‘Law & Order’ Star Mehcad Brooks on Shaw at End of Fall Finale: ‘I Don’t Think He Knows How to Feel Yet’

Mehcad Brooks in 'Law & Order'
Spoiler Alert
Ralph Bavaro/NBC

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Law & Order Season 22 Episode 9, “The System.”]

In the Law & Order fall finale, Detective Jalen Shaw (Mehcad Brooks) is faced with the fact that the confession he got from a young Black man, Troy Booker (Chaundre Hall-Broomfield), was false — and that is just the beginning of a string of events that lead to a complicated trial.

While at the courthouse, Troy, who’d been proclaiming his innocence, escapes and, while fighting with a corrections officer for control of a gun, the weapon goes off. The officer later dies, and Troy is put on trial for his death — but video evidence shows that he was innocent of the crime for which he was originally in prison. But for the officer, he’s found guilty of murder in the second degree.

Brooks takes us inside that ending.

How does Shaw feel about the verdict at the end?

Mehcad Brooks: Ambivalent. I don’t think he knows how to feel yet. That’s where I was — I haven’t seen the episode; I couldn’t bring myself to watch it yet. I got it, and I’m still a little emotional and sensitive about it just because I know where I went. It’s not to say that I’m not gonna watch it, just I haven’t seen it yet. So I don’t know what they edited, but I do know what I played, and what I played was that I did everything that I could to save this kid’s life after I realized I had ruined his life. So there’s that.

But when I saw Troy Booker’s mother in the courtroom, I stopped being a cop for a second. I became a man. I became a Black man who watched a Black mother’s hopes and dreams crumbling in front of her for the second time in 18 months, this time more definitively. And that got me.

But at the same time, there’s personal responsibility, and this kid, while he shouldn’t have been in jail in the first place, he did what he did after. And so there was a fine line emotionally I was walking where, if I had seen a trial on television, let’s say Shaw had seen the trial on television, he was at home, he might have a different reaction, but he’s in a courtroom. And so we’re placed in the physical limitations that our characters are in as well.  There’s a strong level of compassion, a strong level of “I wish I could have done more.”

We saw Shaw getting on his own case after seeing the video footage of the shooting and thinking back on the way he handled questioning Troy originally, but as he says, he doesn’t lie to get a confession. So it doesn’t seem like there’s anything that he can change by how he conducts himself in those situations in the future as a result of this.

I think you’re right, but I also think there’s something bigger at play here, and that’s why the episode is called “The System.” There are a lot of false confessions, particularly from diverse people who don’t have a lot of experience or access to legal aid or a lot of resources in which they can provide access to help or expertise.

And so I think what happens is Shaw [will] have to know better from here on out, that it’s not just, well, can I get a confession? It’s taking into consideration everything that has gone on in this person’s life that has led them to this situation. And maybe he should have known better. I think that we’ll leave that to the audience, but there’s something interesting for me as an actor in the future playing, is it just as simple as getting a confession and wiping your hands on it? I don’t think it’s that simple. I think there’s a system that’s set up to obstruct certain people from their liberty and their dignity and their freedom sometimes and their joy. And I think that Shaw is fully aware of that system and he’s gonna have to take into consideration that he can be an unconscious or a subconscious guardian of that system rather than be fighting the system that he consciously wants to if he’s not careful.

Then I imagine he might clash with the DA’s office more going forward, with Price (Hugh Dancy), with Sam (Odelya Halevi), with Jack (Sam Waterston)…

Well, drama’s good. People like conflict.

Is there anything coming up in Shaw’s personal life?

We’ve had some talks about that, nothing that I know I can reveal at this moment. But yeah, I think one of the cool things that the writers have really been able to accomplish really well this year that feels new — because I’m a fan of Law & Order and I watched most of the seasons of the past — and that they’re doing really well is carrying through lines when it comes to these B plots or these subplots and these personal traits or personal experiences of characters, carrying them on and arcing them through the season. So we’re doing a lot more of that, frankly, because I don’t think the old version had any of that. So yeah, there’s plenty of opportunity for us to find out more about Shaw, more about what happens when he goes home, more about Cosgrove [Jeffrey Donovan], more about Dixon [Camryn Manheim], more about everybody in the show. And I think that the writers are doing a fantastic job at creating that throughline.

Law & Order, Winter Premiere, Thursday, January 5, 8/7c, NBC