Plot: Based on the Belle Knox/Duke University porn star case. Hudson University student Evvie Barnes (Hannah Marks) who starred in multiple porn films prior to her freshman year, in order to pay for her college tuition, is raped by two classmates (Casey Thomas Brown and Max Ehrich) who saw her videos online.
Well, that took a turn…and not in a good way.
Much like last week’s episode, “Pornstar’s Requiem” was an episode that was built on a strong foundation, bolstered by dynamic performances, but ultimately derailed by poor decisions and ham fisted execution.
The episode is based around the now infamous Belle Knox/Duke pornstar case. The show takes an interesting (and albeit extremely uncomfortable) take on it — how can D.A. Barba (Raul Esparza) convince a jury that a porn star, who starred in numerous rape fantasy videos, was indeed the victim of rape? Questions arise like – Were her assailants mislead by her actions on video, thus justifying their actions? Did her “no,” really mean “yes”?
It’s actually a really clever (and again, very uncomfortable) angle to take and it plays out brilliantly in the court room scenes. John Bucahanan (Delaney Williams, formerly of The Wire), is the perfect choice for the court room chess game with Barba. Williams’ velvety tone and calm-yet-intense manner is a great foil for Esparza’s laser-focused and intense-yet-really-intense demeanor. In fact, in the past few years of Barba’s SVU run, there hasn’t been a better DA/Defense battle than in tonight’s episode. The trial is such a see-saw that you’re left guessing on which way the jury will go until the very end — which is usually the hallmark of any good SVU episode.
But sadly, this is where things went to complete and utter hell.
Williams’ character asks the judge (Richard T. Jones) to “set aside the verdict.” A motion like this allows a judge to deliver his own decision, which could in fact be the opposite of the jury’s. This is done with 10-15 minutes left in the episode and is played like a “this’ll never happen” scenario. So, obviously, the verdict will indeed be “set aside” and the accused rapist will be cleared of the charges. The reason (I’m paraphrasing) – “lack of evidence and she was a pornstar, so how could the boys have known her no didn’t mean yes?”
Seriously? Generally speaking, there’s a major difference between doing porn and you know…rape. There’s contracts…and…you know CONSENT. (Yes, there are situations where this is not the case, but we’re talking in the broadest sense.) I get why the episode went this way, but it was executed so poorly. First, they should’ve had the judge immediately overturn the verdict and have it come at the very end of the episode. Instead, we get the verdict followed by two lame-ass detour scenes where Olivia (Mariska Hargitay) battles the new chief (Peter Gallagher) and the Hudson University president over Evvie Barnes getting expelled from school. The detour was so poorly placed in the episode that it made the final outcome so painfully obvious, and it really kills off everything the episode was trying to build.
Also, two other things that really stood out in this episode…and not in a good way. First – Hudson University is the worst college in the world. How many rapes and murders has SVU investigated there? Why would anyone send their kid there? Second – this new character Peter Gallagher is playing — is God awful. He’s a walking cliche – a barking robot that sends the same message — don’t mess with City Hall. In the past two episodes, all he does is show up to yell at Olivia and make really nonsensical accusations. This week it was, “I was told you have an agenda!” This comes because the Evvie Barnes case, which the squad just caught, hasn’t been resolved yet and it hit the papers. Painfully bad. Gallagher’s a fine actor and given better lines he could be a great add to the show. Instead, he’s an utter caricature.
“Pornstar’s Requiem” had the chance to be something really special, but falls flat on its face. Yes, it’s still better than anything from last season, but this the second week SVU has really dropped the ball. Hopefully, the trend is broken next week.
Rating: 5 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, Sonic Highways 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