Tonight's episode finally answered the question Law & Order: SVU fans have been buzzing about for weeks: who is Olivia's mystery man? It immediately transitioned to: how quickly can he be thrown the wolves for our amusement?
New York's biggest political sex scandal is about to go to trial, when a shady ex-prostitute-turned-pole-dancing-aerobics instructor named Heather accuses the prosecution's star witness, lovable rogue cop Brian Cassidy, of raping her four years earlier. Nick and Munch go to Cassidy's apartment to break the bad news... and find Olivia there, wearing only Cassidy's nightshirt and a satisfied post-coital grin. At last! We know whose mystery hand Oliva was holding as she flew off to the Bahamas a few episodes ago.
Will Olivia finally get some well-deserved happiness? Of course not -- where's the drama in that?
Although this may be the weakest rape charge in the history of rape charges -- for crying out loud, Heather's boyfriend visited the sex-scandal defendant in jail two days earlier, obviously colluding to frame Cassidy -- the DA promptly charges Cassidy with rape, and sets his trial for approximately seven minutes later.
Heather testifies that four years ago, she was a dog-collar-wearing "sex slave," and her pimp had her service Cassidy when Cassidy was doing undercover work. Witnesses confirm they were in a room together for two hours. Cassidy admits that having sex with her would have been rape (a legal conclusion I'm not sure this lay witness was qualified to make), but claims he just talked with her and kept the door closed to keep his cover.
Nick is called as a witness for the prosecution. Although his only role in this case was listening to Heather and Cassidy's statements, Cassidy's lawyer grills him about proper police conduct when you're undercover. Nick admits that having sex with prostitutes is not ideal, whereupon the attorney dramatically swings open the courtroom door, leads in a busty brunette, and booms, "Do you know this woman, sir?"
Nick stares at her in shock. "Y-y-yes," he stutters. "I know her... very well."
Is she a sex slave? A prostitute? Someone in any way related to this case? Not at all! But Nick did have a fling with Cynthia 10 years ago, when he went undercover in a totally unrelated case involving her druglord brother. And guess what? She bore Nick a now nine-year-old son, who he never knew about until today. And now Cynthia is dating the World's Beefiest Mid-Level Drug Dealer, who's using Nick's son to carry bricks of cocaine in his school backpack.
Nick and Cynthia have a teary reunion suggesting they were once terribly in love and would have walked off into some blazing sunset years ago, if not for an unfortunate mixup involving a jaunt she took to San Juan on just the wrong weekend.
Here's where the episode stopped being Law & Order and became a Spanish telenovela. (But was I loving it? Si, si.)
Nick and Cassidy engage in the requisite bathroom brawl over who inappropriately shagged more women in their undercover days, which finally gets us back on track to the central plot question, which is: How will Olivia exonerate yet another boyfriend who's been falsely accused of rape? (Note: if you date Olivia Benson, keep a good defense attorney on retainer.)
The SVU detectives apparently consult some comic-book-reading teenagers on the issue, and decide all the detectives should dress up -- Amanda as a skanky, gum-chomping drug addict, Cassidy as her butt-slapping boyfriend, Nick and Munch as stubbled, fedora-wearing mob enforcers -- and convince Heather's boyfriend to pay a gambling debt to the World's Beefiest Mid-Level Drug Dealer, who thinks he's heading to a shadowy underpass to sell drugs. When the transaction begins, another team of police officers pops up and arrests all the bad guys, who, like me, are very confused about what just happened.
Heather's boyfriend fears a drug charge, and immediately confesses that he and Heather set up Cassidy in order to help the bigwig defendant Cassidy would testify against. Heather then admits she and Cassidy just "talked about dogs" for those infamous two hours. (Here's a trick from the writing business: want to make your character more likable? Give him a dog.)
The charges against Cassidy are dropped. He and Olivia go for a drink.
With its pole-dancing aerobics, Fuego-en-la-Sangre subplot, and cheesy undercover costumes, tonight's episode was completely untethered from reality. Grading solely on realism, I'd be forced to flunk it. But the episode was so fast-paced, self-consciously campy, and just plain fun to watch, I'm giving it a break. Tonight's show was like the class clown who skips his homework but does okay in school because he makes the teacher laugh.
What they got right:
Slim pickings in this category tonight, folks. Um... there are undercover officers in real life. When they infiltrate criminal organizations, they are often confronted with ethical dilemmas. For an excellent pop-culture portrayal of this, check out the movie Donnie Brasco, where Johnny Depp plays real-life FBI agent Joseph Pistone, who infiltrated the mafia in NY.
What they got wrong:
This was a fantasy of what sex slavery looks like. First off: "sex slaves" don't look like younger blonde versions of Angelina Jolie on a good hair day. Victims of human trafficking are often immigrants, non-English speakers, minorities, the very young, and the very poor. Second, "sex slavery" in America rarely involves dog collars. More often, it is about a young girl who runs away with the love of her life to meet his family, only to find that the "family" consists of three other girls in his stable; she stays because of emotional coercion rather than actual chains.
The opening scene, where Barba was prepping Cassidy for his testimony in the actual witness chair was all wrong. DA's might prepare a child witness in the courtroom, so the kid can see what it looks like and relax. But a veteran cop like Cassidy would have testified hundreds of times. He wouldn't practice his testimony in the courtroom. Heck, if this were realistic, he might resist even talking in Barba's office, saying, "Whatever, just read my paperwork."
This entire episode would be a non-starter in real life. If the warrant charging Cassidy with rape came across my desk, I would have scribbled a long red "Decline" across it. In the "reasons" section of my memo, I'd write: "Four-year-late disclosure, major bias issues, likely frame-up to exonerate pimp charged with murder." Then I would have started an obstruction of justice investigation against Heather. (Heather's claim would be turned over in the trial where Cassidy was the witness, as impeachment material on him.) The idea that the DA's office would instead rush to charge its star witness with such a ridiculous and obviously false rape allegation is silly.
Finally, the idea of tricking two criminals into meeting each other for a drug buy/debt repayment seemed off to me -- although it sparked a debate in my living room. My defense-attorney husband argued that nothing prohibits the cops from doing this, and that, as a TV plot device, it was clever and fresh. I argued that in real life, the detectives would set up undercover operations for each of the criminals separately, using police officers -- who are much more predictable and safe and can testify later -- as the UCs. Goes to show you -- ask any two lawyers a question, and you'll get two different answers. But since I'm the one writing this post (Ha, ha, sweetie! Get your own blog!), I'm putting this in the "wrong" column.
What do you think, SVU fans? Were you inspired to take a pole-dancing class? Who won that bathroom brawl? And how many episodes do you predict Olivia and Cassidy will last? Leave your comments!