18, the number of seasons that Law & Order: SVU has been on our television screens. Can you believe it? I can. The powerful leadership of Mariska Hargitay, the storytelling and continuing commitment of the entire cast and creative team, is what sets it apart and above. And the most recent premiere is no different. Titled “Terrorized” the episode opens on the somewhat relaxing setting of Central Park. We watch as a lady, and her grandson (?) make their way through the park but when the child runs off leaving the lady behind panic ensues. The lady gives chase, screaming, but horrifically is run over by cyclist and falls to the ground. Leaving that tragic scene, in contrast, we see a gleefully happy Benson (Mariska Hargitay) swinging Noah around like an airplane. Still to this day, seeing Olivia as a mother brings such a lightness and joy to the show balancing out the heartbreak and trauma. Her relaxing day off is cut short however, when she receives a call about a missing child in Central Park – it’s the young boy from earlier.
Having tracked down the young boy (who the responding officer says doesn’t speak English) Benson, with Noah close by, approaches him in an attempt to find out where his parents are. He’s innocently playing in the sand pit, but when Olivia edges closer, her attempts to communicate with the boy being unsuccessful, he reaches for his backpack and pulls out a hand gun. Aimed right on Benson, she immediately pushes Noah behind her, shielding her son from any imminent danger. I have to note the look in this little boy’s eyes as he aims the gun right on Liv, and with a look as cold and as calculating as some of the most professional killers we’ve seen. It’s haunting, and deeply confronting but with all her training behind her Liv eventually lunges for the gun, disarming the young boy. She holds Noah close to her, whispering “it’s okay, it’s okay” – but for some reason I believe that’s for her own sanity, and not her sons.
As the team joins Benson, relaying the news that the lady hit by the bicycle didn’t make, they start to theorise that the victim could possibly have been connected to the little boy. After a little bit of research, they discover that that is in fact the case. Fin (Ice T), Carisi (Peter Scanavino) and Rollins (Kelli Giddish) all make their way to the apartment to investigate where the little boy lives. They discover his name – Ali – and also have a very sassy run in with the building manager, with Fin wasting no time in silencing his ignorant views. Adding to the success of discovering the boy’s name, their also given a lead to where the mother works. Following that lead, the mother, Ana, has not been into work for the last couple of days, something her boss doesn’t really seem to care about too much. Elsewhere, Tucker (Robert John Burke) lends support and comfort to Liv after her hellish morning (these two together are just perfection) and interestingly discover that Tucker’s new position is working as part of the Conviction Integrity Unit. Does this change in career signal possible tension on the horizon for our beloved Tuckson?
After having been called away from Tucker, Benson arrives back at the squad room to be greeted with a whole lot of attitude from Chief Dodds (Peter Gallagher). The audience can only assume that he’s still mourning the loss of his son, and is moving through the different stages of grief. Benson takes it in her stride, as there are more pressing matters at hand; the prints on the gun turned up the name Luka Terzik, who could possibly be the father of Ali. Not wasting anytime, the entire team head to Luka’s apartment. Once there, and no answer at the door, they collectively decide to bust it open. A photo reveals that he is Ali’s father, but Luka is nowhere to be found. Searching the apartment however, turns up more shocking evidence – an entire room full ammunition and arsenal. Whatever he is planning, it’s big. This sets in motion a full scale search for Luka; he’s not on any watch list, which again is why he didn’t raise any red flags. This episode and the dialogue being used is incredibly timely, with these conversations happening more and more. Dodds takes the lead, but the team still make sure that everything goes through Benson. Have to direct everyone’s attention to the way Carisi refers to Liv as “Lu” – such a sign of respect, camaraderie and affection.
The team manage to track down Luka’s half-brother, Armeen, who after initially cooperating with the officers, yells a warning to his half-brother when he’s instructed to make a call. Big shout out to Peter Scanavino is this scene, bringing to the life the dire nature of these situations with desperation and fear written all across his face. With the brother now not cooperating, Carisi and Rollins see no other option than to go to Barba (Raul Esparza) in the hopes of getting the cell phone they found unlocked. Barba successfully gets the order signed off on, but now the fun part comes when he must convince the phone company to go along with it. They don’t, obviously, making this move to get Barba involved in parts unnecessary especially when he and Benson are on different sides on how to handle this. Meanwhile, Luka and Ana appear in Central Park carrying big, black bags, approaching a dance performance. Acting shady, they get noticed by an undercover officer but what occurs next is a frantic combination of gun shots, running crowds and shrill screams. The officer is killed, bystanders wounded but fortunately the SVU team arrive shortly after, killing Luka and arresting Ana.
With Ana in custody, and Luka dead, Liv does her best to find out who else is involved but hits a brick wall. Charges against Ana are laid for her involvement, while Armeen, the half-brother is released. The high-stakes battle between Barba and Liv continues and when Ana claims she was raped, continuously, by Luka and Armeen, Liv hits a new level. She refuses to sit back and watch a possible victim be charged with a higher penalty when she had no choice in the matter. Barba understands where she’s coming from, but again with such a poignancy to it, he mentions the string of terror attacks the world has faced. And that reality that they can’t let Ana off just because she was raped. Regardless, Liv encourages Barba to hear Ana’s statement before he makes any solid decisions. The audience, along with Benson and Barba, listen as Ana recounts the nature of her attacks; her last assault two mornings before the shooting in Central Park in which both Luka and Armeen raped her. She shows off the bruises, the ones made by being hit with their belts. After hearing this testimony, a rape kit is ordered and comes back to confirm Ana was telling the truth. Her injuries and the trauma are consistent with being raped.
Even with this confirmation however, Dodds and Barba continue to stonewall Liv’s continued persistence in wanting Armeen charged with rape and Ana’s charges decreased. The tension boils over with Chief Dodds blowing up at Liv; he yells, in the middle of the squad room that she is the one that cost him his son’s life. Peter Gallagher and Mariska Hargitay are heart-breaking and powerful, with their dynamic taking on a new vulnerability and brokenness with this scene. Barba, having overheard, ensures Liv that he didn’t mean but Liv knows the truth. While she appreciates Barba attempting to smooth the situation over, she knows that Dodds does blame her. Leaving that there, back to the case, the team receives paternity results for Ali – Armeen is the father, which is even more proof that he raped Ana. Cue the convening of girl squad, Rollins and Liv, it’s time they interrogate Armeen. And before they even start, the audience knows not to mess with them. Within moments, Armeen has lost his temper, aggressively stating how much of a whore Ana is.
Not only do we know not to mess with Rollins and Liv collectively, but we all know that when Detective Benson is fighting for justice, no one gets in her way. When the episode finally reaches the court room, Liv testifies on Ana’s behalf bringing to light her rape and how she was forced to cooperate with Luka and Armeen. Again, Barba is not impressed and neither is Dodds but with every bit of passion she has within her, Olivia Benson/Mariska Hargitay makes one hell of a statement, shrouded in truth and relevancy – “We don’t get to invent our victims or our perps”. And following it up with another brutal piece of truth, that we can’t consistently throw Muslim women under the patriotic bus, the SVU writers room have deliver on all fronts, with rawness and unapologetic strength. Unfortunately, the rape evidence is thrown out even with Liv’s testimony but there is still one last chance for Ana to plead down her charges.
Ana’s attorney proposes a deal, plead down on murder and terrorism charges and prosecute Armeen for the rape. Barba, still so reluctant, assures he’ll do everything he can to see that through. And Liv, is the one person that will make sure he does. Having it out again, arguing about logistics, the right and the wrong, Liv finally asks whether video evidence will be enough for him to consider taking the deal. The look on his face, says yes, but with slight apprehension. The episode travels towards its end, with Ana successfully given her deal, and the team on their way to arrest Armeen. Is there anything more bad-ass than the entire SVU team, dressed in their bullet-proof vests marching towards an arrest? I think not. Surprisingly, when they arrive to arrest Armeen the FBI is already there; Liv and the team don’t fight them on it, especially when the FBI mention a “very special and secure hotel”. What could that be code for? After watching Ana farewell Ali – he’s going back to Bosnia where her sister will take care of him – Benson reunites with Tucker and Noah for some much needed R & R. Since becoming a mother, Mariska has given Liv such a vulnerability that every time Liv talks about Noah, and ever losing him the shake in her voice pulls right at our heart strings. This time, the tears (which Tucker questions) aren’t bad tears, but in fact happy tears. Liv has never been happier and it’s obvious; for any long time SVU fan, this happiness that surrounds Olivia Benson is infectious.