TV Recap: Law & Order: SVU, ‘Reasonable Doubt’

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Plot: Renowned television producer Frank Maddox (The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford) is accused of molesting his 8-year-old daughter. The child’s mother and Maddox’s soon-to-be ex-wife Catherine (American Pyscho’s Samantha Mathis) refuses to cooperate with SVU leading many too believe the accusations were a ploy to ruin her husband’s career — especially since he left her for her college-age sister.

SVU should’ve ended its season last week.

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

Everything came to a resolution — Benson put the William Lewis saga to bed, there’s a new sheriff in town in the form of Murphy and everyone seems to be ready to put the “rough year” they had behind them. With the news the show was renewed for a 16th season, we’d like to forget about this past season too and look forward to a rebound in the fall. But, as the credits rolled last week, the barometer was definitely pointing in a friendly direction for the beleaguered crime drama. We all had hope, maybe the show was making a decided turn for the better.

Unfortunately, instead of ending the season last week or at least shifting last week’s episode to the actual season finale, we are now going to have to sit through three more episodes of this seemingly never-ending Season 15.

“Reasonable Doubt” wasn’t a terrible episode, but it’s one better suited for mid-season filler rather than a “there’s only three episode remaining this season” type episode. You know the type of episode where stuff matters.

For once, let’s look at the strengths of this episode before we dissect everything that went wrong.

Photo Credut: Michael Parmelee/NBC
Photo Credut: Michael Parmelee/NBC

Bradley Whitford was probably one of the better guest stars the series has seen in a while. His character, an amalgam of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, is manipulatively sympathetic. Whitford gives such a brilliant performance, channeling a lot of Allen’s qualities particularly in his court room scene. That scene, while a bit far-fetched (who really allows a witness to give a monologue?), showcased just how talented Whitford really is. It’s criminal that an actor of this caliber has not been able to find permanent residency on television.

And that’s where the positives of this episode end.

The episode really did nothing for the actual detectives of SVU. You’d think they’d want to establish Donal Logue’s Murphy as the boss further but his fleeting time onscreen really did nothing to help his character’s development on the show. In fact the whole squad played second-fiddle to the scene chewing antics of Mathis and the masterful performance from Whitford. Oh, did we mention that Rollins and Amaro are sleeping together now? Yeah, that happened. It’s something the series had hinted at, that there might be some sexual tension, but now they’re totally sleeping together. A major storyline just pretty much matter of factly put out there with no build or context, it just happened.

Then there’s Samantha Mathis’ Mia Farrow-esque character. Mathis is a fine actress, but the direction and dialogue just really hampered everything she did tonight. The character was mercurial to the point of being illogical. One moment she’s a distraught mother, then she’s a egotistical fallen star who cares more about her own image, then she’s a bitter, jaded soon-to-be ex-wife.

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

The climax of the episode was so deflating. First off, the case built against Whitford’s character was so paper thin causing there to be little to no tension in what should’ve been a tense part of the episode. It’s called “Reasonable Doubt” for a reason — we’re supposed to be questioning whether Whitford’s character actually committed this crime. Instead, we’re supposed to assume he’s guilty, guess that maybe he isn’t and then be left with a groaner of an ending.

Remember that Roman Polanski reference from earlier in the review? That’s how they cop out of the episode. Instead of resolution we get a pretty lame wink and nod to one of Hollywood’s biggest fiascoes. If there had been more tension and drama built up, maybe this ending would’ve come off like the gut punch it was supposed to. Instead, the pedestrian tone of the episode just forces you to roll your eyes in disgust.

There are two more episodes left in this epic SVU season and one has to hope there’s some cards left up the creative sleeves of the writing team. Let’s set up some ideas for next season, let’s establish Murphy some more, let’s…have a good episode. With the history and legacy of this series you know it’s possible.

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, 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

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