Olivia's drinking! Amanda's gambling! Nick's possibly stalking his wife! The SVU is in serious trouble when Finn is the most functional detective in the squad.
In "Jersey Breakdown," every law-enforcement character needed either a therapist, a twelve-step program or a defense attorney.
The episode started in the usual fashion: a drunken girl in an alley is fondled by some shady passers-by. But that's just the end of an extremely bad night for 16-year-old Erin.
See, Erin is a waitress at a strip club, and the owner (played by the ever-slick Chazz Palminteri) allowed one of his VIP patrons to rape her in a private room, before dumping her in that alley. Chazz won't give up the name of the VIP -- and he tries to stop Erin, too. Turns out, Chazz has some seriously powerful friends. Erin is arrested by New Jersey police and charged with credit-card fraud in Hudson County, where a mustachioed DA named Musconi and his sour ADA wife fight hard to keep Erin in Jersey custody. A Jersey judge with a samurai-sword fetish sends Erin to a horrific, privately-run juvenile detention center.
Barba decides the only way to get Erin back to New York is to take his case federally. He enlists the federal human trafficking task force, led by lovely AUSA Connie Rubirosa, who has far better eyebrows and office space than any real prosecutor could ever hope for.
Thereupon follow many twists and turns, some of which made more sense than others, and which finally lead to this unexpected conclusion: the sword-loving Jersey judge is a pedophile who had sex with girls at Chazz's strip club. Chazz took pictures. Chazz and DA Musconi are business partners, who used the pics to blackmail the judge, first demanding cash and then demanding that the judge send all his juvenile defendants to the private detention center that Chazz and Musconi owned. The more kids the judge sent, the more money Chazz and Musconi made.
Once his evil plot is exposed, the judge kills himself with one of his swords (obviously). Sour Mrs. Musconi has to watch Erin identify her DA husband as the man who raped her. And Chazz looks good wearing orange in a federal jail.
A happy ending? You're watching the wrong show. Amanda is so busy gambling she doesn't have time to comb her hair in half the scenes. Nick is optimistic but clearly delusional about getting back together with his wife. And Olivia, burdened by her own PTSD, absent beau and new leadership responsibilities, drowns her sorrows in a couple bottles of Merlot.
What they got wrong:
That federal human trafficking task force's office was closer to a Calvin Klein showroom than a real government building. I've seen many federal human trafficking task force meetings. They generally take place in a windowless conference room at a scuffed government-issue table with a bunch of mismatched chairs. Arrive early, and you might even score one that isn't broken. The most remarkable thing about these meetings isn't the wall of glass or supple white (white!) furniture, but the dedication and resilience of the people sitting there.
Barba didn't need to take this case federally. Getting a witness from another jurisdiction is a simple matter of sending a writ, which is a boilerplate form that can be generated in minutes by Barba's secretary, who probably pumps out a few dozen a year. Barba would get a NY judge to sign it, and the detention center would be required to release the witness to go testify in New York. The juvenile facility manager may not choose to ignore it, (although there have been cases of a prisoner being "lost" when a writ is sent for execution).
What Barba really wanted was to stop or delay the New Jersey prosecution. But that's not a good move. It's not uncommon for a crime victim to be charged with a crime herself. The prosecutor should keep an eye on that other case, but he shouldn't mess with it -- he shouldn't try to stop it from going forward. That would create an appearance of bias -- or even a real bias -- of a victim pitting one prosecutor against another.
The credit card fraud charge against Erin was silly. She didn't profit from that scam -- by adding a "0" to the end of the bill, the club got ten times more money. "Follow the money," prosecutors often say. By setting her up that way, Chazz pointed a finger right back at himself.
We need to talk about the sushi girl in the strip club. Withholding comment on the wisdom of eating raw fish from a stripper's g-string: would the hamachi-covered woman really just lay there elegantly balancing her nigiri as the police raided the club? People tend to get pretty excited when dozens of armed agents run screaming into a room. I expect we would see more wasabi on the walls than in her belly button.
What they got right:
There was a horrific real-life case, dubbed the Kids For Cash scandal, where two Pennsylvania judges were charged with taking over $2.6 million in kickbacks to send juvenile defendants to a privately run juvenile detention center. Kids were imprisoned for minor offenses like mocking a principal on a MySpace page and trespassing on a vacant building. One of the kids, an all-star wrestler who spent his senior year incarcerated for a drug paraphernalia charge, later committed suicide. Here's the heartwrenching real footage of his mother confronting one of the judges on the courthouse steps.
The judge was later sentenced to 28 years in federal prison.
The interaction between Erin and the detectives was realistic. Victims of sex crimes are often runaways or throwaways. Often, they don't want to cooperate with authorities, for reasons including: allegiance to their abusers, fear of retribution or getting in trouble themselves. And a nurse might advise a victim that she doesn't have to talk to the police.
What do you think, SVU fans? Did you see the sword suicide coming? Should we petition Calvin Klein to start designing federal buildings? And can Finn singlehandedly investigate all the sex crimes in New York? Leave your comments!
Follow Allison Leotta on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AllisonLeotta