Whoa, talk about intense.
Law & Order: SVU totally broke the unrealistic trope of TV cops focusing on only one case at a time.
Instead, Law & Order: SVU Season 21 Episode 5 threw three cases the detectives' way. No wonder tensions boiled over.
Each of the three cases was an interesting story in its own right. Taken together, they told a story about the role privilege plays in rape investigations.
It was a more subtle message than Law & Order: SVU has made in a long time, and even Benson might not have fully got it.
Chloe was easily the most privileged of the three survivors.
Her parents' money and connections got her case personal attention, and SVU had to stop the parents from interfering.
Chloe's parents could have destroyed the entire case. They tried to pressure Chloe into identifying the wrong man, and she initially obliged.
Yet nobody brought up the fact that a defense attorney could easily tear her credibility to shreds on the stand after she identified someone else as her assailant later.
Carisi: Now I have to keep Mr. Syed in holding for a crime he probably didn't commit because if I don't, Hadid'll have my head.
Rollins: What'd you expect when you went over there? That place is all politics and that's not your strong suit.
Carisi: I don't care about politics. I ignore all that and try to do my job.
Rollins: Oh really? Cause it seems to me that you're more worried about what your boss thinks than whether Chloe was assaulted.
Carisi: You know what I'm worried about? I'm worried about a domestic violence case where the victim won't cooperate. I'm worried about a trans girl who got assaulted by a corporate lawyer who's got a case we're never gonna make.
Rollins: Not with that attitude, you won't. None of this would have been happening if you hadn't left.
Carisi: So that's what this is about?
Rollins: Everything would have been fine if you'd been with me. You were my partner and you walked out on me.
Instead, Carisi worried about Hadid's displeasure that her friend's case wasn't getting the quick resolution she thought it deserved and an innocent man spent a night in a holding cell. (Plus Rollins got into a ridiculous and completely unprofessional argument with Carisi that everyone overheard.)
SVU didn't mention it, but Mohammed probably lost income and possibly his job as a result of his arrest, while Chloe and her family got to just go on with their lives.
And Chloe was the luckiest of the three, too. She escaped her assailant and had the ability to pressure SVU to arrest him. Justice could be served.
Meanwhile, the other two survivors weren't so lucky.
Joelle's case was the opposite of Chloe's. Joelle lived in a housing project where violent crime was viewed as the norm, rather than the exception, and while Chloe's family was desperate to get justice, her family was equally desperate to get the cops off of her back.
Usually, Benson's inspiring speeches help lift up a survivor, but in Joelle's case, they misfired.
Benson came off as judgmental when she asked how Joelle could allow her son to grow up in an environment like that.
And when she told Joelle that women are strong and that she'd "find a way" to support herself and Andre, it probably sounded to Joelle like Benson was denying her reality.
Joelle lived in a public housing project.
The money she got from Leon was probably not enough to cover bare necessities for Andre, and without it, she might have to choose between food and rent, get a third or fourth job to make ends meet, or otherwise struggle just to keep her head above water.
And that doesn't even take into account that Andre is more likely to get sick because of their impoverished situation and all the stress, and she might not be able to afford to take him to the doctor if he does.
So finding her strength and finding a way forward are empty-sounding words in her case.
The case was heartbreaking. Joelle was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
She wanted to do her best for her son, and his father's behavior was traumatic for him to witness, but she didn't have a way to survive without Leon's help and wasn't convinced the cops were really going to do anything for her anyway.
As much as I love Carisi as the new ADA, it would have been great to have Stone around for this case. During Chicago Justice Season 1, Stone made a similar mistake, and his lack of understanding led to an unnecessary, violent death.
It would have been powerful for him to share that experience with Benson.
Fin: You did the right thing, little man, calling 911.
Andre: My dad's gonna be so mad.
Fin: Your dad get mad a lot?
Fin: You get along with him?
Andre: He takes me for rides in his big truck.
Fin: You're getting tired. I'm getting tired too. Come on.
Andre: My friend TJ's dad went to jail for knocking out his mom. Is my dad gonna go to jail too?
Anyway, little Andre's scenes added to the emotional impact of this story. The boy was clearly terrified yet didn't want his dad to go to jail, and both the 911 call and his asking Fin if his father was going to get locked up broke my heart.
Joelle had more in common with Lakira than with Chloe, though the way racism played out in Joelle's situation was underexpressed and surely had an impact, too.
Lakira also didn't trust the police to take her case seriously, and with good reason. She'd been on the streets since she was 14 because her mom didn't accept her gender identity and kicked her out.
This is a sad reality for many trans youth, especially transgender women, and they often end up turning to sex work to survive.
Kudos to Law & Order: SVU for not only tackling the issue but for hiring transgender actress and activist Bea Cordelia to play Lakira. It's always gratifying to see a transgender actor play this type of role instead of hiring a cisgender man to play a transgender woman.
That said, I had mixed feelings about the ending of Lakira's story.
SVU was trying to make a point. Lakira didn't trust the legal system, which had failed her after a previous assault, and from the beginning felt Kat was wasting her time trying to help her.
But when two out of three cases end with the perp facing trial and the third one ends with a trans woman recanting her entire story in exchange for money, it inadvertently reinforces some negative stereotypes.
SVU doesn't buy into the idea that transgender people are out to "trick" people into thinking they are their target gender, and this episode did a great job of confronting blatant transphobic statements.
Yet, in the end, Lakira, who has been on the streets for years, suddenly decided money and material possessions would win her mother over and gave up on her case in a heartbeat.
That didn't make sense. Kat was helping Lakira find a safe place to stay, and Lakira didn't show any interest in trying to get back in her mom's good graces until the last second.
It felt like the writers tacked on that ending to make a point, and that damaged an otherwise strong story about the difficulties transgender women have if they report their sexual assaults.
What did you think, SVU fanatics?
Did you enjoy the three-case format?
Do you think Benson missed the point of Joelle's reluctance to press charges against her husband?
And did the ending make sense to you?
Hit the comments with your thoughts, and don't forget you can watch Law & Order: SVU online if you missed anything.
Law and Order: SVU continues to air on NBC on Thursdays at 10 PM EST/PST.
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