Law & Order: SVU often takes stories from the news, but three at once?
Law & Order: SVU Season 20 Episode 23 attempted to tackle the Jussie Smollet story, the claims of anti-Semitism against Representative Ilhan Omar, and the Covington High scandal all at once.
I give them kudos for taking on tough issues in these emotionally charged political times. But the resulting story lacked nuance and was more difficult to swallow than the average SVU story.
Taking on any one of these stories was a gutsy move. Taking on the Omar story was doubly gutsy because people on all sides of the real story have strong opinions about it -- myself included.
I'm Jewish, and I don't believe that all criticism of Israel nor anything Representative Omar said was anti-Semitic. That's part of why I was disappointed and angry at the way Councilwoman Nasar was depicted during the first half of the episode.
At every opportunity, the writers put words in her mouth about how all Jews were evil Islamophobes who love the idea of Palestinian children dying.
Nasar's beliefs were exaggerated to the point of non-believability as well as driving the point home that Jewish people were right to think she was the second coming of Hitler.
The exaggeration was so profound that it seemed like a parody of pro-Palestinian attitudes rather than anything resembling reality.
It was ridiculous and one-sided, especially because the same story could have been told without that
Nasar COULD have, like her real-life counterpart, held some beliefs about Israel or AIPAC that some Jews don't like without being a cartoon character who exudes blatant anti-Jewish attitudes.
Neither the Israeli-Palestinian situation or the way American Muslims and American Jews feel about it is that black-and-white.
It's nuanced, and there are many people -- both Jewish and Muslim -- who feel that Israel has a right to defend herself but not a right to unwarranted aggression and are critical of the current Israeli government and how it is handling the conflict.
The claim that criticizing the Israeli government is equivalent to supporting the genocide of Jews is as ridiculous as the statements coming out of Nasar's mouth, yet the focus was completely on how Nasar crossed the line with her comments.
Benson: Where are you in all this?
Fin: I see racism all around.
Fin was the only one who seemed able to see this for what it was -- a bunch of people engaging in negative racial stereotyping of each other. Everyone else was quick to point out Nasar's faults while ignoring the way anyone else contributed to the conflict.
Chief Dodds was the worst offender, as usual.
Two Jewish kids planning a birthright trip to Israel. This would be a lot easier if we were dealing with alt-right thugs.Dodds
He seemed more concerned with whether the department could be accused of anti-Semitism because they questioned Jewish kids than what the truth was.
The kids turned out not to be criminals, but they did leave an injured woman to die merely because she held views they found abhorrent, which is not exactly ethical behavior.
I don't know if legally they would have been culpable had she died, but either way, it seemed like that was quickly forgotten after Carisi and Fin snapped at them about it.
And what about the eyewitness, the woman with the groceries?
The boys didn't yell anti-Semitic remarks at her as she claimed, but they DID knock her to the sidewalk and then kept going. Did that matter to anyone?
To be fair to Dodds, the false report that the boys got arrested for rape helped flame the already white-hot tensions between the Jewish and Muslim communities, but something about the way he handled the situation bothered me.
Stranger still was the way things shifted in the second half of the hour.
As soon as Nasar turned out to be a closeted gay woman, suddenly she was portrayed far more sympathetically.
The department was relieved that the kids had nothing to do with the attack and quickly focused on Nasar's ex-husband, who turned out to be a stalker who wanted to punish her for breaking Sharia law by engaging in homosexual sex.
Nasar feared losing her family or her job if she came forward, got one of Benson's encouraging speeches, and then braved the protesters to testify in court.
It was an abrupt shift after spending half an hour building Nasar up to be a raging anti-Semite who probably pissed off the wrong person.
We were supposed to feel bad for her now that her attack had nothing to do with her political views.
But what if she had gotten attacked because of her views? Benson would be the first to say that doesn't make her any less deserving of justice, but would the story have supported that?
We are still proud of you. And you are wrong. You have not lost your family's love.Nasar's mother
I wasn't sure how I felt about Nasar's ex-husband raping her because of his adherence to Sharia law.
The mother of one of the boys claimed that Nasar's hijab proved her allegiance to Sharia law, and clearly, that was inappropriate. But then her ex-husband shouted on the stand about homosexuality and honor killings.
Sure, there are some Muslims who do believe in Sharia law, but this just felt stereotypical. Couldn't Masoud be anti-gay without that?
And couldn't we have had the nice moment with Nasar's parents without another Muslim guy who also believes in Sharia law throwing a rock in the courthouse hall?
For all the problems with this episode, it did do a great job of showing the way many people on both sides of the political spectrum engage in kneejerk reactions in the current US political climate.
Masoud's defense attorney was right about one thing: everyone was making assumptions and everyone, from the woman in the street to Nasar herself, was quick to assume prejudice and get angry.
There's no winning in a situation like that, and maybe that was the point.
Fin: Why can't she say what she wants?
Carisi: She can say what she wants. That's the First Amendment. But the things she's saying piss people off. Words have consequences.
Fin: So it's free speech until it pisses someone off and then it's hate speech?
Carisi: Come on, how would you feel if she was saying these kinds of things about African Americans?
Fin: I don't listen to ignorant people.
Carisi: That's you. The rest of the world doesn't work that way.
I wish that SVU had not tried to address so much at once.
The issue of the boys being assumed to be violent because of their red caps was an important one that got swept under the rug and so was the way their behavior contributed to the tensions.
Finally, let's talk about Rob Miller.
Nasar is not the only one with a stalker, and Miller is turning his sights not just on Benson, but on Noah.
Are we going to have a repeat of Noah getting kidnapped, or of the William Lewis situation?
I hope the answer to both those questions is a resounding NO, but clearly, this is meant to be an exciting season finale!
So what did you think, SVU fanatics?
Did SVU do justice to any of the stories it was trying to cram into the hour?
Were Nasar's anti-Semitic rants -- and her sudden conversion into a sympathetic character -- believable?
What do you think Miller's return means?
Watch Law & Order: SVU online and then share your thoughts in the comments!
Law & Order: SVU continues to air on NBC on Thursdays at 10 PM EST/PST.
Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.