Law & Order: SVU Season 18 Episode 10 Review: Motherly Love

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Woo hoo!  Law & Order: SVU Season 18 Episode 10 marks the series' 400th episode.

Some shows would have celebrated this major milestone with a flashy episode that was more pomp and circumstance than story. I'm thrilled that SVU did not.

It had a talented guest cast, including soap alum Daniel Cosgrove, and what appeared to be a sensationalistic crime, but nothing was done just for ratings. There was also a compelling story that kept me on the edge of my seat until the credits rolled.

Daniel Cosgrove Guest Stars - Law & Order: SVU

"Motherly Love" was a psychological thriller, plain and simple.

The major question before the detectives this week wasn't who raped who, but how far a woman with narcissistic tendencies would go to protect herself and what to do to make sure her teenage son didn't suffer any more than he already had.

Fin: She's a stone-cold liar.
Benson: She is a psychiatrist who is sexually abusing teenage boys and emotionally damaging her own son. That's deeper than lying, man. It's pathological.

Dr. Keller was a truly scary character. Making her a psychiatrist was a brilliant move, because it made her even creepier.

She assisted rape victims while fabricating her own rape and sexually assaulting 15-year-old boys.

She used her knowledge of psychology to try to convince the world that things were the way she said they were, and it nearly worked.

She left her own son so confused he nearly pled guilty to murder despite knowing the facts weren't the way she said they were.

That's beyond scary. It's diabolical.

It also left me distrusting what I was seeing on the screen, because if one psychiatrist could pull the wool over everyone's eyes, who's to say another one can't?

I breathed a sigh of relief when Luke's father turned out to truly be on his son's side and wasn't manipulating the situation for his own benefit too.

It didn't help that we never did find out what Luke and his dad had fought over.

That loose end probably wasn't important, but leaving it dangling left open the question of whether the father was also using psychology to manipulate everybody for his own purposes for a little bit.

This was one of the many reasons that Luke's father was a small, yet important part of the story.

Kudos to Daniel Cosgrove for bringing to life this father who clearly loved his son and had been fooled by his ex-wife, yet had some sort of sympathy for her.

Cosgrove played it just cool enough to keep me guessing until near the end of the hour, then brought Dr. Keller's concern and fear for his son fully to the surface, begging the detectives to stop Luke from making a major decision that could only ruin his life.

I'm a huge fan of Daniel Cosgrove anyway, but I was especially impressed by how much heart he put into a relatively minor part and made what could have been a stock, bland character very memorable.

Benson: We spoke to Ethan Miller -- do you know him?
Dr. Keller: Of course. He's a friend of Luke's.
Benson: He says that you sexually assaulted him 10 or 11 times and then you moved onto Trey. Ethan was upset. He punched him and they both got suspended.
Dr. Keller: They're kids! They have sexual fantasies about older women. It's normal and natural.
Benson: There's nothing normal or natural about statutory rape.

Equally impressive, of course, was Sarah Wynter's performance as Nicole Keller. She was cold, calculating... and ultimately, as her ex-husband pointed out, delusional enough to believe her own lies.

Did Nicole love her son, at all? It's hard to say. She certainly thought she did and was clearly devastated that in the end he refused to sacrifice his freedom and knowledge of the truth for her.

And it's hard to fathom a mother so cold and horrible that she would purposely let her son murder his best friend and then manipulate him into taking the fall for her behavior.

Yet she was so soft when she talked about Luke not being able to kill a deer that I wondered if there was some actual love buried deep down underneath all her problems.

Anyway, Luke's misplaced sense of loyalty to his cold-hearted mother allowed Benson to do her cop-as-social-worker thing and inspire him to believe in his best self so that he'd give up the delusion that he was fully to blame for what had happened to Trey.

I love when Benson comforts victims, and this was no exception. 

Normally I hate the trope of the dramatic pause before someone gives a poignant answer to a question.

But I didn't mind it this time because I truly wasn't sure whether Dr. Keller had managed to manipulate her son again in between his conversation with Benson and his appearance in court.

Despite all the suspense, the episode wasn't without flaws.

Mr. Franklin: White kid shoots black kid, it's gotta be the black kid's fault, is that what you're saying?
Cop: No, it's not that at all. We're trying to find out what happened, that's all.
Mr. Franklin: Yeah, me too. I wanna know what happened. This doesn't make any sense.
Mrs. Franklin: I wanna see my son.

There were a few dropped storylines, for lack of a better term, that I'd have liked to have seen be fleshed out more. 

Trey's father believed that his dead son was being treated like a criminal because of the color of his skin and was not happy with the direction of the investigation, but that angle was abruptly dropped.

I know there wasn't room for everything, but a heavy statement about the way young men of color are often treated by the criminal justice system shouldn't just be a passing thought that then disappears from the narrative.  

I'd have liked to have seen the Franklins' reaction to the news that Trey was actually a victim of sexual abuse and that his murder was more or less engineered by his rapist.

Benson: You told us that you and Trey never had any problems. But you both got suspended a week ago for fighting.
Father: What's going on here?
Benson: Lying to the police during a homicide investigation, that's a serious problem. It could derail -
Father: All right, all right. Just... Ethan, tell them the truth.
Ethan: Can you leave?
Father: No.
Ethan: I don't want to tell them with you here.

Similarly, Ethan and his father disappeared from the story once it was revealed that Ethan had also been raped.

I wondered how they were reacting to the trial as it progressed and whether Ethan was also going to testify against Nicole Keller.

Luke and Trey's friendship was also not really explored.

Luke accidentally killed his best friend while trying to protect his mother from what he thought was a rapist, but once the story shifted to Nicole Keller's lies and manipulations, that was more or less forgotten. 

Luke's guilt and confusion could have been amplified by the relationship between him and Trey but it was explored so little that he might as well have killed a random intruder.

I also was a little uncomfortable with Barba's line of questioning when he cross-examined Nicole.

I know she was a manipulative, evil woman who had no remorse about falsely crying rape and causing the death of an innocent teenager. However, when he began asking her why she wore a sexy nightgown it made me cringe.

Barba was asking to prove that Nicole had planned to have sex with Trey, but it was far too reminiscent of the "what was she wearing" defense to rape.

I got the point but was it really necessary to treat the rapist in the same problematic way rape victims are often treated in order to make it?

What did you think of "Motherly Love"? Was the story compelling enough for the 400th episode?

Weigh in below, and don't forget that if you missed something or want to watch again you can always watch Law & Order: SVU online.

Motherly Love Review

Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
  • 4.8 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 5.0 / 5.0 (19 Votes)

Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.

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