SVU Episode #14-22: Poisoned Motive

Prisoners fathering children with prison workers; rogue cops going on killing sprees targeting other cops: Tonight’s episode took several real cases of official misconduct and turned them into a fairly unrealistic but fast-moving story about mental illness, rage, and revenge.


As Amanda leads a human trafficker on a perp-walk from police headquarters, she’s shot in the shoulder by a sniper hiding on a nearby rooftop! Finn rushes her to the hospital, where she recovers in a slurry morphine stupor. Finn promises to find the bad guy who hurt his partner.

Our detectives cycle through the requisite colorful suspects, including: (1) the “dragon lady” trafficker who was being perp-walked, (2) a hippie druggie friend of Amanda’s no-good sister who had a beef with Amanda for shooting the sister’s no-good boyfriend, and (3) “Escobar,” a notorious drug dealer who tried to kill Finn fifteen years earlier, but failed when Finn’s beloved partner, Luis (who we’ve never heard of before tonight), took the bullet.

Escobar fathered a child with a foxy prison nurse named Anna, who subsequently became an ex-prison-nurse. For a minute, we suspect that she’s helping Escobar plan the attacks.

But then another cop is killed by a sniper – this time, the victim is the son of Finn and Luis’s former lieutenant. And then Anna herself is gunned down, which saves Escobar from having Finn gouge his eyes out with a metal spork in perhaps the most inappropriate interrogation technique in the history of SVU.

But the spork interrogation proves fruitless. Because the killer is apparently Finn’s ex-partner, Luis, who confesses that he shot all those people because of a dispute with NYPD about the pension he received after he took the bullet for Finn.

But in another twist, it turns out that the sniper is actually Luis’s pretty 25-year-old daughter, Gloria. See, her father had his police pension revoked for bureaucratic reasons, which made them lose health insurance, which made Gloria’s cancer-stricken mother die, which made Gloria lose her place in the police academy because she was overcome with grief. Gloria blames NYPD generally, and Finn specifically, for all her family’s woes.

Gloria tapes a manifesto, kills a few more people, and leads NYPD on a massive manhunt, before she finally busts into her family’s old house and takes hostage a pregnant mom and young son who now live there. Finn goes to talk to her, and in a dramatic show of remorse and courage, whips off his bulletproof vest and invites her to shoot him. Instead, she goes to shoot the innocent mom and kid, at which point Finn tackles and arrests her.

Amanda shows up at the hostage-taking scene with her arm in a sling and morphine still on her breath, in just enough time to share a heartwarming but nonsensical exchange with Finn about how partners will always take a bullet for each other.

Verdict: B-

What they got right:

This was an dramatic riff on the Christopher Dorner case from this February. The disgruntled ex-LAPD cop went on a killing spree targeting other LAPD officers, claiming he’d been wrongfully fired from the force. After a massive manhunt, he was finally located – and killed – in a cabin in Big Bear, California, where he had tied up and taken hostage a husband/wife couple who owned the place.

Tonight’s show also gave an impressively timely nod to case of Baltimore prison guards sleeping with the prisoners. The case just broke last month, when guards at the Baltimore City Detention Center were federally indicted for corruption. According to the Washington Post, “Thirteen of them allegedly smuggled cellphones and drugs inside their hair, lunches and underwear for the man they called ‘Bulldog’ or ‘Tay.’ One tattooed his name on her neck, another on her wrist. Four have carried his children.” That guy must have some charisma.

What they got wrong:

Wow, you don’t want to piss off Detective Finn Tutuola! He turns ruthless and lawless fast. First, he unlawfully invaded the home of Earl Talley, the hippie who was beefing with Amanda about her sister. All that Amanda had said was that she “heard from Earl.” That does not come close to the probable cause the police would need to get a warrant to search his house. Suppress all that “hillbilly crack,” your Honor, and give that hippie a nice civil settlement where he can buy all the Mountain Dew his heart desires.

Finn’s criminal streak continued when Nick held down Escobar in jail, while Finn punched the prisoner’s stomach and pressed that metal spork to his eyelid. Needless to say, any confession they got they way wasn’t going to hold up in court. I’m not saying police brutality doesn’t happen. But, come on, Nick! I thought you were one of the good guys.

Plus, it was silly to have Finn play every role in this investigation. Yeah, it was personal for him, we get it. But special victims detectives are not SWAT members (Finn would not be the one busting into Earl Talley’s house), nor are they EMT’s (Finn should have waited for an ambulance to rush Amanda to the hospital), nor are they hostage negotiators on a suicidal guilt trip.

Finally – here it is again, one of my biggest SVU pet peeves – yet another pretty young woman was the perp. How many of you knew it, as soon as Gloria walked into her father’s living room? Because, as noted last week, it is an immutable law of SVU that any time a pretty young woman has a significant role before the second commercial break, she will either turn out to be a rape victim or a violent criminal. On SVU, women are incredibly dangerous. In real life, women make up 14% of violent offenders in America.

What do you think, SVU fans? Has there ever been interrogation techniques on SVU less appropriate than threatening to spork out a suspect’s eyeballs if he doesn’t confess? Shouldn’t Finn have at least sent a card to Luis’s wife’s funeral? And does having ovaries guarantee a character’s arrest in the final scene? Leave your comments!

About Allison Leotta


  1. There were many aspects of the Gloria (Christopher Dorner) storyline that were silly but the torture of Escobar (Tavon White) by Finn and Nick in prison was beyond absurd. Also, I assume prisoners are still entitled to legal counsel when interviewed as a suspect in a murder and attempted murder?

    I thought it would have been far more interesting if they had just done a show about the Escobar (Tavon White) sex with a prison nurse. Doesn’t that potentially make him a sexual assault victim?

  2. I have to agree, the Finn Amaro interrogation scene was just horrible. So out of character for both of them.

    As for the motivations behind the killing spree, just didn’t work for me. It was as if the writers were working too hard to keep the actual killer’s identity hidden. SVU always works best when they examine the why of the crimes and not the who.

    Anyway, I’m watching the events unfolding in Cleveland and can’t help but see it as an SVU episode next season.

  3. Carl N. Brown says:

    Won’t sporking the eye of an interviewee make confession the fruit of a poison tree?

    The plot line was not L&O:SVU, but seemed like it belonged in different a series of the L&O franchise.

    • James Pollock says:

      It would keep them from using evidence gained against the guy with the sporked eye, yes. Since he’s already doing time, no big deal. But the triggerman with two non-sporked eyes would be caught (had he existed).
      Fruit of the poisonous tree only applies to the person whose rights were violated.

  4. Aeon Skoble says:

    As you say, too predictable. I suspected the daughter immediately. Liked seeing Eames, but she didn’t have much to do. I’m surprised you didn’t give it an even lower grade.

  5. James Pollock says:

    Yes, we all suspected thegirl as soon as she showed up on camera. But if she’d been a son, we’d have known for certain, and might not even have stuck around for the end.

  6. The misconduct in this episode was rivaled only by the LAPD’s misconduct in the real Christopher Dorner pursuit. But the extent to which SVU celebrates police brutality is disturbing. Such things happen, and I have no problem with SVU displaying that reality. But they play it like the propaganda wing for the NYPD, trying to get us to think that the brutality is justified.

    • I completely agree. It’s also a disservice to SVUs because that’s not who they are. There job is to deal with heinous crimes, like the intro says, and part of that is the ability to suppress their anger and hostility for sex offenders and to be polite and professional. If they want a paedophile to talk they have to treat him like a decent human being. There are lots of brutal and incompetent NYPD cops but I doubt any of them are working in SVU.

      Law and Order also seems to have a problem with defendants getting off. If more than 10% of reported rapes in New York end in a conviction for rape (as opposed to a lesser offence) I would be surprised, and if it’s more than 20% I would be downright amazed. You’ve only got to look at the FBI national clearance figures for rape to see that the majority of reported cases aren’t leading to arrests let alone ending in conviction. Good crime writing doesn’t entail the prosecution convicting the criminal but that seems to be a characteristic flaw of most American crime shows. Maybe it’s a network issue?

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