Dick Wolf should definitely have been taking notes on Thursday. The story of ex-cop Chris Dorner's alleged killing spree is not just an epic jaw-dropper, it's a story born for the "ripped from the headlines" treatment that "Law & Order" was famous for.
It's almost impossible not to imagine a version of the horrific events unfolding on the screen -- pretty much exactly as they've been reported.
The terrible sequence of events even started like a "Law & Order" cold open, with the slaying of Monica Quan and her fiancé, Keith Lawrence, in the parking structure of their Irvine, Calif., condominium -- a seemingly random puzzler.
Who would kill a women's assistant basketball coach and a college public-safety officer, both well-regarded by the community? In tony Irvine, no less?
It was only later, after the stakes had been raised by two shootings that left one police officer dead and two others wounded, that the out-of-nowhere motive was revealed: The suspected killer, Chris Dorner, apparently held Quan's father, a retired police captain, partially responsible for his firing from the force for making false statements about a fellow officer.
And now he's supposedly intent on eliminating all those who he felt had wronged him -- as spelled out in excruciating detail in a lengthy, frightening, paranoid manifesto published online. Or maybe it wasn't a real manifesto at all.
Alternately grandiose and self-pitying, the screed, purportedly written by Dorner, but published in different versions by various outlets (read one of them here), was almost its own character in the reports on Dorner's alleged killing spree.
And it definitely read like something an onscreen villain would rattle off as he plots his crimes -- a response, he claimed, because the LAPD "has not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days. It has gotten worse."
"I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty," one particularly self-aggrandizing section reads. "You have misjudged a sleeping giant. There is no conventional threat assessment for me."
"I have the strength and benefits of being unpredictable, unconventional and unforgiving," another reads.
On the self-pitying, paranoid end of the spectrum, Dorner reportedly wrote, "I am a man who has lost complete faith in the system, when the system betrayed, slandered and llibeled me."
And as events unfolded throughout the day, the made-for-television drama ratcheted up.
Los Angeles' freeways were lit up with warning signs that included Dorner's car make, model and license-plate number, alerting a population that already was growing equally horrified and enthralled by the story. Clearly shaken police spokespeople held press conferences, sometimes delivering script-worthy one-liners. ("I think my opinion of the suspect is unprintable," Riverside police chief Sergio Diaz told reporters when asked his thoughts on Dorner.)
And after an apparent case of mistaken identity led police to reportedly shoot two innocent women, news anchors warned Angelenos driving cars similar to Dorner's to exercise extra caution if they encountered police.
As on-edge as the public may have been, the police were doubly so. After all, they were being targeted by a suspected killer who, having had the benefit of police training, knew their tactics and was thus even more of a threat.
Which, coincidentally, is exactly the kind of irony that Hollywood loves to slather its bad guys with.
Indeed, the script was so good that the media couldn't help but try to write it even before the true story it was based on had concluded.
They even managed to give themselves bit parts -- one version of the manifesto, reported by some outlets but not others, included references to Anderson Cooper, Larry David, Wolf Blitzer, Fareed Zakaria and Charlie Sheen. Then Cooper chimed in on CNN that his office had received a package on Feb. 1 from Dorner that included a bullet-riddled medallion and an ominous note intended for former LAPD chief Bill Bratton. Cooper said he had only been made aware of the gift as events unfolded on Thursday.
(The version of the manifesto supposedly containing references to show-business personalities seemed too good to be true for a media eager to inject itself into the story. And perhaps it was too good to be true: A supposed reference to Larry David reads, "Larry David, I agree. 72-82 degrees is way to [sic] hot in a residence. 68 degrees is perfect." For what it's worth, where the manifesto was printed in full, rather than being excerpted, it tended not to include the media-obsessed version.)
While the real-life Dorner drama hasn't yet come to a conclusion, the third act is shaping up to be a doozy. As of this writing, Dorner's vehicle has been found in a "burned out" state in the Big Bear area of Southern California, known largely as a popular skiing destination.
With Dorner possibly in the area, the Big Bear Mountain resort has been shut down, and a SWAT team has swooped in. Because what fictional villain, big-screen or small-screen, doesn't become all the more menacing when he descends on a woodsy, remote spot populated by vacationing tourists?
There was even one more twist that seems borrowed from any number of scripts -- according to the Los Angeles Times, Dorner, a Navy reservist as well as an ex-cop, was last seen wearing fatigues, and Big Bear offers discounted ski-lift tickets to military personnel who wear their uniforms to the resort.
With three dead so far, the story has certainly been tragic. And with all the twists that the story has already taken, there's no guarantee that it will reach its conclusion in Big Bear.
Let's hope it finishes with one of those happy endings that Hollywood is known for cranking out.