Law & Order: SVU was finally back! So good to see Benson and the rest of the crew again.
Law & Order: SVU Season 20 Episode 17 branched off in a billion interesting directions after a little girl was found in a car trunk.
But then the final twist belonged on Days of Our Lives instead and seemed to excuse a pedophile's crime because he was also a victim. What?
It was refreshing to begin the hour with a little girl found instead of a little girl lost.
That in itself elevated this story. SVU could easily have had yet another half-episode manhunt for a missing child while the team hoped against hope that the child was found alive.
So the choice to begin with Bailey being found in the trunk immediately made "MIssing" feel fresh.
The story of a gay couple worrying about their kidnapped daughter and how to proceed now that she'd been found was also fascinating.
I'm not letting some defense attorney tear her story to shreds. It's better she just forget the whole thing.Jamie
The fathers didn't agree on whether or not Bailey should testify against her kidnapper and feared that a trial would stigmatize her further when she already got teased for having two dads. I'd have liked to have explored that in greater depth.
But instead, Jamie's refusal to let Bailey testify was a plot point that helped move the story in the direction of discovering that skeleton in the Mauer backyard and discovering that "Emerson" was really Kevin Brown.
Even though it's been done before, I think that the case getting thrown out because Bailey didn't testify and the men blaming SVU for the resulting rift in their relationship would have been compelling drama!
Taht would have allowed SVU to explore more fully some of the issues gay parents run up against that straight parents don't and make a powerful statement about the far-reaching consequences of prejudice.
Paige's mixed feelings about being a surrogate mom could have gotten thrown into the mix, with the guys having different reactions to her having taken pictures of Bailey even though that helped lead to catching the kidnapper.
Did anyone else think Jamie's insistence on protecting Bailey from testifying was suspicious?
He was so determined and so unable to entertain the thought of Bailey helping to put this guy away that for a second I thought he had something to hide.
He didn't, of course, but that would have been an interesting direction to take that never happened.
Even before the big twist, I didn't find the Mauers that riveting a family.
We've seen this lots of times before -- the clueless mother who is protecting an evil son. Judging from crime dramas, there are a lot of oblivious working-class moms whose sons cause chaos!
Emerson's Mom: This is harassment! I'm gonna sue you!
Fin: You wouldn't be the first.
Mrs. Mauer was interchangeable with so many other such mothers on so many other shows and that made her uninteresting.
It was obvious she was hiding something when she didn't want the cops looking in her garage, and from the promo, I knew exactly what it was.
Mrs. Mauer: Here's some Latin for you. Like father, like son. Maybe Emerson took after his old man.
Carisi: Did you just throw your son under the bus?
Mrs.Mauer's like-father-like-son comment was telling.
I was sure that her ex-husband had abused their son and that was what had caused the kid to grow up to be a pedophile.
Was the additional twist that Emerson was dead and the pedophile was a kidnapped child named Kevin Brown really necessary?
When Rollins first brought up the eye color thing, I wasn't sure why it mattered whether Emerson was the Mauers' biological son or not.
It was a twist out of nowhere that seemed to have no purpose.
But once Mrs. Mauer told the story of how the real Emerson died, it all made sense.
I didn't like it, but it made sense.
The biggest problem with this was Benson's speech at the end.
SVU advocates for and supports survivors of sexual assault -- so why was Benson seeming to excuse Kevin/Emerson's behavior?
Rollins: I have blue eyes.
Rollins: Al has blue eyes. So Billy has blue eyes.
Benson: If I remember my high school biology correctly, it's called a recessive gene.
Rollins: Right. Now Zach and Rohan both have brown eyes. But Emerson has blue eyes.
Benson: Statistically speaking, the chances are he is not Rohan's son.
As much as it makes sense that on some subconscious level, Emerson/Kevin kidnapped Bailey because he wanted to hold her the way Diane held him when he was little and scared, the fact remains that he got in bed naked with a kid.
Bailey wasn't scared and he didn't outright rape her, but that's still highly problematic behavior!
Considering how determined Benson was to make the legal system do something to get justice for Bailey, this whole ending was unsatisfying!
SVU often veers off into a different story mid-stream, but this one went too far sideways and left the more interesting story behind.
And if we had to have this mistaken identity story, there should have at least been some divergent opinions on it.
Rollins and Carisi usually put their two cents into every case, so where was their disagreement about whether Emerson was a victim or a perp and whether his kidnapping had anything to do with the choice he made to kidnap Bailey?
And Bailey's family disappeared, too -- surely they would have some response to Bailey's kidnapper getting a break because he got kidnapped as well.
What do you think, SVU Fanatics?
Am I being too hard on SVU?
Do you think that continuing the story of Bailey's parents not wanting her to testify would have been more compelling than what we got?
Weigh in below.
Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.