Law & Order: SVU 24×04 “The Steps We Cannot Take” does a truly stunning job of showing the many different ways survivors react to their trauma. But there’s a lot more to discuss about this episode. Even with multiple survivors, some with a longer span of abuse than others, there’s more to this story.
We are, of course, referring to the complicated dilemma
SVU’s our Captain Olivia Benson finds herself faced with. That, too, is handled with the utmost care. More importantly, at least for this viewer — someone who’s had to sit through and swallow some truly bizarre moments — it gives us an interesting moral gray area to explore without sacrificing victims and without assassinating Olivia’s character.
But with that being said, there’s still plenty of time for a full-squad response to the crimes and some touching personal moments. There’s even a little bit of a chance for more than one person to mentor our elite squad’s newest addition. Basically, what we’re saying here is SVU 24×04 is yet another jam-packed, yet well-rounded, episode in the series’ 24th season.
Sometimes, the characters we see on this series who are only here for a single episode don’t stand out. Not in a good way, at least. Especially in recent years, there’s been a bit of a disconnect between the “these are their stories” (DUN DUN) and what’s actually on the screen.
But that’s not at all the case here.
One place where Law & Order: SVU 24×04 really strikes a nerve is in showing how each woman tells her story differently. In showing how each of us manages to cope, to remember, in our own way.
Aditi Yadav, as Priya Singh, does an utterly phenomenal job of projecting so far inward when she tells her story, it’s like she’s not even there. It’s the dissociation, the numbness of something very recent. Then, there’s Nadine Chavez (Paola Sanchez Abreu), who is just terrified that Soren or Elias might come back for her. Even in the presence of the Olivia Benson, she doesn’t believe she’s safe. And in that church with Amanda, she absolutely panics over the thought of a closed door.
Or Gillian (Jess Gabor), the victim who just breaks down in guilt and shame during her interview with Liv — the one who takes responsibility for the group, it seems, instead of just her own daughter.
Which, naturally, brings us to Bella. She is, perhaps, the most heartbreaking of all: the one whose whole life has been in this place. Bella is the victimized daughter of a victim, who follows the rules of silence to be a “good girl.” Dalya Knapp does an outright nuts job of portraying that sense of making oneself so incredibly small and unnoticeable…just trying to disappear. She’s the shadow of whatever that little girl could — should — have become. So, the act of violence she commits to protect the next baby may come as a surprise to some.
But is it really, when you take time to think about it? It’s certainly not remotely shocking that the other women protect her — which, even then, the contrast between how Nadine and Gillian handle that situation is superb. And yes, those other women include Liv. The victims are her priority — always have been, always will be.
It’s Mini Liv getting mentored by Fin and Grown Liv for me.
Let’s take a pause to talk about Detective Muncy for a moment, shall we? First of all, as a surprise to no one, Olivia Benson has fabulous taste in detectives. (But a little bit messy on the taste in men over the years, aside from…well. Yeah. That one guy. Anyway.)
Muncy works really well with Detective Velasco, and she’s even better at applying more seasoned cops’ advice. Liv has that soft way of pitching her voice as she talks to victims, and Grace has picked up on that. As far as Captain Benson wanting her to project empathy goes, she’s already aced the assignment.
So, too, has Molly Burnett at delivering all those scenes where Muncy is with the victims. It’s almost scary how much she reminds me of Benson’s early years.
And Muncy’s basically the smartest one in the room when she assesses the crime scene with Velasco — and she totally owns it. She even impresses the whole squad with getting a lead on Elias while they’re all coming up with dead ends.
Liv and Fin’s conversation about how Grace attacked the suspect is…something. Like, there are countless cases of these two having done that much and worse — while much further along in their careers. Even so, it’s still nice seeing the “old-timers,” so to speak, talk shit on the newbie. I’ll take what I can get for good Fin/Liv scenes, and even if I kind of want to yell “are y’all for real” at them, these are fun scenes.
And it’s even more fun getting to witness Captain Benson epically facepalming over the headache Muncy’s causing her. Especially when it’s nowhere near what she and a certain blue-eyed boy caused Captain Cragen to suffer.
“Listen: If Benson is pissed, you’ll know about it.”
Detective Muncy is so much like Detective Benson, in fact, that she even says she probably shouldn’t have hit the guy before Fin even gets a chance to gently lecture her. She knows her feelings got to her (as cases with kids would for Baby Benson…and still do for the Captain), which is understandable — but still out of line.
So, no lecture needed. Much like Liv, Fin’s a fabulous leader — one who, unlike Liv, has barely had the chance to show it in recent years — so he knows exactly how to talk to the “little rescue.” He knows what she needs to hear, how to approach it, and when.
Honestly, aside from occasionally trying to parent trap Elliot and Olivia (thank you, Sir), Law & Order: SVU 24×04 is probably the most we’ve gotten to see Ice-T do as Fin in a long time. It’s like that “I know things” guy is back, and thankfully, it’s without sacrificing the fun one-liners. It’s about time.
“Captain. Justice may be blind, but she’s not entirely heartless.”
And now, back to The Mariska Hargitay Show™.
It’s difficult to even begin to quantify the millions of little ways Hargitay brings Liv to full, vibrant life in “The Steps We Cannot Take.” Which, to be fair, you could say that about any episode. (And…guilty of that, Your Honor.)
But what stands out in this episode, specifically, is just how well she makes it plain that, even after seeing so much, her heart is still there. After all the horrors she’s both witnessed and faced, Liv still reacts to finding Gillian, Nadine, and Bella when her squad was only expecting to find one victim. And the way her voice wavers — the way she lets herself show a little bit of how off-balance the scene has made Liv — when she’s safe, with Amanda is one of those myriad tiny details of Hargitay’s that just work.
Even after watching so much television, of knowing the difference between reality and fiction, it’s easy to believe that Olivia Benson is real. Because Hargitay makes her real.
Consider the contrast between how she is when alone with Rollins and/or Fin, versus what she brings to the table when other members of the squad are around. Or that full-on “Captain voice,” as I have it in my notes, when just seconds after that barely-controlled heartbreak and shock is simmering under the surface, she makes it clear that no one is to talk to the press.
And let’s not even begin to examine the details in how Hargitay plays Olivia as Noah’s mom versus “Badass Captain Door-Kicker.”
No one is just one thing. And Olivia Benson is no exception — to the infinite degree, in all the big ways, and in all the infinitesimal ways that matter most.
Liv’s moment of recognition, where she puts the pieces together about who really murdered Soren, is just impossible to miss. And so is everything that follows as the result. Hargitay and Betty Buckley take us on a journey as they discuss the moral dilemmas of SVU 24×04’s case. That is, as they discuss it…without actually discussing it.
It’s kind of fascinating to see how Liv can still doubt herself on the inside, while making such a good show of confidence on the outside. Or how she’s scrambling to keep her emotions at bay, all while projecting calm. And viewers see both the internal and external in vivid detail. All of this, as Buckley does her part, as Chief Maxwell, to make a decision to put the case to bed — without actually saying so.
It’s a delightful game of poker…except for the part where it’s difficult to take any kind of delight at all in what’s transpired. A little girl was raised under horrific conditions and committed a terrible act because of that. Even Elias is a victim and did even worse in the name of trying to please his abusive father. No, these two things aren’t the same — and the situation is never over-simplified to imply they are. And “The Steps We Cannot Take” never tries to present any of it as fair, or easy to wrap up in a little bow, at all.
We aren’t asked to identify with an abuser, and Liv doesn’t confidently and carelessly sacrifice victims for the sake of false remorse. She just gives a child, who rid the world of a monster in an act of protection, a chance to finally live her life.
There’s so much emotion as Liv watches Bella and Gillian head off to start their new life. Because that’s where all the doubts go away. And that’s where this series’ version of Lady Justice, who’s always cared about survivors — and especially children — has another important realization. And it’s a simple one: You did the right thing.
After all, what would freeing that little girl from one prison, just to put her in another, have meant for “justice” anyway?
More on Law & Order: SVU 24×04 “The Steps We Cannot Take”
- Liv, sweetheart (not derogatory…possibly a little vexed)…I really don’t want to have to keep pulling receipts on the wardrobe from your Detective Benson era. But I will. Leave Muncy alone! Like…shall we talk about your former partner, Captain? Oof. That man doesn’t even know how buttons work. Lecture him.
- Am I, once again, going to be a complete hypocrite by following my “don’t be superficial about wardrobe” soapbox up with *checks notes* superficial wardrobe commentary? Yes. Can we talk about the pink blouse? And that all-black, “casual-ish Captain” look with the scoop neck top? What about the blazer with the stripes? The LOOKS are sooooooooo good this season! That’s right! You have Captain FLAMIN’ HOT as your star! Flaunt it!!! BRAG ABOUT IT.
- Anyway. That’s out of my system…ish. (See also: HER HAIR?! IN THE BEGINNING? WTF??? HOW…and then, when it was kinda messy at the beginning of the next day on the case? Um. Bald had his fingers running through it. Argue with your mom.)
- “I totally would. If I didn’t have so much math homework.” This was my response to life throughout undergrad and grad school. Especially the beginning of freshman year, when everyone was doing fun things to make friends…and your friendly neighborhood reviewer was in her room, teaching herself the parts of Calc 2 she missed by testing straight into Calc 3. A nerd and proud of it.
- There’s a lot of “that Indian guy” and “that Indian girl” in this episode, though. Is it how white people talk? Yes. Do I hate it? Um, also yes! Can we stop? If a fellow white dude wanted his money back after some nasty AF contractor was being creepy with his daughter, it wouldn’t be “that white guy.” It’d be “that guy.” And if they weren’t trying to put the crime on Priya, it would’ve just been “new girl” not “that Indian girl.” Do better, fellow white people. I’m exhausted.
- Dalya Knapp as Laura on Evil: “I’M A GOOD GIRL!!!!” Knapp as Bella in Law & Order: SVU 24×04: “[Barely audible] I’m a good girl.” She is, in fact, good at what she does.
- Which, time to be a nerd who watches too much TV again, but like. Brooklyn Shuck in 24×02, Knapp here…Is Olivia Benson trying to steal all of Kristen Bouchard’s daughters, or????????? I mean, I can’t blame her. But like. Even the Captain should fear pissing that one off.
- Basically, bring Katja Herbers on as a guest sometime, you cowards. (Tbh, Liv and Kristen could drink together and talk about loving unavailable Catholic men with a deficit of hair.)
- Muncy’s little smile when she sees Liv and Noah together? Same.
- “Big waste of time.” Me about my Thursday night when the local affiliate decided to sensationalize a tragedy instead of just airing the scheduled programming and popping in on commercial with LEGIT updates instead of…rubbernecking. Anyway.
- Velasco and Muncy were totally flirting on that shopping trip, right? Right. Like, her face with the cowgirl comment? Ok. Let’s buckle up and get ready to suffer.
- Oh? Colorblind? Interesting…
- “It’s not about what I like. It’s about what Benson likes.” There are some folks…Nah, I’m going to be good and shut up. But um. Benson likes.
- “Ok. You’re placing a little too much emphasis on the birth control, there, hotshot. Sometimes, young girls use them to regulate their periods.” !!!!
- Also: If she was taking it for a literal meaning of the name? Still no one’s business.
- Not sure on the “immigrant family” talk. Leaving that to people actually in that community to parse out.
- It’s the way Liv tosses her head when she tells Rollins to go with her for me.
- No, but I got fucked up when she kicked that door in. Olivia Benson, you look so good when you have life and fire like that in you. (Or, actually, always. But especially now.)
- No but I really do love the how well our newest squad member fits in here. I mean that in both the fictional and the real-life sense.
- “Just…one step at a time.” Has Olivia Benson been talking to my father or.
- While this episode didn’t focus specifically on Rollins the way the last one did, it’s still very obvious, through Kelli Giddish’s performance here, that Amanda’s doing better. But she is, by no means, 100% back to normal. Which she shouldn’t be expected to be at this point…and yes, I’m still mad we’re losing her.
- “…never knew what — what day or month it was. It just…felt like forever. All the time.” This is how we slog through life these days.
- “Looks like that blazer’s doing its job. The question is, can you?” 100% hate it here.
- “Not all chains are physical.” A. Word.
- “Time passes weird for us.” Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…
- “Ahhhh. You should be a detective.” SASSY LIV.
- Back on my too much TV bullshit for a second: Baby Laura from Evil killed someone. Grandma Sheryl would be proud. (To be honest, so would Mama Kristen…Orson LeRoux, anyone?)
- “She knows.” Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.
- “…And you’ll see how heartless I can be, should this conversation ever come back to haunt me.” I think even Liv got scared???
- “You know there’s also so much good out there in the world, too.” Ok but hear me out: Not enough. And if I have the choice between “with Olivia Benson” and “out there,” I’m taking the first option.
Thoughts on Law & Order: SVU 24×04 “The Steps We Cannot Take”? Leave us a comment!
Law & Order: SVU airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC and will return on Thursday, October 27.
Yes. This was a very good episode.
SVU is really firing this season. How did they come up with so many good episodes back to back? Used to be 3-4 good episodes in the whole season.
Change in leadership plays a part, I’d wager.