Last night, Law & Order: SVU featured a plot about an organization that justifies sex between adult men and minors (boys or girls) as a civil right. Tomorrow night, Law & Order will air an episode about the murder of a doctor who performs abortions on pregnant women in their third trimester.
Hot-button issues are central to the L&O franchise, and this week’s topics don’t get any hotter. SVU, in an episode entitled “Hardwired,” had a stepfather (The Wire’s excellent Jim True-Frost) molesting his stepson (Cruz Santiago) to the horror of the boy’s mother, played by Rosie Perez in a performance that NBC promoted heavily.
The plot took a twist when, having established the stepfather's crime well before the half-hour mark, the stepdad proposed cutting a deal with the prosecutors in return for a bigger fish: the leader of Our Special Love, a pedophile civil-rights group, whom the stepfather says has many members and much kiddie porn to which he can lead the team.
My problem with this hour is the one I usually have with SVU, even as I know it's the reason it gets bigger ratings and more kudos these days than the original Law & Order: Its heroes -- Mariska Hargitay's Benson and Christopher Meloni's Stabler -- are called upon to express extravagant shock and anger at all the dreadful details. I always think, these cops see despicable things like this week-in, week-out; have they never developed any emotional restraint, let alone a veneer of professional dispassion? Nope: there was Stabler, throttling a school coach whom he mistakenly thought was the perp early on in the episode, calling the guy a "kiddie-diddler" and a "scumbag pedophile." And this was of a man who turned out not to have committed this particular crime. Do Stabler and Benson never learn to dial it down a notch? Yes, I know, I know: the coach did have a child-molestation record; my point is, again: unprofessional conduct always takes me out of the drama, no matter how well-written. From Rosie Perez, I expect out-sized emotion, and she did that mother proud.
I hope you'll also watch Law & Order tomorrow. The episode called "Dignity" begins with the murder of a doctor who performs abortions -- he's shot while praying in church.
The killer is represented in court by an anti-abortion league lawyer played by Richard Thomas with perfectly calibrated restraint. Indeed, this is the performance NBC should be touting this week: Thomas is nuanced where everyone around him is encouraged to take sides and squabble. It’s all rather too neat: The show’s two cops, Lupo and Bernard, and its two Assistant District Attorneys, Cutter and Rubirosa, each take either a pro-life or pro-choice stand… at least, initially.
I don’t want to give more away; let me just say that by the end of this Law & Order, the drama runs more deeply, more effectively, because characters behave like humans. They think and reconsider; they debate and shift their positions slightly, this way and that. And I think you’ll be surprised at the low-key but still quite shocking final scene.
Did you watch SVU last night? What did you think? Will you watch a Law & Order with this theme?