Law & Order: SVU (S17E13) “Forty-One Witnesses”


Let’s start by saying CONGRATULATIONS to the entire cast and crew of SVU, Season 18! And welcome back Detective Rollins (Kelli Giddish), we are oh so ready for Mama Rollins and Mama Benson to take down the bad guys. It should be noted that this week’s episode has been one to look forward to, as guest-appearances include some of the superstars from the popular Broadway show Hamilton. With all this said, it is even before the first scene that we know we are in for one hell of a ride. 

17 seasons later and SVU continues to deliver stories that shock, inspire and educate us and this week’s “Forty-One Witnesses” is no different. Opening on a scene of Rollins (baby in tow) on the phone to Olivia, we learn that after maternity leave she is finally returning to the SVU squad. Talk about girl power. Cut to, what will develop as the case of the week. We land on a woman purchasing drugs in a cafe, she takes them right away and the effects are immediate. She becomes disoriented and can barely stay standing. Enter the three amigos; three young men/boys who can spot a vulnerable woman from miles away. They jump at the opportunity to try their luck. After realizing how “out of  it” she is, they offer to take her home – meanwhile she has no idea what is happening. The customers at the cafe can sense something is wrong, one female student in particular uses her iPhone to record the young men leaving with the woman. Good work, we say. 

Cut to the group of men arriving in the courtyard of a building complex, a bystander walks past as the men are escorting the woman home – it’s obvious that something just isn’t right. She shares an extended gaze with the ring-leader before getting out her phone to dial 911. What ensues is a brutal attack, and attempted robbery in a courtyard, surrounded by 100 windows. Someone must have seen something? Heard something? 

As the squad arrives on the scene, the morning after the attack, Libby is being wheeled away suffering from hypothermia. Upon canvasing the tenants of the apartment complex the Detectives discover that they’ll be fighting an uphill battle – no one remembers much, and if they do the details are sketchy, and they don’t commit. We hear a lot about the bystander effect in today’s society and SVU is tackling it head on. As the investigation picks up, Libby regains consciousness with Rollins and Benson on the case (#SquadGoals). At the same time, Detective Carisi (Peter Scanavino) visits the cafe where the victim bought the drugs, and once again they hit a brick wall – no one remembers anything. Also, the cafe is a front for selling drugs. However, one college student did see something, they’ve got a break.  In the meantime, Libby is questioned by Rollins and Benson, to no avail as she has no memory of the attack. Post interview we get a glimpse of the newly evolved Amanda Rollins. The character evolution is evident, she can hardly control her anger over the fact that Libby is a mother and yet continues to behave like she does. She’s pretty livid, protective even, and Mariska does a subtle, stellar job of illustrating how baffled Liv is of such a reaction from Rollins. I for one, am so excited to watch the evolution that both Rollins and Benson will experience as both are now mothers. 

With facial recognition completed, the squad has identities. It leads them to three young men who currently reside at a shelter. Ronnie, Juan and Will each having their own run in with the law (solicitation, assault etc.) have disappeared. They hit spots that the boys may be laying low and first find Will, barely 16 participating in prostitution. It is obvious, with his age, that is was an unwilling participant, he’s the fall guy right? He couldn’t have wanted to do this? But even with hard line questioning he never turns on his boys. 

(Note: At this point, all witnesses are still unwilling to commit to offering any evidence. Details still remain murky).

Carisi, Dodds, Rollins and Benson have a line on Juan and Ronnie, once spotted a foot chase is required to catch them. Little did they know, as hard as you try there is no escaping the lady power, gun wielding justice of Benson and Rollins. Cut to the interrogation room, and Ronnie is still maintaining his innocence, overtly cocky in knowing that no witnesses are going to talk. Yet, regardless, Barba and the SVU squad continue with the case. And so enters the star-power, pro-bono Attorney for Will, none other than Hamilton’s, Daveed Diggs. A little off topic I know, but his hair is phenomenal. No deal is made, no testimony against his boys are put forward.  And so starts the trial. Even with how unreliable the eye-witnesses have continually been they are called to the stand to testify. As the lawyers dual it out – the Broadway theater background for both actors comes through the dialogue. The passion and rhythm of the questioning adds a whole other layer to this case. Libby is discredited on cross-examination when she admits to not remembering any detail of her attack. 

CUE TWIST – A neighbour of Libby’s, Doug, who we met earlier on in the episode when he was walking his dog is found to be lying (He is actually single, and he was there when Libby was attacked). One problem, he was drinking the night of the attack and as a recovering alcoholic this adds yet another witness testimony in jeopardy. But his testimony is essential if these men are going to pay for what they did. So he’s called to testify. 

It is the day after, and Doug is one hour late. Barba is starting to really lose patience and just as they are about to give up all hope, Doug walks in. Evidently drunk. Game over. With everything up to this point, it is safe to say that the case is lost but with a little coffee and some fresh New York air, Doug is ready for his moment in the sun. He seems legit, he can recount the event, with detail and Barba does an excellent job (as always) to secure the win. But upon cross-examination Doug’s insobriety is uncovered. Dun-dun. Can anyone say reasonable doubt? And so Barba redirects.

CUE TWIST 2.0 – Doug has a photographic memory. He drinks to try and forget. No matter how much alcohol he ingests, he memory stays in tact. Talk about shocker. I for one had my jaw on the ground. And with that, Barba wins the case and delivers justice for Libby. And as the case closes, we are left with an important lesson on the price of silence. The cost of what happens when we don’t speak up. And how with just a little strength, and support the power of honesty can change the way things end up. Bravo, SVU on another true-to-life portrayal of an issue so relevant. 

P.S. Who was Olivia talking to on the phone? My money is on Tucker.