TV Recap: Law & Order: SVU, ‘Psycho/Therapist’

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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.

Photo Credit: Michael Parmelee/NBC
Photo Credit: Michael Parmelee/NBC

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.

Photo Credit: Michael Parmelee/NBC
Photo Credit: Michael Parmelee/NBC

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.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

9 COMMENTS

  1. Eat a dick! That episode was amazing! Obviously, you haven’t been following the show this season as much as you lead us to believe, or you would see that Olivia’s struggle with her ordeal never stopped; it’s affect has been constant in every episode, not just in the Doctor’s office. Mariska Hargitay and Pablo Schreiber BOTH gave incredible performances last night in their respectives roles, often creating moment that were so tense and emotionally charged, I often found myself having to remind myself that it was just acting. My advice to you: know of what you speak before you blog about it. The somewhat normalcy that Olivia had managed to attain over the months came undone at having to face her attacker again. This is the reason that she was suddenly so on egde. Don’t quit your day job!

    • You have an obvious bias because all that sounds so freaking melodramatic just like some aspects of the show aforementioned in this article. I’ve watched since ep one this season, and I don’t see any mis truths at all in this article and I LOVE the show still. Even though it has very BIG flaws. Get your head out of your ass and watch the actual plot instead of attacking a blogger who’s actually being honest instead of an ass kisser. Believe it or not, ass kissing showrunners or whoever, doesn’t really get you brownie points. It’s better to be honest.

  2. So you’re saying that you can’t be a strong person and still get PTSD after a traumatic experience? Do you know anything about psychology? Obviously not. That implication is not only ignorant, but potentially offensive to people who have suffered from PTSD. Also, the approaching trial triggered the flashbacks. That’s why she went from seeming fine to being jumpy. That’s actually quite an accurate portrayal. Word of advice: write what you know.

  3. I watched this episode and know hardly anything about courtroom politics,etc but it just didn’t seem right to me. I’m a long time fan of the show and I agree with 95% of this article. They’ve intentionally changed the style *yet again* of the show to fit the new “generation” and it hasn’t always worked. the only reason this ep got decent ratings is because of the months long “hype” and the hope of millions of fans of seeing Stabler come out of the Bermuda Triangle to support his best friends which seems to not be the case anymore because one sided phone calls are a no no apparently in this day and age. Who knew. I keep watching and hoping for something familiar to grasp onto, guess I’ll just have to catch each new ep on Hulu. Thanks for an honest article. It’s nice to see.

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