In the wrong hands, Law & Order: SVU 24×06 “Controlled Burn” could’ve been needlessly over the top and just…disturbing. There’s the whole crow suit…thing, and the criminal at the center of our case of the week certainly had a sick enough compulsion to warrant a few nightmares. Which, sure. That’s definitely disturbing and beyond kind of the “average” SVU criminal.
Well over 500 episodes in, the series does need to get creative, and this case certainly did that — in a number of ways. But, somehow, the storytelling didn’t go any deeper into the darkness than it absolutely had to. It’s like walking the very thin line without stepping over it. In bounds, if you will.
And it’s difficult to try to put into words exactly what made this episode what I’ll call “allowed” or “worth it,” whereas some of the other more elaborate and creative crimes…were probably not. Because the line is very thin — very fine — and playing along that boundary is the most delicate of dances. Maybe there are no words, actually.
So, rather than try to parse that out, we’ll just talk about the things we can explain.
The Kind of Woman She Is™
Full disclosure: Aside from the glasses (help), Captain Benson’s first scene in “Controlled Burn” had me kind of afraid this one was going to be a dud. Just another myopic “yes, she’s in charge” moment and nothing else.
…I’m not the type to enjoy being wrong, but I love how wrong I was. Even with tons of other things happening in Law & Order: SVU 24×06, Olivia went from “Captain who asks questions the viewers already knows the answers to,” to “woman you want to give you bracelets and force you to your knees,” to “mom worried about the world her son is growing up in” and “concerned friend asking about slaying monsters” so quickly, it was the most delicious kind of whiplash of all time.
A strong statement? Yes. Can y’all fight me if you disagree? Technically — but you won’t win.
It’s not that she dropped a bunch of sarcastic one-liners or challenged the (frankly screwed up) justice system. No.
What made Olivia Benson that extra, remarkable level of it in “Controlled Burn”? Well, it began with the way she squared off against a worthy candidate for her arch-nemesis. And she did it while being so in control of the room, so in control of the universe, even the most powerful and worthy of opponents fit right into the palm of her hand.
But all of this happened with something we discussed a little bit earlier this season: More layers. And, above all, a personal touch. Because sure, we’ve played this “look how lovely she is with the victims, even though we know she’s a lioness about to devour her prey, or a viper about to strike, in other situations” game before. (And won. When you have Mariska Hargitay doing that, you’re always winning.)
But it’s when we mix those up, then add just the right dash of seeing her as a person outside the job, that all the different notes this character hits come together to form the perfect symphony.
Lena Hess’ methods are awful, and Captain Benson rightfully wants to end her for it. On the other hand, points were made. So, Liv gets time to share her thoughts — as a human being, not a mindless drone of leadership and justice — with Amanda during some very precious downtime. It’s some of the most powerful content in the episode, getting to see Olivia Benson as just…a woman having a conversation with someone she’s close with, rather than as only a Strong Female Character™.
That’s not to say that the Captain isn’t still vital, or that Hargitay and Lola Glaudini don’t absolutely have some of the most deliciously antagonistic scenes I’ve seen on this series in a long time. Because, uh. They did that — and completely went scorched earth on any preconceived notions about what an on-screen rivalry for two women should look like.
But for as good as those scenes were, and as thought-provoking as Glaudini’s piece of this episode’s puzzle was, getting to see that play out with characters who aren’t mere archetypes makes it so, so much better.
What would make it even better that that? How about if we quit with this lopsided approach of “we get all the Liv some weeks, only ‘is a badass’ others.” But I’ve probably said all that before, so. Next.
We’re still trying to figure out where Rollins’ story is going to end. So far this season, various plot points have pointed to her healing from this most recent trauma, yet deciding she has far too much to live for to keep taking so many risks. “Controlled Burn” gives us a little bit more confirmation on that point. Whatever she’s doing with slaying that monster, Liv wants her to keep doing it, and we agree.
But the episode also sets up a pretty interesting “what if.”
When SVU 24×06 begins with Amanda giving a lecture (and with Carisi proudly looking on), it initially seems like just a way to give viewers a warning that this case is going to head down a pretty extreme route. To that end, we’ve got Detective Rollins talking about deviant behavior, versus more controlled burns, all while we see this Spencer guy trying to get one girl after another to go with him to a party…and the girls telling him to ask his wife.
So, we’re pointed in one direction — watch out for this bad news dude, if you will — but wind up somewhere else. Make no mistake: Spencer…was not a good person. But he also, as it turns out, wasn’t the obvious, heavily-foreshadowed (to the point of hitting us over the head with it, as has been done in the past) rapist.
There’s also a little bit of “hey, Carisi apparently likes it rough” thrown in here, which…Good for him, actually. And good for The Vampire Amanda, if you will.
But aside from the hot stuff, the really nice misdirect, and the stellar dialogue…is it possible SVU 24×06 is trying to tell us something else?
Despite being “pissed at first,” Amanda found it “kind of fun” to give that talk at Carisi’s old law school. Later, she just had to know what the choking draw was for Schmidt. Although she was clearly uncomfortable during the entire interview, even with Carisi by her side she just had to stay and get answers. So, could her next gig be more academic, either in more of a profiling capacity or by educating future generations?
It would certainly fit the character and, especially if she stayed tangential to what we do here, could potentially leave the door open. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Regardless, this episode continued this season’s tradition of “the right kind of petty,” as I’m going to keep calling it. As a refresher, we’re talking about strong work from Kelli Giddish and plot points that highlight Rollins’ better qualities, just as time’s running out on the opportunity to see either, much less both, on any kind of regular basis.
Trauma and healing are big themes this season, and Law & Order: SVU 24×06 is no exception. This time around, with Maggie, it’s all about denial and all of its toxic cousins. Like rationalizing how she couldn’t possibly have been sexually assaulted due to physical changes after her cervical cancer treatment. Or like calling an evening that left drugs in her system and a thong in her throat (ew???) just “one bad night.”
And like hyper-focusing on work. Which, to be fair, Maggie was even typing away at the party…but that goes back to denial. (See also: Back to “normal.”)
“She doesn’t remember it…yet.”
Eventually, though, Olivia and Amanda provide her with way too much evidence — easing her into it, with each little bit of proof more damning than the last — causing her to have to decide what exactly comes next. We bear witness to her immediate shock and horror, with a side of self-blame for not starting the investigation sooner.
Lucky for Maggie, she had an Olivia Benson to reassure her that her denial was normal. A lot of survivors, of course, just get blamed for not coming forward sooner.
Then, when Maggie talks about getting to just go on with her life, Olivia asks what she’s going to do with it. She decides, since the cancer already stole her body once, and now this happened to steal it again, she’s going to take something back and get that surgery to remove her scar tissue. Not all scars can be surgically removed, but it’s great symbolism to have Maggie make the choice to reclaim her body by going through what will almost surely be a long and painful process to slice away the physical ones.
And there’s hope for the emotional trauma as well, even if it’s not what Captain Benson might have to offer.
“Yeah, but it happened to me. So, shouldn’t I have a right to try to make sense of this in my own way?”
SVU’s resources, and Olivia’s suggestions, are great for some survivors — but not all.
Maggie wants to see the footage of her attack, and for Olivia, that doesn’t sound like the best choice. But this isn’t about Olivia — it’s about what Maggie wants, what she knows is right for her own healing. We all need something a little bit different. There isn’t some single, “right” way. It’s nice to have a reminder of that every so often, on a series like this one in particular.
(For the record, it would be nice to finally have it be about what Liv needs soon. It’s been about 84 years.)
More on Law & Order: SVU 24×06
- “Human sexuality is…strange enough.” *reads AO3 tags* That is correct.
- “All of us do things to blow off steam that we know aren’t good for us.” The number of things I could list here but won’t…
- I am exhausted to death. EO when. The Rollisi bites. Or the “bracelet.” Anything, I’m tired.
- Elliot, you’re losing. Be more like Sonny. Or we’re not rescuing you when we do like Lena wants and purge the men. Period.
- “Told ya. I had a good night last night.” Insert “congratulations on the sex” gif here. Good for Rollisi.
- “…just asked for the wifi password.” Relatable.
- Either someone involved with this series really loves The Crow or really hates it. They’d better not hate it.
- No, but seriously. Someone write the “Amanda Rollins joins the BAU” fic. For science. Because, honestly, if you’ve seen Criminal Minds, you know that lecture Rollins gave at the beginning of this episode would fit in very well there.
- Note: This does not, in any way, imply I want this series to become more like that one.
- I really liked all the different pairings here. The squad is really working as a true team this season, and instead of stagnating, everyone’s getting to mix it up and work with everyone else.
- See also: “Drugs.” “Check.” “Young girls.” “Check.” “I’ll do the honors.” Teamwork!
- …except Velasco was missing here. Where’s Velasco?
- Also loved that the unhoused person who helped Maggie get to the hospital was seen as just that — a helper. Not a suspect. It didn’t take long for them to find out “he wasn’t so crazy after all.” (I might not have advised using the word “crazy” like this to begin with, though…)
- As a dancer, I’m always about a good moment of breath. And that breath Hargitay took before the “it wasn’t vaginally” line was everything.
- Then, there’s the rage breathing when the squad loses Hess. On my knees, Captain. On. My. Knees…
- Very serious things happen. My one track mind: Look at her. How.
- “That girl is a genius with numbers.” Queen shit.
- Olivia Benson + coffee = two things I love, combining to create a thing I love even more.
- Ok but the way she owns that precinct (and the world, really).
- “May I ask how capitalism is a police matter?” “It’s not.” Ok but why. Capitalism is so much more criminal than many things that are actually considered crimes.
- The head tilt? The smirk when Hess shows her hand by talking some mess about liability? Help.
- If she’s not giving any bracelets to Elliot, I’ll take a gift.
- Muncy continues to be so reminiscent of a younger Benson. “Yeah, I bet you were” and “I would like to invite the inside of your cheek to a swab party” were both fantastic. I mean, nothing’s “and I’d like your balls in a blender, but ain’t life a bitch.” But Muncy’s as close as we mere mortals will ever get.
- “Which really sucks, doesn’t it?” Ma’am, you have no idea.
- “Recovering from trauma can be a full time job. But I also have a job to do, right? And that job is for both of us.” What we’re saying here is Liv has two full-time jobs, but she’s only doing the cop one. Be a little bit selfish and do the job that’s only for you, my love.
- Honestly, whatever mess the suspect was talking about vibrations and music being the pull for choking was giving “poor man’s Lestat de Lioncourt.”
- “You’re not the only workaholic in New York.” Pot, kettle, Liv. Pot. Kettle.
- The “enlighten me” line…it’s a true testament to everyone who survived it that we did.
- “If men disappeared tomorrow, so would war, and rape, and just about every other ill of mankind.” She’s not wrong. We’ll keep a few men when we do the purge. But otherwise.
- “I almost feel sorry for you” is the biggest “fuck you” ever.
- “…guessing by the lack of a ring that there’s no male example in the picture.” I don’t know why they have to kick EO shippers while we’re down like this.
- “I don’t make them light the fire. I simply give them a little tinder. They put the match to it — every time.”
- “Is she wrong?” “Sounds like respect.” I mean.
- Do y’all remember: “…how do you trust any man ever after working this job day in, day out?” “I trusted my partner”? Because let’s talk about it for a minute. Amanda was new then, and Olivia had one person she missed desperately, who she remembered trusting. (Past tense.) Now, it’s close to the end for Rollins…and we have Liv bringing up the number of men who are perps. And instead of the personal element being about someone Olivia lost, we have her with the sarcastic “thanks” about Noah after Amanda mentions she’s glad she’s raising daughters. Really fascinating stuff.
- “You have no idea what kind of woman I am. Don’t play with fire.” “Well, that’s no fun, Captain.” Hear me out. A scene where it’s Baldy on the other line instead.
- “Sounds like there’s a flaw in the general design,” plus the chemistry with Lena at the end there. Screw it. Benson and Hess. Lena and Liv. It’s hot. Fight me.
- Angry Liv. Yes.
- Elle Greenaway really said “wheels up” at the end there, huh? (I’ll see myself out.)
Thoughts on Law & Order: SVU 24×06 “Controlled Burn”? Leave us a comment!
Law & Order: SVU airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.
Enjoyed this episode a lot. Except for a little detour for Rollisi, this episode was very taut (but I get it, they are trying to tie all loose ends for Rollins exit).
It just kept on building like a crescendo, peaking with the showdown between Liv and Lena about men, then still not letting up with Liv and Amanda conversation and finally peaking with the phone call ending.
I hope we see Lena again sometime down the road.
Also I hope Liv has still not given up on all men (one man in particular).
Honestly, if Liv has given up on all men but figures she’ll “settle” for the one, that works for me. Because if we’re being honest, NO man deserves her. It’s just, for me, about the one she’s clearly chosen…whether she realizes it and is honest with herself about it or not.
If we don’t see more Lena and have her as a true nemesis, I’m going to be so mad.