Law & Order: SVU 23×11 was pretty aptly titled: “Burning with Rage Forever.” Because, basically, that’s what we’re kind of feeling after…whatever that was. Somewhere in all the shock for shock’s sake and thinking the words “representation” and “afterthought” are synonyms, there were some interesting points to be made about how unaddressed and unhealed trauma can cause a never-ending cycle of abuse. But even that part was pretty horribly off the mark, considering we just saw Olivia Benson traumatized for about the billionth time in SVU‘s previous episode with no follow-through on how it affected her. As usual.
Insert someone accusing EO shippers of only wanting Liv to have someone to talk to because we want it to be Stabler here. And then, quickly follow it up with us telling them to check their absolutely ridiculous assertions at the door. Because, well. Law & Order: SVU 23×11 had the perfect setup toward the end for Benson to talk to Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish) about what happened to Noah—and oh, are we going to get to that here in a minute—and…nothing came of it. So, whatever.
It just. This season started out so well??? And now, 2022 is…this. So, let’s get to burning with rage forever, gang.
No, it’s not “lol boys will be boys!”
So, the episode synopsis for Law & Order: SVU 23×11 hinted at a return of Noah Porter-Benson and even warned us that our baby wasn’t going to have a good time: “Benson worries her son is being bullied.”
That’s it. That’s all they said.
Granted, nobody wants to give away the whole plot with a tease. And “you’re going to see Noah in a cage, in a collar that makes multiple folks think ‘BDSM,’ while a much older kid is filming him and telling him to bark like a dog and eat dog food” is probably something they knew would…not get fans excited to see SVU‘S latest deep dive into the dark and the demented. But honestly? At this point, that part of the synopsis was not even accurate. That wasn’t “mere” bullying. And it sure the fuck wasn’t “boys will be boys,” like Annie and Hudson’s mom said to Liv.
The Badass Olivia Benson I grew up with would have told Ms. “Boys Will Be Boys” about herself. And we would’ve seen the confrontation on screen, rather than mostly ignoring what happened.
“Hudson’s a jerk. He put his dog’s collar on me, locked me in the cage, and he wanted me to eat dog food.”
…that was an actual line, which they made Ryan Buggle deliver after acting that shit out, on Law & Order: SVU 23×11. But no, this was…not the focus of the episode. We didn’t spend an hour with Olivia and Noah, working through the just absolutely mind-boggling events of that opening scene. In fact, your girl barely got to talk to her son at all. Why? Because she was investigating horrible crimes against two other little boys and their attackers.
Even during a case dealing with kids, even after the case was closed, Benson mentioned her kid being bullied to exactly zero people. And, again, “bullied” isn’t exactly the right word here. Exploited? Traumatized? Prepped for his own assault by this obviously fucked up Hudson character? I don’t know. Pick your poison.
To be honest, the case itself…barely registered because I spent the entire hour wondering when anyone was going to address what happened to Noah. To be clear, for an hour-long broadcast spot that started at 9:00, we did not see Noah again until 9:58. That’s correct: Law & Order: SVU 23×11 gave Team You and Me exactly two minutes—not even that, when you consider promotional things that have to happen at the end of episodes—to discuss Noah being put in a cage on his hands and knees, wearing a collar, and told to bark like a dog while he was being filmed.
A lot of SVU viewers have discussed this, how a series they’ve loved for years has started devolving into nothing more than a chance to inflict trauma on its main characters and then…do nothing about it. Yes, this is dark subject matter. Absolutely, there are going to be triggers. But no, things don’t have to be as heightened as possible, all the time. The world is horrible enough. We don’t need the series that has been our solace to go that hard every single time. That’s not to say we can never have vivid imagery—although, again, SVU 23×11’s opening scene is probably a never from me…
But when there is something particularly dark? It can’t just be glossed over and swept under the rug, especially if it’s yet another trigger for our comfort character.
“Here’s a trauma, and then we move on like nothing happened. Therapy no longer exists” is just…it doesn’t work. We don’t have all the time in the world to address all the things. Obviously. But the big ones? We must find the time.
The Law & Order: SVU fandom looks to this fictionalized justice, especially in the form of Olivia Benson, for hope. A lot of us are survivors—we’ve been through some shit—so, we need to see healing, coping, working through it. Not…this.
But wait! There’s more!
An afterthought does not bisexual representation make…
Let’s revisit the part where, after he was bullied (if that’s what we’re calling it), we didn’t see Noah again until there weren’t even two full minutes left of Law & Order: SVU 23×11. During that less than two minutes, Noah revealed a couple of important things: First off, he’s not this Hudson dude’s only victim…And secondly, the bully in question is super [insert group here]-phobic. Like, he verbally abuses non-binary kids and “bullies” (exploits) little boys under the age of 10 who come out as bisexual. God knows what else he does and to whom.
And that brings us to the other big problem here, which may be an even bigger one than the whole, “let’s trigger our main characters and then do nothing to show them getting support” part: Noah telling Olivia he’s bisexual was basically…an afterthought for this episode. “Burning with Rage Forever” could have been this great story about LGBTQ+ kids and bullying. No, actually: It should have been that.
SVU has recently been called out for its lack of representation, especially after Jamie Gray Hyder and Demore Barnes were unceremoniously axed. And maybe someone heard that call for representation and thought, “ok. What if Noah is bisexual? Let’s explore that.”
First of all, you can’t just substitute one bisexual character for another. Secondly, let’s assume Noah’s coming out and receiving the (admittedly lovely) support from Mama Liv was supposed to be an answer to the call for more representation. If that’s the case, it makes the specific choice to not make Noah’s story the center of Law & Order: SVU 23×11 into an even bigger error.
Now, we have the problematic shock-value aspect of the story compounding itself with Noah’s whole struggle—especially the part where he was put through something so hellacious specifically because he’s bisexual—being treated like it was nothing, just a minor plot point. The context here makes not fully addressing the trauma a billion times worse. Because now, there’s a giant layer of “here’s what happens to LGBTQ+ folk, but LOL. We don’t care enough to fully cover this, even after we got rid of the actor playing the show’s first openly bisexual detective—and only the third LGBTQ+ main character overall.”
You also can’t pat yourself on the back for adding some representation if the way you do that is with a blink-and-miss-it moment.
SVU 23×11…basically took the two things viewers have been vocal about and just had them play off of each other, thus making the upsetting nature of each issue contributing to, and therefore worsening, the other.
I really want to be wrong about where this is all going.
I really want what happened to Noah at the beginning of “Burning with Rage Forever” to not be dropped the way so many other traumatic moments have been. And while being bisexual isn’t everything about Noah, it’s still a part of who he is and can’t be forgotten. He needs to be visible. Don’t dwell or make a Big Thing out of it? But also don’t erase it. Please.
And yeah, I love that Liv told her kid he was brave for standing up for Cory when they were called a disgusting name because of their pronouns. The hug, and the pride, and all the touching Mom!Liv sweetness of the final scene were all right on point. Everyone deserves a loving, supportive parent like her.
…but those touching elements were overshadowed by an hour of being horrified by something that was shown for no other reason than to be horrifying. And, quite frankly, I don’t want to hear about how it’s the “truth” that these things happen. Nobody’s nose needs to be rubbed in it. Or, at the very least, if Law &Order: SVU 23×11 was going to force viewers to watch a little boy put through that nightmare and have the reason behind it be that he was part of a marginalized community, then that had to be the focus. No case to pull Liv away and muddy the waters. Just…just this.
We’ll be watching and waiting to make sure Noah’s sexuality doesn’t get erased or ignored. And if the bisexual kids watching from home don’t get to see themselves centered on SVU, we’ll be calling that shit out.
With all of that being said, though: We do, however, stan Mariska Hargitay for being a supportive queen and Ryan Buggle for being an ally prince. (He is baby. King will come later.) Literally, this Instagram post did more good than the entirety of this episode:
Like, imagine if the “Burning with Rage Forever” script had given the same care to these kids as Buggle and Hargitay clearly realize they deserve.
Burning with rage over Law & Order: SVU 23×11 forever…
- They really wasted the better Liv wardrobe on this episode, huh?
- I truly hope Ryan Buggle got some self care—I don’t know, like, an extra dance class or something? That always works for me when I need some mental healing—after having to act out that opening scene. Just…WTF.
- “There’s no shame in being true to yourself.” That’s our baby, and we’re proud!
- “You do the best you can. And you never feel like it’s enough.” No, really. That line from Rollins threw the door wide open for Liv to open up to her about what she witnessed being done to her son. But nope!
- Them: “Where’s Tino?” Me: We’ve been asking that since the ’90s. (If you know, you know.)
- “You tell him he’s brave. And then, you love and support him no matter what.” Were we here for Rollins in this episode? Yes, we were.
- Promotional material for this episode: “Does a predator have a right to justice?” This episode: If he’s also a victim, yes. If he’s not, nah.
- …which, honestly, kinda same with that Murtaugh monster.
- The same Olivia Benson who threatened to shoot a perp’s balls off went super hard on Uncle Carlos for stabbing a bitch in the general ball area after assaulting a child. Ok then.
- And she just…acted…like…nothing…happened….with…her…own….kid. That’s not my Liv. Not at all. And I’ve been here since day one, sweetheart.
- “Childcare is not a get out of jail free card.” We been knew.
- “Most guys my age…They see you have kids, they run the other way.” And the weird nod from Liv, whose kid is at a perpetual sleepover and who hasn’t exactly had a social life in years. Sure?
- SVU 23×10: Let’s have Liv obviously traumatized by having to shoot someone on Christmas, then never actually address how she feels about it. Law & Order: SVU 23×11: Hold my “bark like a dog.”
- On the one hand, yasssss representation for bisexual kids. On the other, y’all really had to go with the “boys who dance always like other boys” stereotype, huh? Ugh.
- The episode wasn’t a total waste. We had: Liv with kids. Liv in that red coat. Liv in her Mommy Benson casual attire. Noah standing up for other vulnerable kids. Noah coming out! And being loved by a good mother, like he should be!
- But again…still a lot of WTF.
- The roof scene with Liv and Carlos. Gut-wrenching.
- …buuuuuut there was not enough care paid to the whole “trauma begets trauma” of it all, as I mentioned earlier.
- I hate hating things on this show. I want to go back to earlier in the season. Can I borrow a TARDIS and watch some of those other episodes for the first time again?
- “These cycles of abuse are so much greater than one single act. And they never go away.” Right. So. Follow. Up. On. Literally. Any. Of. It.
- Honestly, if you’re not rocking your inner “poster boy for rage” after seeing all this shit done to children, I don’t trust you.
- Surprised Liv didn’t tell Annie’s mom that not only did she not want Noah going anywhere near Hudson, she didn’t want anyone around that kid.