TV Recap: Law & Order: SVU, ‘Thought Criminal’

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Plot: The Special Victims Unit decides to take an active approach to catching sex offenders. They begin by trapping a number in an online sting. The first offender they catch is Gordon Lusting (Brian Baumgartner of The Office) who clues the unit into the one of the most sadistic members of the chat group, a local photographer Simon Wilkes (Joshua Malina), who has often spoke of violent and murderous fantasies he has. Murphy (Donal Logue) and Tutuola (Ice-T) go undercover to bust Wilkes, but are too impatient and arrest him before a tangible crime is committed. With little-to-no evidence DA Barba (Raul Esparza) must try to convince a jury that Wilkes’ thoughts and intentions deserve jail time.

The writers of Law & Order: SVU do not pay attention to history.

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

During the waning days of the original Law & Order one of main issues audiences and critics alike had with the show was the propensity for making both the police and district attorneys look like fools. The characters would routinely make terrible errors in judgement and would miserably lose case after case. Soon audiences lost their confidence in the characters — how can you believe that they can do their job if week in and week out they look and act incompetent? It seemed like you were tuning in every week to see how the characters could screw things up. And what’s the fun in that? So, interest, like a fictional case on the show, was lost and ultimately the original Law & Order met its demise.

The same thing is happening on SVU. How many times this season have the detectives presented DA Barba with an absolutely awful case with little-to-no evidence and the only reason he took it to trial was because the detectives badgered him to do it. And surprise, surprise, Barba loses the case. Then the episode ends with everyone looking like absolute morons who bitch and moan about how the system did them wrong or how the jury made the wrong decision. Uhhhh….how about you presented the district attorney with the worst possible case imaginable and he pursued the case because he likes you guys.

Season 15’s penultimate episode, “Thought Criminal” had all the elements for a really good episode. It had three great guest stars — Scandal/West Wing star Joshua Malina, Brian Baumgartner of The Office fame and Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding). All three bring their A-game, shining in the limited screen time they’re given. Malina is particularly excellent as the photographer with a dark secret. We also saw the return of BD Wong to SVU, doing his yearly cameo as FBI agent/shrin George Wong.

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

One thing does have to be said about the presence of Brian Baumgartner here. While he did a very good job in his role; it’s an uncomfortable role. This is Kevin from The Office — that big, lovable, honest and odd guy who drummed for Scrantonicity, Scranton’s favorite Police tribute band. Seeing him as a child molester is just unsettling frankly. It’s not enjoyable seeing him as a terrible human being and it actually detracts from the episode.

“Thought Criminal” also had some solid court room scenes featuring Esparza’s Baraba and Vardalos’ defense attorney. While the case itself was a joke, the performances of the attorneys was probably some of the better court room drama we’ve seen this season.

Yet, frustrations outweighed any positives in this episode. As we mentioned before the flimsy case that’s brought to trial is just agonizing to watch. The performances were quite good, but you could see the end result of the trial as soon as it began. Sadly, this has been the M.O. for the 15th season of the crime drama, all the trials have become predictably lost causes.

I mean let’s be serious for a moment — a thought is put on trial. Yes, there was a lot of creepy and terrible things this guy said and he even built a chamber of terror. But, did he commit a crime? Now, this may be a good talking point for debates, but for an episode — it doesn’t work. Original L&O did this constantly at the end, going after ideologies, big companies and the government for far-fetched and barely proven reasons. SVU is doing the same thing here. History might be doomed to repeat itself if SVU isn’t careful.

Yet, the most annoying aspect of the episode is Nick Amaro (Danny Pino) and his further descent down a rabbit hole of absolute shit. Everything he does is just dumb, misguided, rage-fueled and just ridiculous. He’s constantly losing his cool at the littlest thing. When his ex-wife returns and asks him to join her and his daughter in California, where she’s got a great paying job. Instead of reuniting with his family and leaving a job that obviously is destroying him he wants to stay and fight his wife for custody.

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

Then there’s the ending. It just defies all logic and sense. Amaro literally loses his mind and brawls with Wilkes on street. Just how dumb can this series get with all these absurd personal story lines? This is third SVU detective this season that might get bounced from the police force due to their actions. That’s too much.

SVU mercifully comes to an end next week and it couldn’t come any sooner. The series has gone through an absolute ringer and the writers need to take the time to come up with a logical and more cohesive storyline.

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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