Law & Order: SVU 24×18 “Bubble Wrap” is one of those episodes where, on a lot of levels, the story doesn’t matter nearly as much as it probably should. At the end of the day, it basically exists as an excuse for Mariska Hargitay and Michelle Gomez to have a number of big moments together and, more or less, damn the rest. And, honestly, we’re not entirely mad about it. Especially not after some more recent outings that weren’t exactly our favorites.
That’s not to say that the story doesn’t have any points to discuss that aren’t “omg Mariska and Michelle” or anything. It’s just very, very hard to do so with Hargitay’s Olivia Benson going toe-to-toe with Gomez’s Connie Parish. And even when the two aren’t in a scene together, the hour has plenty to dissect. The point, however, seems to still continue to be down to “who wouldn’t want sinister mommy Michelle Gomez in an episode?” Which, eh. That’s fine enough.
Anyone who’s seen Michelle Gomez in Doctor Who as Missy — or in any number of other projects, as any number of other fantastic characters — already knows this, but she is the type of actress who can effortlessly make evil into something purely delicious. Devouring Mother? More like want to devour this character work…Mother.
Not just that, but she is
The Mistress a master of playing people who are just…palpably calculating, of putting on an outward appearance of innocence that somehow fools both everyone and not a single soul. Her performance in “Bubble Wrap” is no different, even while the story adds that extra disturbing layer of being the mother who’s way, way too close to her son. There’s something horribly uncomfortable about saying this, given the circumstances, but those moments where Connie is mothering Martin do, in fact, exude a certain type of comfort and care. When you hear “Mama’s here,” you almost wish she was here…until you remember all the reasons why you shouldn’t.
But that’s what makes “Bubble Wrap” both work…and nearly not. Because, while we do have the perfect villain and a number of intriguing turns along the way, viewers are left with some kind of creatively outlandish case here. Which, again, works — and gets very close to the line of bad. It’s not like there are no criminals like Connie Parish, or that there are no rapists like Martin who also happen to be victims of wildly terrible mothers, but the story risks entering the territory of sensationalsm on a series that — with some fairly noticeable exceptions — tends to stay fairly rooted in reality.
Now, aside from all the tiny details in Gomez’s performance — the smirks, the self-assured shrugs, and that underlying layer of threat even when she’s putting on a show about how “innocent” she and her baby are — one thing that comes across very well in this story is just how much Connie’s abuse has shaped Martin. Then again, Joseph Cross already appeared on this series, back in Season 5’s “Home,” as a perp with mommy issues. So, maybe embodying Martin’s very real fear of his mother and attachment to a very particular type of comfort — see also: he, like, snuggles our victim before things actually go downhill from there — isn’t exactly a stretch. Still, it’s clear that Martin’s also a victim himself. And Liv’s right to point that out to Carisi.
However. At same time, I’m not at all comfortable with being made to feel any type of empathy, whatsoever, for someone like him. He’s technically a grown man, and even in therapy (though, with Mommy
Missy Connie sharing his sessions, apparently), so he’s responsible for his own actions. And those actions are very clearly wrong. The episode even includes a scene involving the crime itself, so that’s that. There’s no gray area.
Not to be a broken record, but it works…except that it also doesn’t.
Now, the best part of SVU 24×18, as alluded to above, is obviously just every single scene with Olivia and Connie going head to head. And the quality builds with every interaction, to the point where the scene on the courthouse steps feels like it should actually be the best — which, to be fair, it is in some ways — but is greatly upstaged by the final showdown in Captain Benson’s office. Connie has done her research and knows everything about Liv’s tough few months; somehow, too, she’s able to dig at Olivia’s insecurities around being a mom. But when we sit back and really think about it, the “somehow” is fairly obvious.
There’s no mystery here: Any woman, especially a single mom, at this level of her career is pretty much always told by society that she’s failing as a mom.
…but, of course, those women who decide to focus on parenting over their careers are also judged. So. That’s nice.
Back to the plot, though: The reason the final confrontation stands out the most doesn’t even completely come down to the acting. (Which, of course, remains superb.) It’s about Liv, making it clear she knows the difference between love and the toxic mess Connie tries to pass off as that same feeling. She knows she loves her son. And she knows what Connie did, especially in terms of selfishly never letting Martin grow up, is not love. So, sure. Olivia will probably always worry about Noah, and about whether or not she should spend, or even should have spent, more time with him and less chasing down monsters in the dark. But deep down? She simply knows better and is clearly confident on that front, too. That’s huge.
Of course, if she could have a concept of what love is, in the romantic sense, when it’s staring her right in the face — and preferably before we all turn 100 — that would also be appreciated!
“That kind of optimism should be a crime.”
Law & Order: SVU 24×18 also features some fun back-and-forth, first between Liv and Fin and later between her and Carisi, about optimism. (And pessimism, which…hi. It’s me. And it’s a whole fandom, at this point.) On that front, let’s talk about Churlish and Muncy. Because when it comes to burying the hatchet or mending fences (or whatever common phrase you want to use there), thinks do seem to be looking up for them.
All jokes from Fin about how nobody else is at the precinct for them to talk to aside, “Bubble Wrap” shows some progress between the two young detectives. “Lime Chaser” had some hints on that front, right at the end (which we made note of!) with the awkward handshake near the end of the episode. Here, the two take it a step further. They have their moment over coffee, which Muncy even initiates, and they work very well together throughout the case. There’s a great rhythm, especially when they’re interviewing Mona in the hospital.
It’s almost as if letting two adults figure things out, rather than treating them like children and forcing playdates at bars, works! And this is a much, much better dynamic to see between two young women than their initial tension. Additionally, their improved ability to play nice provides an especially important contrast to all the barely-concealed (if at all) hatred between Olivia and Connie. Had this been an episode that was nothing but pairs of women fighting each other, it would’ve been an assured flop. (Aside from, of course, the fangirling over Gomez and Hargitay doing that. Simultaneously, no less.)
That’s not to say that Detectives Churlish and Muncy are quite there yet, in terms of the type of working relationship we’d like to see from them. Maybe, even, they never actually will be. But that’s ok! They’re being professional, and right when they start to go near territory that might involve an actual fight, they get interrupted just in time. (Rest in peace to our victim, though.) When duty calls, any remaining…stuff from Churlish bringing up Velasco falls away. As it should.
Basically, the behavior in “Bubble Wrap” is a much, much, much better look for both characters. Let’s continue down this path, even if it gets some bumps here or there along the way, please.
More on Law & Order: SVU 24×18
- “…the constant, endless criticism. I feel terrible about myself.” Anyone else feel attacked, right from the start?
- “My whole life revolves around you. It always has.” It’s giving EO. And in an icky way.
- While we’re at it, when is Liv going to have it out with that man already? Or even get her ass back in therapy? T I R E D.
- “…unending Möbius strip of violent closeness.” As a mathematician, I must ask if anyone actually knows what that means or if they just thought it sounded cool. I’d Google y’all a good textbook reference, but Google has gone to AI hell, so…here. This is good enough.
- “I Got You Babe” playing during the rape scene…Do y’all think you’re Glen Morgan? This ain’t “Home,” gang.
- “You know we have coffee here, right?” “I just like things a certain way.” In this scene, I am Churlish. I don’t care if there’s a Keurig at the office. I’m getting my cold brew.
- “So arrest me.” Elliot when.
- “I’m no one’s fawn.”
- Even before he explained why he left, I thought Peter Parish, of the not-quite-Spiderman and hella alliterative name, had the right idea. I mean, the cheating…not so much. But the decision to GTFO? Very wise!
- “That’s not anger, Fin; that’s jealousy.” You would know, Liv. You. Would. Know.
- “Oh, that’s ok. We’ll wake him up. We’re here to arrest him.” And the way she just bursts through that door, all business. Yes, Captain. Yes, Ma’am.
- Oof. And her reaction to what she sees in that bed. Big same, Liv.
- “Dude had a head on Mommy’s boob?” The fact that Fin gets to say “Mommy” at least twice, but one of the lines is…this. What is he, 12?
- We don’t get to talk about Peter Scanavino nearly enough, but he’s so good in all these court scenes.
- …and our guest stars, sharing that look when Carisi doesn’t get that remand. Great stuff.
- “I can handle the mother.” I—. Insert something about the number of people who want this woman to “handle” them here.
- Connie: “…let’s not disrespect each other…” Also Connie: *shoves into Liv’s shoulder, hard, as she walks away* Mhm.
- Love me a Livterrogation, as always.
- That “I’m fine” sounded about as fine as that line ever does on TV.
- “Life isn’t pass/fail.” Once again feeling attacked.
- “It turns out that the world of construction in New York is as shady as we all thought.” A thing you could’ve learned from Elliot months ago if y’all were speaking.
- Not “Co-Cain and Abel.”
- “Somebody in the grave. Can’t leave you. And you always know where he is.” When Olivia Benson starts to go in for the kill with her prey and Mariska Hargitay starts punctuating. those sentences. just. so…
- “Because she wanted to keep you. Bubble wrapped. All for herself. To infantilize you so you’d always need her.” Anyone else feel that way about their own mother, except not at all to this heinous degree or.
- The way Liv and Carisi trade those looks when Peter talks about those smoothies…
- “I didn’t just run away with her because she’s the nanny. She saved my life.” Maxwell Sheffield and Fran Fine have entered the chat.
- “A dysfunctional mother’s better than no mother.” Absolutely the fuck not. And plenty of foster moms would’ve loved that child without scarring him for life.
- “Steal my husband, and now you’re laughing at me, you little bitch?” On the one hand, she’s evil and I shouldn’t be like “omg yes queen.” But on the other…
- When Liv gets deadly quiet like that, watch out.
- “…but now, he’s putting Martin. FIRST. That’s love, Connie…that’s love.” Me, taking notes: Ok. So, she wants to make sure Baldy will put her. FIRST.
- Love that shot of Michelle Gomez looking out the window in the Captain’s office.
- All this talk about mothers and sons, including Liv saying she wants a hug from her son, but no actual scene with Olivia and Noah. Ok then. Everybody’s so creative! Sure, that’s not how you’d normally do it. But we’re doing it here!
- Just as a final word: Michelle Gomez. Mariska Hargitay. Choose your
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Law & Order: SVU airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC. The series returns on Thursday, April 27.