Law & Order: SVU 23×12 brought season 23 back to the high quality we demand for this show. As is always to be expected, Mariska Hargitay did that, if you will. But outside of props to her, we owe major, major respect to writers Candice Sanchez McFarlane and Bryan Goluboff—especially since we saw an episode, a storyline, in “Tommy Baker’s Hardest Fight” that was more about the casework and the “what happened” of it all than about excessive images of what happened. In short, it was the SVU we’ve known and loved for decades. Because instead of trying way too hard to be shocking, or edgy, or any other thing that just never works for this series, the storytelling allowed itself, and its cast, to just…be.
SVU 23×12 even had a message (or several, really) here. But, again, rather than trying to deliver, the story of undefeated fighter Tommy Baker’s attack just…did the delivery on its own.
After worrying the minor afterthought excuse for representation in Law & Order: SVU 23×11 would just be swept under the rug, we were also pleasantly surprised to see a case involving an athlete who was planning to not only come out after his next big win, but even make a whole visibility campaign out of it. Honestly, Law & Order: SVU 23×12 kind of did what we wished its predecessor had done: Center the LGBTQ+ character, and spend time finding justice for him, rather than graphically traumatizing him only to make a part of his identity nothing more than a blip on the radar.
But enough of that. No more looking back (for now). Let’s just bask in the glory of Tommy Baker, who, even after all the messy details that went into making him the latest victim of an especially heinous crime, still spoke his truth. He still made sure that the next Tommy, who might both be a great fighter and be gay, would have someone to look up to. And he repped for other survivors while he was at it, too. A true king.
“Many of you know about the attack I suffered in New York City. It’s been a hard fight to come back, but it’s been a harder fight to speak my truth. I want to be clear that I was not attacked for who I am, or how I identify, but because cowards often hide behind violence. Through this experience, I’ve learned that fear is the greatest bully: It takes facing our fears to find peace with who we really are. I’m posting this video because I hope, one day, we won’t have to announce who we are. We can just be who we are. Until that day, let me introduce myself: My name is Thomas Baker. I’m married to my best friend, Chrissy. I am a gay man. I am a sexual assault survivor. I am a warrior.
Olivia Benson, putting her hand over her chest after that speech gave us way too many feelings. Period.
And what a breath of fresh air it was to see that, though Law & Order: SVU 23×12 asked the question, during the investigation, of whether or not Tommy’s father—the traditional Southern daddy type, who even got his son into fighting to “protect” him and was tough on him or whatever—was actually supportive. Maybe he hadn’t always been, but he’d learned and grown over time. He was in that pride shirt for his son while he spoke his truth on the news. It would have been so easy to fall into the stereotypical characterization of people from a Southern state like Georgia being bigoted. And yeah, it is more difficult in the South…but it’s much more complicated than just “South bad.” There are good, evolved people here, too. It’s not all rednecks with mullets and terrible dental work, for the record.
Even so, adding in the backstory of Tommy coming from a place where it isn’t as “safe” to be his true self as, say, New York just made his moment at the end even more impactful. The same goes for how much more difficult speaking your truth can become if you’re a public figure, an athlete, and a survivor of sexual assault…There were so many layers here. But Tommy still did that. And yeah, he shouldn’t have to. It shouldn’t be this great act of bravery. But our world is broken.
So, within that world, Tommy’s coming out as the first openly gay fighter was a big deal. If only all the real-life Tommy Bakers of the world were free to live their truths and have the kind of support it looks like he will have as he moves toward emotional healing, post-trauma.
(Maybe we’re thinking it’d be best if the real guys avoid all the messiness of the scamming and the multiple relationship connections that, while great TV, are not optimal outside of a show, though.)
Fin and Liv…That’s it. Just Fin and Liv.
But wait! There’s so much more to Law & Order: SVU 23×12. And, to be clear: “Tommy Baker’s Hardest Fight” didn’t need to go this, well, hard.
First of all, yes, we still absolutely loathe Chief McGrath. He’s…Ugh. That’s probably the only word there is for him, to be honest.
Here are a few more: Trash, toxic, everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system…Yeah. All of that, too.
And he is also about the least caring person on the planet. He really said this shit to Olivia Fucking Benson, even when it’s widely known that she went through hell and needed therapy for PTSD after that one guy:
“The last thing I need is someone at 1PP thinking I’m seeing a shrink.”
Rage with us, rage with us…
…and we’re moving on.
But season 23 has often been at its best when pitting Liv against McGrath. Not only did SVU 23×12 give us so much of Benson standing up for herself against this absolute garbage dump of a human being, but…But maybe it just set us up for an epic showdown by the end of the season? Am I hoping for too much, putting on some clown makeup, here with this? If so, I’m going to enjoy that while it lasts.
Evidently, McGrath abused his power (shocking, we know) after a domestic violence incident at his home, basically making sure the officers called to the scene put it down as a non-occurrence. We heard him tell Liv his side of the story, which didn’t even paint him in a good light. But Fin spilled the tea later in the episode.
This was, probably, the weakest part of Law & Order: SVU 23×12: Captain Benson made a false equivalence between times Fin may have gotten himself out of minor traffic violations—also bad!—and Chief McTrash covering up what sounds like it was a really bad fight with his wife and teenage daughter. Getting angry about a kid breaking curfew? Normal. Worrying when she comes home at 2:30 in the morning, illegally drunk? Absolutely to be expected, especially from a father who has seen the worst of humanity on the job.
But..getting so out of control, law enforcement was called, then abusing power to get that wiped out? We’re not here for that.
And there’s no way, on this planet or any other, that our Captain Benson would ever shrug that off the way she did when Fin brought up what he knew. Full stop.
On the other hand, Fin’s advice to Liv to let on that she knew something so she had some leverage against the Chief was so good. First off, any time Liv and Fin get together for a chat that’s either personal or work-adjacent (rather than just casework), we’re happy. More, please. But more importantly, we’re definitely at a place where Olivia Benson is slowly building momentum toward possibly being able to take this guy down. If that happens….Well. Expect screaming. It could be epic in the way that Badass Benson, when she really has something to fight for—or against, in this case—always, always, always is.
Not to mention, like, it could give us Mariska Hargitay in attack mode—even more than she is in a typical episode. Which. Um. Where do we sign up?
Random takeaways from SVU 23×12
- When Noah winds up with one of those “Rainbow Warrior” Tommy Baker shirts, then what.
- Hi. Livterrogation. The amount of yelling about interrogation scenes in my notes would be embarrassing…if it weren’t for the power of Olivia Benson’s interrogation skills.
- Liv and Amanda working together. More, please. Forever. Honestly, just like. Put them in a room. Don’t even make them investigate anything. Just…yeah.
- “Tell him he should get a life.” Better option: Tell McGrath to GTFO, preferably forever.
- “Where is everyone?” “Acting a fool.” Fin Tutuola, summing up…humanity, honestly.
- “I work in sex crimes every day. I get enough human spectacle.” Ok but what I’m saying here is this was Law & Order: Sassy Fin week. I’m not mad about it.
- The tie-in to Amanda’s Georgia roots in Law & Order: SVU 23×12 was one of the only times Rollins’ “Georgia girl” background has worked for me. See the commentary on southerners and stereotypes above…
- Not this shitty excuse for a Chief in his shitty shades, trying to talk about other people needing to have some decency. It continues to be the lack of self-awareness for me.
- Everything was so personal and character-driven instead of driven by shock value? Seems fake.
- Mariska in the turtleneck. Mariska in the earrings. Mariska in leather. Mariska being unhinged about EO on Twitter dot com during the episode. Mariska, Mariska, Mariska…I’m just saying she was distracting as fuck, ok?
- “…including McGrath who is. Stressed.” The delivery. Olivia Benson, shady queen. Mariska Hargitay, queen of timing. The details. The power. All of it.
- “You never know what anyone is capable of.” What. Is. Coming. Give me the follow through. Now.
- Liv, watching Chrissy at Tommy’s bedside through that hospital room glass. She’s been here before with certain other spouses. I’m unwell.
- Rollins, honey, where’s Carisi? Why are you watching the fight with Detective Whatshisname?
- “Tommy was trying to make it easier for people to come out. You made it harder.” If looks could kill, this PT boyfriend motherfucker would’ve been dead several times over.
- Olivia Benson really spent five seconds knowing her son was bisexual, then came out here as every gay character’s mama-bear-slash-warrior. When’s she getting a Pride flag for that desk?
- “I guess you can never really know what’s going on in a marriage.” “Especially your own.” Eli Stabler not actually Elliot’s son, confirmed.
- “Asking for help? There’s no shame in that.” So ask someone, anyone, for help, Liv. Burton, the Christmas shooting, seeing your kid in a cage…Ask for help. Take your own advice. I’m begging.
Law & Order: SVU airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.