Law & Order: SVU 24×05 “Breakwater” uses the case of a corrupt lifeguard to further a lot of the themes that, so far, have worked very well this season. Additionally, the episode serves as a strong reminder of what happens when a predator happens to have far too much power over their victims — and how much worse the abuse can get when that power also extends to the predator’s “friends” in power, so to speak.
The case itself has a surprising sort of twist right from the beginning. Rather than a predictably-formulaic approach involving who we think Chief Greco’s victim is going to be, young Martina Rodriguez who he’s seen getting handsy with in the episode’s opening moments, her brother, Diego, turns out to be the ultimate victim. Not only has Greco raped Diego, causing him to enter a pretty clear downward spiral, but, ultimately, it’s the Chief’s abuse of power that ends his life. This is the result of the worst kind of person, having the most undeserved power, over far too many lives.
As the investigation unfolds, we find out about so many other consequences of Greco’s actions, too — drowning deaths that could’ve been prevented if only he’d hired qualified lifeguards, yet more rapes, guilt, and shame, and every other trauma-induced feeling under the sun…
It’s a powerful reminder that trauma and toxicity don’t just stop at the “main” event, so to speak. It sends the dominos crashing down, destroying lives and even killing. But not just killing in the most literal sense, either. The people these lifeguards were meant to be, before it all happened, are — in probably far more cases than not — dead. Let’s make that clear. Whatever the future might have been, it’s gone. Wherever these lives would have ended up without this vile abuse of power, they’re not going there anymore. Or, at least, they can’t get back on their intended paths without getting through first.
Like Ronnie said about Diego, sometimes, a survivor becomes “like a totally different person.”
And relationships? Those can’t work either, with two struggling people who desperately need someone but can’t cling to each other. While it’s about as subtle as it gets, to the point where a lot of us might miss it in our frustration over a complete lack of development — much less consistency — in a certain relationship, the message is there. Daniela Cruz needed Diego to hold her through her healing, but he couldn’t because of his own wounds. So, no matter how much love is between two people, sometimes, it won’t work until the time is right.
Daniela and Diego never got their time. Here’s hoping — well. Demanding, actually — our Captain has hers.
With all of that being said, Law & Order: SVU 24×05 is, even with all the tragedy and the dark places that takes us, not an episode that intends to leave viewers in an unending darkness. And that comes from all the ways our squad’s story unfolds alongside the victims’ and survivors’.
SVU: The Next Generation
Stole that heading from both Degrassi and Star Trek, I did, I did.
As a general rule, I like my SVU to have as much Mariska Hargitay and, by extension, as much Olivia Benson as possible. So, an episode where pretty much everyone else is getting just as much screen time as her, if not significantly more, should be an automatic flop. “Breakwater” is proof, though, that we’re in a place where Hargitay doesn’t have to carry the whole series on her far-too-capable shoulders.
(As a caveat, I would respectfully ask that she please never leave us, regardless.)
Octavio Pisano and Molly Burnett work very, very well together on screen. Their characters, Detectives Velasco and Muncy, are gradually learning how to do the same and are already in a place where they can challenge each other without coming to metaphorical blows. And there’s kind of an easy pacing to building that dynamic. It’s not immediate, but each episode, it builds and builds. That’s exactly what you need from a procedural like this for it to work. Sure, we all wish we could have instant, once-in-a-lifetime magic like EO.
…but also, we’re glad history isn’t repeating itself here. Because that particular history
has been exhausting is, in fact, unique. Trying to force a redux would’ve been a major, epic failure, and everyone involved seems to know that. There is still, however, an undeniable sort of chemistry. And there are also plenty of ways these characters seem to “take after” our original partners.
Detective Velasco rushes into the water, with no regard for his own safety, in an attempt to save Diego’s life. That’s…that’s basically both Olivia and Elliot, right there.
The same goes with his obvious contempt for Pinsky, who didn’t try to save Diego, and his immense guilt when Diego didn’t survive. I’d say there’s a lot of Stabler there — which there is — but let’s be honest with ourselves. At her core, especially in her earlier days, that’s also a lot of Benson. But then, we kind of get back to the “looks ike a tough-tough guy, really a big ol’ softy” Stablerism (that’s a word now), between the way Velasco is so good with Pinsky toward the end of the episode and his overall presence.
And let’s not get started on how the begging and pleading with Daniela to come testify came across so incredibly well in terms of how much Velasco was essentially vibrating with the need to do something. In short, Pisano killed it.
Then, there’s Muncy. She has grown so much in so little time, and her empathetic insight into the trauma responses is so incredibly straight from the Captain’s book. That’s not to say she hasn’t come by it on her own, but she is also very clearly learning from the best of the best. There’s even that eerily familiar forehead swipe and overall reaction to hearing nobody ever called Daniela back about her rape report, even with a rape kit.
I just…has Burnett been studying Hargitay, or did we really just strike gold in the casting department here? Someone get me some answers.
Healing is possible
So, there’s the worst possible outcome of a traumatic event: Diego’s fate.
But then…there’s also a promise of hope. We know Detective Amanda Rollins has been struggling since getting shot at the beginning of the season. Through an obvious dedication to making sure Kelli Giddish’s exit is the best of an unwanted situation, as well as just really good storytelling, we also know she has a support system in place to help her get through it.
Early on in “Breakwater,” that support system comes from a friend, a partner, a colleague — whatever you want to call him. And let’s just take a moment to appreciate this: While Sergeant Fin Tutuola has always had some really good one-liners, which he did in Law & Order: SVU 24×05, and while he has always been the voice of wisdom and was again here, there was substance to his appearance this time around. Like, it’s almost as if Ice-T has been on this series longer than anyone but Hargitay for a reason?
…and both he and his character should actually be part of the story…for the same reason?
But back to the point.
Fin cares, and he’s looking out for his people. So, there’s that really touching scene at the beginning of the episode where Fin brings Amanda the bullet of the same caliber that shot her. In the same scene, the series, through Fin (who else?), delivers solid advice:
“You have to own your trauma, or your trauma will own you.”
And he even does it in a way that’s not…coddling, or invasive, or anything like that. It’s just empathy and support, plus making use of Fin’s personal connection to Amanda to start the conversation with some light talk about the Rollisi of it all. That’s important. Vital, even. Advice like Fin’s only works if it’s the right advice, from the right person, at the right time. So, some random with one-size-fits-all “cures” was never going to help. Having someone there who knows you, and who can work their way “in” with something that they hope helps — without being overbearing or demanding about it — however, is absolutely everything.
The turnaround on this charm of sorts is, admittedly, kind of fast. But it’s television, and we’ve got to cram a lot into precious little time. So, eh. That’s fine enough.
Learning that Amanda has been sleeping better, that Carisi has noticed, and that they are so disgustingly sweet together is so incredibly valuable. Because it does provide light to constrast with the very dark subject matter. And it does show that love is possible, that…sometimes, you can come back from that deep, dark, hole of grief and fear.
And honestly? Get you someone who looks at you the way Peter Scanavino looked at Giddish in that scene. Absolutely gorgeous adoration, all over everywhere. From both of them, really. But Sonny is so in awe of everything about Amanda, including her strength and the way she’s healing, and it’s so beautifully portrayed. Especially as a contrast to the person he is in court.
…if only it wasn’t just Rollisi getting their moments. Other characters deserve their light at the end of that long, seemingly-inescapably blackened tunnel, too.
…which, of course, brings us to…
Captain, our Captain
Captain Olivia Benson is kind of…a presence in Law & Order: SVU 24×05…but not really the central figure. Which, again. It works. Mostly.
So, here’s the great: I can not get enough of how excellent of a mentor the Captain is to both of her younger Detectives here. Her compassion for Velasco, especially, as he grapples with Diego’s death is absolutely stellar. Because, well. It’s Olivia. And, more to the point, as I’ve said plenty of times: Nobody does it like Mariska Hargitay. Period.
“Velasco. You lost someone, and it’s easy to take that personally. So, you feel sorry. But not for yourself. You did everything right.”
I absolutely salivated over Benson’s advice to Velasco when he asked, without asking, to go to Diego’s memorial service at the beach. It’s delivered so well, and Pisano’s reaction is everything you’d want. It’s like the character is trying to internalize the message…but just isn’t there yet.
The problem is simply this: Why is no one helping Olivia to work on taking her own advice? Where is the evidence of her finally getting to process her own grief, and guilt, and suffering on top of suffering? Certainly, put as much focus as possible on Rollins between now and Giddish’s exit. But are hints too much to ask? Apparently so.
Similarly, while it’s fantastic to see Captain Benson with that hand on her hip, and with that sass with the squad’s garbage-predator-of-the-week…
She can not always be just “badass.” To be fair, we had that brief moment with Noah in episode 4 and a couple of other sprinklings here and there. But…it just feels like there’s a somewhat myopic approach to this character. Which is a shame, on multiple levels — the highest of which being the broken record of “why would you waste all that talent?”
More on Law & Order: SVU 24×05
- Another surprise here: I really had Ronnie down for being not just complicit but directly involved in the attacks. It was the whole backwards hat, “just here for money and chicks” of it all, and it was kind of the obvious stereotypical characterization for a “dudebro” taking what he thinks he’s entitled to. I love being wrong here — it means the series isn’t taking the easy, canned path.
- With that being said, Greco’s ‘stache was kinda a giveaway. I said what I said.
- No but the looks Velasco and Muncy give Pinsky after Diego drowns. Sharper than bullets.
- “It’s likely Diego didn’t want to be touched because the same thing happened to him.” It bears repeating: With Daniela and Diego’s needs being at odds, with their trauma responses being opposites and with them unable to communicate with each other, that relationship couldn’t last.
- What I’m saying here is Beauty & The Bald need to work on themselves. And, also — wild idea — communicate with each other.
- “He’s a decent man.” I…don’t think you know what that word means, lady.
- “You two don’t live together yet?” *screams in EO*
- “…eat my feelings on the couch…” Amanda is me. I am Amanda. We are one.
- Damien Diaz nailed every single element of Diego’s response: the rage, the shame…all of it. What a fantastic performance.
- THE GLASSES.
- “Get paid a lot to sit on the beach.” “Sign me up.” Same.
- “…had a massive stress reaction…” I’m just thinking about the “lost it” or “went crazy” that would’ve been used to describe this in the past, and like. Yeah. Thank the TV gods we’re here now.
- “So, what exactly. happened in your office?” Never knew the word “exactly” could have such a threat behind it, but here we are.
- Yes, Captain. Exactly.
- “Maybe Diego figures if he acts normal, everything might actually be normal.” Except not only does pretending everything is normal eventually catch up to you and destroy you worse than if you hadn’t avoided the pain, but in a lot of cases, humans are garbage and will use the “acting normal” part against you. See also: This is not just a trauma thing. Folks with chronic illness are forever trying to “act normal” and then getting attacked when boundaries are finally set and/or when they say, “hey, I’m actually not ok.” It’s always “well, how come you were fine this other time?” Because, Karen, the “fine” was an act. Anyway.
- “That’s called…grooming.” I’m just gonna—.
- “I have no idea who that is.” “She knows you.” Captain, I’m on my knees.
- The leather blazer is the signal that someone’s gonna get killed with sass, huh.
- “Thank you for the heads up” is Carisi’s polite version of “fuck you, lady,” huh?
- “You know, men like you become so good at lying, they even start to believe the ones they tell themselves.” Me at certain folks claiming to have “religious values” and then treating fellow human beings like toxic waste, to be honest.
- And also: Her. Delivery.
- No but her face when this man claims he’s not a monster.
- And…if you’re not afraid of that hand on that hip, are you even real?
- “You have no idea what it’s like to have people’s lives in your hands, do you?” Uh, actually, Carisi does. But thanks for the ass-umption.
- Shorter Greco: Blah, blah. Lives are my responsibility, but I’ll make every excuse in the book for why they’re actually not.
- Scanavino getting in that guy’s face. Fire.
- “He’s got all the power.” “So, take it back.” If only we could all do that with toxic bosses. If only.
- Can we discuss Liv’s look at the end after giving Velasco that advice? Like…what was it.
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