Law & Order: SVU 23×04, “Another Tale of Two Victims,” was a masterful, damning look at the hypocrisy and double standards in our criminal justice system. In a (so-far) ongoing SVU season 23 narrative about power imbalances and just a complete lack of care from folks with privilege, this fictional universe is telling us quite a lot about ourselves. If you’re uncomfortable with it? You’re probably part of the problem.
Forget that someone in charge has done so much wrong in terms of removing the Black Deputy Chief and first bisexual main character on the series—at least, as any kind of recurring, rather than victim or perp of the week capacity. Or, actually…don’t.
The stories the series is telling are the right ones…It would just be nice to have them told by people who actually represent all viewers. And, yeah, it would also be wonderful if the people behind the scenes would see how they’re writing and/or saying all the right things through Captain Olivia Benson…while falling horribly short with how they engage with their viewers.
But I’m actually not going to get into that again. Quite frankly, nobody “important” is willing to listen because, apparently, I only have a voice because I’m a keyboard warrior. Or, more likely, because I don’t have their privilege or power—I’m not in their higher-up world.
So. Instead, let’s attempt to put that behind us and look at Law & Order: SVU 23×04 for what it is.
The Crystal Nuñezes of the world deserve better. That’s it. That’s the message.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Your white blonde lady is worth defending, while a minority is not. Bonus points for the pale white lady with the connections to someone important. And throw in some extra deductions for the latina not having any connection to any of the powerful people involved.
That was basically the setup when Crystal Nuñez and Peggy Grogan were both raped by the same man, yet because Peggy was a white lady with a certain background and a daddy with connections, her rape was worth investigating. She deserved a voice, in McGrath’s eyes, and was absolutely worth believing. Crystal, living in a certain neighborhood with a certain skin tone, and having the audacity to have a sex life…Well. Captain Olivia Benson needed to just let that case go.
Because some voices matter, while others don’t. Some victims are more important than others. And it doesn’t matter how well Olivia Benson does her job—has always done it—or how powerful her position is, there’s always going to be a man that sits above her and tells her that.
Every moment of this Law & Order: SVU episode made it obvious and clear, through our beloved hero Liv, that McGrath’s take on both cases was wrong. He was wrong for not caring about Crystal, and he was wrong for giving Peggy special consideration. Liv went to bat for Crystal over and over again, but it was like screaming into the void. McGrath kept mansplaining to her about a “bigger picture” and even had the audacity to tell Olivia Benson that testifying might further traumatize Crystal. Like, not only has she done this job forever? But…was he living under a rock during the Lewis ordeal???
McGrath behaved, quite frankly, like absolute trash throughout the entire episode. He has been all season long, and I imagine he will continue to be a giant, misogynistic dick. That’s the character that’s on the screen, and that’s how I’m reacting to him. He’s a racist, he doesn’t care about justice for survivors if they don’t fit his sexist ideals, and he’s not afraid to abuse the system and pull strings for his besties either.
If anyone wants to ask for the White House Press Secretary’s colorful description of how “poisonous” I am for saying that, please watch your own show and think about how that looks.
Chief McGrath represents everything wrong with law enforcement, as does Deputy Inspector Grogan. No, Liv, Grogan wasn’t just “protective” of his daughter—he was Alpha Male garbage toward her. Like, he sent her kid’s dad away to an oil rig, and the alternative was Sing Sing for some favors he could call in on some old warrants? He and McGrath both abused the system, repeatedly, in Law & Order: SVU 23×04. Because they could and because they felt entitled to it. Full stop.
And the problem is: These are the misogynistic, closed-minded, racist types of people in power in the real system. They don’t care when it happens to someone brown or Black; but God, when it’s someone who looks like them, who is close to them in some way or another? Suddenly, there’s an urgency.
No, Velasco, you can’t sit here.
First off, the hilarious way Fin pulled a Mean Girls throwback and was basically all “you can’t sit here” when he refused to let Velasco take Kat’s old desk? Here for it.
But we have a lot more to talk about with this new character. As McGrath’s buddy, we weren’t looking to trust him. Coming out here like some kind of Elliot 3.0 (Amaro was clearly 2.0) with some anger issues and over-use of force, in this economy? Definitely not a fan of the Special Victims Unit’s latest addition.
Of course, Peggy’s rotten father and Velasco’s awful Chief Bff…both wanted to give him an “atta boy” on his excessive use of force. Of course. Just…a third time for emphasis? Of. Course.
For whatever reason, he’s been paired up with Rollins…Or. Well. It’s pretty clear, when Amanda goes to visit her boyfriend, that we should be worried about Velasco outing Rollisi. Regardless of how much he acts like he wants to learn how to work this unit and “what an honor” he claims it is to be a part of it, the new guy is still 100% McGrath’s man. He proves it by (obviously) leaking Crystal Nuñez’s custody battle to the Chief, and he’s not likely to change.
So, we’re again going to talk about power dynamics here…
Because Rollins shouldn’t have to be looking over her shoulder for some newb to ruin everything by running his mouth about her. And Captain Olivia Benson shouldn’t have to be afraid of how the word of some new Detective is going to to undermine her work. With the amount of experience she has at SVU, she shouldn’t have to be taking orders from the likes of McGrath or defending every detail of every case to him either.
…but she’s a woman, he’s a dudebro, and here we are.
Incomplete Law & Order: SVU 23×04 thoughts…
- Mariska Hargitay continues to be unfairly and indescribably good at what she does. That will probably never change, regardless of anything else.
- Kinda makes feeling like the fandom is constantly taken for granted, silenced, and punched down on hurt that much worse when all you can think is “phenomenal” while you’re watching the art, though.
- “Profile the rapist, not the vic.” Imagine if that ever, even once, happened in real life.
- No, but really. An episode about the white daughter of someone from the NYPD getting much better treatment than someone with a slightly darker skin tone, who had the same thing happen to her…on the same week as that happened, after no one ever gave a fuck when Freema Agyeman got racist shit hurled at her for playing Martha Jones, or Candice Patton constantly being attacked and threatened for playing Iris West—both of them being heroes in their respective universes. Or Tamara Taylor, in the Law & Order universe, played villain Angela Wheatley. Where’s y’all’s white-caping for any of them? Consider them all your Crystals and Gillies your Peggy. Consider your own message. I’m not being petty; I’m actually begging.
- …and those situations aren’t even the same because Agyeman and Patton got attacked as real people, whereas Gillies’ character was dragged. But since we’re saying either you consider those equivalent or you have no empathy? Fine. Let’s play that game. Let’s talk. Where’s the wagon-circling for any of them???
- “And this is where you say, ‘oh, well. We’re happy to have him, Chief. Thanks!’” How about the fuck not.
- “You broke your ankle, so now you’re old and should quit.” Basically the awful NYPD doctor’s advice to Liv. Ahhh, art imitating life. (Would he have had the same advice for a man? Doubtful.) Here, go listen to this for some takes on ageism and sexism.
- We said we were going to try to put the outside stuff aside and look at the episode for itself…but…well. Sorry. Honestly sorry because this was good TV.
- Every single side-eye and “wtf” from the entire squad deserves an Emmy, or a billboard in Times Square, or…something.
- The best of the best had to be those little sounds of derision, as well as the excellent use of the water bottle as a stand-in for boiling hot tea, from Rollins when Velasco had that whole “may have overreacted” scene.
- Wild how the tiniest scene between Kelli Giddish and Peter Scanavino takes advantage of that chemistry enough to keep the Rollisi rolling without killing the vibe, huh? Like, them being together doesn’t distract anyone from the real issues or the messaging here? Huh.
- Nothing makes me happier than seeing Olivia Benson go all the way the hell off in defense of victims. When McGrath tried to interrupt her at the end, and she just didn’t let him? Absolute, complete queen shit.
- Is Liv perfect? Far from—we’ve talked about that before. But does she remain one of our everlasting heroes and a light in the darkness? Yeah.
- …and does that apply to a certain someone else? It does. Probably forever. It’s because of that love and inspiration that the rest is…what it is.
And on that note: Law & Order: SVU airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.