Law and Order: SVU (S19E18) "Service"

I’m really struggling with last night’s SVU. The premise was fine but overused, and the one highlight and beautiful moment of the night was held until the final 2 minutes of the episode. Amanda Rollins (Kelly Giddish) set my teeth on edge from the opening with her attitude, and Olivia Benson’s (Mariska Hargitay) lack of reaction to it was baffling, not to mention disappointing.

We’re introduced to the victim of the night, a young prostitute by the name of Sandy (Morgan Taylor Campbell) who has been raped, beaten and left for dead. From the first introduction of the victim, something is off with Detective Rollins.

I’ve never seen Rollins so epically dismissive of the victim, turning downright hostile towards her about midway through the episode. I cringed repeatedly, she literally utters the words “I could care less” about the victim. And yet, somehow through all that, Benson never takes her off the case. Yes, she pulls her out of the room with the victim, and at one point asks if Rollins is feeling ok, but that’s it. This felt so completely out of character I’m still shocked. We get a scene at the very end (which honestly felt like it detracted from the most touching moment of the episode) where she apologizes to Sandy (in a bar no less). Her explanation? That her boyfriend has been cheating on her with escorts. Seriously?! A sex crimes detective decided to treat a rape victim like crap because her boyfriend cheated on her? Lazy, disappointing writing.

The idea that Olivia Benson would allow one of her own detectives to bully and malign a victim because she’s a sex worker is beyond absurd. Benson has always been about the idea (and what formed last night’s secret hashtag) Justice For All. Period.

It became a somewhat tougher case when the investigation led the detectives to realize that it was 1 of 3 Army soldiers who’d committed the crime – with both the innocent ones unwilling to testify against their superior. Here my biggest complaint is Benson’s continued bullying of Peter Stone (Philip Winchester) for not wanting to file charges against perpetrators with little to no evidence. This is mind-boggling. No prosecutor worth their salt goes to court on nothing, it’s just not done. For her to continue acting as though Stone is somehow stone-walling her (lol) is getting ridiculous.

The big twist of the case comes when it’s revealed that one of the soldiers, Jim Preston (Marquis Vilson) is actually transgender. His unwillingness to speak out is not about some misplaced Army loyalty – but fear that in today’s political climate he will lose everything. He knows that if he testifies, the defense attorney will drag his transgender identification into the light and currently the ability for transgender persons to serve in the military is being called into question.

The entire squad and Stone feel for him, but Stone, being a good prosecutor, tells Preston that if he doesn’t agree to tell the truth in court he will be the one prosecuted. When Benson questions this (and seriously – she wants him to move forward and then questions when he does?) because he could ruin Preston’s life, Stone reminds her that while, yes it could, without Preston’s testimony it could ruin Sandy’s – the actual victim.

In the end, Preston testifies against his Staff SGT and, as he predicted, the defense attorney zeroes in on his transgender identity. Again, poorly written, because here, Stone objects to the aggressively rude line of questioning FOUR times with NO response from the judge. This would never be allowed to happen. Absurd. But, Stone works with what he’s got and the attacker is found guilty.

The only truly moving moment, and one which honestly made me cry, came as Preston was leaving the courtroom. Holding his head high, and expecting a bad reaction, instead, he was greeted with honor as all the soldiers in the courtroom stood up and saluted him. The look of touched surprise on his face was truly beautiful to behold.

Having Preston played by actual transgender actor Marquis Vilson was a great move by the SVU crew – representation matters and I’m happy to see him play such a moving role.
Justice For All was a good theme, and one I’m glad to see carried all the way through. Unfortunately, it’s just been done into the dust. Let’s be clear – sex workers being ignored or outright mistreated when they report an assault is not a thing of the past. It’s an issue that continues to plague us today. However, in a show like SVU that’s been on for 18 seasons – it’s a plot line we’ve seen too many times and so was a disappointing choice for me. I’m glad they brought in the transgender soldier, but it wasn’t enough to save the episode for me.

Law and Order: SVU next airs on Wednesday, April 18th at 9/8c on NBC

photo credit @nbcsvu

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