SVU Episode 14-3: Twenty-Five Acts

Bondage, sadomasochism, and . . . book signings?  Cross America’s favorite TV crime drama with America’s best-selling BDSM novel, and you’ve got one seriously kinky SVU episode.  I was bound by every minute of it (so to speak).

Recap:  Is there anyone in America who hasn’t read Fifty Shades of Grey yet?  It’s a romantic novel featuring whips, restraints, and assorted sadomasochistic hijinks.  Even my 96-year-old grandmother has read it (shudder), so I’m going to assume we’re all on the same page here.

Tonight’s SVU episode centered on a loosely-veiled version of the book (Twenty-Five Acts), and opened with the author, a curvy blonde named Jocelyn, appearing on a TV show to promote her bestseller.  She flirts with Cain, the charming TV host, and says that women really want to be dominated.  After the show wraps, Joceyln and Cain go for drinks. Jocelyn soon shimmies out of her silky green panties, slips them to Cain under the table, and coos, “What’s your fantasy?”

They rush back to Cain’s bachelor pad and the usual passion ensues.  But then Cain slaps her!  And she likes it.  He gets her on all fours on the bed and spanks her with a  belt.  “Ouch,” she says.  “That hurt!”

Uh oh.  What’s the safe word?  Apparently, in their rush to get the party started, they failed to establish one.  Cain now wraps the belt around Jocelyn’s neck and pulls tight.  Her eyes bug out in terror as he chokes and sodomizes her.

The next morning, Jocelyn insists she’s fine – but her publicist sees the belt-shaped bruise on her neck and calls the police.  Jocelyn tells the police she wasn’t raped, she wanted Cain to dominate her.  Moreover, Chapter 5 of her book features a scene where the heroine is choked with a belt and sodomized – and has eighteen orgasms as a result.

Sooo . . . I’m thinking . . . no rape case.  But, sensing that they haven’t even reached their second commercial break, our good detectives press on.

(Incidentally, all of the detectives had read the novel.  Even Munch admitted he’d read it out loud to his mother  – which was perhaps the most disturbing part of the whole episode.)

The detectives talk to Cain, who denies any wrongdoing.  They talk to Jocelyn again at her book-signing, in a store called “Intimate Adversaries.”  She provides no additional information, but we are treated to a glimpse of the studded-leather chaps and polyurethane bras lining the joint.  (My own book signings don’t look anything like this – but maybe I’ve just been throwing the wrong kind of signings.)

At Jocelyn’s lavish book party that night, Cain corners her in an elevator.  He hisses, “You talked to the cops?  You know you wanted it last night. Just like you want it now.”  He hikes up her skirt and sodomizes her once again in the elevator (in yet another re-enactment of a scene from her book). She’s frozen with panic.

A little legal advice.  (Actually, this blog does NOT  give legal advice.  It’s purely for fun.)  So then, a note.  A man who believes a woman has consented to rough sex should immediately reconsider that belief after he is questioned by detectives about the matter.  Police interrogation is a pretty clear sign that she really did mean “no,” and the fella needs to stop having forcible sex with her.

Now Jocelyn is ready to press charges.  And the defense wants to admit her novel as evidence that she consented to Cain’s rough sex.  “Oh no,” groans Olivia.  “There goes the rape shield.”  In order to pre-empt evidence that Jocelyn had rough sex in the past, the detectives talk to all her old boyfriends – and find her love life was pretty vanilla.

How, our detectives wonder, could Jocelyn have written such a kinky book without visiting at least a few swingers clubs?

Nick reads the academic writings of Jocelyn’s frumpy female college professor and sees similarities between the prose.  He discovers that the professor was actually the kinkster who wrote the racy novel.  Jocelyn was just a pretty face to present it to the public.

The fact that Jocelyn is an actress and a liar doesn’t help the prosecution.  But the wily DA pulls a reverse-OJ move, asking Cain to demonstrate by holding the belt around the DA’s own neck.  The DA then taunts Cain, who chokes the DA viciously.  (Wow, give that prosecutor a Special Achievement Award!  That is devotion to your job.)  The jury convicts, and Cain is led away in handcuffs – which, maybe, he liked.

Verdict: B+

What they got right:

After Jocelyn froze during the elevator assault, the detectives discussed the phenomenon of “tonic immobility.” This is a real thing that happens to sex-assault victims, where they simply cannot move their bodies during the assault.  In times of panic, the human body has three basic responses: fight, flight or freeze.  There are some evolutionary advantages to “playing dead” and waiting for the threat to pass.  This response is involuntary, and sex-assault victims who experience it often have to be counseled that this reaction is not their “fault.”

What they got wrong:

As an author, here’s my literary beef with this episode: A writer doesn’t actually need to have done all the things her characters do in order to write the book. Just because Jocelyn hadn’t been shagged while tied up in a “red room” doesn’t mean she couldn’t have dreamed it up.  I don’t suppose Edgar Allan Poe ever bricked anybody up into a wine cellar, either.

As a former prosecutor, my legal beef concerns the issues of consent and rape shield laws.  The episode confused the two concepts.  In this case, the jury would consider whether a reasonable man in the Cain’s position would have believed that Jocelyn consented to what he did.  To that end, Twenty-Five Acts was relevant. Cain had read it, he and Jocelyn promoted it on TV, and their subsequent conversations revolved around its themes.  Even though Joceyln hadn’t actually written it, Cain reasonably thought she did. His understanding of what was okay with her was informed by the book, and it would have been admissible.

But that doesn’t “open the rape-shield door.” Rape shield laws prohibit evidence about a sex-assault victim’s past sexual behavior and reputation.  These are fairly modern rules,  strictly interpreted, intended to protect victims from the sort of horrific invasion of privacy they often faced in the past.  (And just because Jane said “yes” to Joe doesn’t mean she said “yes” to Bob.) Nothing about Twenty-Five Acts opened the door to Jocelyn’s past sex life.

But perhaps the most implausible thing  was Nick combing through the academic articles of the victim’s former college professors.  As a prosecutor, I often had to cajole cops merely to revisit the crime scene.  I don’t see Nick doing a dissertation on Fifty Shades, regardless of how great the sex scenes are.

So, what do you think, SVU fans?  Is bondage the new black?  Did Cain have a colorable consent defense?  And is there anything in the world that could convince you to read Fifty Shades out loud to your mother?  Leave your comments!


  1. James Pollock says

    Yes, there ARE people who have not read Fifty Shades. They can be collectively referred to as “men”.

    I’m surprised you didn’t bring up the interesting parallel between rape shield law and the law of evidence regarding prior bad acts. While it is certainly true that just because Jane said yes to Joe, it doesn’t provide evidentiary support to a claim that she later said yes to Bob; the fact that Bob raped Sue doesn’t provide any proof that Bob raped Jane… but a record of conviction for rape is admissible evidence.

  2. Frankie says

    Why do we find sexuality in the elderly embarrassing or even a little repellent?

    (Not an attack, a genuine question)

    • TokoBali says

      Because society, led by cosmetic companies, constructed a very narrow idea of what is beautiful and sexy. This narrow idea is so demanding that nobody (especially women) can meet the demands without buying a lot of crap from those companies. And not surprisingly, old age, wrinkles and metal knee caps didn’t make the cut.

      Something like that, I guess. And sexuality in the elderly forces you (if only for just a moment) to think about their parents. Nobody wants that.

  3. Carl N. Brown says

    I hate to play the pedantic school teacher, but Poe’s middle name Allan is spelled with two a’s. You might want to blame your spell checker but I believe you are in need of … correction.

    I have seen “Edgar Allen Poe” credited in the title of the movie “The Haunted Palace” (which was actually based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “Case of Charles Dexter Ward”–which makes the credit one of the Alan Smithee type).

  4. says

    I didn’t get the “she wrote the book so she must know/do it”. The book wasn’t presented as a memoir, just a novel. Did Tolkien know dwarves, hobbits, elves, and ents? Of course not. I kept thinking – the book’s fiction? Why do they keep treating it as something more? She didn’t have to experience any of it to write it. She could have read other stuff – like Fifty Shades (no I haven’t read that either) and written her own book based on those descriptions….

  5. Michelle Cunin says

    The talk show host just came off as being predatory even before he attacked Jocelyn. He was just creepy, which only proved to be right in the end.

    I liked the “twist” that someone else wrote “Twenty-Five Acts”, given that “Fifty Shades of Grey” started out as “Twilight” fan fiction. I, for one, won’t read “Grey” because just by going with the reviews, the majority of them didn’t like how the story was written. Case in point being that the twentysome-year-old in “Grey” refers to her genitalia as “down there”. If my mom wants to read “Grey”, more power to her. I just won’t subject myself to poorly written stories that started on Fanfiction.Net (or The Pit, as it’s called). Much less pay for something poorly written when there’s hundreds of poorly written fan fiction stories out there for free.

    Overall, I thought it was a decent episode.

    • says

      I’m with you Michelle, Cain seemed creepy from the start. And I also liked the plagiarism storyline. There has been much controversy over the fact that Fifty Shades started out as fan fiction. This seemed like the perfect SVU riff on it. As a novelist myself, I got a good giggle out of the episode.

  6. Alenna says

    I haven’t read the Fifty Shades book, and I don’t plan on reading it. Having spent about 2 years volunteering in a battered women’s shelter, I really don’t find anything sexually titillating about a woman being dominated and abused by a man.

    I actually liked most of this episode. It was good to see some courtroom scenes again for a change. And no crazy homicide at the end. The new characters are interesting (Adam Baldwin as the temporary Captain, Raul Esparza as the DA) and I wish they would keep them for future episodes. Also Benson and Rollins make an interesting team working together.

    It did seem a bit improbable for the SVU team to go all the way to Maryland to do interviews from Jocelyn’s college days, and then to find that the professor wrote the book based on an old harpsichord “hunch” by Nick. I’m not sure how that idea just popped into his mind. Also, to subpoena her to come to NYC – how does that work exactly? If she refused, would the NYC authorities have any jurisdiction to do anything? Seems to me she gave up her anonymity (and possibly her college reputation) much too quickly.

    • James Pollock says

      “It did seem a bit improbable for the SVU team to go all the way to Maryland to do interviews from Jocelyn’s college days”

      IRL those interviews would have been done by telephone. But watching actors sit and talk on the phone does not make good television.

      The professor’s academic writing will all be available on the Intenet, but watching actors sit and operate a computer is even more boring that watching them sit and talk on the telephone. (On shows where watching people operate computers is unavoidable, the set designers give them super-advanced, state-of-the-art-high-tech bigscreen touchscreen systems to keep you from noticing how boring it really is. IRL, cops get six-year-old PCs with Windows XP, and half of them have CRTs instead of flat-panel displays.)

      The writers just gave the actors a more telegenic way of giving their lines, is all.

      “Seems to me she gave up her anonymity (and possibly her college reputation) much too quickly.”
      She didn’t have a choice. Even if she could have gotten a Maryland judge to quash the subpeona, the fact that she is the author and not poor Anna Chlumsky was going to come out.
      Her academic career is probably permanently derailed (writing a smutty book won’t be ground to terminate her, but she’ll have real difficulty finding journals to publish her academic papers. Of course, if her book is selling like Fifty Shades, she’s made enouh to retire on if she stops buying antique harpsichords. I don’t even think that the disclosure that the author doesn’t look like Anna Chlumsky will significantly hurt sales (the author of Fifty Shades does not resemble Anna Chlumsky, and no one ever thought she does.)
      I think the only people who come out of this episode worse off are Jerkface Radiohost and Anna’s character… I don’t think she’ll have to give up the 10% royalties she’s earned so far, but her own writing career is stillborn. Plus, she got raped a couple of times, which is also really a bummer and not at all the sort of thing we’d wish for women, even fictional ones.

      • says

        Alenna, good on you for doing that work at the battered women’s shelter.

        I also liked the new DA, and I hear that actor’s signed for a few new episodes. I’m looking forward to having Cragen back, though. It’ll be interesting to see how his detectives treat him after the Big Scandal.

        As for the college professor, I don’t think *any* interviews would have been done IRL.

  7. Aeon J. Skoble says

    As a college professor, I can say that the most unrealistic thing about the episode was the professor’s palatial office!

  8. Lola says

    Allison its funny u mentioned the rape shield laws because i was in my criminal law class and the topic was sex crimes, and my professor asked me under what circumstances could the past sexual history of the victim be admitted and i said that if she lied to the police during investigation, the rape shield goes away but i was wrong. this i learnt from olivia. i guess my point is that i think svu writers have a responsiblity to make sure that they are using the right information on their shows. a lot of people watch it and it can go a long way.

    • says

      I agree, Lola. Sorry to hear about that day in your class. Olivia is a great character — but generally can’t be relied upon for accurate crim pro advice. 🙂 Hope you’re enjoying law school generally, though!

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