SVU Episode #15-22: “Reasonable Doubts”

In this powerful episode, SVU captured in one hour much of the pain, controversy, and ambiguity of the decades-long Woody Allen / Dylan Farrow child-sex abuse case. The show explored how hard these cases are to prosecute, and how the effects of abuse linger forever in a child’s life.

Verdict: A


A director named Frank leaves his middle-aged actress wife, Katherine, and takes up with her barely-legal sister, Rose. In the midst of an acrimonious divorce, Frank and Katherine’s little girl, Chelsea, tells her mother that Frank molested her. Mom takes her to a pediatrician, who loops in the police. Our detectives try to figure out whether Katherine is using Chelsea as a pawn in the divorce, or whether Frank is a serial pedophile. They conclude the latter, and charge him with sexually abusing Chelsea. Frank skips town in the middle of his trial, and, a la Roman Polanski, flies to Paris, where he publicly paws Rose. He is convicted despite his absence. Katherine takes a public victory lap, while Chelsea grimaces at the assembled paparazzi.

This story mirrored the Woody Allen scandal. In 1992, Allen left his wife, Mia Farrow, for Farrow’s 20-year-old daughter Soon-Yi Previn. The same year, Farrow’s 7-year-old daughter, Dylan, reported that Allen molested her. Unlike tonight’s show, Dylan’s charges were never adjudicated in a criminal court. The DA declined to prosecute, noting how hard a trial would be on Dylan.

Allen sued Farrow for custody of Dylan, which he lost. You can read the judge’s scathing condemnation of Allen’s conduct. That judge concluded that “we will probably never know what occurred” that day.

As Natalie Shure of The Atlantic put it:

There is something inherently imbalanced about a child abuse case. The very secrecy that makes the truth “unknowable” is an instrument of the crime. With no witnesses or credible legal evidence, the “he said/she said” conundrum prevails. The assailant knows this, and he can use it to his advantage.

To this day, Dylan maintains that Allen abused her; to this day, Allen denies it – most recently, in open letters published in the New York Times. Click here for “10 Undeniable Facts About the Woody-Allen Sex-Assault Allegation,” in which the author rebuts several of the factual claims in Allen’s letter.

Tonight’s episode took several real details from the Allen/Farrow case and fictionalized them for this story (the attic in Farrow’s case became a laundry room on SVU; the missing underwear in Farrow’s case became missing tights; a gory Valentine Farrow gave Allen became a bloody statue). But the show also got some larger truths right. It showed the ambiguity in these cases, how hard it is to know exactly what happened. It showed how a family can be torn apart. And it deftly showed how the little girl whom this happened to will continue live in its shadow for the rest of her life.


  1. Thil says

    of course the difference between Woody Allen and this guy is that Woody Allen is a good film maker. I guess SVU can’t let one of their bad guys have any positive personal qualities, it might confuse the audience into not hating them enough

    • Jennifer says

      No, see, I don’t think being a skilled film maker is something that makes up in any way for being a child molester. In fact, it definitely doesn’t, and that was kind of the point of the episode.

      Anyway, I thought the cold open with the fake TV show was quite funny and well done.

      • Thil says

        Yeah but the thing is he was’nt a good film maker. He was making schlocky vaguly mysognist crap becuse the SVU writers did’nt want to imply that they a pedophile could be capable of producing high art

        “Anyway, I thought the cold open with the fake TV show was quite funny and well done” I did’nt buy it …which is kind of amazing seeing as the guys making it could’nt possibly be more familar with what they were saterising

    • Stefi says

      Yes but neither State is required to extradite her own citizens. France also can’t extradite where the offence wouldn’t be an offence in France or where the person being sought for extradition would have their human rights infringed or face the death penalty. Although in Roman Polanski’s case, none of the 43 countries in COE would be able to extradite him after the Swiss ruling that he has already served his sentence for the crime of which he was convicted. Under age consent extradition cases are always fraught with difficulty because the age of consent is between 16 and 18 in the US and between 13 and 17 in the EU, with most around 14-15. Its 15 in France but there are a lot of people in France (and elsewhere in Europe) who see Samantha Gailey as a Lolità. I think French Corsican singer Alizée’s song Moi Lolità is a good illustration of that attitude towards a teenage seductress.

      The lyrics include the lines:

      “Moi je m’appelle Lolità. Collégienne aux bas Bleus de méthylène” — Me, my name is Lolità. A schoolgirl underneath tight blue jeans..

      “C’est pas ma faute et quand je donne ma langue aux chats. Je vois les autres. Tout prêts à se jeter sur moi” — It’s not my fault and when I’m ready to give up I see the others. All ready to throw themselves at me.

      “À maman que je suis un phénomène. Je m’appelle Lolità” — Mamma that I am a phenomenon. My name is Lolità.

  2. Beth Castillo says

    So do we know what / if anything is going on between Nick and Amanda?? What was that one scene about? 🙂
    Great blog btw, I’m so happy I found it and other diehard SVU fans!

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