Dodds is troubled by a tough case that implicates one of the many male children of a dead philanderer. ...Oh, Noah? He's fine. Shut up, NBC promo department.
When Lily Evans goes missing after swim practice, SVU must race to find her, starting with a guy named Diego she's sent some (pretty tame; she's wearing what looks like her competition swimsuit) selfies to. But Diego isn't responsible, of course; it's whoever left "a DNA sample" on her thigh...
...and that takes a while to narrow down, because although Warner (yay! hi, Melinda!) can narrow it down to the male relative of a guy already in the system, said guy 1) died five years ago and 2) had impressive enough swimmers that his philandering gives the squad half a dozen suspects but no way to compel their DNA. Eventually Fin Rube Goldbergs up a fake drunk-driving checkpoint on City Island, where several of the possible DNA matches live and go home to visit their mom every weekend, reasoning that they can pull lip cells off the breathalyzer apparatus. Bingo: it's a schmuckly named Gary Ryan, a vending-machine stocker who knew Lily from around school. He didn't intend to kill her but when smooching her after he gave her a ride (a real one, not the bony kind) wasn't greeted with enthusiasm, Gary's attempts to shut her up led to a head injury, and he dumped her under the West Side Highway.
The A-Hero-Falls-10,000-Feeting of little Noah in the opener. Look, it's not like I wanted to spend yet another episode with this particular toddler in peril, but c'mon, man. NBC's bullshitty plot-and-switch promos turned into parodies of themselves like 15 years ago. Is there any reason someone who does these for a living couldn't have made a compelling teaser from the actual core of the story, which is that Dodds is struggling emotionally with his new assignment?
Come back to the third act, Rafael Barba, Rafael Barba! ...The Esparazabbatical continues; sigh. Ryan confesses tearfully, but it's deffo more Order than Law again this week.
None that I can find; some similarities to Oscar Bolin Jr., but a teenage girl getting (pulled/forced) into a van and meeting a horrific end is, I regret to say, not a rarity. Earlier this year, a pair of intellectually delayed half-brothers got cleared of a murder that put them both on death row, thanks to DNA, but I wouldn't call the cases similar, though I think we're meant to see Gary Ryan as somewhat simple.
The culprit isn't obvious until relatively late in the episode (I thought the mom might be involved until the third act), and Jonathan Judge-Russo isn't a headliner.
Ross Gibby as Lily's dad is about to celebrate his 20th anniversary in the L&O-verse (he debuted on Mothership in an ep about a corrupt judge). Joanna Bonaro as the philanderer's widow has been on SVU before ("Hell"). Red-herring half-brother Brendan Cahill is played by Lorenzo "When You Need An Adam Baldwin-Looking Dude For A Flashback" Pisoni, who I believe played the ballet-company director in one of my all-time favorite CIs, "Delicate," i.e., "the Black Swan-meets-Heavenly Creatures one" starring Melissa "Supergirl" Benoist.
It got pretty warm in my living room when Carisi rocked his patrol uni at the checkpoint; does that count? ...Nothing remarkable, though Lily's mom's "she likes cats, and swimming" is heartbreaking.
Dodds is clearly struggling with the case, specifically that there's an outside chance they could have found Lily alive if he hadn't something something red herring. Liv handles his discomfiture okay, but when he insists on interrogating Gary Ryan so he can get some closure, she allows it.
Dodds, who goes overboard during the arrest and makes a series of despairing-revulsion faces throughout the episode.
"So we're looking for the illegitimate son of a dead man." ...I don't know, it's in the tone. Also, the breathalyzer roundup is v.v. smart.
In case anyone cares about this, Noah wandered off a ways but is found safe and sound and playing with other kids; Liv (who has a new everyday necklace, or at least I just now noticed it) lost track of him because another playground mom was bending her ear about how gross teenage boys are. Rollins remains offscreen and on bed rest, but Fin is texting her pics of an exhumation, and Carisi rounds up the squad to go visit her and give her a break from her takeout menus by cooking her "a real meal," which is probably an amazing pasta spread. I ruined a notebook writing "Mrs. Sarah Carisi" all over the front of it.