Olivia Benson is always at her best when she is counseling rape survivors.
Although she is the head of the SVU squad, she's often more like a social worker than a cop, providing survivors with empathy, support, and inspiration.
On Law & Order: SVU Season 18 Episode 12, she had to overcome the challenge of helping a survivor reconcile having been raped with her image as a strong, courageous soldier.
Captain Williams was so convinced that her rape was her fault that it didn't seem like Olivia would ever get through to her. On at least three separate occasions, she told Olivia that she had allowed herself to be raped and was no longer a role model for young girls.
Beth: I've been called back to base. I'm flying out tonight.
Benson: I thought you were going to stay two weeks for your mother.
Beth: Duty calls.
Benson: Why don't you take a couple more days? That would allow us to find your assailant and put him behind bars and give you the chance to heal. And in my experience, that's the only way to get closure.
Beth: Soldiers don't need closure. They need missions.
Williams clearly was using her position in the Army to hide from the fact that she had been raped in addition to taking an attitude that real soldiers don't get sexually assaulted.
I was curious as to how much of this came from the culture she was immersed in. Her commanding officer wanted to keep her name out of the press, but things were surprisingly civil between him and SVU.
Some more conflict between the cops and the Army brass would have added to the drama here; it also might have been helpful to see Williams interact with others in her unit after the rape.
Benson: Don't you find it odd that she didn't even ask us Cook's name? She didn't even want to know if we were going to arrest her?
Fin: If she asked about her assailant, that would mean admitting that she let it happen.
I also thought more should have been made out of Fin having been a Ranger too. That detail of his backstory didn't really play into anything, other than a 30 second conversation in which he tried to convince Williams to stay in the hospital by referencing it.
I'd have loved to know how Fin felt about this whole thing. There might have been attitudes or behavior towards women in his unit that he felt bad about now that he saw this woman had been raped. He might have felt protective of the Rangers or understanding of the commanding officer's attitude.
He might have been a better person to forge a connection with Williams than Olivia, since he had been in the Rangers and she hadn't.
None of that was explored, and that's a shame, because there was so much potential here that wasn't used. It seemed really pointless to even mention that Fin was a Ranger too if it was going to be meaningless.
Cook: Will you take the blue pill of political correctness or the red pill?
Carisi: What's in the red pill?
Cook: Truth. Like, perhaps it is not in God's plan for a woman to be boxing in a warehouse at 4 in the morning. Perhaps she was meant for nobler purposes.
Rollins: You mean like making babies?
Cook: It's been that way for hundreds of years.
Top suspect Gary Cook also seemed a bit like a token misogynist here.
I'm not sure why he shook hands with Williams, who he clearly didn't respect at all. Was he a Ranger too who felt he had to give her respect even though he thought she was anything but respectable? Or was that just a random plot point so that viewers could think for a minute that he raped Williams and then realized he didn't?
All of these unanswered questions weakened what could have been one of the strongest episodes of the season. The question of how female soldiers deal with sexual assault is an important and interesting one.
In the past few years, there have been more and more reports of sexual assault within the military, so exploring how one such soldier deals with it, along with the culture of silence around it, was potentially powerful.
That's one of the reasons I'm so disappointed that it turned out that Williams' ex-fiance was the culprit.
Instead of delving into the issue of sexual assault in the military, SVU chose to give viewers a run-of-the-mill rejected lover loses control type of story.
I'm not a fan of those kinds of stories to begin with. Not only is it cliche for a jilted lover to turn into a rapist, but it also conflates rape -- which is a crime of power -- with sexual desire. SVU is generally better than this, giving viewers insights into the causes and conequences of sexual assault rather than conforming to stereotypes.
In this case, it's doubly disappointing because there are so many issues around rape in the military that just weren't addressed.
Of course, the only member of the Rangers we saw besides Captain Williams herself was her commanding officer, and it would have been equally cliche for him to be going around sexually assaulting the women under his command. So the writers sort of painted themselves in a corner with this one.
Having the rapist be the ex-fiance was slightly contrived and reinforced negative stereotypes about men's ability to handle rejection, but having him be the commanding officer would have been even more unoriginal and frustrating.
In addition, the ending was a little bit pat. Inspiring? Sure. I loved seeing Captain Williams declare she wasn't ashamed and wouldn't be defined by her rape.
However, she got there after one last conversation with Benson, which wasn't totally realistic. I could overlook that; after all, Benson often does in one meeting what takes months or years to accomplish in real life.
But the commanding officer who had been so resistant to Williams coming forward was nothing but proud, and that didn't make any sense whatsoever.
Beth: What's my mission, Lieutenant?
Benson: To heal.
One thing I was glad about was that all the pent-up rage that Williams unleashed on her ex wasn't just dismissed. In many shows, that kind of vigilante justice is rewarded or at least presented 100% sympathetically.
It was very refreshing for Olivia to tell Williams that she could face charges herself and that the only way out of trouble was to begin cooperating with the investigation.
Unfortunately, that aspect was quickly dropped. Williams didn't appear at her rapist's arraignment as instructed, so Olivia tracked her down and convinced her not to be ashamed of herself.
It would have been more dramatic for Williams to have been arrested for her assault on her ex-fiance. This would have driven home the point that the military culture surrounding sexual assault harms survivors in lots of different ways, and if she chose to come forward after her arrest it would have made more sense.
What did you think of "No Surrender"? Were you surpised, disappointed, or pleased with Mickey turning out to be the rapist? Did you enjoy Olivia's latest attempt to counsel a survivor? Did you blink and miss Fin being a Ranger too?
Weigh in below, and don't forget that if you missed anything, you can watch Law & Order: SVU online to catch up.