What a complicated mess!
Law & Order: SVU Season 23 Episode 11 went back to the type of case that the SVU unit is designed to handle: a young kid who fell into a pedophile's trap.
But this case was anything but straightforward, demonstrating how abuse and trauma can ripple outward and wreak havoc with people's lives.
Tino's case began by tackling the problem of online predators luring young kids away to secluded areas by pretending to be kids.
In short order, a man claiming to be the father of Tino's online friend had drugged Tino and forced him to stay with him while his parents discovered he was missing. It seemed like the cops were going to have to race against time to find Tino before his kidnapper either assaulted him, killed him, or both.
But instead, the police found Tino only ten minutes into the hour. Not only was this not a standard missing kid case, but it was going to have to take a bunch of twists and turns to fill the time!
And sure enough, the case ended up being about vigilante justice, hero-worship, and the cycle of abuse.
Any one of these topics would have made for a compelling story. But somehow, SVU worked them all into the story without it feeling overwhelming or confusing.
One of the most impressive twists involved Elvis, the vigilante that SVU has butted heads with before.
Elvis doesn't like cops and has screwed SVU over before, but ultimately, he was the one who called them to save Carlos' life.
It was an interesting, new use of this character. He's probably going to go right back to being a thorn in the cops' side, but that was a surprising change of pace!
I'm not sure the episode needed the subplot about Carlos abusing Andre and then breaking down and admitting he had been abused too, though. The vigilantes and protesters could have caused enough trouble for SVU without that.
It wasn't that the plot wasn't compelling or that it didn't make a good point. It just felt like it came out of nowhere, even though it made sense after Carlos told his story.
Benson: That's a hell of a story.
Carisi: Yep. And he'd better plead out because if he tells that story in front of a New York judge and a jury... If this goes to trial, it's gonna be a real show.
As Carisi pointed out, this trial would be a circus, and it certainly started chaotically. Tino's father almost ended up in jail himself after trying to convince the judge to let him beat up his son's abuser, and that could have derailed the entire arraignment.
But Theodore's case was also quickly disposed of, with Carlos testifying so that Tino didn't have to and Theodore making an off-screen plea bargain.
There COULD have been more drama around the two cases. Passions run high with this kind of story, and there might have been people who thought Carlos should be treated harshly to discourage vigilantism.
SVU could have faced pressure from McGrath or even the people above him to make an example out of Carlos. There might have been another opportunity to explore racism in the criminal justice system if Carlos had been treated differently than Theodore.
But that wasn't the direction the writers went, so clearly, it was not the story they wanted to tell this time.
Maya's statement to Rollins that she didn't know what she'd do if anyone hurt Andre that way should have been a dead giveaway that someone was going to.
But Carlos being the bad guy came out of the blue. As Valasco pointed out, it didn't make sense that he would go vigilante against his nephew's abuser, then turn around and do the same thing.
But maybe that was the point. If anyone could have predicted that Carlos would abuse Andre, they would have stopped it before it started.
Maya was shocked when her traumatized son told her even though there were signs that something terrible had happened the night before, and Velasco doubted Andre's story because of Carlos' hatred of pedophiles.
As Benson said, abuse doesn't just affect one person -- it affects families, often in ways no one realizes or predicts. No one guessed that abuse was the cause of Carlos' problems, nor that he would ever hurt a child.
No wonder Benson and Rollins were worried that they'd missed something with their kids after that story!
If there was one weakness in the hour, it was that Noah's story was such a small part of it.
He only got two scenes: one where he was upset about what Hudson made him do and one where he and Benson talked about it.
They were strong scenes, but they didn't rise to the level of a story.
Benson was singularly focused on Tino's case and the drama surrounding that, which is what makes her a great detective. But she never once mentioned that she was concerned about Noah or stepped aside to make a phone call to check on him.
That was odd and not like Benson at all.
I loved the casual way Noah came out to her, though. She wasn't the only one who was proud of him.
Noah's sexuality wasn't a big deal to either of them, and that's as it should be. But someone should do something about this seemingly psychopathic kid who picks on kids who aren't heterosexual.
Benson telling Annie's mother what Hudson was doing was a good start. Still, it didn't seem like enough, especially after an hour dedicated to the cycle of abuse in Tino's family.
Your turn, SVU fanatics! Hit that big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know what you think.
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Law & Order: SVU airs on NBC on Thursdays at 9 PM EST/PST.