'I Had To Go Home And Unravel': Mehcad Brooks Breaks Down Law And Order's Emotional Verdict And Filming [SPOILER] On Location

'I Had To Go Home And Unravel': Mehcad Brooks Breaks Down Law And Order's Emotional Verdict And Filming [SPOILER] On Location

Spoilers ahead for Episode 6 of Law & Order Season 23, called "On the Ledge."

The case of Law & Order's latest episode started for Jalen Shaw before he even arrived at work in the morning, although it wouldn't be until later that he discovered the unintended consequences of his actions. After Shaw saved the life about a man about to jump off a bridge, the man shot and killed a doctor, kicking off a case that questioned whether race-based trauma stress could be used as a defense for murder. Mehcad Brooks spoke with CinemaBlend about filming the man's suicide attempt on location and what the verdict meant for his character.

Mehcad Brooks as Jalen Shaw in Law & Order Season 23x06

(Image credit: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Filming The Close Call On Location

In "On the Ledge" in the 2024 TV schedule, Shaw was on his way to work when he spotted a man by the name of Cartwright standing on the wrong side of a railing, looking ready to jump to his death. The detective of course stepped in and talked him off the ledge, and believed him when he said that he was okay to walk it off. Shaw had no way of knowing that Cartwright was reeling from the death of his wife and unborn child, and no way of anticipating that man would shoot multiple people in a hospital.

When I spoke with Mehcad Brooks about the episode, I asked whether Cartwright's close call with jumping off the bridge was filmed on location, and the actor shared just how real it felt to him while filming:

"Oh, of course. We filmed in Williamsburg, right over the East River. Everything you see is real. There's no green screen on that. Everything was safe, he was harnessed up, but he's standing over the East River. It was cold that day and those were real tears. [laughs] Sometimes when you're doing this job, your brain doesn't know the difference. And this was one of these episodes [where] I had to go home and unravel some things and calm my nervous system. Just seeing a guy standing over the edge puts you in a place, right? And you still gotta do your job. Once again, I have the wonderful opportunity to portray this man who just wants to make a safer city and a safer world and speak up and look out for the little guy, and I'm very proud."

There was some very real stress in filming a scene with a man hanging off the wrong side of a railing, even with the knowledge that the scene was being filmed safely. Can anybody blame Brooks for needing to calm his nervous system after filming that scene on location?

The case wasn't cut and dry even after Cartwright admitted that he'd killed the doctor, as he decided to plead guilty by reason of insanity due to race-based trauma stress. While Price – who was acting District Attorney this week after Jack McCoy's departure – was dismissive of race-based trauma, Shaw understood all too well the kind of mistreatment that Cartwright had to deal with on a daily basis.

Mehcad Brooks as Jalen Shaw in Law & Order Season 23x06

(Image credit: Steve Hart/NBC)

Shaw's Feelings On The Verdict

Shaw only testified against Cartwright after Nolan subpoenaed him, and after he had a tearful conversation with new partner Riley about him never being able to truly understand race-based trauma stress, the verdict was delivered: guilty. I asked Mehcad Brooks to break down how his character was feeling about that verdict after his ordeal, and he explained:

"I gotta say that it's multifaceted and it's dimensional. Because while you can understand the motivation why someone does something drastic, it doesn't mean that you agree with it. And while you can understand that somebody may have had a diminished capacity, or they had a mental breakdown, or whatever the case is – and Shaw would like to see him go to a psychiatric ward – once again, we are in a system that punishes Black Americans more harshly than non-Black counterparts. And Shaw knows that. He's in a system to help change that system."

Law & Order has touched on Shaw trying to change the system on behalf of Black Americans being disproportionately punished, but it's an uphill battle for him in the NYPD. There's even an extra layer of tragedy to this particular case, as it started when a Black woman and her unborn child died after a white doctor didn't take her health concerns seriously. Mehcad Brooks continued:

"What really hurts him the most, and we see this in the last scene, is that he was raised by a single father, and there's a kid, Daniel, who's now just lost his father to prison and lost his mother because of what his family believes is racially motivated trauma. And Shaw sees this young kid who is now orphaned basically and has to grow up this way. And he had a hand in that, and he can't get around the fact that had he just made sure that that man stayed there and he got help, he got that man help, took him to the doctor himself, took him to hospital himself, called in late to work, just made a couple of different decisions."

Hindsight is 20/20, and Riley tried to assure Shaw that Cartwright's actions weren't his fault, but that didn't mean he could just shake off the tragedy. There wasn't really a happy ending possible in this case, and Shaw continued to question his own actions. The actor went on:

"Once again, these guys are not superheroes. They can do 99% of stuff right, and that 1% is the thing that can come back and bite them. And Shaw, in his world, in his dimension, he's losing sleep over this, for sure. And you see it. We actually go there, the director went there, the camera crew went there, the writers went there. I went there, and it's a level of sensitivity and vulnerability that I'm proud to say, and I say with the most humble heart, that you don't normally see on procedural television."

As a procedural, Law & Order doesn't always dig deeply in the characters' feelings about a given case, and Mehcad Brooks went out of the way to share how proud he is of the whole team for taking some risks with this storyline. It wasn't an easy episode for Jalen Shaw, but a great showcase for Mehcad Brooks as an actor and important episode for viewers.

See more of Brooks as Detective Shaw with new episodes of Law & Order on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. The next will introduce Scandal alum Tony Goldwyn as the new DA. If you want to revisit earlier episodes of the long-running procedural, be sure to check out a Peacock Premium subscription.