I've always considered Deputy Chief Garland to be one of the best new additions to the SVU team.
Law & Order: SVU Season 21 Episode 18 was the first episode to feature a story centered around Garland, and it did not disappoint.
Sure, some things could have been even better, but for the most part, this was a solid, engaging story that moved quickly.
Garland's conflict throughout the hour answered a basic question: how will the new Deputy Chief do when a case gets personal?
If this was a test of where his loyalties lay, he more than passed; he excelled.
Carisi: We got a tip about a sexual predator.
Garland: This couldn't wait?
Rollins: The informant was worried about whether your would let the case go forward because you personally know the accused.
Garland: Of course. Who is it?
Carisi: Reverend Dominick Chase.
Benson: Is he the one who just said Grace? How well do you know him?
Garland: He and his wife Laura are like family. He ministered at my wedding.
Garland overcame his doubts, disbelief, and disappointment to accept that his so-called friend was a sexual predator who needed to be stopped from continuing to groom young girls, and along the way, he was threatened with ex-communication from his church and accused of being a traitor to the black community.
Throughout it all, he stood strong, confronting both Del and Laura Chase with the truth and refusing to put his friendship with them above the demands of his job -- or above justice.
It wasn't easy. Del wasn't just any friend. He was Garland's pastor, the officiant at his wedding, and his daughter's godfather.
Laura: The photos are fake! You have to tell them!
Garland: What about the payments? $250,000! I can't make this go away!
Laura: Then our relationship is over. Nobody in our church will speak to you or your wife or your little girl again.
If Garland was going to blink, it would have been when Laura threatened to turn the church community against him. Clearly, that community was important in both his own life and the life of his family, including his young daughter.
But perhaps that was why he didn't back down. He might have been thinking about what would happen 10 or so years from now when Abby was a teenager if he turned a blind eye to what Del was doing to underage girls.
I wish that the dialogue had reflected that. It would have been natural for Garland to think about his daughter and want to protect her, but that angle was never explored.
Indeed, quite a bit of Garland's struggle was so internal it was off-screen.
Garland: He's protesting way too much. He asked me to give him my word I'd keep him in the loop.
Benson: I'm so sorry.
Garland: So am I. I have a sick feeling that those donations had nothing to do with the Lord.
Garland was sickened by the thought that Del was truly guilty, then after that, he just did his job regardless of who threatened what, only breaking down and crying after all was said and done and an imprisoned Del refused to take responsibility for his actions.
This wasn't a flaw on the writers' part, though. There was no time for Garland to struggle with this if the case was going to move forward, and so he didn't.
I'd have liked to have seen some more fallout from his brave choice to put the truth over his friendship with Del, though.
Laura threatened to ex-communicate him and Del made that impromptu sermon castigating him, but it was all just words. There were no real consequences beyond his hurt feelings.
It didn't have to be a big part of the story, but something as simple as Garland's wife mentioning the nasty phone calls they were getting or Garland telling the team that his daughter came home from preschool saying that the other kids called her father names would have made this story even more powerful.
Garland: It's not the first time I've been cast out. I'm used to it.
Fin: Don't take it personal. There's a reason they call them a flock. They'll never leave him.
The crowd around Del didn't even boo when Garland, Benson, and Fin walked away after Del called Garland a Judas and accused the rest of them of being invested in maintaining white supremacy.
Something that small might have made a difference.
Benson noticed that Laura seemed uncomfortable during that sermon, but I wondered what changed her mind.
Given her guilt over not realizing earlier, could Laura have known in the back of her mind that the allegations against Del were true and refused to fully acknowledge it?
She was angry that Garland wouldn't make this all go away, but her threat to ex-communicate him went nowhere and it was almost like Garland's refusal to enable Del forced her to confront the truth too.
This story was also notable in that all of the young girls, as well as their abuser, were African American.
Sadly, in many cases, non-white rape victims are not treated the same way that white rape victims are, and SVU didn't really touch on these racial issues.
It was disgusting that Del tried to claim racism in the NYPD as his defense when he was guilty, but it was sad that it was plausible.
Also, the way Renee was treated reinforced the way rape survivors are often demonized by their accusers.
But could some of her fear of not being believed have come from the fact that sometimes white cops don't take rape accusations by black survivors as seriously as they do white survivors?
These are important questions that weren't really addressed throughout the hour.
The episode was solid and entertaining, though it could have gone further in exploring inequality and related social issues. The only real flaw besides that was that it felt like it was wrapped up too quickly.
I was surprised that Michelle was so willing to come forward after Laura asked her to. She was so adamant that Renee was lying and so protective of Del.
tt should have taken a lot more for her to come forward, and it might have been a more powerful story if she had clung to her belief that the other girls were liars so that she could continue to feel she was special to Del.
Your turn, SVU fanatics.
Did you enjoy this Garland-centered episode? Was there anything you wanted to happen during it that just didn't? And was I the only one who was surprised that Michelle turned on Del so quickly?
Hit that blue SHOW COMMENTS button and share your thoughts.
The next new episode of Law & Order: SVU doesn't air until April 16, but in the meantime you can watch Law & Order: SVU online rigt here on TV Fanatic.
Law & Order: SVU's historic 21st season continues to air on NBC on Thursdays at 10 PM EST/PST.