So long, Stabler! We will miss you and your macho, not-always-constitutional treatment of accused sexual assailants. In "Scorched Earth," the 13th season of Law & Order: SVU opens without Benson's male counterpart, but introduces some new and familiar faces.
Throughout the episode, Stabler's absence is noticeable, as IAB investigates the shocking shoot-out that ended the previous season. His future is a mystery to his co-workers (though not to the viewers) and although Benson is ready to defend Stabler, it's clear her old partner can't deal with the fallout and resigns. She takes it pretty hard, crying to herself before getting back on the job. It's classic Olivia, both tough and vulnerable.
The new season introduced enthusiastic newcomer Amanda Rollins, all the way from Atlanta. We don't know much about her yet, except that she seems to be a huge fan of Benson's work.
Kelli Giddish's Rollins is supposed to breathe new life into the series (and also be a potential female replacement for Benson later in the season), but I didn't find myself liking her character so much, especially during her "talk" with this week's accused, Italian diplomat Roberto Distasio.
The episode revolves around a crime that feels a little too current: Distasio is accused of assaulting a maid in his hotel. With the charges against DSK having just been dismissed less than a month ago, it's easy to see how the episode echoes that real investigation and possibly even how the writers of this show felt about the outcome.
Like the real case, this one devolves into a big he said/she said, but the problems with the witness (frequent lies and questionable motives) barely sways ADA Cabot's conviction that the rape did happen. New Bureau chief Mike Cutter makes a point of telling Cabot (and the audience, it seems) that "these cases are about perception, not reality" and we can't help but feel that the facts can be made irrelevant with the right smear campaign.
Even though Benson, jaded from years of this job, seems to question the victim's reliability, she does believe the assault happened. Throughout the episode, none of the detectives or prosecutors doubts the validity of her story, even when they find out she exaggerated her previous rape story to gain asylum. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but this show has always had a reputation for providing a balanced depiction of the legal system.
Towards the end of Distasio's trial, ADA Cabot tells the jury, "In America, money and power do not tilt the scales of justice." Except, in this case, they actually do. I think the real lesson of the episode was that people with influence can buy their way out of trouble, with great legal representation and a team of investigators to dig up dirt on the victim.
The season starter was your typical SVU fare, but what it really lacked was the back-and-forth between Benson and Stabler. Both detectives provided their own perspectives on the issue and they usually represent the division in the show's audience's members.
Rollins might grow into an interesting character and perhaps newcomer Danny Pino will fill Stabler's shoes very soon. BUT will the show ever be the same? Even still, will the new characters bring a new and improved dynamic to a show that's beginning to feel a little stale?
It's early, of course. But are you hopeful they can accomplish this task?
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