Law & Order: SVU is one of the most “marathoned” television shows out there today. At any time of day, sometimes on multiple channels, you can catch a marathon of the exploits of the NYPD Special Victims Unit.
One of the main reasons it’s so “marathon-able” is that each episode is self-contained. You don’t need to be following the series every week or even every season to find yourself engrossed in an episode.
The modern incarnation of SVU has eschewed from this tried and true formula. It seems obsessed with laying out the personal struggles of the SVU detectives. We’ve dove into Amanda Rollins’ (Kelli Giddish) drinking and gambling problems multiple times, Nick Amaro’s (Danny Pino) failed marriage and his long-lost love child. Now, next week’s the revolves around Amaro shooting a kid. So, what, there’s no more trials on SVU? Is it all becoming personal tragedies?
Tonight’s episode, “Psycho/Therapist” plunges into the deep end of personal struggle and the Russian judge is not pleased. The episode is continuation and conclusion (?) of the Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay)/William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber) storyline which started during last season’s finale and continued into this season’s premiere.
The continuation of this, particular storyline is a bit random. The last time we were involved with it, it was in the season premiere back in September. Since then the show has put the story on the back burner (we all thought it was resolved) in favor of a run of self-contained episodes that were “ripped from the headlines” like the Paul Deen/Trayvon Martin mash-up or the horrific American Idol-themed episode. Olivia’s mental anguish was barely touched upon, outside of brief scenes of her talking with her therapist, which opened a handful of episodes. In fact, we focused more on Olivia’s rushed relationship with Cassidy (Dean Winters) than the psychological and emotional effects of her brutal assault at the hands of Lewis.
But here we are, mid-season premiere and we’re suddenly back to this storyline. To make matters worse Olivia is all PTSD-ed and an emotional train wreck. If Olivia Benson has been one thing throughout the series — it’s been strong. So to see her all in a state of distress after weeks of her being A-OK, is just weird and hard to buy. Her actions and the random dream sequences employed to further show her trauma are so jarring and over-the-top that it borders on complete cheap melodrama. It’s painfully awkward, you’re almost wincing at certain points.
The saving grace of the episode is the performance of Pablo Schreiber. He has such command of every scene he’s in. Some may see his performance as over-the-top, but in the world of the episode, it had to be. The character had to create an over-the-top spectacle in order to create doubt, to sway the jury, discredit his witnesses, in particular Olivia. The one problem with Schreiber is the following — he’s been in multiple Law & Order episodes throughout the decades. (To be exact — he appeared on Criminal Intent in 2005, the original Law & Order in 2006, Criminal Intent again in 2007, SVU in 2007, original Law & Order in 2008 and then SVU in 2013 and 2014). He’s given such solid performances in these episodes that you remember him…maybe it’s a nitpick, but if you’ve “marathoned” SVU before, you can’t shake the fact this guy has been on the show so many times before.
Oh, and the ending of the episode, terrible. Absolutely terrible. It’s such a cop out of an ending that SPOILER ALERTit gives us no real resolution. In fact, when you see it, it’s an absolute groan and kills a lot of the good in the episode.
Ultimately, “Psycho/Therapist” was a decent, but very flawed episode. It’s an episode that would’ve had more emotional impact if it had aired in the fall, maybe as the mid-season finale. If written better it could’ve been an amazing episode, but alas it was not. It also felt like more a swan song for Olivia Benson than just another episode. Her actions throughout and at the conclusion of the trial have all the earmarks of a character that is on their way out. (If Olivia leaves, just end the show.) Sadly, if SVU keeps going down the road it’s going to be signing its own swan swing soon enough.