It’s hard to decide which was the worst part about tonight’s SVU: the decision to cast convicted rapist Mike Tyson as a rape victim, or a storyline so convoluted it had the entire NYPD Special Victims Unit working to exonerate the Ohio prisoner he portrayed. The most redeeming thing about the episode was the cathartic experience of seeing Tyson behind bars.
Within the first few seconds of “Monster’s Legacy,” a stern gymnastics coach is stabbed multiple times in the groin. Don’t get attached, folks, this is merely the jumping off point. Heck, it was more than a jump; it was a triple cartwheel with a backflip. If he weren’t in the ICU, the neutered gymnastics coach would have approved.
See, the young janitor who did the stabbing (and who subsequently choked a fellow prisoner while riding New York’s least-secure prison bus) is a long-ago victim of childhood sex abuse at an upstate summer camp, and suffering from a form of PTSD that makes him attack men he suspects of pedophilia.
“Noted,” says Cragen when he learns of this mitigating information. “We’ll tell the DA.”
And here, folks, is where the case would have ended in real life.
“What about the summer camp?” Olivia insists.
And so the detectives begin their exotic forays outside their own district. First stop: a snowy camp in the Adirondacks run by poor Ed Asner, whose excellent turn on the show was completely overshadowed by Tyson.
Ed denies any wrongdoing, but Olivia leaves the camp convinced he’s a child molester. She wants to question all the boys who attended the camp, many of whom are now convicted felons themselves.
This – obviously – leads her to Ohio, where she has no jurisdiction, but where Mike Tyson has covered his facial tattoo with some industrial-strength concealer and taken up residence on death row for killing a man twenty years earlier.
Tyson denies he was ever molested. Case closed? Not by a long shot!
Olivia enlists renowned defense attorney Bayard Ellis, who soon finds serious flaws in Tyson’s homicide conviction. The murder victim wasn’t a stranger, as the jury had been told. He paid teenage Tyson for sex. And the night of the murder, he invited friends who essentially gang-raped Tyson and took photos of it. And then the prosecutor hid the photos inside a case file, onto which she stuck a post-it note that basically said, “I am now going to intentionally lie to put this innocent man on death row, if it’s the last thing I do. Bwahahaha!”
To right this wrong, the entire SVU squad – we’re talking Olivia, Nick, Amanda, and Tutuola – hunkers down to question witnesses, comb through old files, and find any evidence that will convince the judge that Tyson’s death sentence should be commuted.
(Needless to say, exonerating midwestern felons is not in their job description. But they give it their all. Good thing no other sex crimes happened in New York during that week!)
With the help of the intrepid detectives – who must’ve racked up more frequent-flier miles than any other cops in New York’s history – the Ohio judge sees the truth and overturns Tyson’s conviction.
Olivia delivers the news to his prison cell, whereupon Tyson sweeps her into a big bear hug – which was probably an interesting scene to convince Mariska Hargitay, one of America’s leading victims-rights advocates, to do.
What they got right:
(1) The red dress Olivia wore in the first scene. She’s a knockout (no pun intended).
(2) This episode was based on the strikingly similar real-life case of Terrence Williams, a convicted killer whose Pennsylvania execution was stopped a week before its scheduled date, after it was revealed that the prosecutor allegedly withheld evidence showing that the victim had a predatory sexual relationship with Williams. The shocking real details in Williams’s case constitute a strong argument for, among other things, abolishment of the death penalty.
SVU fans often say that the show is good because it shines a light on dark subjects. Certainly, the topics discussed tonight – prosecutorial misconduct, the stigma attached to male sex-abuse victims, the injustice of the death penalty – all deserve public attention, and this episode sparked that.
What they got wrong:
That said, SVU detractors argue that the show doesn’t so much educate about sex crimes as sensationalize them for TV ratings. The argument carries a fair amount of water when, during February sweeps, the show casts one of the most famous rapists in the world as a rape victim.
Tyson supporters say he’s served his time for raping Miss Black America hopeful Desiree Washington in 1991. He’s said he’s sorry, doesn’t he deserve a break? But, although he has definitely apologized for biting off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear, I can’t find any evidence that he’s ever said he’s sorry for what he did to Ms. Washington. In fact, he told Greta Van Susteran in 2003, “She’s a lying, monstrous young lady. I just hate her guts…now I really do want to rape her . . . and her mama.”
What a charmer.
Michael Vick can’t be a PETA spokesperson; Paris Hilton can’t chair her local M.A.D.D. committee, and Mike Tyson had no business appearing on SVU.
Let the comments begin.