Sure, there were hookers in Santa hats, pedophile priests, and a gory Christmas Eve shootout. But the one question SVU fans were buzzing about by the end of "Presumed Guilty" was this: Whose masculine mystery hand was Olivia holding as she flew to the Bahamas for a winter holiday tryst?
Recap: We open with a montage of Christmas goodwill featuring Father Shay, a priest with cheeks so rosy and a smile so benevolent you just know he's hiding something dark and terrible beneath those robes. Indeed, your sex-offender radar probably started chirping when he sat in his car with adorable eight-year-old Sofia, who handed him a handmade Christmas card. Did he hover over her just a little too long before leaning down to hug her? Someone certainly thought so. The car door is yanked open, the priest dragged out and viciously beaten. Sofia screams and runs.
The primary suspect is Sam, Ice-T's ex-brother-in-law, who's found dazed at the scene. Sam swears he was just trying to pull the real assailants off the priest, but as a thrice-convicted parolee, his credibility is slim. Sam is arrested.
Here, folks, is where SVU's involvement would have ended in real life. Two big reasons: (1) There's no sex crime. Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal notwithstanding, it's still not a crime for a priest to sit alone in a car with a girl. (2) Ice-T cannot investigate a crime where his family member is the prime suspect. Neither can any of buddies on the squad.
But this is SVU, and the night is young. Moving on...
Ice-T and his friends work to clear Sam's name. They talk to the Monsignor at St. Horatio's, who supervised Father Shay before the priest was suspiciously transferred many times. They question Father Shay himself, who is frustratingly vague and unforthcoming. They talk to Sofia's mother, who swears that Father Shay is a really nice guy.
And then they talk to the guy whose fingerprints are on the priest's car door -- Enrique, who says his sister, Angelica, was molested by Father Shay a decade ago. Enrique admits he beat up the priest when he saw him in a similar position in the car with Sofia. Sam was just the Good Samaritan who pulled Enrique off.
The detectives try to get Sam released from jail based on Enrique's confession, but the stubborn ADA refuses to let him out, wryly noting that Enrique's statement was obtained by Sam's brother-in-law.
Finally, the detectives talk to Angelica herself. She says that Father Shay didn't molest her -- it was actually his supervisor, the Monsignor! Not only did the Monsignor rape her to "exorcise her demons," he then forced her to have an abortion. Angelica's stupid brother Enrique beat up the wrong priest.
Father Shay didn't molest anyone. But... he did have an affair with Sofia's mom. Sofia is actually his biological daughter, which is why he was so squirrely about the whole thing. This is one messed up parish.
By now, it's Christmas Eve. Ice-T rushes to a judge's home and gets the judge to sign papers releasing Sam. If only the detectives worked so quickly to arrest the Monsignor! Nick gets an arrest warrant for the Monsignor, but arrives at the judge's house some time after Ice. We're treated to another holiday montage: children singing in a choir, Ice-T sitting Norman-Rockwell-style for Christmas dinner with Sam, and Nick waiting outside the Cathedral with a warrant to arrest the Monsignor.
We should have known, right? It's been -- what? -- 50 minutes and hardly any blood. Holidays, schmolidays, this is still SVU.
Angelica storms into the holy night mass, draws out a big shiny revolver, and blasts several holes in the Monsignor's chest. He dies, moaning and bleeding onto the marble floor.
Olivia, thankfully, missed the holiday drama. She's on a plane to take the first vacation I've seen her take in the last three seasons. She tells Nick she's going with "a friend" -- but we only see a glimpse of that friend's mysterious hand, which set the Internet ablaze with speculation. Olivia smiles coyly at its owner's face -- which is offscreen -- and the plane smoothly hits cruising altitude.
I hope she has a good vacation. She's certainly earned it.
What they got right:
It's true, only the most junior ADAs get stuck with court duty on holidays weekends.
What they got wrong:
Most of the episodes this season have featured cases the SVU squad shouldn't be investigating. Detectives can't investigate their relative's cases. What juror could believe Ice-T when he said he obtained Enrique's confession? Ice had a clear incentive to lie: to get his brother-in-law off. As soon as Sam was arrested, the entire SVU squad should have been walled off the case. (Not to mention the whole no-sex-crime part.)
As a writer, I understand the urge to make the case be about a main character's relative. It ups the stakes, and makes things personal, and that's what dramatic writing is all about. But this plot twist can't happen in real life, and although I'm willing to suspend some disbelief, the fact that it happens every Wednesday night is making me throw a lot of popcorn at the TV.
The ADA got a lot wrong, even for a rookie on his first holiday assignment. The most glaring problem was that, at the detention hearing, he didn't turn over Enrique's confession. Major mistake, one for which he could get disbarred! At the detention hearing, Ice-T ran in and handed the ADA the confession. The ADA scoffed, then turned to the judge and argued to keep Sam in jail. In real life, a prosecutor is obligated to turn over Brady material -- that is, evidence that the defendant didn't commit the crime charged. This is especially important at a detention hearing, where the defendant's very liberty is at stake. For all his self-righteousness, this ADA made one of the most serious errors a prosecutor can make.
Moreover, even after it was clear that Sam was only a Good Samaritan who stopped the real assailants, the ADA kept pressing charges against Sam, arguing that touching anyone else violated Sam's probation. The ADA was wrong. There is a legal doctrine called "defense of others" -- which is like "self-defense," except when you're saving someone's life besides your own. Sam was legally allowed to pull the crazed Enrique off Father Shay. If touching someone violated Sam's probation, that was something the Probation Board should take up -- not the criminal courts.
What do you think, SVU fans? Have we reached the point where a priest alone in a car with a kid is automatically "presumed guilty"? Is this the world's worst diocese? And who do you think is the owner of that mystery hand? Leave your comments!
Follow Allison Leotta on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AllisonLeotta