Each Wednesday, I find myself tweeting the sentence “Tonight’s #SVU explores every parent’s worst nightmare.” I’ve gotta hand it to the writers: it really is a skill, coming up with something more disturbing every week. The nightmare on tonight’s episode, “Vanity’s Bonfire,” posed questions ranging from deep to deeply titillating. What will a mother do to protect her child – even if the child is a killer? What will a father do to prevent his mistress from leaking their sex tapes? And how much of a bonus does NYPD have to pay the detective tasked with photographing dad’s erect penis?
Recap: A young couple watches their two-year-old daughter, Tessa, frolic in a Brooklyn playground. While Dad is distracted with texting, someone snatches Tessa! The panicked parents run through the playground screaming her name, in a scene that easily makes the list of Every Mother’s Top 10 Worst Nightmares.
Our detectives question the requisite lurking sex offender, but he just mentions a blond woman who’d been hanging by the slide. (Note: in real life, I’d put the odds at 3:1 that the sex offender did it.) Pictures on various parents’ cell phones show the blond carrying the same distinctive diaper bag as Mom.
Olivia notes that female baby-snatchers often seek a relationship with the baby’s family and asks if anyone’s paid particular interest to the toddler. Tessa’s nanny shows them a picture of Tessa given to her by a suspiciously blond lady. Following the website printed on the photo, the cops go to the apartment of Dia, a delightfully nutty blond yoga instructor who’s rocking Tessa in an exact replica of the girl’s real bedroom. (SVU meets Single White Female.)
Dia is unfazed by her arrest, because she is both (a) Tessa’s biological mother, and (b) crazy.
Dia says the child’s father is legal hotshot Kent Webster (played by Scott Bakula of “Quantum Leap” fame. Kent probably wishes he could go back in time and not sleep with Dia).
Kent, of course, denies the whole thing. He’s got a wife so sick with a brain tumor she can barely pick up a pitcher of water. And they have a lovely fifteen-year-old daughter named Hannah. (Alert! Alert! It is a unbreakable rule of SVU that if a teenage girl shows up in an episode, she’s the killer. Keep your eye on the cute girl!) Hannah, played with luminescent innocence by Abby Jackman, is so sweet and fragile, you just know she’s going to be embroiled in something terrible.
Dia proves the affair is ongoing. She giggles, “Kent sends me voice messages saying his happiest place is in my golden triangle.” (Can they say that on TV?) “He texts me pictures of King Sebastian. That’s what we call it.” Our detectives consider subpoenaing Kent to drop trou and tender King Sebastian for comparison. (Should we call that a “subpoenis”?) Instead, they bluff him into confessing his affair.
Kent asked Dia to give up the love child “just for a while.” He got a shady lawyer to draw up fraudulent adoption and surrogacy papers transferring Tessa to the other parents, who thought they were conceiving the child via a surrogate. They’re shocked to learn their baby was essentially kidnapped from Dia.
Hannah soon discovers her father’s cheating, the old-fashioned way: through the National Enquirer tablet edition. Then, in an insane attempt to demonstrate their extracurricular love was real, Dia invites Hannah over and plays the sex tapes she made with Hannah’s father. Hannah freaks out and clubs Dia to death with a crystal vase. (I mean, who wouldn’t?)
Kent goes to the apartment to try to steal back the sex tapes, and is caught by the detectives. For a minute, they think he’s the killer, but his alibi quickly pans out. But then Hannah’s mother confesses to the killing. There’s no way she could’ve done it – she’s dying – remember the pitcher of water she couldn’t lift? But she says, “What parents really want is to protect their child.” She begs Olivia and Nick to let her take the fall. This is the last thing she can do for her little girl.
The detectives wrestle with the ethical dilemma. They ultimately agree, and Mom pleads guilty to manslaughter. She gives her daughter one final hug before being led off to finish her life in jail.
What they got right:
This was an interesting twist on the John Edwards case. The man who was almost Vice President had an affair and a secret love child with a nutty blond new-age videographer, while his wife was dying of breast cancer. The whole mess was exposed by the National Enquirer. Edwards was later charged with – and acquitted of – federal campaign law violations for using campaign funds to support the mistress. His lovely daughter, however, has never murdered anyone (by all accounts, she is a strong and intelligent woman, and the rock her father leaned on throughout the trial).
If you have an affair with a crazy person, you are probably going to get caught. (Heck, even if your lover is perfectly sane, the odds are against you – especially in today’s digitized world. If America’s top spymaster can’t pull it off, Joe Blow probably can’t either.)
Olivia was right when she said sometimes women steal babies because they fantasize a relationship with the child. In one horrifying case, a Texas woman shot and killed a new mother, and stole her 3-day-old baby, because she had suffered a miscarriage and wanted a baby of her own. In another real case, an American couple learned that the child they had adopted from Guatemala had been snatched from her biological mother’s car. A different girl stolen from a New York hospital and raised by her kidnapper solved her own case, 23 years later.
What they got wrong:
Adorable tween killers. We see so many of them on SVU, but they are almost never the sex-offense or child-abuse culprits in real life. There are real predators out there. They typically aren’t high-achieving high-school girls.
What do you think SVU fans? Would you go to jail to protect your daughter? Would a jury convict an accomplished teenage girl who’d been forced to watch her dad do a John Holmes impression? And should The Enquirer get more journalistic credit? Leave your comments!