Law & Order: SVU 24×16 “The Presence of Absence” is the kind of episode you wish were, well…absent. That’s never a good thing to say about an episode of a series that’s brought a weird sort of comfort to so many people for so many years, much less one with a beloved character like Olivia Benson brought to the screen by an actor of Mariska Hargitay’s caliber. And it’s particularly upsetting to have to say when it’s the series’ first hour back after a few weeks off.
Add a little bit more insult to
injury all the other insults this mess provides, though, because it’s also a low point in a season that started out so well. Not to mention, it’s a season that promised “healing and deep trauma,” yet has only really bothered to deliver on the second part of that promise.
Or, well, maybe the so-called healing has come from all the armchair psychology, force fed to viewers through dialogue that just flat out doesn’t fit the personalities of the characters saying the lines? If so, that’s…certainly one interpretation of the word. No, it’s not a good one, mind you. But it’s an interpretation just the same. And this is probably where we go with the “but wait, there’s more!” of it all. Because let’s just say it boggles the mind.
What in the male-gazey fantasy
What’s most present in “The Presence of Absence” is the complete absence of any ability to know how women…work. The opening scene is enough to immediately make viewers check out. Which, to be clear, is the opposite of what should happen. But it is what it is. So, how does the long, drawn-out introduction to the case of the week fail? For starters, the dialogue is a mess, the likes of which I can not fathom two grown women—or really two human beings of any kind—saying to each other about potential dates. A particular favorite would be the one about “the equivalent of a Nissan Altima. Just your type.” (And yes, if you read “favorite” there with all the sarcasm and sense of WTF in the world, you interpreted that correctly.)
If that’s not bad enough, it also sets Zoe, the victim, up to be unbelievably naive, hopeless, clueless…insert any other number of descriptors here. And, well. From there, her near-immediate decision to jump into “BDSM” (or, at least, a sad person’s interpretation of it that makes even Fifty Shades of Grey look like a work of well-researched art) with Klaus
Mikaelson from TVD Darcy sets up your bland “asking for it” sort of narrative. That is, at least, until things, somehow, manage to get worse.
But before we get to the “worse,” let’s make it very clear: Law & Order: SVU 24×16 is a glaring example of television’s time-honored tradition of having no idea what human women are like. Unless, of course, they are the Strong™ (read: repeatedly traumatized) type. Which, sure. There are exceptions…but, overall, yikes. And I thought we were learning to do better. But um. Yikes.
Ok. And now…the promised “worse.”
As the investigation unfolds, the case takes giant leap after giant leap into increasingly deep and unfathomable circles of TV hell. Kudos for not setting up the standard “he said, she said.” But sometimes, adding twist after twist is a terrible idea, actually. Because no, nobody asked for any of this. In fact, please keep it next time. Dead husband’s nephew’s sperm, bff Jenna from the opening scene actually being Klaus
Mikaelson, attempted impregnation and all. Like, did someone pull plot points out of a hat and just…combine them all?
Anyway. It’s best not to focus on any of those details—ever.
But even if we try to put the bizarre nonsense aside and see what types of interesting discussions we can have around this episode, we’re still left pretty empty. Sure, there are tidbits…but they’re grossly overshadowed and just kind of there. Grudgingly there with no substance, actually. As an example, Olivia mentions “the power of fantasy” at one point. For another, part of Zoe’s description of her “BDSM” (again, no) relationship with
Niklaus Klaus involves how the things he told her to do were about getting back some of the things her grief robbed her of. Which, sure. Actually telling a story about…I don’t know…healing from the deep trauma of loss through that kind of relationship would’ve been great! But no, that’s not what this was. At all.
Oh, and going back to the original point of male-gazey messes…we even have the gal pals experimenting in college, huh? Ok then.
More on Law & Order: SVU 24×16
- “He has had two years to fix you. You are my project now.” Um…Red flag. Can confirm that a friendship in which one “friend” is the other’s project is not a friendship at all. Get out. I wish I had about…a decade-plus earlier than I did.
- “Mr. Wellness and his sidekick” sounds like Meloni and whomstever he has near him at the time.
- No, but seriously. Klaus Darcy? So, someone watches The CW (no shade!) and…is obsessed with Pride and Prejudice, I guess? Personally, I’m more of a Brontë girl.
- “Girl, you’re being loved bombed.” “Better than being bombed.” Ok but what.
- “What if he’s married?” “I’m ok with that.” Things I wish Olivia Benson had said 24 years ago…
- “Muncy, most of life is not fair.” We get it.
- But also: Is the Captain Benson who’s pushing back so hard on Muncy’s loyalty to her partner a more “grown” Benson? Or…the world’s most hypocritical Liv? Both?
- “The one thing that has driven me all my life is excellence.”
- A positive, actually: Churlish. Really like how she fits with the rest of the squad (at least those present), the rhythm, all that. TBD on whether or not her tension with Muncy works for me or not. The second it gets to “lulz women so catty” territory, I’m out.
- No matter how it all turns out, though, Churlish being kinda awesome and the great back-and-forth between Molly Burnett and Jasmine Batchelor couldn’t save this mess. Kind of like how Muncy’s fantasy is for Churlish to leave, ours is for this episode to leave our memories.
- Other things that couldn’t save this episode: the fact that Olivia Benson exists, Liv’s ponytail, Liv’s empathy, Liv’s shocked face, Mariska Hargitay being gorgeous AF, Mariska Hargitay selling the shit out of everything and giving us a bunch of reactions that remind us Olivia’s going through her own struggles right now…that she never talks about, Olivia Benson with coffee, Hargitay’s little head tilt in the court room scene when Zoe turns around to look at Liv, Benson mentoring Churlish.
- TL;DR Even the Mariska Hargitay couldn’t save this one.
- Ok but Fin’s back to cute one-liners, I guess. Cool. We had it all there for a second.
- “Life is such an odd mix of beauty and pain. We can’t control how that unfolds for the people that we love. Much less ourselves.” Liv, sweetheart, coming up with emo on thoughts on LiveJournal hasn’t been a thing for over a decade. You ok?
- “Oh, I feel like puking.” Sums it up, to be honest.
- “I feel like I’m losing control of my life.” Same.
- “No dating apps.” “I live in a coed dorm.” …what century is this from? And…what do people think coed dorms are like?
- Does Olivia Benson talking about pregnancy fetishes automatically make you think, “c’mon, admit it, Detective. You know you want to bang your partner. Watch her grow swollen with your child. And why not, man? She’d give you beautiful babies.” Or are you new here?
- Another interesting conversation this episode had the opportunity to explore…yet didn’t: Friends who treat you like garbage and say it’s for your own good. It’s there with the absolute nonsense that is Jenna’s entire existence, but there’s no way to have a real conversation about that concept when there’s *gestures wildly* all…this instead. But um. Yeah.
- “It’s called willful blindness. And believe me, I’ve had my share.” Same, Liv. Same.
- “There’s a lot to unpack there.” See also: Sums up the episode.
- For the record, kiddos, you can cry yourself to sleep after a major loss of a loved one like that as many nights as you need to. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
- “Love is messy.” Um. Not like this!
- No, really. What even is some of this dialogue?
- On the flip side, this line’s actually good. “I spent the last two years of my life feeling sorry for myself. And anger feels pretty good right now.”
- …and back to the “no, really. WTF” lines: “Obviously, Jenna doesn’t have a penis. But she was trying to impregnate me.”
- Also, is Zoe Jenna’s therapist now? And since when is it ok for someone to speculate like that on the stand? The defense didn’t object because…?
- “Klaus is hot…He gave me my first orgasm in years…” Back to that whole Mikaelson thing…
- “If you’ve never heard true loss like that…it’s primal.” Anyone whose mind didn’t immediately jump to a certain detective in a certain interrogation room after hearing her partner put his papers in, please let me know what it’s like to know peace.
- “His presence will always be felt. It’s about how you cope.” Hm.
- “It’s not too late for a fresh start.” Imagine if she took her own advice, like, ever.
- “So, what just happened here?” Would love to know.
Thoughts on Law & Order: SVU 24×16 “The Presence of Absence”? Leave us a comment!
Law & Order: SVU airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.