01/16/2014 12:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

SVU Turns a Good Cop Bad

Every police officer who's ever walked a beat knows that dangers can lurk around any corner. Tonight's SVU highlighted the uncertainty that officers face -- and the regret that can follow a split-second decision. And it showed how a good cop can unravel when everything is taken from him.


Just when you thought it was safe to go to back to Olivia's house...

Olivia holds a dinner party where the brussels sprouts are tragically less popular than the wine. On the walk home, Nick and Amanda come across a pair of police in hot pursuit. "He's got a gun!" shouts a uniformed officer, right after a taxi plows over him. Amanda tends to the injured cop while Nick helps the remaining officer -- a female rookie -- chase the bad guy.

They run into an apartment building, where shots are fired, and the rookie is shot in the leg! Nick points his gun around the corner and fires back. It's exactly what he's been trained to do. And it has tragic results. After the smoke clears, he sees that he shot a fourteen-year-old kid.

Despite his union delegate's best dilatory efforts, Nick's blood alcohol level is tested and is a .049 -- close to the legal limit for intoxication.

And, it turns out, the only shots fired were from the rookie cop. The bullet in her leg was a ricochet from her own gun. The kid they chased was a minor drug dealer -- but not a cop killer.

Internal Affairs quickly charges Nick with something (they never said exactly what). He's willing to plead guilty to misdemeanor reckless endangerment and retire from the force. But the evil Special Prosecutor insists he plead guilty to a hate crime. Egads.

Nick balks, testifies before the Grand Jury, expresses his regret, and narrowly escapes being indicted. But not before he's been arrested, arraigned, internally tormented, called a racist in the press, re-mortgaged his house to pay for bail, given up custody of his daughter, and had shots fired into his windows. Also, he almost beats up his house shooters with a baseball bat, on camera. And just to make his litany of woe complete... Did I mention the brussels sprouts?

Nick gets to keep his job, but Captain Cragen retires! Cragen gives a heartwarming speech to his squad, and then a tear-jerking one to Olivia, as he passes the SVU reins to her. She will now be Sgt. Benson. "I gave all my life to SVU, and didn't leave any for myself," Cragen says. He advises Olivia not to do the same. "Take care of yourself," he tells her. "You deserve it." As usual, the good captain is right.

Verdict: B+

I thought this was a terrific episode: smart, tense and very realistic on some topics. But the political witch hunt seemed so far-fetched, I couldn't give it an "A."

What they got right:

This was a realistic exploration of a police shooting. It highlighted how hard it is to tell what's happening in the heat of the moment (I had to rewind my DVR three times before I got it all -- imagine if that shooting happened to you in real life). Soldiers call it "the fog of war." Every day, cops go out and put their lives on the line, never knowing what's around the proverbial corner -- just as Nick didn't know what was around the actual corner tonight. They have to make decisions that could save lives, or take them, in highly stressful circumstances, within an instant.

And then they have to live with it.

Often, police officers involved in shootings have to go through years of therapy to get over it. Even if it was justified, the mere act of shooting someone can be a traumatic event.

The episode's plot points about the police delegate and defense attorney were authentic. After a shooting, a police officer is assigned delegate from his union. Anything said between Nick and the delegate would not be privileged -- but the delegate is very strongly on the officer's side.

The defense attorney advised Nick not to talk, either to Internal Affairs or to the Grand Jury. She was right. Nick refused to follow her advice, and in the end, it worked out for him. But in real life, any defense attorney worth her salt would insist that Nick assert his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Not that he had anything to hide. But you saw what happened when he started answering questions -- every time he opened his mouth, he damned himself.

The Grand Jury procedures were right on point. A grand jury would decide whether to charge Nick with a felony or not. The prosecutor would ask questions, and the jurors themselves could follow up with questions of their own. And, unlike a trial jury (also known as petit jury), the Grand Jury vote to charge Nick would not have to be unanimous.

Finally, as a matter of atmospherics, I appreciated this poster on Cragen's wall. I have seen the same poster hanging in the offices of many real police officers and prosecutors, who see firsthand the violent and tragic effect that widespread handguns have in America. It was an authentic touch, and thematically relevant to tonight's show.


What they got wrong:

The political vendetta was silly. Sure, there's really a new mayor in New York City, and he has promised to reform NYPD. But that doesn't mean that the next police shooting is going to be a political witch hunt. In real life, so many of police shootings end up with the officer being cleared. Generally, police and prosecutors are more likely to be on each other's side, not eager to throw each other under the bus.

Similarly, the idea of charging Nick with a hate crime was ridiculous. A police officer had just been shot in the leg and was bleeding on the floor! Bullets were ricocheting off the walls before Nick drew his gun. Not only was this not a race crime, it was pretty classic self-defense.

Finally, arresting Nick before he was indicted was weird. In a case like this, a prosecutor would finish his investigation, and ask the Grand Jury to charge Nick, before any arrest was made. The only reason why they arrested Nick tonight was so we could get that dramatic scene of him being led off to jail.

What do you think, SVU fans? Who's the next SVU detective we'll see wearing orange? And should Olivia take cooking lessons? Leave your comments!