In Which A Hail Of Preachy Anvils Flattens Any Desire To Watch Law & Order: SVU
A quintessentially Season 18 double episode -- well intended and acted, but self-righteous and clumsy -- tries to tell us what to think about immigration policy.
Insert the customary disclaimer here re: my understanding what the show and MarHar Superstar are trying to do, buuuuuut [does most authoritative Lt. Buntson lean over desk on tented fingers] this shit right here is just not good TV. Nobody is here for a social-hygiene film on the evils of Trump's deportation policies, least of all one airing on a network that Vichily declined to air its actual Trumped-from-the-headlines ep in the first place.
A hipster foodie couple walks their dog past a Middle Eastern restaurant, unaware that, inside, a trio of masked men is robbing the place, beating the family that owns and runs the place, the Samras, and sexually assaulting both daughters. The barrage of violence culminates in the deaths of one of the daughters and the father -- and is a hate crime, thanks to the "MUSLIMS MUST DIE" graffito they leave on the way out.
"Here comes the rant about the asinine dialogue." Well, gotta put it somewhere, so: yeah, here it is. Liv looks at the graffito and says, in so many words, that it's a hate crime to send us into the credits. This is followed by literally a dozen invocations of the phrase "sanctuary city"; attempts at Socratic dialogue with legal-immigrant characters blaring that everyone thinks they're terrorists; and the dumping of every issue pertaining to #NoBanNoWall into the same overheated cauldron of writerly dudgeon, including the deportation of LGBTQ folks without papers that will mean a death sentence for them back home, and who has jurisdiction over material witnesses who came to the States illegally.
I juuuuust...I don't want to sound dismissive of these issues. I take them very seriously, as a New Yorker and a human being. Everyone does. And it's not like I haven't said some variation of Dodds Sr.'s "What's happening in this country is insane -- I mean, this is America, right?" myself. But I didn't put that line on television, in the mouth of an NYPD chief, and if I were trying to break out a story about the clash between local law enforcement and federal actions that conflict with both crime-solving and this country's image of itself as a new start with unlimited potential, I would break out A story about it. One. Not all the pertinent issues, at once, in a two-hour episode that still seemed filler-y and slow. And I certainly wouldn't slap it with a hashtag that makes the no-good-choices suffering and anxiety of undocumented families about the agita of the white lady. "Benson's dilemma"? That's just embarrassing.
The "woe is Liv" shotmaking is not helping either, and not for nothing, but something about this hairstyle is not happening for me. Less product, maybe, and part it off the center?
...Meanwhile, there is in fact another fistful of crimes here, starting with the mom's brother, Yusef, witnessing the attack, but he does nothing and flees, because he's in the country without papers and, as a gay man, especially fears getting caught in up in an investigation and sent back to Syria. Because Liv swears she'll make sure that doesn't happen (Ron Howard voice: "It does."), Yusef agrees to testify to the grand jury about the former restaurant worker, Hector, the family thinks they recognized as one of the masked trio, and is then obliged to walk through a conveniently located protest to rap with Carisi about what "most people" think of Muslims. He doesn't even get to finish his cigarette before he's punished for smoking by a swarm of ICE agents who, long story short, airmail him out of the country before Liv et al. can even track him down...and as that's the last we hear of him, I guess we're to assume he's dead. Great work, team!
Hope you packed a lunch because WAIT, THERE'S MORE!
After a brief, weird interlude in which Hector is held hostage in a bar and SWAT shoots one of his captors in the head, Hector is still denying everything, so it's time to lean on his wife, Soledad, to the tune of "stop lying for him, or we'll deport him AND you and your kids will go into foster care." Despite the fact that this seems to me like it's going to prompt a false confession -- and that Soledad pretty much says in so many words she'll tell Liv anything she wants to hear if she can just see her kids -- Soledad cracks. Hector finally concedes that he only went along with the scheme because the Samras still owed him money, but when Mr. Samra fought back, shit got out of hand. He didn't rape anyone, though; that was his monstrous cohorts Steve and Mitch.
After the racists get some dialogue designed to signal to the viewership that the writers' room hates Trump -- "I mean, Mexicans love tequila. And raping. Just ask the president" -- Hector tells his story to the grand jury, but we still have like three days of runtime left, so of course he gets sniped to death on the courthouse steps. Mrs. Samra's like, NICE ONE, LIEU.
She takes matters into her own hands and lies on the stand about remembering the faces of the other two perps, and then Liv agonizes for what seems like two weeks over whether to back Mrs. Samra's story or tell the truth and hope the jury does the right thing, like, you had zero problem lying to save your own ass when it came to William Lewis (and dozens of other times) so GMAFB with the pearl-clutching when Barba suggests you back Mrs. Samra's story. (And with Barba caring whether she's "disillusioned" with him. She's not a rookie, show!)
But Liv decides to tell the truth, because the truth shall set you blah blah whatever, but it's the come-to-Jesus moment Mrs. Mitch's wife has in the courthouse hallway thanks to Liv that finally puts an end to this interminable lesson on international justice, as she decides to set herself free of Mitch's domestic violence, and admits she can't alibi him.
...I am exhausted. AND THERE'S EVEN MORE, because at the very end, Dodds Sr. wearily reports that a mosque in East Harlem got firebombed, killing five people, and everyone stares numbly because it's their very first day in law enforcement, or living in New York City, or living in Trump's America? idek.
Barba announces to the gathered media that "justice has been done," so I assume it's guilty of first-degree murder with the hate-crime enhancement.
Headlines this wasn't ripped from is a shorter list, and y'all read the news so I'm-a just leave it out.
The higher-profile guests -- Kirk Acevedo; The Night Of's Poorna Jagannathan as Mrs. Samra; Code Black's Melanie Chandra as Lela Samra, the surviving daughter -- are cops or victims. Tyler Elliot Burke as Mitch obviously did it, but I'm the only idiot who watched all of Hostages and I still didn't recognize him. Emma Myles of OITNB helped do it, I guess, as Mrs. Mitch.
First, can we talk about this?
Elsewhere, Acevedo returns as Det. Ray Lopez; Jagannathan has a Mothership and a CI on her c.v.; Matthew Rauch as Mitch's lawyer, ditto, including the CI where Griffin Dunne is accused of murdering his petite girlfriends.
The racist lingo used by the villains, although even that seems toned down a bit.
It's tempting to retitle this section "Dan Speaks For Us All," as my husband looked up from reading about the NBA playoffs to ask of Mrs. Samra confronting Liv after her testimony, "Haven't we already seen this scene like ten times?" But Fin's mostly just doing his Sergeant-T thing, although it read a bit differently for us given we'd just watched this a few minutes prior to the episode.
Much more entertaining -- and succinct -- than the ep; I recommend.
I guess Liv threatening to call ICE on Soledad, but I feel like detectives on this franchise are always using the threat of immigration enforcement on witnesses. Dodds Sr. announcing to Liv that he'll cover her "backside" qualifies, maybe (and please don't tell me we're going back to the suggestion that he's...literally doing anything to her backside? I like Gallagher in the role but I didn't feature them as a couple back when the show coyly had them both protesting they weren't on a date). The egregion stems primarily IMO from the performative horror New York City detectives display at how shitty some of our citizens can be to each other, like, Liv is not Kimmy Schmidt.
Everyone, because it's a finale, but SVU clearly wants us to notice how hard it is for Liv and Rollins to leverage women's kids against them and how bravely they do it anyway, like, can't the crime and the witness testimony just...exist, and not have to tie back into the involvement of children every time? Like, we get that the policy is bad. It's bad on its face. Underlining it in every scripted instance with the separation of parents and children is not necessary.
I had hoped, given the hostage situation, we'd get to clap an eyeball on Tucker, but no joy.
No revelations about yours truly's SVU-coverage life; I really cannot with S18, but we got through it, and I'll be back for the 19th go-round with y'all. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you on Twitter the next time Vixy Platinum cycles through the reruns.