SVU Episode #15-5: October Surprise

The fact that SVU waited until the fifth episode of the season to peek down Anthony Weiner’s trousers shows an admirable level of restraint. “October Surprise” was a fun storyline, although, like the politician it portrayed, some of the details were sketchy. The real Weiner scandal was far more interesting. I suppose it’s hard to fictionalize a true story that is itself totally unbelievable.

Recap: Handsome Alejandro Muñoz is twelve days away from becoming New York’s first Hispanic mayor, campaigning with his beautiful wife by his side. That is, until the SVU detectives are called to the apartment of a screechy blonde named Lindsey who’s fighting off a mope named Eddie. She claims Eddie was trying to rape her.

But that’s a lie. See, Eddie is one of Muñoz’s best friends since childhood and his current bodyguard. Eddie was actually at Lindsey’s place to pay her off, so she wouldn’t tell the world that she exchanged lurid text messages with Muñoz.

Amanda sets up the online equivalent of running through a park in spandex, and flirts with Muñoz by email. After a couple of “hey babies,” Muñoz texts her a picture of his hairy stomach and then (as Ice-T puts it) a photo of “the full Muñoz.”

Turns out, Muñoz sexted a bunch of different women, including a 15-year-old high school girl who reciprocated with a naked photo of herself, thus making him the purveyor of child porn.

But wait! There’s more. Muñoz’s other childhood bestie is our good ADA Rafael Barba, who, of course, is assigned to the case. Barba wrings his hands about what to do, and even tells Muñoz that his texts are under investigation. Muñoz, Nick, and Barba engage in some chest-thumping about who’s the most Hispanic alpha-male of the bunch (a competition which Barba, who I thought was Italian, clearly loses).

Five days before the election, Muñoz is indicted for possessing child pornography. He insists that he was hacked: set up by the city’s whitebread aristocracy and its “lap dogs” like Barba. Barba finally, thankfully, recuses himself from the case.

Verdict: B

What they got right:

If you haven’t heard of Weinergate before today, congratulations on waking up from your long coma. Take a quick Google Images tour of the search term “Anthony Weiner” and you can peruse the shirtless selfies, crotch shots, and semi-naked self-portraits the former congressman took in the U.S. Capitol’s gym and tweeted to his constituents. The scandal forced him to resign, while his beautiful, supremely accomplished, and pregnant wife contemplated whether to stand by him.

But you can’t keep this Weiner down. Weiner’s second coming was this spring, when he declared himself a new man, posed with his long-suffering wife and their new baby in People magazine, and ran for mayor of New York.

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The truly amazing thing is that during the time period when he was posing for those People photos – and in the midst of the most intense media scrutiny ever seen on this planet – he was still sexting strangers. Caught somewhere between incredible arrogance and certifiable insanity, Weiner lost the election. His ambition deflated, he may never be able to get it up again.

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As this episode showed, political corruption cases are difficult to handle soley through local authorities. Often, all the players know each other and there are conflicting loyalties, as we saw in the Barba/Muñoz interaction. That’s why the feds are often the more appropriate authority to handle these cases. FBI agents are usually not from the jurisdiction where they are stationed, which diminishes the likelihood that childhood friendships will taint their objectivity. And federal prosecutors and judges are appointed, not elected (federal judges also have lifetime tenure). These officials are not subject to the political pressures faced by local authorities who have to run for office every few years.

What they got wrong:

Olivia asked Lindsey, “Can you put out that cigarette?” while they were in Lindsey’s apartment. Lindey replied, “It’s electronic. It’s just water vapor.” This interaction was probably some product placement, because I can’t imagine a good cop asking a rape victim to put out a cigarette in her own home. Anything that will make her more comfortable and get her talking would be tolerated. Unless Lindsey was baking up some heroin, there’s no way a seasoned, empathetic SVU detective like Olivia would ask her to stop. Meanwhile, electronic cigarettes are surging through the marketplace, claiming to be healthier than tobacco cigarettes, although questions remain about which are actually better for you.

This case would have been dismissed before the second commercial break. First, Lindsey said, “I’m not sure I want to press charges now.” Nick sternly replied, “It’s a little too late for that.” But in real life, victims change their minds all the time, at all sorts of different stages of the prosecution. The victim’s decision about whether to bring charges is not solely dispositive, but must be considered. The prosecution can still go forward, because they represent the entire community, and sometimes the community’s interest in putting away a predator trumps the victim’s interest in staying off the stand. But there are laws pertaining to sex assault victims’ rights; their wishes must be taken into account.

Not only was Lindsey a reluctant victim, she had serious credibility issues. After the cops discovered she had extorted four men and was the subject of six restraining orders, the case was over. DECLINE would be scribbled on the folder and it would be sent to closed files. The SVU detectives would go out for a drink. They would not to continue to investigate a possible political corruption case over which they had no jurisdiction.

I don’t have to tell you that Barba shouldn’t have been on this case, right? You saw how that played out. Oh my god, I’m so conflicted, Barba emoted, what should I do? Help my childhood best friend or the justice system I’m sworn to uphold? This is exactly the reason why there are conflict-of-interest rules, and why no DA in his right mind would allow Barba on the case. I can imagine Jack McCoy throwing a very thick bar journal at Barba if Barba tried to stay on this case.

Finally, there’s no way Muñoz would have been charged within a day. Prosecutions based on the emails of politicians are notoriously painstaking, and time consuming. They require warrants, subpoenas, email wiretaps, and a lot of interviews. Here, the detectives didn’t even get a warrant to look at the images on Muñoz’s phone before charging him. In real life, Muñoz would have been well into his first term before the Grand Jury had finished hearing the evidence against him.

What do you think, SVU fans? Leave your comments!

Comments

  1. Carl N. Brown says:

    I am reluctant to comment on this episode. I noticed the episode after this one (last night’s) already has five comments, but no one had posted on this episode yet, and it’s been over a week. Is Weiner that repulsive to the commentariat, that no one wants to comment?

    I admit the subject of Weiner brings out my wurst. What was missing was having the Weiner character renting the Oscar Meyer W-mobile for campaign appearances in the episode :)

  2. Carl N. Brown says:

    I will add that the fictional Munoz charcater in this episode reminded me of a theme that in public life form and appearance often count over substance. If a politician says the right things in public they can do almost anything in private, but quite frankly the public do not seem to follow up and see if their public positions and implemented policies actually add up to public good, or are just tailored sound bites.

    Also, on the fictional front, I recall the Law & Order officers often approach suspects at public events: very dramatic for TV, but in case of a false accusation this could be devestating both to an innocent accused and to the credbility of the PD.

  3. I was reading comments off Hulu and many people believe the cigarette annoyance was a subtle reference to Olivia’s recent sexual assault and torture

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