Plot: The SVU squad takes on a dangerous prostitution ring in their hunt to find the killer of Ellie Porter, the biological mother of Olivia Benson’s (Mariska Hargitay) new foster son Noah. Nick Amaro (Danny Phino) is bright back to temporarily work as an undercover cop to gain the conficence of a local pimp. The abrasive Detective Dominick “Sonny” Carisi Jr. (Peter Scanavino) is added to the SVU team.
Did the writers of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit read my columns last year?
It sure seems like they did because the Season 16 premiere, ‘Girls Disappeared,’ was better than any episode of the long-running crime drama in this post-Stabler era. After going through the necessary out-of-the-gate rough patches every premiere episode experiences, SVU stepped up their game big time. There were no side plots involving inter-office romance, divorce, gambling issues, etc. There were no moments where the detectives like incompetent morons. No, this episode had a laser focus on one plot point — taking down a deadly prostitution ring.
It’s refreshing to see an SVU episode go from Point A to Point B without a number of detours. So many episodes last season were rendered near unwatchable because of the frustrating focus on non-case related subplots. In this episode we saw subplots, namely Olivia’s adoption, woven into the overall story, and it felt logical and it heightened the sense of drama — particularly when the baby’s life is danger.
There was something a bit unusual about “Girls Disappeared” though. It didn’t play out like a classic procedural and case-oriented episode of SVU. This actually felt a little more like a Chicago P.D. episode. The SVU detectives had more of an attitude, they were a little more hard-edged and there was more gun-play in the episode than I can remember SVU recently having.
Mariska Hargitay was the catalyst for the excellence of this episode. All throughout Season 15 her character was yo-yoed so hard that we didn’t really know who Olivia Benson was anymore. One moment she was an absolute mental and emotion wreck (due to her attack and abduction), the next she’d be a tougher than nails and completely unreasonable douche bag (mostly when she was thrust into Captain Kragen’s role), and then, off-duty she’s a frustrated woman looking for love (when dated Cassidy). This season it’s straightforward — she’s a devoted mother to her adopted son and the mama bear to the SVU squad. That classic Benson demeanor — being tough, intelligent and emotional — are all back in the forefront.
The one character that’s a bit of a wild card (from a story and series perspective) is the new detective, Dominick “Sonny” Carisi Jr. Sonny begins the episode as this walking cartoon character — crazy hair, Ron Swanson mustache and the thickest “New Yawk” accent this side of the Brooklyn Bridge. He starts off as the typical “alpha male, loose cannon who rubs everyone the wrong way” but by episode’s end he starts to evolve into a character with some depth and you want to get to know him. Unfortunately, it seems as though the role is a limited run (possibly three episodes), so SVU continues its run of quickly introducing a new male character before quickly pulling them out (see: Adam Baldwin and Donal Logue as prime examples).
All and all, SVU’s Season 16 premiere was really strong and I’m happy to see that a series that has been so good in the past, but so bad recently, has taken steps to get back on the right path.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Bill Bodkin is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. He can be read weekly on Trailer Tuesday and Singles Party, weekly reviews on Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Hannibal, Law & Order: SVU and regular contributions throughout the week with reviews and interviews. His goal is to write 500 stories this year. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English and currently works in the world of political polling. He’s the reason there’s so much wrestling on the site and is beyond excited to be a Dad this coming December. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom