As a second chapter of a trilogy, Law & Order: SVU 24×11 “Soldier Up” both does what it needs to do…and also doesn’t. The episode certainly moves the plot along, ups the stakes, and deepens the storytelling — for the most part. But it also feels like a conclusion of something, rather than either the beginning or the middle. With such huge stakes and the realistic, if disheartening, fact that getting rid of one gang leader doesn’t fix anything, though, it’s also still a fitting — if unexpected — sort of middle, in its own way. Maybe, even, creating a more unique — as opposed to formulaic — middle is exactly the goal here. In that case, we’re succeeding.
So, why does “Soldier Up” not do what it needs to do, then? Well. Basically, the problem is, it makes one of the major parts of the previous episode go from “eh, maybe this fits, but it’s iffy” to “lol no.” Namely, the storytelling could have been a lot stronger overall and done a much greater service to the victims by letting the deaf school case stand on its own two feet. If that was at all in question before, it’s definitely not now.
The cold cases and the argument with McGrath could’ve been the sole reason for Liv getting involved with the Bronx. She could’ve gone home, thought the hard work was done, then been forced back in. If this series really had to go the lazy, unnecessary, tropey, awful (keep inserting adjectives here) route of hurting her yet again to spark “forward movement” or “healing” (or whatever), there you go. Or, you know, leave that unforgivable part out. “Captain Benson goes to the Bronx to clear cold cases” is enough of a way to lead to…over 100 unsolved cases that all lead back to BX9. Boom. Bam. Enter Duarte and all the quips about apologies for that last case. Done.
That could’ve been a natural lead-in to the events of “Soldier Up.” At least for this viewer, there’s a much more logical progression with true intent of honoring victims, instead of making them background noise, there. It could also solve the, “ok but how are we getting the big guy by the end of part two of three” of it all, as well. Delaying that arrest, and giving the two unrelated serials their own proper time, just feels more right.
With a third chapter coming, there are probably plenty of twists and turns that will come along with it. So, even if this episode feels too self-contained, it probably won’t be in the end. Admittedly, feeling done and then getting surprised could be pretty refreshing. But looking at the general storytelling method of this show, as well as the series’ stated purpose, letting the victims from the previous chapter not be overshadowed by Bigger Things was more appropriate. Again, that is…at least in this one viewer’s opinion.
Since we’re here now, though, let’s take a look at some of the hits and misses from Law & Order: SVU 24×11 “Soldier Up.”
Ah, yes. Badass Benson.
So, this was irritating in “Jumped In,” and it’s beyond absurd in “Soldier Up”: You do not heal from rib pain that quickly. Period. End of story. Come on. So, we pick up right where the previous episode ended, which was only a handful of days after the attack. But then…Captain Duarte takes Olivia on a hike — and in those shoes, no less — with hardly any indication that she’s in pain, much less the excruciating type she should be experiencing?
Ok then. (And “hardly any” is being generous.) Please make it make sense.
Honestly, the only thing that’s giving “Benson just had the everloving shit beat out of her not too long ago” is the bruise. So, shoutout to the makeup team for not completely dropping the ball.
Now that those complaints are out of the way, it is always fun to see Captain Benson enter her “badass” mode. In fact, it’s that toughness that provides one of this episode’s major highlights. The very tense scene with Oscar Papa, with Liv just…refusing to give him the satisfaction of seeing her flinch, is quite the reminder of what “Badass Benson” really means. And no, it’s not “can go through every trauma imaginable — and then some — and somehow survive.” That’s, as we’ve discussed here many times, actually pretty weak and lazy storytelling.
Instead, it’s about a certain inner grit. Sure, that can — and does — contribute to all the times Olivia has simply survived. But there’s more here. In the first place, there’s something to aspire to, in terms of Liv’s defiance in the face of someone she knows wants her dead, someone who came very close and has proven he knows where and how to find her. It’s not about staring down demons or anything like that; she’s just made of something that doesn’t allow her to back down until, to kind of steal from our star a bit, she decides. Here, even with her and Duarte set up and outnumbered, she might do the smart thing and have the conversation Papa wants to have…but there’s no way in hell Olivia Benson is just going to meekly sit back and swallow whatever this guy is trying to force-feed her.
She talks back; she pushes her point. And she just…is.
But strength doesn’t always mean facing things, or standing up to people, in spite of brilliantly-covered fear. Sometimes, more often than not with our Olivia really, caring is the strongest — the most fearless — thing you can do. So, when Liv spends the majority of SVU 24×11 refusing to push her own attacker for information, when she sees him as just a teenager who was traumatized and forced into this life, and — certainly — when she reveals just how deep her love for her son is to him as a way of explaining his own mom’s actions, that, too, is her being Badass Benson. In fact, I’d argue that is the most badass of the Badass Benson actions.
Her heart is everything. Period. Full stop.
Yes, she eventually gives in and “uses” him. But she does it on her time, in her way. She is in control, even when she probably shouldn’t be. Weirdly enough, holding so tightly to that control…is an outward sort of strength that is probably hiding the feeling of having recently lost control (again). But that’s part of what makes this character work, even when not everything around her does, though She’s a mess of contradictions, all of which add up to making her feel far more like fact than fiction. Many of the things that make her strong are hiding weaknesses, and the things that others think make her weak are exactly what make her the most badass of them all.
Duarte keeps warning Benson about her empathy, especially while they’re working in “his” world. But he’s wrong, of course. He’s so, so very wrong.
Duarte did whatnow?
It’s bad enough that Bronx SVU is a mess. But it’s even worse than an NYPD Captain would know about a “rape tree,” as Detective Muncy called it, and sit on the information for over a year. Especially when there are over 100 vile trophies. This isn’t just any random cop trying to build a case and keeping it quiet; it’s someone who’s risen through the ranks, just…not seeing this as important enough to get in the way of what he wants to do.
Things are much more complicated than they appear, though. If Papa’s little attempt to tell a story is to be believed, Duarte does care about the community. No, he doesn’t seem to care that kids are joining BX9 because refusing means someone is going to rape their mothers. But he…does care enough about those same kids to buy diapers when the teens’ girlfriends become pregnant. There’s something under the surface here that shows real care for the community — even if it is being used against him and distorted by the Big Bad. (See also: comparing renting an ice cream truck for the neighborhood kids to, you know, what a pedophile does to lure in his unsuspecting victims.)
“Soldier Up” makes Duarte look really, really plain bad with that dark look from Maurice Compte after we hear a gunshot, then see Detective Bruno thanking him as he cuffs a now-incapacitated suspect. But then, there’s this new information. It reads as an ambitious attempt at a gray-area/nuanced sort of treatment of the character. Yes, he’s in a different world and has to be a different kind of tough than Benson. And we certainly see elements of that, as promised.
I just don’t know that it’s entirely successful. Not because the performance isn’t doing enough — it very much is — but because there’s so much going on. Not to mention, this particular series is probably not the place…especially when Duarte has, on more than one occasion, minimized the importance of getting justice for rape survivors. We can’t even make this a “sacrificing one for many” kind of situation, seeing as how the tree’s victims were, uh, many.
More on Law & Order: SVU 24×11
- “I don’t care what happens to me. My whole life’s a mess.” I feel called out, actually.
- Ok but hear me out. Olivia can help me clean up my life any. day. Since she’s technically not real, I guess I’ll just have to settle for Mariska Hargitay. What a terrible compromise.
- Speaking of Hargitay: We continue to neither deserve nor be able to explain.
- No but the journey this poor boy had to take to get here…
- “You can trust this crazy white lady. She’s one of those bleeding hearts who wants to save the world.” So true!
- …we’re going with “Liv pretended not to know Spanish” over “they…forgot Liv knows Spanish,” though, right? Right.
- That scream is all of us after over two decades of waiting for these two idiots (who were dressed similarly on their respective shows, with the black leather over black???) to do something (each other).
- It’s like they’re trying to provide followup on the “lots of cold cases. Bronx SVU is a mess” bit from 24×10, but it just feels forced in? This is its own story.
- “According to McGrath, that’s what Benson’s here to do.” Keep my Liv’s name out of your mouth if you’re going to use that tone.
- Hilarious that Liv doesn’t want to re-traumatize this kid and is (rightfully) painted as the righteous one for that…when this series loves to traumatize its protagonist ad infinitum. (Note: “Hilarious” is, um, not being used kindly here. To put it mildly.)
- “Captain! I’m talking to her, not you.” Exactly, Muncy.
- …and let’s not get into how we all wish we could’ve been Muncy when she went at Duarte over sitting on what he knew either.
- Let us all admire the way Liv works her jaw before “I didn’t say that either” in response to McGrath thinking she and Duarte are on the same page.
- The beanie with her messy hair falling out of it. Help.
- Ok but if dude messed himself after being surprised by Duarte and Bruno, how is everyone on the planet not losing control over their bodily functions from witnessing Olivia Benson?! Hmmmm????
- “Age before beauty.” “You first, Moneybags.”
- “Yeah, but paper cuts are a bitch.” Correct.
- …and then the way she just…shuts this guy’s laughter up with just…a look.
- “I bet you do.”
- “Aspirin. Since I get a headache every time you’re around.” Me at these two old cops who won’t do each other already.
- “When you came to kill me the other night, I would’ve died for my son. But I wanted to live for him more.” We get it. Olivia Benson is only allowed to be a mother when it’s her reason for living and being a big ol’ badassy badass. She “earns” him by almost dying…but not.
- Duarte can’t even compliment this woman without trying to shrug it off like it’s nothing but “touchy-feely stuff.” Just say she’s the best and go.
- “I hate to say it, but one of these days, your empathy is going to be your undoing.” And yet, she persists. Badass.
- That disgusted look when Papa tells Liv her bruise looks like it hurt. Say it with me now: Mariska. Hargitay.
- “We are a brotherhood. An idea. And you just can’t kill one of those.” “Unlike people.” The way this applies to way, way more than just this gang case…
- I’m not a part of the community they’re trying to tell a bigger story about here and therefore obviously can’t speak on if the representation is accurate or not. However, the whole conversation around Papa raises so many interesting points. This idea of him forming BX9 to keep himself “and other Central and South American kids from being picked on. By Norteños like you” gives viewers a look inside. It’s a concept that makes perfect sense regardless of who you are, one of wanting to protect your own and be protected. But then…how does it go from simply not wanting to be bullied to…this? There’s so much to think about here that, again, I just… 1) it’s not my place to get into how well it is or isn’t handled for this specific community. And, 2) with that being said, I don’t think a mere three episodes, especially with so many other things — particularly the often-traumatized heroine being brutalized again to kick it off (and wtfever that promo was to end it) —are enough to begin get into something so complex.
- “More holes than a colander.” FIN.
- Actually…Fin and Bruno deserve way more screentime, for the record.
- Now, I’m back to “did this series really forget Liv knows Spanish” when she…needs someone to explain to her what “maestro” means.
- “…better than you think.” Ok but tell me more???
- Honestly also feel like a lot of what happens when Velasco talks to the kid…deserved more focus. All this about identity, and feeling invisible, and…yeah. Needed more. This whole thing is just a way bigger story.
- “Bad men, they thrive in the dark.” The pretty dialogue is gonna pretty dialogue all over the place, regardless, huh?
- “What was that?” “EMPATHY.” Olivia Benson, the woman you are.
- And in that moment, Duarte was basically everyone who ever underestimated or otherwise misunderstood her.
- Liv and McGrath…bantering? Sure.
- “That woman just won’t quit.” You’re learning that the hard way, huh.
- “That an apology?” “No. But it’s close as you’re gonna get.” She’s not sorry, bitch.
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