SVU’s Season 15 Finale: “Spring Awakening”

Congratulations, SVU! Not only was the show renewed for a sixteenth season, it delivered one of its best episodes for this season’s finale. “Spring Awakening” showed some admirably authentic police details while provoking the full spectrum of emotions. Earlier this week, showrunner Warren Leight tweeted out a picture of Kleenex, warning fans to prepare. He was right.

Recap:

Nick is hauled to jail for beating up Simon, the child-torture fetishist who was acquitted last episode. Fueled by its recent Twitter #fiasco, NYPD charges Nick with a felony, and he’s locked up on $500,000 bail. Munch returns to bail Nick out and give a fatherly pep talk. Amanda, who often shows serious disregard for the law she’s sworn to upheld, saves her lover by threatening Simon’s wife. If Simon doesn’t drop the charges, Amanda snarls, she’ll make sure he goes to jail forever. Oh, also, Simon is online offering to let men rape his wife if they email him kiddie-torture-porn pictures. Simon promptly says he threw the first punch, and the charges against Nick are dropped.

Let’s hope Nick signs up for some anger management classes, Amanda signs up for some ethics training, and Simon falls down an elevator shaft.

Meanwhile, a German tourist hires a prostitute named Ellie to visit his hotel room, but is instead robbed, beaten and raped by her pimp, Tino. Murphy poses as an Irish tourist looking for love, and nabs the duo. But then the German goes to a lineup and identifies the wrong guy as the pimp. Tino is set free, and Ellie won’t testify against him. “He’s my gangster, my daddy,” she hisses through heroin-brown teeth. Even the prospect of going through drug withdrawal in jail isn’t enough to make her turn on her pimp.

That is, until DNA results show that Ellie is the mother of baby Noah, whom Olivia rescued from child pornographers a few episodes ago. Olivia has been following Noah’s path through the foster care system – and slowly falling in love with him – but now must use him as a tool to flip Ellie. When Ellie is reunited with her baby, who she thought was dead, she vows to get clean and testify against Tino, who sold the baby to the pornographers.

But the resolutions of heroin addicts are notoriously short-lived. The night before her Grand Jury testimony, Ellie leaves her halfway house. Her body is found burned to a crisp and full of drugs. Homeless eyewitnesses say they saw a bunch of men beating Ellie. Tino takes the blame, but is clearly covering for a more powerful gangster we can chase in Season 16.

Olivia goes to baby Noah’s next foster-care hearing, where he’s declared an orphan. A tall, handsome lawyer heroically strides in to represent the child pro bono, all while giving Olivia some sexy eyes. (In real life, that hunky actor is Mariska Hargitay’s husband, Peter Hermann – apparently they met filming SVU. Go Mariska!) The judge asks Olivia if she wants to adopt the child. She startles, and realizes she does.

In the final scene, Mariska cuddles baby Noah and, for the first time in a long time, seems truly happy. Cue the Kleenex.

Verdict: A-

What they got wrong:

The police executed a search warrant on Tino’s house right after they learned he sold Ellie’s baby. But they were disastrously not ready for that warrant. Ellie hadn’t given her testimony in the Grand Jury yet – which meant there was no indictment, which meant that Tino was released after his arrest. The warrant alerted Tino that Ellie had flipped on him – and gave him and his gang the opportunity to kill her before she could testify. The search and arrest warrants are often the last thing police should do in a case.

What they got right:

Murphy and Olivia were good friends to visit Nick and jail. Murphy also gave good legal advice when he wouldn’t let Nick talk to them about beating Simon. “Nothing here is privileged,” he said. Conversations with friends, fellow police officers, and even your boss, aren’t protected by any privilege. By keeping Nick quiet, Murphy kept himself and Olivia from having to testify against him.

The German tourist wanted a “New York girlfriend experience” from the prostitute. The “GFE” is a common term in the higher echelons of the sex trade, where men pay not just for sex but for small talk, cuddling, and “no-rush” sessions.

Tourists are victims of certain violent crimes at higher rate than locals. Criminals know that foreigners – like all of Tino’s European johns – are less likely to travel back to America to testify against them.

Teenage prostitutes are often in love with their pimps, and refuse to testify against them. It takes a special kind of police officer, willing to put in the time and commitment to grow trust, to help turn such a victim away from her pimp.

Olivia gave Ellie a candy bar when she started shaking. Addicts going through heroin withdrawal crave sugar.

Ellie’s death was eerily reminiscent of Brenda Paz’s. Paz was a teenage girl involved with the gang MS-13. She was cooperating with the police and scheduled to testify against her gang, when she snuck out of her witness-protection-sponsored house, and met her MS-13 boyfriend. He and several gang members killed her. Testifying against a gang comes with risks – especially when the witness ignores police safety precautions .

The police used infared imaging to scan Tino’s house before executing the search warrant. In 2001, the Supreme Court said that police may use thermal imaging on a house only if they have a warrant. As long as our SVU detectives put thermal scanning in their paperwork, they were okay to use it as part of the search warrant. For legal geeks like me, check out this argument by Prof. Orin Kerr, who argues now that thermal scanning devices are widely available to the public, police might be able constitutionally to use them without a warrant.

NYPD recently launched one of the worst Twitter hashtag rollouts in history. They suggested that people post happy pictures of themselves with New York cops along with the hashtag #myNYPD. Instead, people used the hashtag to post pictures of police brutality. You can see how this wouldn’t help Nick’s police brutality case.

Olivia was startled when the judge asked if she wanted to adopt baby Noah. The very same thing happened to man who found a baby on the NY city subway. He showed up at the child’s foster-care hearing, and the judge asked if he wanted to adopt the child. According to NBC New York:

Three months later, no one had come forward and Stewart found himself at a family court hearing. As he explained to the judge how he found the baby, the judge suddenly asked him if he would be interesting in adopting the baby.

“I think everyone in the courtroom, their jaws dropped, everyone was quiet,” said Stewart. “Everyone was looking at me, and I said, ‘Yes, but it’s not that easy.’ And she said, ‘Well, it can be.’”

Stewart and Mercurio had only been dating for three years, and they had not discussed having a family. Gay marriage wasn’t legal then, either, so they weren’t married. But Stewart said at that moment, he just knew the right thing to do.

“I thought, ‘Maybe this is destiny, maybe this is divine intervention. This is a gift we’re given and how can we say no to a gift?’” said Stewart.

The couple has since married and raised the baby, who is now a happy 12-year-old. Cue the Kleenex.

What do you think, SVU fans? Will the unit be able to hold together with Murphy gone? Should NYPD bureaucrats stay away from social media? And, after all these years, is there a chance that Olivia will finally get her happy ending? Leave your comments!  And stop by the blog while SVU is off the air.  I’ll still be posting good stuff periodically.  Meanwhile have a great summer!

Comments

  1. GreenLuthor says:

    As a fan of “Homicide: Life on the Streets”, I have to wonder if Munch gave Amaro any advice on the proper way to take care of people who avoid prosecution for terrible crimes (see: Gordon Pratt), but maybe that’s just me…

    I guess it’s good for Donal Logue that he’s in the cast for “Gotham” next season, although it’s disappointing that Murphy won’t be around now; I would have like to have seen him join the cast. (Guess we’ll have to see how well “Gotham” does…)

    And, of course, with Olivia adopting Noah, I really have to wonder (I mean, even more than I already was) whether she and Cassidy are still together. It certainly would have been irresponsible of her to agree to take Noah in without consulting Cassidy (they were living together, after all), but since we don’t see Olivia’s agreement, that discussion could have occurred offscreen (and Cassidy could have been on another case when Olivia took custody), so it’s inconclusive either way. (Me, I’m hoping they are still together, if for no other reason than I like Dean Winters.)

    • Jennifer says:

      They broke up. The showrunner confirmed it. Though yes, that was the most ambiguous breakup ever. I’m not sad, personally, because I thought they were a terrible couple, but either way, with Dean Winters on that CBS show next year, they couldn’t possibly have him and Olivia taking care of a baby together and yet never have him show up in any scenes. That would just be eye-rollingly comical.

  2. why was nick walking around in amongst all the other inmates, wouldn’t a cop on remand be kept out of gen-pop?

    Amanda said she hadn’t actually given that guy any kiddie porn yet, why didn’t his wife just call him and tell him not to accept?

    how was Amanda able to find him online, you’d think he’d create a new user name after what happened last episode?

    would Nicks self defence defence even work considering he hit the guy about 10 times more than was necessary to subdue him?

  3. The GFE also includes French kissing, cunnilingus, fellatio and the client’s choice of position.

  4. Andrew MacKie-Mason says:

    Another thing they got right: the witness confidently identifying one of the known innocents, and Lt. Murphy commenting on the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Bad identifications are shockingly common. When they’re of known-innocents, they can be shrugged off pretty quickly, as in this episode. But when witnesses identify the police’s suspect in the lineup, it’ll generally be put forward as extremely strong evidence of guilt.

    A shocking number of false convictions that later resulted in DNA exonerations were based on false eyewitness identifications. One case actually involved a lineup where the real perpetrator (identified years later through DNA testing) was unknowingly placed in the lineup as a “known innocent” filler.

    It’d be nice if this marks a shift in SVU away from advancing the myth that eyewitness identifications are a super-reliable form of evidence.

  5. James Pollock says:

    “It’d be nice if this marks a shift in SVU away from advancing the myth that eyewitness identifications are a super-reliable form of evidence.”

    It is a fairly well-known fact that adrenaline interferes with the conversion of short-term memory to long-term memory. People who’ve been in adrenaline-inducing events often have trouble with remembering details. And yet, when testifying, crime victims are expected to offer total recall, and any discrepancy of detail is used to impeach them.

    • Andrew MacKie-Mason says:

      You framed this as a response to my comment, but I don’t see how it’s responsive.

      Eyewitness testimony is unreliable for a variety of reasons. But juries put an inordinate amount of weight on it, and prosecutors use that fact to their advantage. I don’t remember many times besides this episode where Law and Order has acknowledged the problems with eyewitnesses (other than people who are intentionally trying to mislead the police, which is a separate issue.)

      Unrelated point, but I don’t feel like adding a separate comment: like with Staebler and Rollins, I’m having a lot of trouble mustering the energy to care about what happens to Amaro, even though the writers seem to think we should be rooting for him. Amaro long since went off the rails, and definitely shouldn’t be a cop anymore.

      • James Pollock says:

        “Eyewitness testimony is unreliable for a variety of reasons.”

        I think it would be more accurate to say “the accuracy of eyewitness testimony is of highly variable accuracy.”

        “prosecutors use that fact to their advantage.”
        So do defense attorneys, if luck so favors them. “The victim failed to identify my client in a lineup”

        You’re probably right about Amaro, although he’s nowhere near the bad end of cops who’ve been allowed to keep their jobs.

  6. James Pollock says:

    I will say that I though the “Sgt. Benson gets a baby” storyline was heavy handed.
    When Baby John Doe turned otu to be Baby Noah, I was cheered by the fact that the writers decided to go in a non-obvious direction. Then (ugh) they didn’t.

    How can a police commanding officer, particularly one who can be expected to be called on frequently to work at night, be considered an apprpriate choice as a foster parent? Particularly one who is expected to be a single parent? Never mind Dean Winters, THAT’S “mayhem”.

  7. All around a great episode and a very satisfying season this year.

    For next season I would anticipate another commanding officer to come in and take over the squad. First, its a captain’s position and no matter how manpower strapped the NYPD might be I don’t see the position being permanently manned by a sergeant. Secondly, it would be unrealistic to have the commanding officer always in the field (unless the plan is to diminish Benson’s role–thus lightening the Mariska’s workload) and third, I think having a new commanding officer is a great opportunity to inject conflict and tension within the unit.

    Allison, thank you for yet another season of informative and insightful commentary on the show. I learn so much. I’m glad it will be back next season. In the meantime I;ll just have to wait for your next book to come out. Can’t wait for that. Happy Summer!

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