Hiatus

Hi guys. I’m sorry to announce that I’m taking a hiatus from blogging about Law & Order: SVU for the next few months. Most of you know that reality-checking TV is my hobby but writing novels is my real job. I’m under a tight deadline to deliver my fifth novel by February. To do that, I’ve got to hunker down, cancel my cable subscription, stop consuming other people’s stories, and put everything I’ve got into my own creation.

This hiatus feels strange. I’ve been evaluating SVU for the past four years, and this is the first break.  I’m not used to getting a good night’s sleep on Wednesdays!  I’m going to miss, most of all, your comments – I truly love the smart, funny observations that you guys make. But I’ll be back next spring, reality-checking TV and maybe even doing some bigger and better things with the blog. So stay tuned.

Meanwhile, thanks for your support.  Happy viewing!

SVU Episode #16-4: Holden’s Manifesto

Tonight’s SVU ripped its story from the headlines of Elliott Rodger, the “virgin killer” who published a deranged manifesto about his misogynist rage and non-existent sex life before going on a killing spree.

Recap:

A creepy young man named Holden Chase uses his phone to film himself lurking around New York while monologuing about how much he hates women who have rejected him, men who are more sexually successful than him, and his own virginity.

Holden starts hunting down a series of pretty blonde acquaintances he obsessed over but who never noticed him. He quickly graduates from stabbing the women to killing them.

The SVU detectives go all out to find him, eventually executing a search warrant on his apartment. They find Holden’s 100 page “manifesto” detailing all the injustices he believes he’s suffered.

Our detectives compile a list of all the people he might target, and go to warn them. Defying needle-in-a-haystack odds, Amanda and Nick go to a school to warn the husband of a schoolteacher Holden once adored – and find him shot to death. Holden has taken five students hostage.

Amanda and Nick break several rules of hostage negotiation by putting down their guns and allowing themselves to be taken as hostages too. But Amanda – no shirker in the pretty blond category herself – soon sweet talks Holden into letting everyone go.

Once the hostages are released, she purrs, “May I kiss you?” – a line that’s been used by no real hostage negotiator, ever. But Holden goes for it. Moments before their lips meet, a sniper sends a bullet through the kid’s skull. The blood that spatters Amanda’s face was certainly more pleasant than kissing this psycho would’ve been.

Verdict:
B+

What They Got Right:

Truth is stranger than fiction, and the unbelievably deranged character of Holden Chase was based on the unbelievably deranged real murderer Elliott Rodger. The privileged, Hollywood-raised Rodger wrote a 100,000 word “manifesto” describing how women rejected him despite how superior he was. And so he decided to kill everyone. He wrote:

“My orchestration of the Day of Retribution is my attempt to do everything, in my power, to destroy everything I cannot have….All of those beautiful girls I’ve desired so much in my life, but can never have because they despise and loathe me, I will destroy. I will kill them all and make them suffer, just as they have made me suffer. It is only fair.”

A day before his attack, he posted a video to YouTube, in which he sat in the leather seats of his BMW and gave a chilling monologue, delivered in a flat voice:

“You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime, because… I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman. I will punish all of you for it. On the day of retribution I’m going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB. And I will slaughter every spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see inside there.”

The next day, he killed his roommates in his apartment, then went to a sorority house. When no one answered the door, he killed some passers-by, then went to a deli and shot another person. He hit several people in his car along the away. Eventually, he turned the gun on himself.

The tragedy led to the usual debate about gun control and mental health in America. Congress put together a resolution condemning the day – but did pretty much nothing else. Every few months, it seems, there’s another crazed young man with too much hate and too many easily accessible guns. What will it take, America?

Twitter users responded with their own experiences with misogyny, using the hashtag #YesAllWomen. It’s worth checking out this compilation of the most powerful tweets.

On to another tragic plot point – why didn’t Olivia and Nick didn’t detain Holden on his bike? They were right – at that point, they didn’t have enough evidence. And when the crowd whipped out their cell phones to videotape the argument, Nick worried about the Eric Garner case.

Eric Garner was a NY man who reportedly stepped in to break up a fight. When NYPD arrived on the scene, they inexplicably arrested Garner for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. The police put him in a choke hold, while he cried out that he couldn’t breathe. Garner died. The entire appalling incident was captured on another man’s cell phone – leading to a huge public outcry and changes in police policy. More and more, civilian cameras are capturing interactions with police – and the resulting accountability is forcing reform.

What They Got Wrong:

I couldn’t believe Olivia left her baby in the ICU! At that point, one woman had suffered some superficial stab wounds and a groping. There are 100 other SVU detectives – let them take care of it! I feel for her; as a working mom, I’ve been in a similar situation – a baby in a hospital, while work was calling. But I got a colleague to cover for me, and used sick leave. Every working mom I know would do the same. Olivia is going to have to learn how to balance work life with mommyhood.

That said, Noah’s old rib fractures were very realistic. In child abuse cases, we would often see a child in the hospital for a new injury – a broken leg, say – and in the course of examination, we would then find evidence of older injuries that were never treated. Broken ribs are a common healed injury. Bone scans of at-risk toddlers can provide a heartbreaking glimpse of a life that has already been filled with too much tragedy.

Finally, the execution of the search warrants were off tonight. Just because the police have a warrant doesn’t mean they can look through everything in the house. Our detectives only had permission to look for Holden’s knife. But they started clicking through his computer. They wouldn’t find a knife there. If they wanted access to e-files, they needed to present a judge with probable cause that they would find evidence of a crime on the computer. And Olivia can’t just shoulder her way into Holden’s neighbor’s apartment. She’d need a separate warrant for that – even if the neighbor is dead on the floor.

SVU Episode #16-3: Producer’s Backend

Tonight’s SVU shone a light on the darkest corner of Hollywood’s casting couch, where kids vying for roles are sexually abused and passed around by moguls and producers.

Recap:

In the wake of a hit-and-run, Nick arrests Tensley Evans, a beautiful but troubled starlet resembling Lindsey Lohan or Amanda Bynes. When she falsely accuses Nick of propositioning her, SVU gets involved. Dashcam video exonerates poor Nick, but car trouble is just the tip of Tensley’s iceberg.

While in rehab, she performed oral sex on a 15-year-old boy. Tensley, who’s in her twenties, is charged with statutory rape (although the boy protests “It was the best experience of my life!). But our SVU experts are familiar with “the short path between victim and suspect.” Turns out, Tensley molests others because she was molested.

A powerful producer named Adam auditioned her on the proverbial casting couch when she was 13. Then he passed her around to his friends, coercing her to have sex with them too. Adam did this to a bunch of kids, even procuring underwater sex acts, which led to one girl’s death in a swimming pool.

Our detectives wants to prosecute Adam, but he’s wily. The statute of limitations has run on his older rapes. And in recent years, he only made movies – and “auditioned” girls – in states where the age of consent is 16 and “mistake of age” is a defense.

Although Adam thoroughly researched states’ law, he forgot to consider the feds. He went to Canada to have sex with a pretty 16-year-old actress, confident because the age of consent in Canada is 16. But U.S. federal law makes it a crime to travel to another country for the purpose of having sex with a person under 18. Adam is finally arrested and hauled away by the U.S. Marshals.

Tensley does a glowing (but premature) victory lap on Hoda Kotb’s talk show.

Verdict: B+

What They Got Right:

No one’s exactly sure how Lindsey and Amanda got to where they are, but sex abuse in Hollywood is a real and serious problem. Corey Feldman, a child actor who, as an adult, revealed that he had been repeatedly sexually abused by powerful men in the industry, reportedly said, “I can tell you that the No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia … It’s the big secret.”

Alison Arngrim, a former Little House on the Prairie star, agreed: “This has been going on for a very long time,” she said. “It was the gossip back in the ‘80s. People said, ‘Oh yeah, the Coreys, everyone’s had them.’ People talked about it like it was not a big deal….The word was that they were given drugs and being used for sex. It was awful – these were kids, they weren’t 18 yet.”

Hollywood, with its glittering promise of fame and fortune held in the hands of a few powerful men, is ripe for corruption when eager young kids come looking to make their way.

Speaking of corrupt patriarchal organizations, SVU was correct about what’s holding up the expansion of statutes of limitation for sexual assault. Although many reformers advocate longer periods, the Catholic Church has spent a small fortune trying to keep state legislatures from expanding the time in which past sex crimes can be prosecuted.

Dashcam footage has been providing incredible evidence in jurisdictions around the country. Sometimes, like tonight, it can exonerate a cop who’s falsely accused. And sometimes, it can do the opposite. Check out this chilling video of a cop shooting an unarmed man during a traffic stop.

This episode authentically portrayed the different attitudes about sex with a 15-year-old girl versus a 15-year-old boy. For her, it’s a traumatic crime. For him, it’s a Facebook brag. Is the difference in biology or in how we’re socialized? Whatever the answer, it’s the same crime under the law.

Traveling to another country for the purpose of having sex with a person under 18 years old is a U.S. federal crime. SVU presented an interesting legal issue, where the foreign country’s laws allowed consent at 16. But the American federal sex tourism prohibitions would trump. Nice legal twist, SVU. Convicting Adam – who murdered a girl – on an iffy traveler’s case is kind of like getting Al Capone for tax evasion.

What They Got Wrong:

Maybe Olivia was distracted by all the baby gear and nanny-planning, but there’s no way she should have assigned Nick to investigate Tensley’s case. Tensley accused him of misconduct! He has every reason to want to send her to jail. Somebody teach that baby to say, “Conflict of interest, Mama.”

In the final scene, Tensley sat on Hoda’s spotless white couch, all apple-cheeked and rehabilitated – but she’s still being prosecuted. Adam’s arrest didn’t make her legal woes disappear. She’s still on the hook for having sex with that 15-year-old boy – the only thing that’s changed for her, legally, is that she may present the evidence of Adam’s abuse as a mitigation for her actions, at her own sentencing hearing.

Adam’s wily plan for abusing young actresses was pretty far-fetched. Sex abuse in Hollywood is a crime of opportunity. I’ve never heard of a producer going so far as to film movies in specific locations in order cherry pick their statutory rape laws. First off, he’d have to hire a lawyer to do a 50-state survey, and that would be expensive and … awkward. Second, what if you need a lovely harbor scene? Adam’s not going to find that in Montana.

Finally, it was a bit insincere for SVU to condemn a culture that exploits teenage actresses in wet bikinis, while delivering for your viewing pleasure a bunch of teenage actresses in wet bikinis. When Ice-T has a scene in Speedo, I’ll eat my words.

SVU Episode #16-2: American Disgrace

Mashing up Ray Rice, Donald Sterling, Solange Knowles, and Darren Sharper, tonight’s SVU paid homage to TMZ’s greatest hits of 2014.

Recap:

A star NBA player named Shakir is attacked in an elevator by a beautiful woman who claims he raped her three months earlier. The attack is caught on the elevator video, and the resulting scandal leads two more women to come forward and claim that Shakir drugged and raped them.

The detectives charge Shakir with three counts of sexual assault. But, it turns out, Shakir raped no one. He was set up by the team’s owner, Orion Baur, a demented white supremacist who was enraged that Shakir dated and impregnated Baur’s pretty blond daughter. Baur paid all three “victims” to fake their stories. Barba drops the charges, but Shakir’s reputation is in ruins, his contract revoked, and his baby aborted by his lover, who thought he was a monster.

Verdict: B+

What They Got Right:

TMZ, an upstart news site often labeled an online tabloid, has repeatedly broken some of America’s biggest stories in recent years. Tonight’s SVU episode was a skillful and entertaining mashup of TMZ’s latest scoops.

Donald Sterling was the demented white supremacist owner of the Clippers, whose girlfriend recorded him demanding that she not to bring black players – including Magic Johnson – to basketball games. TMZ obtained and published that tape.

TMZ broke the story of Darren Sharper, an NFL player-turned-TV-analyst, who has been charged with drugging and raping several women. TMZ also obtained and published the notorious elevator videos showing Solange Knowles attacking Jay-Z, and Ray Rice cold-clocking his fiancee.

With Ray Rice, TMZ singlehandedly made America talk about domestic violence.  With Donald Sterling, TMZ made us confront the virulent racism that still pervades the highest echelons of society. Much like SVU itself, TMZ shines a light on subjects that many won’t touch – forcing uncomfortable but essential conversations about our country’s most shameful problems. No wonder SVU wrote TMZ a love letter by way of this episode.

What They Got Wrong:

I throw popcorn at the TV whenever a defense attorney sits next to her client, smiling prettily, while he incriminates himself. Tonight’s lawyer was a terrible, twiddling her thumbs while Shakir admitted two crucial incriminatory facts: he had (1) sex with all the complainants and (2) a stash of Ambien. A real defense attorney is as likely to let her client be questioned by the prosecutors as a lobster is to throw itself into a pot of boiling water. Defense attorneys know the vast majority of their clients are guilty – and any time a defendant opens his mouth, he risks revealing that.

Controlled meets, like the one Carla had with Shakir, can be great evidence in rape cases. The victim asks the assailant why he did what he did, and sometimes he makes admissions or an apology, which is recorded in a hidden mic. But the government can’t do this once a defendant is represented by counsel. A witness like Carla could record a conversation on her own. But in this case, Olivia urged Carla to go after additional evidence, and thus Carla might be considered a state actor for the issue of whether the government violated rules against contacting represented parties. For analysis of a similar issue, check out this article by one of my favorite jurists.

At trial, Baur testified that he believed Shakir assaulted all three women. “When three people at a party tell you you’re drunk, don’t drive home,” he drawled. Nice homespun wisdom, but totally objectionable testimony. One witness may not comment on whether he believes another witness or the defendant. He may just state the facts that he knows.

Finally, why was Barba wearing a $2000 suit?? That’s like his monthly salary. The courthouse janitor is more likely to be able to afford a $2000 broom.

What do you think, SVU fans? Can a website really be a “tabloid” if it’s breaking the biggest stories of the day? Was that defense attorney taking Ambien when she allowed Shakir to incriminate himself? And are we going to get into a storyline of Barba being bribed? Leave your comments!

SVU’s Season 16 Premiere!

SVU came back with a bang! Tonight’s episode was a fast, twisty roller coaster of a story that wove the harrowing real-life issue of sex slavery with a touching glimpse of Olivia’s newfound motherhood. The result was a flat-out terrific premiere that showed, once again, why fans can’t get enough of SVU.

Recap:

Olivia has just settled into motherhood with her adopted baby, Noah, when the arrest of a fourteen-year-old prostitute throws her world into chaos. The girl works for a terrifying sex trafficking ring involved in the death of Noah’s prostitute mother. But Olivia and her team dig deeper: finding more underage girls, a gaggle of muscle-bound pimps, and a shady Uber-like cab company transporting the girls around town to service middle-aged married men.

Nick goes undercover to try to gain a pimp’s trust – but soon witnesses are getting killed left and right. (Olivia’s going to need more than her baby wipes to clean up all that blood.) The gang even takes a shot at Noah! Mama Bear Benson is now on the war path.

Our newest detective, Sonny Carisi, makes it 39 minutes into the franchise before he’s enlisted to go undercover in a prostitution sting. He almost gets killed, but Ice-T rushes into the motel room and they arrest a prostitute-turned-enforcer named Selena. Is she a victim or victimizer?

Selena won’t talk – until Olivia finds Selena’s young son, living in a mansion in a slum in Mexico. Turns out, all of the underage prostitutes come from a single Mexican town, where pimping is the local business. The girls were all kidnapped from their homes, brought to New York, and sold. The pimps keep any babies the prostitutes had as leverage to keep the girls compliant — Selena’s included.

Olivia promises Selena she’ll see her son again if she talks. Selena admits that the guy who runs the Uber-like cab company is “Angel,” the head of the sex slave ring. Our detectives go to arrest him, but when he threatens Noah (and reaches for a gun), Ice-T shoots him through the heart. Selena is tearfully reunited with her son.

Olivia goes home, hugs her baby, and tells him that everything is okay now.

Verdict: A

What They Got Right:

Tenancingo is a real city known as the sex-slave capital of Mexico. It is said to be the single largest source of sex slaves who are sent to the United States. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s New York field office arrested 32 sex traffickers last year; 26 of them were from Tenancingo. Boys in Tenancingo grow up aspiring to become pimps. Girls are seduced or kidnapped into a life of sex work. Slums sit in the shadow of huge mansions housing the families of sex traffickers. The girls’ babies are kept as collateral, to keep the girls compliant.

Kudos to SVU for shining a light on this dark place in the world.

On a personal note: I loved how Olivia’s newfound motherhood enriched and challenged her work as an investigator. As a working mom myself, I’ve had that exact experience – where a binkie falls out of my briefcase as I’m talking about sex crime prosecution. It was very real. And I loved how Olivia used her mommy instincts to get a break in the case. She focused on the children the prostitutes had left behind in Mexico and the mothers’ instinct to protect them. No one knows the power of motherhood like a mom.

What They Got Wrong:

What has SVU got against Uber? Did showrunner Warren Leight have to wait too long for a black car to arrive? In real life, Uber has weathered a few scandals, but none of their execs have been accused of running a sex slave ring. In fact, if you google “Uber and Prostitution” the first article you get is an adorably geeky Uber blog post about how high-prostitution and high-crime areas are generally correlated with more Uber rides. Uber may be the algorithm capital of the world.

Everyone went undercover, fast. Nick cozied up to Joaquin. Carisi canoodled with Carmen. In real life, you have to work with a gang for a long time, establishing credibility, friendship and trust, before you can make any real impact or connections.

Also, why has Carisi cycled through three districts in the last year? I’m guessing: the moustache.

What did you think, SVU fans? Is Olivia going to a be a great mom or what? Will Nick get out of uniform and back into the SVU soon? And, okay, Carisi may not be empathic, but shouldn’t Olivia at least appreciate the zeppellis? Leave your comments!

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. [Read more…]

SVU Episode #15-23: Thought Criminal

“Do you want to live in a world where you can be put in prison for what’s in your head?” That’s what the outraged defense attorney asked our ADA in tonight’s episode, and it’s the real-life question raised by the horrifying “Cannibal Cop” case. As technology is increasingly used to explore our most secret desires, it’s an issue that will be debated and litigated for years to come.

Recap:

A photographer named Simon, who specializes in photos of children, secretly fantasizes about torturing and killing little boys. He discusses this extensively in Internet chat rooms, which eventually leads to police attention. Murphy and Amanda go to his showroom for an undercover chat, with Murphy posing as a rich guy who wants to participate in Simon’s activities. After they ditch Amanda, the men discuss kidnaping a boy to torture and kill. Ice-T plays a guy willing to do the kidnapping for a price. Simon is all in, and shows Murphy and Ice the soundproof torture chamber he’s built – across the street from a school – complete with restraints, butchers knives, rotating saws, operating tables, and industrial grade drains and sinks.

[Read more…]

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

Recap:

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. [Read more…]