Last night’s episode was a perfect look at new ADA Peter Stone (Philip Winchester) and what his relationship with the team is going to be. Rough is probably an understatement at this point. The biggest thing to understand about Stone, and what we learned on Chicago Justice – this man has a strong sense of legal duty. He follows where the law takes him – no ifs, ands, or buts. That’s a lot different from our SVU team who tends to color outside the lines, and they’ve gotten away with that for the last few years with ADA Rafael Barba (Raul Esparza) often willingly going along. This was a very “in your face” reminder that Barba is gone and things are going to be a lot different. For me it’s a welcome change, as much as I loved Barba (and yes, even shipped him with Benson lol) it’s a welcome change of pace that I believe will reinvigorate this long running series.
We open in the courtroom with Peter Stone questioning LT Olivia Benson (Mariska Hartigay) during the prosecution of rampant child rapist Dr. Markus West (Lorenzo Scott). All seems to be going well in the case, until Detective Cassidy’s (Dean Winters) turn on the stand. As is apt for him (both in character and infamous commercial) all mayhem breaks out. Dr. West’s lawyer (Daryl Scott) gets Cassidy to lose his temper by accusing him of racially motivated violence toward Dr. West. After Cassidy stands up screaming, the judge immediately declares a mistrial. I imagine Peter Stone is wondering what the hell he’s gotten himself into at this point.
The fallout from this leaves Stone furious and determined. After ripping into Cassidy, he and the squad go back to the families of the abused boys to try and convince them to continue with the case. All the families are out – this was too much once around, the cost of testifying too high. Stone tries to push, and here Benson has to rein him in. This will be something he has to learn, and hopefully fast. Prosecuting in special victims is a whole new ballgame, you have to consider the cost to the victims, not just trying to put the bad guy away. I imagine this will seriously grate on Stone’s sensibilities.
The victims aren’t the only ones in a spiral. Benson gets a call and has to rush and attempt to rescue Cassidy from himself. She finds Cassidy three sheets to the wind and angry at the world. Cassidy acts as he usually does, like a total child and pushes Benson away, despite her repeatedly trying to get him to go home and sleep it off. And – surprise surprise, in the middle of the night he shows up at Benson’s house banging on the door. A stunned Benson opens the door to find Cassidy covered in blood and asking for help.
Lo and behold, we find out Dr. West has been murdered, Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish) goes to the scene and meets Detective Devin Holiday (Kylie Bunbury). Some of you may recognize Kylie Bunbury from the tv series “Pitch”, she did a great job on SVU last night and I hope we’ll see more of her! On the scene Holiday makes it clear to Rollins that she has NO interest in having SVU work her homicide case – and yes, that no is capitalized on purpose. Holiday is extremely antagonistic towards the SVU squad right from the beginning.
Back at Benson’s place Cassidy is cleaned up and pleading his case. I’ll admit, when he’s begging her to believe he’d never murder anyone I just rolled my eyes. This guy has a temper like a volcano and was drunk enough that he doesn’t even remember what happened after he found Dr. West dead in his house. Which, lets be real, him even going there to “warn him off” isn’t great in and of itself.
Rollins knows something is up when Benson shows up at the station and immediately goes to question her on what’s going on. She’s (rightly) furious when she finds out that Benson is hiding Cassidy and lights into Benson about bringing him in. We all know that’s the right thing to do, Benson has been straying further and further from following the rules these past 2 seasons. I get it, we all love our LT but let’s be real – that straying compass leaked onto Barba and is what almost got him throw in jail. I think Stone is going to be a good foil for this – hopefully over time the two can push-pull to realign in the middle.
Despite Stone warning the team off and Holiday making it clear that this is “her” case, Benson sends her team digging into Dr. West’s murder in an attempt to prove Cassidy’s innocence. My favorite moment was when Stone was in the squad room, wondering aloud where Cassidy was and Rollins, throwing some serious shade at Olivia just said, “me too”. If looks could kill!!
Things really start to go south when Holiday turns up a video of Cassidy throwing the murder weapon away in a grate!! Stone goes to Benson to find out where Cassidy is, furious at the revelation that Benson and Cassidy used to date. Cassidy ends up turning himself in just as Benson was about to admit she’d been hiding him. Stone is rightly raging here – anyone who’d say otherwise is just crazy. This guy is a rule follower and Benson has broken a million in this case, not to mention just flat broken trust with her ADA.
Holiday goes all in questioning Cassidy, again, I’m loving this character. She grates on the SVU team and I really hope we see that relationship more, it really livened up the night! Benson’s team continues behind the scenes, determined to find the “real killer”. Thankfully they do – or is it thankfully? I mean, yeah Cassidy isn’t the killer, but once we find out who is – heartbreaking.
In a truly tragic ending, the older brother, Reggie Price (Brett Gray) of one of the victims turns out to be our killer. We had, in my opinion, the best scene of the night, when Stone is in the interrogation room with Reggie. Stone brings up his old baseball injury, telling Reggie how it changed everything, he was so angry and had no one to blame. He talked about that feeling – and compared it (in a loooong stretch) to how it must have felt finding out that Reggie’s little brother had been molested. And then to have the man responsible walk free. Reggie breaks down, and here we learn that he had been a victim of Dr. West as well, but had been to afraid to ever confess. I cried – you cried – we all cried. Don’t deny it.
Cassidy goes to Stone later, begging him to go easy on Reggie. Then we get the shocker – Cassidy confesses that he too was molested as a kid, it’s why he’s never been able to make a relationship (mainly his one with Benson) work and why he lost it in the courtroom. Stone promises to see what he can do to work a deal with the kid, it’s the best he can do.
Then, for one final heartbreak to round out the episode Cassidy tells Benson that she was the love of his life. She’s straight stunned y’all. He pushes her, saying he knew she’d never bare her soul to him. After some hesitation she finally admits it, they share a long look and it’s goodbye. Ouch. These two have so much pain and history. I know we don’t need a love to fulfill our lives and there are a lot of fans who don’t want Benson to have a love interest because “she don’t need no man.” but boy I disagree. I just want beautiful, fluffy, healing things to happen for both these characters. It won’t be with each other – can’t be really, but I hope for love.
All in all a great episode and a heck of a way to kick off the first episode with Philip Winchester as credited main cast. I’m really looking forward to the dynamic here developing over the rest of this season, and hopefully season 20!
A note – there has been a pretty harsh push back against Winchester’s entry here, most notably from Raul Esparza fans. I’d like to ask people to remember that these are actors doing a job, Raul wanted to leave, this wasn’t a new actor forcing an old one out. Give him time, he’s a fantastic actor and will be a credit to the team if given a chance.
SVU will be back March 7th at 9/8c on NBC
photo credit @nbcsvu