After 19 seasons, SVU fans know what to expect. There is nothing wrong with that, it obviously keeps audiences coming back for more. I’ve loved SVU for years, loved the characters, the stories, and the actors. At its best SVU is not only entertaining but makes you think. You’re uncomfortable for all the right reasons.
Mariska Hargitay is a powerhouse in every sense of the word. Fans love her passion on and off-screen. She’s done great things for the show and for victims, spearheading campaigns like End the Backlog. End the Backlog is designed to push states to stop shoving rape kits into a dusty room and not testing them for DNA. She’s literally being a victim’s advocate on her off time.
SVU has influenced our culture, that, I think, goes without saying. Putting stories based on real-life up, speaking for victims on the screen, it’s a fantastic thing. However, I’ve noticed a trend this season that I have serious concerns with. It culminated for me last night in the season finale.
Lack of Consequence for the Team
I got a HUGE red flag in the episode “Service” when Rollins (Kelli Giddish) treats the rape victim with not only disrespect but downright hostility. At one point she literally tells the victim that she doesn’t care what happened to her. Benson (Mariska Hargitay) has a single scene with Rollins where she asks Rollins if she’s doing ok. That’s the only thing said to Rollins about her poor behavior. Later in the episode, Rollins takes the victim out for a drink and apologizes. Her explanation? That her current boyfriend was cheating on her with an escort. Somehow, in some alternate universe, this made sense to the writers? It was appalling.
Follow that up with the episode “Book of Esther”, where Rollins illegally stalks a family and breaks into their home. When this causes a police standoff the only person to get yelled at by Benson was a police officer who questioned what the heck was going on. Rollins actions got the central victim killed. And again, the only consequence she faces is…oh yeah…nothing. When Benson tells her that it was Rollins own bullet that killed Esther, she also reassures Rollins that she did the right thing (WTH?) and would be back at work soon.
In the 2-hour SVU season finale, the case revolves around a young sex-trafficking victim, Lourdes, who takes a man hostage. Miguel (Carlos Miranda) was a man that had held her captive, beat and raped her. During this hostage situation, Lourdes (Genesis Rodriguez) kills an associate of her hostage. Benson gets separated from her partnered officer and because of that, he’s taken hostage by Lourdes as well. When she finds them she is able to talk Lourdes out of killing either hostage. During this process, however, Benson becomes convinced that Miguel deserved what he got, so did his associate and Lourdes should not be prosecuted for the kidnapping and murder.
She is so convinced that she goes off on ADA Peter Stone (Philip Winchester) when he does exactly what he’s supposed to do, which is moving forward with the prosecution of Lourdes. She literally yells at the man. Keep in mind that this is all after having lectured Stone during the episode “Sunk Cost Fallacy”, on how doing what “feels” morally right isn’t the correct thing to do. You have to follow the law.
Now enter Peter’s sister Pam (Amy Korb), the mentally ill sister who is all the family Peter has left. Peter is approached by the cartel responsible for the sex trafficking. He’s told that either he drops the case against Lourdes (so that they can kill her) or his sister will be their victim. Peter does what Peter does, which means continue on anyways. He’s literally sitting in court, freaking out and still doing his job. What happens in the end? You guessed it. Pam gets shot. Pam gets shot while running to Peter calling his name.
This infuriated me on so many levels. First off, Peter Stone was a fabulous character on Chicago Justice, a show that delivered powerful content without resorting to emotional hits like this. SVU has always tortured its own characters in a way not seen elsewhere. Where else would you get the main character who’s not only the product of rape but been raped, kidnapped, tortured, etc? So to see Peter Stone get the SVU treatment was difficult. But what made my head explode?
Fridging is the act of killing, raping, or maiming a female character for the sole purpose of a male character’s motivation. We see this all the time. Think Game of Thrones when Sansa was raped and the camera/story focus was that rape’s effect on Reek? Or Deadpool 2 when Vanessa is killed in the first 10 minutes, creating the entire plot from there. In these cases, the women are simply plot devices, a lazy writing substitute that creates tension.
The case of Peter Stone and Pam was clearly, in every way, fridging. This character was created for the simple reason of causing angst for Stone and drama for the show. I was already up in arms about this, floored that a show that claims to speak for victims would go this low. And then. Then I read this interview.
Now I’m irate. Pam’s death was literally so that the SVU team would accept Peter as part of their team. Not the fact that he’s a great ADA. Not the fact that he works tirelessly to do the right thing. Not simply his charm and personality, or the fantastically fleshed out character he was in Chicago Justice. No. The price for admission was the kidnapping and murder of his sister. It makes my head hurt with rage. This is not a Peter Stone problem – this is a poisoned team problem. This is a showrunner and writer problem.
I’m still stunned by the reactions I saw by the cast online. Phrases like “Always Authentic” and “Masterfully Done”. I’ve said it in several reviews recently and I’ll say it again. I’m very concerned that SVU has bought into its own mythos. Being in it, deep inside this swirling mess of a show bubble that reinforces the idea that you’re all being social justice warriors instead of just cast and crew must be a heady mix. I think that SVU needs some sort of wake up call. You can’t treat victims like this. You can’t fridge a character and still call yourself progressive.
That’s it for the season folks. I hope and pray that someone at SVU comes to their senses and they can get back to what they used to be. The actors are truly too good for this.