Law And Order's Mehcad Brooks Breaks Down How Shaw Will Change After The Deadly Fall Finale And Situation With Price

Mehcad Brooks as Jalen Shaw in Law and Order Season 22
(Image credit: NBC)

Warning: spoilers ahead for the fall finale of Law & Order Season 22, called “The System.”

The focus shifted over to Detective Jalen Shaw for the fall finale of Law & Order Season 22, when a man who had been wrongfully imprisoned after Shaw took a false confession escaped and went on the run. A man who was innocent of the crime he was charged with went on to commit crimes in his escape, and Shaw had to face his worst nightmare that he’d been part of the system that created the problem. Actor Mehcad Brooks broke down how his character will change after “The System” and what Shaw really thinks of Price after what went down between them. 

The man who escaped was Troy Booker, who had been in prison awaiting trial for well over a year after Shaw accidentally gave him the impression that confessing was his only chance of ever seeing freedom again. He was also under the influence of marijuana at the time, which Shaw also didn’t know. The case got complicated once it finally went to trial (and the guard who was shot in the escape died), and Price ultimately got the guilty verdict. Still, Shaw was clearly wracked with guilt that everything could have been prevented. 

When Mehcad Brooks spoke with CinemaBlend about “The System,” I asked if having Shaw’s faith in the system shaken was going to affect him in the long run, and the actor shared: 

Yes, I think that every Black man by a certain age has a distrust of the system that was set up centuries ago. Shaw's goal was to disrupt that system and add a different perspective, and perhaps a failsafe to some people seeking reprieve and relief from that system. And I think that him becoming this unconscious guardian in some ways of that system – he took a false confession, the wrong guy's in prison, people got hurt because of that wrong guy's in prison – and that's a horrible situation when you look at it on its face. But when you look at it, when it comes to 'Well, why is Shaw doing what he's doing?' It's existential.

Shaw came to the team on Law & Order with a unique perspective as a man who left a career as a lawyer to join the NYPD and try to better the system. While he has done everything in his power ever since arriving as the replacement for Anthony Anderson’s Detective Kevin Bernard, “The System” was the first time that his hard work really backfired, and the criminal justice system made the situation worse rather than giving Booker his day in court in front of a jury. 

Pretty much all of the characters were deeply sympathetic to Booker even in light of the guard’s death, with Price arguing that it would be morally and ethically wrong to pursue the highest murder charge, even if legally justifiable. DA Jack McCoy (with Sam Waterston making franchise history in Season 22) pushed for the most severe charge, and after more facts were unearthed and he refused a plea deal, Booker was convicted. Mehcad Brooks elaborated on why this will all affect Shaw: 

It becomes like, 'Holy shit, what have I done? I meant to be this champion of change, and now I'm a guardian of a system that is set up to destroy people like, like Troy Booker or Khalief Browder or one of the thousands of people who are in jail for something they didn't do or just because they couldn't make bail. Yes, that's gonna have to affect how he moves in the future. I'll leave it to the audience to decide whether or not Shaw should have had more care when it comes to a teenager who seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But in the future that's going to have to be throughline in Shaw's personal experience and how he comes to collecting confessions and how he comes to doing the rest of his job, for sure.

If there was one element of the case that pretty much everybody agreed on, it was that the system failed Booker by keeping him behind bars for 18 months without a trial. While nobody forced the man to try and escape or scuffle with the gun, the whole mess never would have happened if Shaw hadn’t unintentionally taken the false confession and if he hadn’t had to wait. 

As much as Price didn’t want to push for the most severe charge against Booker, he did argue the case to the best of his ability. Price’s prosecution ultimately resulted in a guilty verdict, which didn’t exactly help Shaw’s sense of guilt. After Mehcad Brooks confirmed that the case shook his faith in the system, he shared whether it also shook his faith in his coworkers:

There's definitely a mutual respect between him and Price, for sure. I think that he understands the criminal justice system as a whole. He understands that. He understands that Price is working within a framework of the DAs office. He understands all of that, but I also think he has a lived experience that is different than Price, so he has a different perspective of a system that they are entangled with, that Price could never have and will never have. Price is not tasked with fighting his dignity against a system that's existed for centuries, and Shaw has been tasked with that personal challenge in his own life.

While Shaw can understand Price’s position better than most due to his past as an attorney, Price can never understand Shaw’s position as a Black detective whose efforts to make positive change in the system and keep young Black men out of prison aren’t working out the way he’d wanted. Price can want to move past what happened, while Shaw knows that the people affected can’t. Mehcad Brooks went on to share that Shaw does respect his other coworkers as well, saying: 

To answer the question, I think he does respect his colleagues. I think he does respect the DAs office. He obviously respects his partner. At the same time, he understands that he has a different lived experience and a different perspective than they ever could about the system in which they're fighting to protect and fighting to correct.

“The System” didn’t exactly bring Law & Order to a happy ending for 2022, but it did showcase Shaw as a character in a way that hadn’t happened yet. Even as the show developed the partnership with Cosgrove and found a way to fold him into the team as if he’d always been part of it, the fall finale is the episode that really sheds more light on what drives him. 

See what’s next for Law & Order when Season 22 returns on Thursday, January 5 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC in the 2023 TV premiere schedule, ahead of Law & Order: SVU’s return (following the farewell to Kelli Giddish as Amanda Rollins) at 9 p.m. and Law & Order: Organized Crime (which spent the first half of Season 3 pushing Bell to her breaking point with Stabler) at 10 p.m. To revisit some past episodes of the long-running procedural, you can stream the series with a Peacock subscription

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).