What's more dangerous: cheating on your husband or giving a sandwich to a homeless guy? SVU says: the sandwich.
A pretty blonde parties at a throbbing nightclub and grinds between a man and a woman with a suspiciously large Adam's apple. Her battered body is found by a jogger the next day; she's lying in a rowboat bobbing on the river behind the mayor's mansion. The victim is in a coma, and has no ID.
First interview: the too-nervous jogger, still clutching her jogging stroller. "You were far from home. Were you going to meet your lover -- with your baby?" Amanda asks, in a tone conveying that this would be pretty despicable, even by SVU standards.
But it turns out the jogger was going to buy Adderall from the two teens who were rifling through the victim's pockets. The pimply teens are considered, then quickly dismissed as the rapists, but not before they turn over a hotel key card they found in the victim's pockets.
The Medical Examiner makes a special guest appearance to declare: (1) the victim has scars from a hernia operation done by a surgeon who wasn't American, (2) DNA on the victim's body is from three different men, and (3) it would be more convenient if the victim were dead, because then we could better estimate when she'd been assaulted.
(Yikes. Many ME's have a dark perspective, but, wow, Dr. Warner, that was cold.)
Olivia and Nick rush to the victim's hotel and (without a warrant or subpoena) demand that the manager let them into the guest room, guest safe, wi-fi records, surveillance video and his personal office. He cowers and complies. The detectives find all the trappings of a What-Happens-In-Vegas-Stays-In-Vegas-style weekend: fishnet stockings, leather and lace lingerie, and lots of cash. They also find the woman's passport, and are soon Skyping with her shocked, but impeccably polite, Canadian family.
Turns out, the victim is a music blogger married to a pleasant TV host a couple decades older than she. The sad, sweet husband flies in from Canada, and Nick has to break the news that the guy's wife was probably in N.Y. to cheat on him. The husband nods with resignation. "This trip was an adventure for Ariel," he says. "She had to give up a lot of her dreams when we started a family."
Wow, that's an understanding husband. Did you guess he was the killer? (I did.)
But our detectives soon reconstruct Ariel's N.Y. adventure and find many feistier suspects. First, a meek public school principal who says Ariel asked him about moving her kids to N.Y. Second, a scruffy sound guy who hung out with Ariel all weekend but claims he would never cheat on his girlfriend. Third, a hunky musician named Santiago, who's hemming and hawing to Ice-T when a sexy brunette sashays into his apartment. Amanda yanks off the brunette's wig, revealing the meek (male) school principal beneath!
You see, the cross-dressing principal and his cousin, Santiago, enjoy threesomes, and had been hoping to enlist Ariel in one on the night she was killed. She freaked out when she detected a little extra something under the pretty principal's skirt.
But the killer wasn't any of these guys. In fact, Ariel didn't cheat on her husband at all. After she had an innocent dinner with the sound guy, she offered a homeless man her leftover sandwich. The random homeless guy followed her into a park, assaulted her, and set her body adrift in the rowboat.
The moral of the story veers swiftly from: "Don't cheat on your husband, or he just might kill you," to: "Don't feed homeless people."
In a dramatic final scene, Ariel dies. Luckily, the detectives find a cell phone video she made (moments before her assault), in which she declares her eternal love for her husband. "And, kids," she says, in a shameless grab at your tears, "I realized that having you is the greatest adventure I ever want to have."
What they got right:
Special victims detectives often learn the deepest, darkest secrets people keep. And these officers are often the bearers of bad news, when they have to share these secrets with the victim or perp's relatives and loved ones. The relatives are often devastated, as the husband was tonight. The scenes between Nick and the husband accurately portrayed how hard these conversations can be, and demonstrated a gentle, competent, and sensitive way of handling this.
There was some good police work tonight, as the detectives pulled surveillance video, got DNA tested, and obtained cell phone records -- all methods that would be used in real life much as they were used on tonight's show (albeit at a much slower speed).
Perhaps the writers based this episode partly on this real-life story of political intrigue, sexuality, and riverbed murder. Mississippi's first openly gay mayoral candidate's body was found floating in a river this February; another man was charged with his homicide.
What they got wrong:
Amanda was working a week after she got shot?! Most cops would be able to milk that for at least a few months of paid leave.
What was the Medical Examiner doing examining the living, breathing victim? The ME is in charge of examining corpses. A live rape victim is examined by a sexual assault nurse examiner. SANE nurses are specially trained in sensitively handling victims of this most intimate crime. (And they don't go making cracks about how it would be easier if the victim was dead.)
There is no real-life ME who can say whether a hernia operation was done by a Canadian versus American doctor. I kept waiting for Dr. Warner to say, "This was done by a red-haired, left-handed, 62-year-old midget surgeon located somewhere in the Mongolian desert." This is the sort of magical science that only exists on TV.
Why was Olivia so mean and cranky with the hotel manager? She bullied and threatened him into letting her into the guest room and his office. Just bring a warrant. It would be a piece of cake to get -- and would guard against later arguments that Olivia violated the Fourth Amendment. Sure, Ariel isn't going to move to suppress any evidence found in that room. But what if the killer had checked into the room with her? He would have a privacy right in that room, and thus standing move to have any evidence suppressed. The best practice in the situation is to stop yelling at the poor manager and just get a warrant.
What do you think, SVU fans? Can Dr. Warner determine the body-mass index of a surgeon based on the scar he leaves? Is she the one who killed Ariel? And what's really more dangerous: charity or infidelity? Leave your comments!
Follow Allison Leotta on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AllisonLeotta