Law & Order: SVU 24×12 “Blood Out” is a difficult episode to grapple with. Overall, no, it isn’t a good one. Much like the episode that kicked off this BX9 arc, it features way too many things jammed into a single 40-something-minute block of television. Unlike “Jumped In,” though, “Blood Out” just doesn’t give us any reason to say “ok, this might all make sense later.” Or, “we’ll go with it because maybe this is building toward something.” Because, essentially, there is no later. And we didn’t build toward anything new…at least not in the “these are their stories (dun dun)” department. The three-episode arc is complete, and we now have two out of three chapters in that story sidelining rape cases — thus decidedly not giving survivors a voice.
Then, there’s the Olivia of it all. Or, rather, there’s the “here we go again” of it all. But, hey! SVU 24×12 features the most movement for EO anyone has really seen since the 2021 Christmas crossover episodes and the longest time the world’s slowest slow burn has spent on-screen together — this time, actually in Olivia’s home instead of at work! — since the last crossover episodes of the 2021-2022 season. So, obviously, that makes it all worth it…right?
Wrong. Just. Plain. Wrong.
It’s bad enough to have “repeatedly traumatize Liv so you can ‘earn’ the outcome that’s been dangled in front of viewers’ faces forever” as the takeaway. But to only take a step — and, admittedly, probably more of a leap — as the “reward” for all the hurt is…Well, it’s certainly a choice. Yes, choices were made. Baffling choices, default choices, and yeah, probably a few really stunning ones crammed in there — as just enough of a distraction to try to make viewers forgive all the overdone ones. But whether or not that last ploy worked will be up to each individual viewer.
Now that all of that’s out of the way, let’s take a bit of a deeper look at Law & Order: SVU 24×12 “Blood Out,” and yeah. Of course, we’re going to scream about that scene after the kvetching’s done. We’re only human, after all.
As Captains Benson and Duarte are dealing with the “bigger, more important” (gross that it’s framed this way, but it very much is. Consistently and not just from Duarte’s point of view) matter of finalizing the case against Oscar Papa, Fin and Detective Bruno stumble upon a case. Because who among us hasn’t been out for a stroll after friendly drinks and just…happened to stumble upon a dump truck with a victim in it? And then, sure. Why not? Let’s make it a serial rapist — something about a veterinarian who’s a pervert, I think. While we’re at it, it’s all very easy to solve. Boom. Done!
Yes, to be fair, this series is among many procedurals (some great, some not) to have multiple episodes with an “oops! Here’s a case!” cold open, in which a random bystander just accidentally uncovers a dead body or otherwise witnesses something related to a crime. This particular discovery just doesn’t work, though. It just feels out of place and winds up being treated almost like a sideshow. Any excuse to keep Fin away from Olivia so she can be as isolated as possible or whatever. (More on that later.)
The effort to actually have Fin do something is still appreciated, but that’s a bare minimum that’s already been met this season. Next, let’s have that something flow well with the rest of the storytelling. Or at least, if it’s going to feel like a forced union of A and B stories, both A and B should be given the focus and care that all victims deserve. But this particular B case just get the necessary treatment and — largely due to the type of promotion this episode received ahead of time — is just one more thing to have to sit and wait through before the big event. It comes across as inconsequential, and no survivor’s chance at justice should feel that way.
As far as an overall season impact goes, it’s obviously the setup for Kevin Kane to stick around as Detective Bruno. Which, given how well he and Ice-T work together as scene partners, both in the real-world acting sense and for their characters’ particular dynamic, great!
…but arguably, that’s yet another reason why dumping this case into the mix is a great disservice.
Surprise! Olivia Benson is Strong™ and Sad™ and Alone™ .
The bruise is still under Captain Benson’s eye a couple weeks after her beatdown, but she’s a Strong Female Character™, so she has magical healing powers in every other part of her body. We’ve already discussed this, though. Is it an absolute delight to see THE Olivia Benson turn a whole new shade of lethal and, quite frankly, terrifying as she confronts Oscar Papa and starts throwing down the old school Benson threats? Absolutely. But this extra level of Badass Benson entertainment comes with the usual complaints. It seems like we’re always having to point out that this woman could just as easily stare pure evil in the face and refuse to back down…without the repeated traumas.
Or, at least, the previous 23 seasons’ worth of those traumas ought to not require any additional insight on that front. But uh. Surprise! Same story here. The physical attack in front of her son who was also a target that jump-started this arc wasn’t enough. Oh, no. Let’s go for the emotional pain, all over everywhere, while we’re at it.
To that end, Law & Order: SVU 24×12 really leans into the image of Olivia carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. Liv’s case is falling apart, one witness at a time. Then, there are the lives she blames herself for. Albert’s still not healing well and even winds up back in the hospital. And let’s not even get into what happens to Duarte, other than to say he’s just another person for our girl to beat herself up about.
Basically, “Blood Out” is an episode that, were someone to cut Olivia Benson open and hold up her heart, it’d be punctured. Bleeding. Raw and full of far too many new wounds, on top of all her countless existing scars. She’s feeling lost, feeling alone — and not the “I’m in with my blankets and enjoying my ER reruns” kind of alone. No, it’s the abandoned kind of alone. She’s just plain lonely. That bittersweet phone call she has with Fin, where the pain gets a little bit of a humor-based balm, works really well here. But then, there’s the overkill of it all. The empty bullpen. And the comment to Duarte, of all people, about how drinking alone beats being at home alone (lonely).
None of this is new, and that’s the problem with it. This character has been through enough. We get it — the job is hard. Life is hard. Everything is hard.
…where’s the healing for all this trauma?
“Elliot, I’m not ready for this.”
Ok, let’s go. Critic hat tossed off, writer deep diving right into the EO trash.
For as much as Olivia Benson feels lonely and isolated in “Blood Out,” she’s not actually alone. Back in the day, as long as Elliot Stabler was by her side as her partner, she never was. And now, with him back, no longer ghosting her, and free of a certain dead weight, she’s about as far from alone as she’s ever been. Somewhere, deep down, she knows it. Liv trusts her El enough to go pick up Noah, who is more precious to her than life itself. That is, after so much uncertainty about EO’s status, a huge deal.
(Inviting the critic hat to temporarily join us in the trash: None of this excuses the complete question mark of their status, the inconsistencies in storytelling, the timey-wimey with Stabler’s therapy session…or anything else has been botched with this relationship for years. Nothing ever will, but let’s roll in the garbage truck with it. We’re here. Let’s savor what we can…God only knows when we’ll have anything else.)
Elliot shrugs off Olivia’s thanks for going to get Noah with “you’re family,” which is a whole thing in and of itself. The family you choose, the one you love outside of obligation, is it. EO are it. But wait! There’s more! Stabler asks Benson the one question we’ve needed answered this whole arc — why didn’t she call him (forget the fact that everyone in the NYPD seemed to know…whatever). And her answer is telling. Olivia knew Elliot would try to protect her. She didn’t worry about it — she knew he would protect her. And she can not, in any way, confront that. In fact, she does everything she can to pretend everything’s just fine and keep looking for that sugar she got up to get.
But let’s be real here: Nobody knows who Olivia Benson is at her core the way Elliot Stabler does, so he waits her out. He pushes when appropriate, waits a little more. Lets her put that physical space between them, reads all her little tells with the way she damned near loses track of what she was even in the cabinet for…and then, eventually gets up. EO come so close, over and over again, to kissing…but don’t. Olivia’s not ready — she has to say it three times to even remind herself.
It’s completely unsurprising that Mariska Hargitay pours on the vulnerability and, yeah, the pain. (She has had plenty of practice with that last one, after all.) Here, it’s the pain of wanting, of longing, and so much more. All that angst comes across as something that goes beyond nearly any other love story we’ve seen on television. You can tell Olivia wants — needs — to go for it so badly, it hurts. But she just can’t. And the feeling that she can’t? That hurts too. The decades of love and feeling like she’d never have that shot…they are in her way, a physical barrier almost — one that we actually see the actors dance around, butting up against it and not breaking through scrapes at all those old wounds.
(Hi. Critic jumping back on: This, however, is the good kind of pain, unlike the above. Because there’s a purpose, and it’s real — never cruel.)
On the other side of it, there’s Christopher Meloni, giving us an El that is somehow equal parts Liv’s rock, completely weak at the nearness of her, desperate for more, sure they’ll get there, and probably even a little bit terrified himself. There’s also something truly beautiful in the way he’ll lean in, as Elliot trying to nudge Olivia in that direction…but never quite seals the deal. Because Olivia has to be the one to make this decision now. He hurt her by leaving. And he knows she’d already been through enough before he ever met her, already had enough vulnerabilities that only he had ever been trusted with, which all make giving them a chance, arguably, one of the most difficult things she’ll ever have to do.
This thing between them, as unbreakable as the bond is — even 10 years did nothing to kill those feelings — it’s also desperately fragile in other ways. The same, as Elliot knows, could be said for his Olivia…the woman he once knew everything about, even the parts she’d rather forget. (Does he know the new things now? Nobody knows! Yay!)
So, all of that subtext is more like text in the hands of Hargitay and Meloni. And. They just. Don’t. Stop. Moving. It’s perpetual, poetic motion, and they can’t keep themselves still. It’s just…constant push and pull, almost like the whole relationship is right there in those moments. Like we’re reliving it with them, frustrations and all. Because, yes. It is frustrating to still not be there — both for the characters and for us. And don’t even get me started on how it’s like Liv can’t even hold herself up when, in the end, she decides to back away completely. Resisting a gravitational force so strong will, in fact, weaken even the toughest of us, after all.
It’s such beautiful work from two actors who have always kept us captivated by this very special something they have as real people, as well as by all the things their characters’ relationship is. “What are those things,” you might ask. Well. It starts with partners, friends, family, soulmates…and it eventually ends in some kind of place that defies words.
Um, also, it’s all very hot. For the record. Eye fucking. Is. Hot. So is that “intense staring that says way more than normal conversations ever could” thing these two do.
After a promo that had a different take of the scene — guys, it’s canon now. You’ll take that other version from my cold, dead hands — it may be easy to get frustrated with how what aired ends. But given the lack of the big conversations and the utter mess the rest of Law & Order: SVU 24×12 really is, for me, going there may have actually been even more frustrating at this point. Either way, it’s a “terrible journey, great destination” kind of situation. (Those from the Suits fandom may recall this was my personal take on the last season or two building up to Darvey…and always will be.)
Regardless of any complaints, though, this is the biggest step forward EO has ever taken. It’s satisfying in its own way and most certainly fits who we know these people — especially Liv — to be. But it’s out there. She wants this, he wants this, and they both know it. Let’s sit with that for a while. And by “sit with that,” I mean watch and/or listen to that scene over and over again until it’s burned into our brains for all eternity. Trust me when I say there’s always something new to discover…currently, this particular viewer is like, “omg, the strained way Elliot says ‘Liv’ — has this man’s voice ever sounded like that?!”
There’s so much meaning here, and yet — looked at with the critic hat on again — that meaning is still a little bit too “Choose Your Own Adventure” (shoutout to the olds like me who remember those books).
Hargitay and Meloni, however, make it work. It’s really unfair, actually. And if they ever actually get good, consistent material, we probably won’t survive it anyway.
More on Law & Order: SVU 24×12 “Blood Out”
- Other things that aren’t ok, no matter what the EO movement looks like: Exhibit A.
- “…but it pains me more that your son was traumatized.” Uh. Sure, Papa was being sarcastic here…but like. HEY, LITERALLY. WTF.
- The delivery. Those. Pauses. On. The. “If you say. one. more. word” bit…she is scary as fuck.
- We had to throw in an ex-wife to drag, huh? Women are plot devices! Just say the gubmint took your money because you’re hella rich but not Eon Schmuck levels of rich and go! Done!
- “Are you leaving me, too?” You know when you’re like “lulz just joking,” but you’re lying to yourself and the other person? Because, uh. Liv, sweetie. Let’s talk.
- “Whoever uses withdrawal as a weapon hasn’t been through it.” Given the horror stories I’ve heard, correct.
- …but also, what even with Velasco, drugs…how does this fit SVU? Truly, WTF.
- Ok but Duarte doesn’t look right in a suit.
- The stuff about ruining his neighborhood…powerful. Too bad it was lumped in with everything else and kind of a “get it over with so I can see the old partners do whatever they’re doing” thing!
- It’s the chutzpah of that defense attorney for me.
- “For 100 rapes? You gonna tell Benson?” Churlish gets me.
- Olivia “I’m fine” Benson telling someone to answer “truthfully” when she asks how they’re doing…rich.
- “You know, BX9 should publish a cookbook.” I hate her sometimes. (Love her.)
- She really called the kid who tried to kill her “honey” and in that voice. Y’all caught that, right? This woman’s heart…
- As a Jew, I must point out that Olivia’s self-blame really resonates with my Jewish guilt complex.
- Oh, ok. One-sided phone calls are allowed now. Got it!
- The Liv facepalm is outmatched.
- Nah, but the bruise should at least be yellow/green-ish.
- “I don’t know why I trusted you. I’ll never be able to walk down the street without looking over my shoulder again. You should’ve just ended my life while you could.” Me at EO.
- “Is that an invitation?” “You wish.” And he’s not special for it!
- …ok but a sweet moment over pictures of Noah with Duarte, who’s about to get the slasher flick treatment…yet the one scene of Elliot with Noah — forget about ever actually discussing him with Olivia like the family(!!!) they are — got cut after airing. Ok.
- Of course Strong™ Benson even impressed Papa. First off, that’s Mariska Hargitay’s power. Second, she’s been traumatized on enough levels during these three episodes to earn that. Obviously.
- “…there’s nobody that I trust more to bring my son home in one piece than Stabler.” Bye. This, right here, would’ve ended me all on its own. Especially the way she looks delighted to say it? Rude.
- No but what’s with Churlish and that recording of Velasco? Scared.
- “I want to.” Twice.
- “What if it doesn’t work out?” I hate how much this woman gets me with this. But also: Take your own advice to Amanda, Liv. Look how well that worked out for her! A happy ending! Get. Yours.
- It’s giving “take all the time you need.” Yes, that was mid-relationship/rocky pseudo-breakup. But still. (If you know, you know.)
- Also. As was brilliantly pointed out on (dying) Twitter dot com, “at least now she gets to break his heart like he broke hers in 2011.”
- …but it’s all kind of out of the blue with the radio silence we, as viewers, have had all season long. A great scene does not a well-managed plot make.
- And, back to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” of it all, the meaning of that scene changes so much depending on where the adventure was immediately prior.
- When her world is falling apart, she has her partner to collapse with, though. At last.
- Truly sick over them, still not impressed overall.
Thoughts on Law & Order: SVU 24×12 “Blood Out”? Leave us a comment!
Law & Order: SVU airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.