On most television shows, if a drug-using mother wakes up to find her child missing, it's a sure bet that either one of her guests took him or he died in an accident while she was high.
Thankfully, Law & Order: SVU is not most shows.
Law & Order: SVU Season 18 Episode 8 was not the most engaging episode of the series, but it still told a nuanced, complicated story about what it means to be a parent and threw in an important message about the ways same-sex parents are not always treated equally under the law.
The theme of the hour was slightly obvious. Olivia looked away from Noah for a second while on the phone and he climbed up onto a counter; immediately, the scene changed to Nadine putting Theo to bed.
The point seemed to be that Olivia was an attentive mother and Nadine a neglectful one, or perhaps that a child can be hurt, kidnapped or killed in the blink of an eye so parents need to pay attention.
Either way, it seemed like viewers were being hit over the head with the message that Nadine is not a good mother. That kind of heavy-handed writing ordinarily drives me nuts. I hate when the writers try to tell viewers what to feel.
In this case, however, it was okay, because we soon got a more nuanced picture of Nadine, and it turned out that a simple story of motherly neglect was not what the writers were going for at all.
Cop: Father's not in the picture. Mother... had some friends over last night.
Rollins: This is more than some friends over. With a six-year-old in the house?
Rollins initially judged Nadine when she saw all the drugs in her apartment, but it didn't take long for her to feel bad for her.
She couldn't imagine the sheer terror of not knowing where your child is, and undoubtedly was thinking that Jesse could just as easily disappear while she was at work. Later, Nadine ranted to her about being a single mother, and that seemed to hit Rollins hard.
Meanwhile, the case hit dead end after dead end.
The realism here is one of the reasons I absolutely love SVU.
While standard crime dramas often let DNA and other forensic evidence be analyzed within seconds (and SVU itself has sometimes been guilty of this), SVU went the realistic route and showed the frustration and fear that mounts for both the cops and the parents when there's a ton of evidence to go through, no solid leads, and a ticking clock.
Because the longer a child is missing, the more likely it is that he or she will turn up dead.
The reveal that Theo had two mothers was well done. Although it was implied that Nadine was having a relationship with her friend Kat, the cops on the scene were quick to point out that there was no father in the picture, and everyone assumed that Nadine's ex was a man until she suggested they question her ex-wife.
This was a subtle, realistic way to show that even open-minded people sometimes fall into assuming that everyone is heterosexual.
This also led into a very natural subplot about how Fran didn't have any parental rights because at the time of Theo's conception, the non-birth mother in a same-sex relationship was required to formally adopt the child and she had neglected to do so.
The Fran parental rights story was not a major focus of the episode, but it came up just often enough to make viewers aware that gay couples sometimes face discrimination when it comes to custody and visitation issues.
The quiet drama of Fran's struggle to be recognized as a co-parent was riveting, and it seemed to me that a lot of her anger at Nadine stemmed from being treated as if she were not at all a relevant or necessary part of Theo's life.
Nanny: I offered to stay over last night, but Nadine said that I should go home.
Sonny: What time was this?
Nanny: Nine. I tucked Theo in bed and then I went home and when I came back this morning, the front door was open.
Sonny: What time was that?
Nanny: Seven thirty. I made sure to be on time. I knew Theo would need me.
The actual solution to Theo's kidnapping was the only weak part of the hour. When the nanny, Gloria, returned in the morning to check on Theo, I immediately had the feeling that she had wanted to kidnap him. At first, I thought that she had planned the kidnapping but someone beat her to it.
Three quarters of the way through the hour, a lead finally panned out and Gloria's brother turned out to be the mysterious man with the rug from Theo's room. This was incredibly disappointing.
It was obvious that Gloria loved Theo from her first interview with detectives, and I was wondering if she had kidnapped him to teach his inattentive mother a lesson. I wanted so badly to be wrong about her involvement but it turned out she was indeed the kidnapper.
It was also very clear that her motive was to protect the child, so all that nonsense about how she was probably smuggling him to Mexico to sell him to a cartel was unnecessary and reinforced stereotypes about Mexicans and drugs that do not need additional airtime in the current political climate.
Gloria being a permanent resident was also problematic for this reason; there's enough negative images of immigrants in media without showing one turning into a kidnapper and being ignorant of the fact that it's a crime to steal someone else's child even if the mother is not being very responsible.
Theo seemed awfully well-adjusted and mature for a six-year-old with a mother who is often high on drugs and a nanny who offered to take him to Mexico to escape the horrors of his daily life with his mom.
The little boy clearly loved Gloria and seemed to have accepted her as his "real" mom. He was excited about going to Mexico and worried that Gloria wasn't okay.
I was very surprised that he had no emotional reaction to being given to the social worker and was perfectly happy as long as he knew both his moms would be at family court.
It really seemed like after an interesting, nuanced episode, the writers didn't know how to wrap things up. Theo's non-reaction and then Fran and Nadine seeming to reconcile, complete with Fran being willing to support Nadine having custody of the boy, were somewhat of a pat ending.
I'll take it, though, because Benson is finally free of Tucker!
After Tucker being annoying throughout the entire episode, not understanding that Olivia is actually working on a time-sensitive case, and constantly pressing her to come spend time with him, he and Olivia finally had an honest conversation.
Olivia said the truest thing she's said yet, which is that she and Tucker are not in the same place in life and that her priority has to be her son, not him.
I got the feeling that we were supposed to feel sad, as if it was tragic that Olivia had to sacrifice this relationship because she has a demanding job and a little boy to take care of.
I cheered. I never liked Olivia and Tucker as a couple. They seemed mismatched from the beginning, and considering that when he was in IAB he made it his life's work to try to prove Olivia didn't deserve to keep her badge for one reason or another, the relationship made no sense.
Olivia finally saw it and freed herself from this mess of a relationship, and I couldn't be happier. Plus we got two adorable Noah scenes out of the deal.
Does anyone wish Olivia and Tucker got back together? How soon did you realize the nanny was behind Theo's kidnapping? What was your favorite moment in "Chasing Theo"?
Weigh in below, and don't forget that if you missed anything you can always watch Law & Order: SVU online to catch up.
Jack Ori is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.