Wow. Just wow.
It's not often that a television show leaves me speechless, but Law & Order: SVU Season 20 Episode 14 did just that.
This was one of the most intense hours of television I've ever seen, culminating in a non-ending that left viewers hanging while somehow being incredibly satisfying. Kudos to SVU for pulling that off!
It was a different kind of SVU.
Instead of the cops fighting with Stone in real-time, they fought with each other after Stone had already decided to prosecute.
Many of the scenes in the witness room were so powerful that I was afraid that if I stopped to process one bit of dialogue, I'd miss something equally amazing.
The hour sped by while Benson grappled not with the mystery of who did something horrific to the latest victim but with what she was supposed to do once she got on the stand.
This time there was nobody for her to give her trademark inspirational speech to, not counting her conversation with Rollins, and she was lost as to what was right or wrong.
You have no idea what terror is, what complete and utter terror is. You know, they say that your heart beats faster, but it doesn't. It stops. Everything stops. You try not to breathe because it might upset him, and you get a cramp in your foot and you live with it because you can live through THAT pain, it's better than what he might do to you.Benson
Her description of the terror she felt at William Lewis' hands sent chills up my spine. I've never heard a more perfect description of the fight/flight/freeze mechanism before.
And then when she followed it up by realizing that they all were victims of their pasts, unable to divorce their perspectives from their experiences, it blew me away!
When Benson finally got called to the courtroom, I couldn't believe there were less than five minutes to go!
In retrospect, it made total sense. Everyone else had testified, so there wasn't any place for the story to go once Benson did.
She hesitated, hemmed and hawed and then threw Annabeth -- and her own beliefs about the case -- under the bus because Stone forced her to forget the subtext and tell the literal truth about what happened in the interrogation room.
We never found out what the jury decided about Annabeth, but that was more or less beside the point.
This story wasn't really about Annabeth. She was a stand-in for some broader questions about justice and about what constitutes domestic abuse.
Benson: A law without empathy doesn't help anyone, Rollins.
Rollins: I have plenty of empathy. I've been drowning in it for 8 years.
Benson: He had a gun on the table.
Rollins: Yeah? Did he point it at her? Did he threaten her in any way? Look, this isn't freshman English. We don't have to read between the lines.
Rollins' unwillingness to consider the possibility that Annabeth was an abuse victim undoubtedly came from her anger at her mom for staying in an abusive relationship with her dad.
Her conversation with Benson was raw and authentic. But one thing that I wish someone would have addressed was the fact that Tommy is a cop had nothing to do with anything.
All the SVU detectives are cops too, so of course, they're going to want to give one of their own the benefit of the doubt. But being a cop doesn't automatically mean being a good guy, and Rollins should know that!
She was raped by her old department head in Atlanta, for goodness sake. And wasn't she there when Mike Dodds died on Law & Order: SVU Season 17 Episode 23? He was shot trying to defend a woman from her cop husband, who was abusing her.
I love Rollins -- she's my second favorite besides Benson herself --but she has to stop letting her personal issues make her think things that don't make any sense!
You know, Liv, I love you. And I respect you more than anyone I've ever met in my life. So don't take this the wrong way, but I think sometimes you see victims where there aren't any.Rollins
She's right about Benson, though. Benson DOES see victims everywhere, and sometimes she's wrong.
That's probably why Benson doubted her instincts after Stone yelled at her. She knew on some level that she tends to give people too much credit.
I'm hoping to see some more fallout from Benson and Stone being on opposite sides of this one.
Stone blamed Benson for Carisi's defection during Carisi's testimony but called her to testify anyway. But I'm wondering what this will do to their burgeoning friendship, especially since Stone has been playing surrogate father to Noah recently.
I'm also curious as to why Stone was so convinced that prosecuting this case was the right thing to do, other than it seemed easily winnable from the outset.
Everyone else had a backstory that was coloring their opinions -- what was his?
I didn't like Stone stating in open court that what Annabeth described wasn't rape, either.
That should put him at odds with Benson for, well, life.
Benson is all about believing survivors, and Annabeth clearly felt intimidated into sex by Tommy.
Did it rise to the level of rape? From what she described, it sounded like it, though there was enough ambiguity that Stone could have argued against it.
But denying her claim the way he did was tacky and insensitive. No wonder he got an admonishment from the judge!
Carisi: Are you telling me you don't care what happens up there? You know, I could lie. I could say yes, she told me she planned to kill Thomas for the last six months. If I do that, she's done. Or I could say I don't recall.
Rollins: Or, door number 3. You could tell the truth.
Carisi: All I'm saying, is it's a hell of a lot of power, and who the hell are we?
Carisi's thoughts about the power cops have were fascinating.
I'm as confused as Rollins was about where he was going with the Jesus analogy. According to the biblical story, Jesus was falsely accused of blasphemy and executed for it -- was that his point? It didn't seem like it.
Anyway, leaving that aside, there was a bigger question here that he kept touching upon -- arresting people changes their lives forever, and sometimes the cops get it wrong.
I wonder if Carisi's disillusionment with police work is going to keep following him around during the rest of Law & Order: SVU Season 20. He's been studying law for a while, and he might end up becoming a lawyer to try to satisfy his idealism (not that that will necessarily work.)
Carisi and Rollins seemed to be getting closer on Law & Order: Season 20 Episode 13, too, so I hope their passionate disagreement this time doesn't change that.
Carisi's fear that they had no right to take away people's freedom and potentially destroy their lives seemed at odds with his guilt over having not been able to arrest someone else before the guy could kill his victim.
And finally, what was up with Fin?
He seemed so blase and insisted it was just another case. Benson called him on his BS, but other than his fish story, we didn't get any explanation for his behavior.
Fin seemed less like a cop and more like that stereotypical juror who's tired of this whole case and just wants to go home.
It was fitting, in a way, because the detectives' behavior in that witness room was reminiscent of the classic film 12 Angry Men, in which 12 jurors argue passionately with each other in the jury room after one refuses to agree that a defendant is guilty.
But still, Fin was awfully detached.
I liked his subtle reference to the mass incarceration problem. Maybe seeing many of his friends go to jail and knowing that some deserved it and some didn't made him feel like he couldn't take sides.
Or maybe he has to be detached, so he doesn't get burned out by the horrific nature of his job.
Either way, I was glad to see more of Fin in "Part 33" than we've seen in him in quite some time.
Your turn, SVU Fanatics!
Did you like this out-of-the-ordinary SVU story, or would you rather have seen a more traditional episode?
Whose side were you on during the debate about this case?
And do you think Benson made the right decision on the stand?
Weigh in below, and don't forget you can always watch Law & Order: SVU online if you missed anything.
Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.