hand. Judalon’s portrayer, Heather Graham, agrees, telling Refinery29, “I think it’s kind of that typical thing where a woman gets underestimated because she’s sexy … It’s a weird double-edged sword. When women looks a certain way, [people are] like, ‘Then she must be stupid or too sexy.’ I feel like, why can’t a woman enjoy being beautiful and be empowered?”
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Judalon does go a long way to prove women actually can be beautiful and empowered. As Graham points out, while Oziel underestimated her due to her looks, “She completely gets her revenge on him. He had his license taken away because she fought back.” While we haven’t seen Oziel’s downfall unfold on True Crime just yet, the therapist did in fact lose his license in 1997 following the Menendez murder trial.
The real-life Judalon’s story is equally as empowering as the NBC version, since the affair and its aftermath isn’t fictionalized. Instead, it’s following the public records and phone transcripts of Judalon and Oziel’s dark and disturbing “love” story, which is nearly on par with that of the Joker and abuse survivor Harley Quinn. After Judalon spoke out against her ex-boyfriend, the California state board accused Oziel in 1993 of improperly giving her prescription pills and assaulting her.
“When Judalon came out, and she went to Diane Sawyer, and she told Diane Sawyer this story, then these other two women came out of the woodwork and accused Dr. Oziel of being abusive,” Graham explains of her research into her character. One of those women was a baby-sitter with whom he allegedly had an affair, assaulted, and prescribed improper pills for as well. Instead of allowing this allegedly abusive man to control them, these women helped make sure Oziel permanently lost the outlet that was helping him manipulate ladies like them. Yes, even though they were the kind of women who found themselves involved in an affair.
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By watching the “strong” Judalon fight back against someone as oppressive as Oziel, it’s possible viewers might realize femininity, even when it belongs to someone sexual, is just as powerful as the more masculine tactics of Oziel, like intimidation and threats. “I think our world is this patriarchy where we learn to respect this masculine power,” Graham says. “But I think it’s changing, and people are starting to see the strength of the feminine. Where a woman can be beautiful and sensual and enjoy sex and also be respected and intelligent.”
If Judalon’s arrest-creating coupe hasn’t convinced viewers, we haven’t seen the last of her just yet. “The repercussions of [her admission] are pretty huge,” Graham teases of her character going forward in Menendez Murders. “She becomes a bit of a celebrity during the trial.”
Considering the fact celebrities are shamed for their sexuality nearly as much as mistresses, it's likely we haven't seen the last of people underestimating Judalon over her sexual history. But, at least we can all rest assured she'll power through it while L. Jerome Oziel can no longer practice psychology in the state of California.
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