That was a lot.
Yes, the latest episode of SVU, entitled ‘Jersey Breakdown,’ is probably one of the most jam-packed episodes the show has seen in a long time in terms of how many story lines and plot twists are placed within the confines of 60 minutes. The end result is a mixed bag that leaves you in a sea of ambivalence by episode’s end.
Tonight marked the return of an actual case to SVU as the previous two weeks have dealt with more personal matters (Olivia’s captor’s trial and Amaro’s shooting) than actual case work. This week, a teenage girl, who waitresses at a number of strip clubs owned by a salty and smooth club magnate (Chazz palmister), is raped by a patron at one of the clubs. The teen is very reluctant to admit who attacked her because the consequences will be pretty rough — as her attacker is highly connected.
Outside of the case and in the squad room, we are now in the first episode post-Cragen (Dann Florek). A harried Olivia (Mariska Hargitay) is now running the show and overwhelmed. Amaro (Danny Pino) is going stir crazy sitting behind a desk and Rollins (Kelli Giddish) is falling back into her gambling addiction. As for Finn (Ice-T), the dude is unflappable and the picture of cool…and the most likable character on the show. The episode also sees the return of ADA Barba (Raúl Esparza), likely back from burying his head in the sand after being written to be an utter buffoon in the series’ mid-season return. We are also treated to a guest-starring return of Alana de la Garza’s Connie Rubirosa (of original L&O fame), who is now on a federal sex trafficking task force. She got a nice dig in on Law & Order: LA in her brief time onscreen.
All of these story lines clash head-on in tonight’s episode. The results, like we said, are a mixed bag. The case itself is pretty interesting as the detectives and victim keep getting curve ball after curve ball thrown there way by the complex web of corruption multiple Jersey officials have spun. It really starts to become a head scratcher about how the SVU detectives will be able to solve the case.
This storyline is all fine and dandy until the writers make the cardinal sin of repeating themselves. See, in this episode a corrupt judge sends the victim of the episode, almost without hesitation, to a highly volatile and brutal juvenile in detention center in New Jersey…something he does often and wouldn’t you know, these actions end up lining the pockets of a number of people. Sound familiar? Well, back in 2009, SVU used this same story when Swoosie Kurtz played the corrupt judge. Five years ago is long enough for them to repeat a storyline, right? Well, that is the problem with having this show being constantly rerun on multiple networks — you don’t forget story lines like these because you’re constantly reminded of them. This, in particular, was such a unique case, one that was the focal point of an episode, that it’s just blatantly obvious to longtime fans this is a retread of a story.
The personal issues of the squad room also put a damper on the episode. Now, as proven last week, the show can tackle personal issues and make them intriguing, but tonight there were just too many personal matters mucking up the works. This was probably done in order to show the “chaos” of the new squad room under Benson, but it’s also just a little too much. Amaro’s going nuts, let’s stick with that. We don’t need to throw in heavy doses of Rollins’ gambling problem competing with this new Amaro development — the competition for onscreen time diminishes the importance of both detectives’ issues.
With that being said, the struggles of Benson as the new head of the squad, is a must-tell story. Remember she’s still coming off a traumatic experience and now has to run the show — this is a character conflict that has to be seen in order to take this show into its next chapter. She can’t all of a sudden be rid of her PTSD, can she? There’s allusions to her beginning a drinking problem, that’s a bit of overkill this early into her run as the boss.
There is one plot point that does stick out as odd. Amaro is supposed to be on desk duty, right? Well, then why is he seen during a raid and then helping Olivia transport a prisoner into custody — that doesn’t seem like desk work to me. But, I also don’t know New York police procedure either, so there’s that.
Ultimately, tonight’s episode was extremely chaotic. It had the potential of a real strong episode but side stories and inconsistencies prevented it from being such. SVU seems to be in a transition period right now and the remainder of this season will be more of a feeling out period of what does and doesn’t work, fans are going to have stick around to see where it takes them.