The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, having already accomplished the holy trifecta of critical acclaim, a high spot on the bestseller list, and a movie deal, saw yet another honor recently: A Law & Order episode.
The May 17th episode of recently canceled L&O, titled “Immortal,” is a near-exact play on the bestselling nonfiction book by Rebecca Skloot. Slate’s Browbeat blog breaks it down, but from the looks of it, it should have been obvious to anyone who’s read the book.
Here’s the plot: “Nathan died in 1959, but his cells, known as NaRo, were the first to stay alive in culture. One scientist describes them as ‘a lab staple, like white mice or petri dishes.’ The immortal NaRo cells are sold to research centers around the world by Hema Labs, whose founder took the cells from Nathan Robinson without his permission.” As Skloot reports in her book, this is basically what happened to Henrietta Lacks, who died in 1951. Her cells became a lab staple and her family never knew.
Browbeat’s June Thomas points out that this episode was more true to life than usual. She writes: “Even after 20 seasons of watching Law & Order and a year of chronicling the headlines that inspire the show’s story lines, I can’t recall an episode where ripped was quite so appropriate.”