Law & Order: SVU 24×09 “And A Trauma In A Pear Tree” is somewhat of a baffling mid-season finale. The pieces simply don’t fit, and the logic behind some of the storytelling choices, frankly, doesn’t exist. Some parts of the episode make it feel like yet another “meaningless pain and trauma for Olivia Benson” outing. That’s particularly disappointing in a season that, at least in the beginning, seemed to be about giving Captain Benson her “it” factor back.
At the same time, though, it’s hard to write the episode off completely. Regardless of it feeling sort of…cobbled together and too ambitious in the number things it tried to tackle, the heart is still there. The “main” plot, which centers around Detective Amanda Rollins getting to work one last case with the Captain before saying goodbye, is quite good.
And yeah…uh…that conversation was a lot to take in.
But why rush it? Why spend the episode abruptly cutting back and forth between Liv and Amanda’s girls’ night out, Noah being…something, and unfinished courthouse business from a previous case? That’s where the confusion comes in, especially when a full broadcast hour — all 43-ish minutes of it — spent on Mariska Hargitay and Kelli Giddish killing it, perhaps interrupted briefly for the Rollisi stuff because we do love to ship ships here, would have been a much more satisfying way for the series to end 2022.
But, well. This is the fall finale we got. So, let’s take a look at “A Trauma In A Pear Tree.”
May as well get the ugly out of the way first before getting all emo on main…
“Noah thinks this is the greatest Christmas present ever.”
Sometimes, it’s almost easy to regret that Noah ever came into Liv’s life as her weird reward for surviving unimaginable horror. This episode is one of those times.
Law & Order: SVU 24×09 sees Noah going behind his mother’s back to set up a meeting with his biological half-brother, who he (apparently) found due to a gift card Fin gave him. Which, of course, the gift card is a bizarre thing in and of itself. I’m trying to figure out on what planet Fin Tutuola is like, “here, have some 23andMe funny money to break your mother’s heart. I’ve had her back for over 20 years, but go off, kid” or whatever. And, of course, I’m coming up empty.
But there’s nothing wrong with Noah wanting to find out where he comes from. As he points out to the woman who instantly felt a connection with him when she found him in that drawer and was the only person to consistently take an interest in him — ever — Olivia once went in search of a family herself. Of course, that search was, uh…a mess. I’m going to guess Noah has no idea how screwed up the whole Uncle Simon situation really was.
At any rate, it also makes sense that, as a child, Noah wouldn’t quite understand that, no, this isn’t the best Christmas present ever for his mom. In fact, it’s probably one of the worst. (The absolute worst being, you know, having to leave her kid at home to work a case on Christmas, shooting someone in public, and never having any kind of support for that trauma.)
The problem with this whole thing is the optics.
Noah actually tells Olivia that Connor is “the only real family” he has. That’s where the failure of this whole storyline begins and ends. In the middle, there’s taking away from her absolute joy for her recently-married friend in the middle of a wedding reception. And there’s Noah asking why they live in the city, instead of in the fancy suburbs. Somewhere along the way, there are backyards, a father figure teaching him how to throw a football, and total strangers buying him a $500 gaming console without talking to his mother first.
Olivia Benson has had to fight, tooth and nail, to build herself a family. To build Noah a family…and we’re giving him all the “z0mg yay!!!” moments with the McCanns??? Why.
The best family is the one you choose, and build, and fight for. Not the people who happen to have your DNA. In fact, had Johnny D. lived, no, he absolutely would not have been Noah’s family. For the record.
Without even knowing what Olivia Benson has tried to grasp onto and, more often than not, lost in the previous 524 episodes, the framing here is just…bad. Noah’s line is an ignorant damnation of found family, and pitting Olivia against a two-parent household is all kinds of wrong to both single parents and those of us raised by them. Put another way, it’s a slap in the face to anyone who has had to build a family like Olivia has and felt seen by what she’s created here. And playing on all her anxieties and feelings of inadequacy as a single mother, after all she’s been through and after how she “earned” a child by television’s crappy Strong Female Character™ laws…Well. That all just makes this the wrong kind of painful to watch.
Being a good mom isn’t about happening to have a dad there (though, there’s an old bald man who would be a great stepfather for Noah), or baking, or buying expensive gifts. It’s about love, support, and taking care. In a lot of cases, it’s about wanting and working for a better life for your kids than you had.
Olivia Benson is better than any two parents combined, and putting her through that soul-crushing experience, without Noah even noticing, much less caring, that he was hurting her — and without him learning by the end that his “real family” is her — is just…insulting on a lot of levels, actually.
It’s also hurting the main character for the sake of just showing we have a lead actress who can break hearts with a single breath. Which, first of all, we already knew that. And second, there’s the main part of SVU 24×09 to teach us that same lesson, for the billionth time, in a way that’s not…this…anyway.
So, sure. Olivia Benson can put on a brave face to protect the happiness of someone she loves, even as it’s killing her inside. And Hargitay can show viewers both sides of that, simultaneously. Gee, we’ve never seen that before. How new!
Then, there’s also the disparaging way the McCanns talked about Connor’s biological mom ghosting them, especially with their tone when discussing her drug use. All the while, you see Hargitay giving one hell of a performance to show that Liv’s putting all the pieces together in that giant heart and brilliant mind of hers. Because, of course, it sounds like Connor’s mom was probably yet another one of Johnny D.’s victims.
The McCanns think they want to know that whole backstory and even put Captain — not Detective anymore, lady — Benson in the tough spot of trying to figure out a way to explain that story…and chicken out. Because they have the privilege of not knowing.
Olivia doesn’t. She has to carry so, so many such stories…
As a viewer, it’s just exhausting. Again, that’s especially true when this season at least began with the promise of not creating more of the same.
Luckily, as there is always so little follow through on this series when it comes to anything involving Noah, the McCanns and their privileged existence probably won’t factor in much going forward. Then again, that’s kind of the point of why this part of “And A Trauma In A Pear Tree” was mostly a waste.
But wait! This is good!
Noah’s nonsense in Law & Order: SVU 24×09 at least worked to get Olivia alone and in need of some help from a friend. Now, do I believe Captain Benson would’ve booked such a seedy motel for herself and her child? No. And are there about a billion better ways we could’ve gotten Liv and Amanda doing that together? Uh, yes. But is the end result fire either way? Absolutely.
There’s something very special about the way Benson and Rollins work together in this episode. Not a lot of it makes a ton of sense, considering it’s unlikely an NYPD Captain would just go rogue like that and cuff a dude in her motel room or whatever? But it’s just fun watching these two work together.
There’s Rollins laying it on thick with the lipstick in front of the mirror to see if the desk guy is watching, and the two of them going out for drinks, Liv going from “drunken hot girl” to “Captain who will destroy you” in fractions of a second…Oh, yeah. And something about a threesome???
It’s the type of case work that Olivia Benson doesn’t get to do as often anymore but that she’s always been so good at. So, when you couple that with just kind of getting to see these two very accomplished dramatic actors be flirty as hell, with a twist of downright goofy, it’s a rare treat.
That’s not to say that, with this being Giddish’s last episode (for now?), that SVU 24×09 doesn’t still hit pretty hard on the emotional front. Because it most certainly does.
So, let’s talk about them…but also still about the ladies.
SVU 24×09’s hotel room scene is, of course, kind of a big deal. This time, instead of Olivia having to sacrifice herself for someone else’s happiness, she just gets to drink bad wine with a friend and celebrate her recent wedding. More importantly, because Rollins gets to go out as a good friend (unlike someone!), Amanda tells Olivia to let herself go grab her own happiness. She also doesn’t let Olivia do the deflection thing and pretend like there aren’t any options out there. When Liv’s all “with who,” Amanda comes right out and names names.
Because it’s always been, and always will be, Stabler for Benson. And Benson for Stabler.
Typically, we could go all Feminist Critic™ here and say how much it sucks to see two women finally have a conversation…and center it on men. But, well,
my feminism leaves my body for Elliot Stabler. This is over two decades in the making and more about Olivia finally having someone to confide in, and finally admitting the truth out loud for the first time, than it is just an empty “girls only talk about boys” kind of conversation.
“I did…feel like Stabler was my…home. But he left me, Amanda. And I’m, uh…I’m not over it. And the thing is, is that…I didn’t have a right. Or a claim. He’s somebody’s husband.”
This is where Olivia would normally write it off as “complicated” and clam up, but with Amanda, she’s able to be way more open and even admit that knowing she has a chance now is the absolute worst.
“And with her gone, it’s like there’s nothing but possibility. Which is…paralyzing.”
No, Liv, that doesn’t sound crazy. It sounds human.
Olivia spent so many years convincing herself she couldn’t have what her heart desperately wanted — that she couldn’t have her home. So, she settled for just being by his side. For being his partner and surviving on whatever crumbs, whatever tiny pieces of her El, she thought she was allowed to have. She never thought he could love her back, and she was proven right when, during Elliot’s very brief time as a “free” man, he didn’t choose her. Worst of all, of course, he left.
She may be the toughest Captain the NYPD has seen, but Olivia Benson has been hurt over and over again. And the person whose loss hurt the most may finally be right there for the taking, but what if she tries and loses whatever (messy, no-communication, wtf) tiny piece of him she has back forever? Why wouldn’t that fear paralyze her?
Olivia could have easily had this very same conversation in therapy. But it wouldn’t have hit the same without a friend who loves her (and has seen the way she and Stabler look at each other, the idiots) being the one to hear it. Not just any friend who loves her, either — Amanda, who knows how terrifying all of this can be…but has made it to her happy ending. Amanda, who came in during the aftermath and saw the wreckage Elliot had left behind but, somehow, broke through those walls and became Olivia’s close friend in spite of everything.
Of course, all the meaning and importance here makes what Amanda does next that much more painful.
At some point, Amanda has to tell Olivia she’s leaving. It’s a particularly bitter pill to swallow that it’s here, after Olivia has flayed herself open, that it happens. But Amanda can’t hold out forever. She knows that; eventually, Olivia comes to understand it, too.
Her initial reaction, though, is shock. Devastation. Maybe even lashing out a little bit.
Here she is, discussing the person who broke some part of her when he left and how she’s still not over
him what he did, and just as she’s saying how grateful she is for the one who showed up after she lost him…Liv gets yet another blow. Then, we have Amanda checking out of the motel without really saying goodbye. Which, Amanda, wtf? Later, you can hear it in Olivia’s voice — in yet more stunning work from Hargitay — when she’s begging Amanda to call her back that, yes, she’s thinking about those voicemails again. (Same, Liv.)
But this isn’t all those years ago. This isn’t someone Olivia loves abandoning her. Amanda is going to still be her friend. It’s very, very, very (insert at least 100 more uses of that word here) important when Amanda tells Olivia she won’t disappear on her. She’s not pulling an Elliot. And maybe if Olivia can see that the people who love her don’t always leave her — that, sometimes, even if they might leave in some ways, they’re always there for her in others. That they still love her and will be back — she’ll realize it’s ok to take that leap.
And happily ever after
But I don’t want to totally make this goodbye (for now) about EO, or comparisons to Stabler’s terrible exit. Amanda Rollins is a totally different character, with a fanbase that deserves her story to exist for its own sake.
Kelli Giddish does amazing work throughout Law & Order: SVU 24×09. And while all that empathy as Liv unloads about Elliot, or the fake flirting with the video creeper, and the cautious way she portrays Amanda preparing to break Liv’s heart are all notable, it’s the pure joy radiating off of her during the Rollisi wedding scene that I hope we’ll all keep with us going forward.
Television, or any fiction really, is supposed to be our escape. So, any time we have to say goodbye to someone, yeah, it’s going to hurt. But if the hurting is offset by believing that character gets to live on, in love, with everything they thought they’d never have — that some of us thought and/or still think we’ll never have — that’s the best possible outcome.
Detective Amanda Rollins was gifted with the best possible outcome here. She gets to make a choice about leaving when the time is right for her, to move on to other ways of making a difference. And she gets to do it with her new husband by her side, raising her daughters with the perfect partner. (Also with her criminology texts on her nightstand — just some light reading, y’all!)
It’s a fitting end that, somehow, has the happy ending as the episode’s beginning. Then again, aren’t all endings just beginnings for whatever comes next? Here’s hoping.
And no, for the record, there’s no getting over those last looks between Amanda and Liv, right there at the end. Never will be.
More on Law & Order: SVU 24×09
- Why does “Counselor” sound filthy in that opening Rollisi scene, and how am I so very here for it?
- That graffiti. Uh, Liv. You in danger.
- How the hell is Noah suddenly 12? Are we in ℤ2 or ℤ4 here or. Wait. Maybe the timey-wimey is just being wibbly-wobbly again. Whichever. It’s weird and wrong. (Yeah, I’m a nerd. And?)
- Liv’s dropped jaw and her hand on her heart at the surprise wedding.
- Fantastic work from Giddish and Peter Scanavino in that scene where Rollisi discuss whether or not Amanda’s taking that job…and whether or not she’s told Liv yet.
- “Not everything in life turns out the way you think or the way you hope it might.” Ok but hear me out: When will it for Liv? She deserves.
- As much as I’m like “ick, go away. I hate this story,” I do appreciate that Connor’s mom asked for consent before hugging Noah. That’s important.
- But why, why, why did Olivia have to watch…that.
- Can Mariska Hargitay dial it back, like, ever? I mean, if this series insists on always hurting this character, could she at least take it easy on us? No? Ok.
- “That’s the beauty of adoption, right? You get to choose your family.” At least the dad gets it.
- “He doesn’t want to spend time with me.” Gutted.
- “These people are so…sweet. They’re like…candy. I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Nuts, considering recent news. If someone seems too good to be true, they probably are.
- On the one hand, how does one recover from Towelivia and her wavy wet hair?
- But on the other…Great. Your lead is hot. Put her in nothing but a towel. How original.
- Whatever you do, don’t think about Liv actually having to spend the night alone in that shitty hotel. How is it that I’m actually relieved that creeper put a camera in the mirror????
- The way Olivia’s smile just…doesn’t reach her eyes. But she’s trying so hard because she loves her kid and doesn’t want to take away from his excitement. I hate it here!
- Detective Velasco: Emotional support animal.
- Still stuck on the threesome comment. Help.
- The Muncy story deserved to…not be chaotically shoved into this episode.
- “You know, we ask rape victims to reveal everything? Why should I be exempt?” Um. Liv, your trauma has been all over the news. Many times.
- Liv’s asking Amanda about changing her name because she’s dreaming about “Benson-Stabler.” So true.
- When Olivia realizes she’s always had every right and the strongest claim…
- Liv. My dear. Amanda was icy in the beginning?! Girl…
- “We’re family now.” That sad smile. Stop.
- …but of course it’s sad. She just found out about yet more family leaving her, had the Elliot (home, family, etc.) conversation just before it, and loses everyone she loves. Plus, her son is a little shit who has decided she’s not real family now.
- “My wife.”
- “I love you, Amanda.” “I love you, Liv.” Weirdly, I do not love all this crying.
- “Don’t postpone joy.”
- “I’m gonna miss you, boo.” This hurts, too? Huh.
- That wink. The end!
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