Overbearing coaches. A kid who missed the crucial shot. A brutal locker room attack.
Law & Order: SVU Season 18 Episode 11 began with a disturbing look into middle school hockey that led down a path to something even worse.
By the end of the hour, a 13-year-old was dead, his best friend was headed to juvenile detention for his death, and an older teenager had been beaten to a pulp.
Worse still, the central question of who was to blame for this tragedy was never really answered satisfactorily.
"Great Expectations" didn't go at all the way I thought it would, but the disturbing image of Adam Turner's injuries is forever seared into my brain, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.
This story could have gone in many directions. At first, it seemed like a stereotypical story about kids being pushed too hard to excel at sports or perhaps a coach who was using sex to reward and punish the boys for their behavior on the field.
Sonny: The victim's name is Jack Wilson. He's 13, he plays for the New York City White Caps.
Olivia: Which is?
Sonny: The best youth hockey program in the state. Now, Jack's team had a game this morning but they lost after he missed a last second shot. His mother noticed he was bleeding in the parking lot after, drove him over here.
Olivia: You talk to the doctor?
Sonny: Yeah. There was tearing in his rectum caused by a blunt instrument like a hockey stick. Sounds like a hazing.
Olivia: No, that sounds like sexual assault.
From Olivia's comments, I also thought it might go in the direction of attacking the idea of sexual aggression in the locker room being typical male behavior. SVU often rips stories from the headlines, and that issue certainly came to the forefront of the news during the Presidential election!
Instead, it quickly spun off into a story of a child who was bullied into sexually assaulting and accidentally killing his best friend.
This seems to be a theme on SVU recently, since on Law & Order SVU: Season 18 Episode 10 a young boy also killed his best friend, though under very different circumstances. Both of these stories suffered from the same flaw -- there wasn't much, if any, emotional reaction to the friend's death.
In Kyle's case, however, this might have been because he had to suppress his emotions to survive.
Mr. Wilson: Forget about the team, Jack. Just go ahead and tell them.
Jack: I've never seen him like that before.
Jack: Kyle, okay. Kyle. It was like he was this whole other person. Timmy and WIll grabbed me. I couldn't move, couldn't fight back. Suddenly Kyle had the stick and he looked at me all crazy and he... and I just... I dunno. And then it was over.
Mrs. Wilson: I don't understand. He came to see you here at the hospital.
Mr. Wilson: We need some time.
Jack: What's gonna happen to Kyle?
Fin: We're gonna arrest him.
Jack: Tell him that I know he didn't mean it.
Jack and Kyle must have had some sort of friendship because Jack was more than willing to protect Kyle, was genuinely concerned that Kyle was going to get in trouble, and wanted to make it clear he forgave him.
I wonder what Jack knew about what was going on in Kyle's house and what he understood about why Kyle turned on him. It also appeared that before the attack, Kyle told the other boys to leave Jack alone, so I'm sure he did feel a lot of remorse and guilt over what happened.
Of course, Kyle's culpability was established early, so it was obvious there was going to be a major twist. The fact that his father was abusing Kyle was, sadly, predictable.
Jim Turner was throwing his weight around at the police station when Kyle was initially questioned and Kyle had the stereotypical broken wrist that is indicative of abuse when SVU came to arrest him.
And once the cops found out that Kyle was being abused, they seemed to go on a mission to use his attack against Jack as the means to get his father in trouble for the abuse.
There are some problems with this that weren't addressed, though. Apparently, Kyle was scared of his father, but it seemed a little unbelievable to me that he was so scared that he would not only beat up his best friend but sexually assault him because his father said so, minutes after protecting him from some other bullies on the team.
Sonny: So your name's Kyle? You're on the White Caps too?
Father: He's the star.
Olivia: So, Kyle, did you see anything unusual in the locker room after the game?
Kyle: No. It was quiet. Everyone just got dressed and went home.
Sonny: Did anyone give Jack a hard time about missing that shot?
Kyle: No. We're a team. Win or lose, we stick together.
More importantly, both Jack himself and one of Kyle's teammates described Kyle as having gone crazy and acted like an animal. This seemed to have been totally forgotten when Kyle turned out to be an abuse victim as if it didn't matter.
Abuse victims often become abusers, and it sounds like Kyle was headed down that path, yet no one brought that up to his mother when trying to get her to see her husband for what he is nor was there any effort at all made to make Kyle take responsibility for losing his temper.
Instead, it seemed blame was placed fully on his father for intimidating him into attacking Kyle. That didn't sit well with me.
Rollins: I know he's our perp, but the kid's a victim too. There's no doubt the father is doing a number on him, the mother too.
Sonny: The mother?
Rollins: Yeah. She just sits there, stands by silently watching it all happen? That's abuse.
Sonny: I get what you're saying but it's not that simple.
Rollins: Yeah it is. Someone lays a hand on Jesse, I'm gonna have something to say about it. I guarantee it.
Sonny: Hold on, so this woman Helen, you don't think she's a victim too? You think her husband's sending her roses every day?
Rollins: Oh come on!
Sonny: Rollins, it's not just about the physical abuse. It's the shame.
Rollins: I know that. That's how bullies get away with being bullies.
Kyle's mother was an interesting character. Obviously, she was in total denial up until the point at which her older son was severely beaten, and then quickly returned to denial. Rollins judged her as partially culpable for the whole mess since she wasn't protecting her kids from the abuse.
Carisi's insistence that there was more to the story made it clear he had experienced some sort of abuse, but I wondered where Rollins' attitude came from. I know she had problems with her mother and sister, but I try not to remember any of the awful storylines surrounding their visits. Had her mother turned a blind eye to abuse as well?
Anyway, Carisi impressed me in this episode, establishing rapport with Kyle early on and then telling him a powerful story about not snitching on a bully that got him to consider telling the truth.
Rollins was the only one who was aware that Carisi's story may have been true. I love the dynamic of their relationship, though I'm hesitant to root for them to be anything other than workplace buddies. These cop/cop romances tend not to go anywhere good and just change the dynamic between partners in annoying ways.
It seemed to me that Benson's solution to the problem was a bit too pat.
All Kyle had to do was tell the judge that his dad had coerced and abused him and he wouldn't face serious charges. I was worried about whether the judge would believe him. After all, he was changing his story mid-trial. Then again, perhaps a plea bargain had been struck with the formerly eager to come down hard DA.
This episode suffered from the lack of courtroom scenes. There wasn't room for them, but it might have been powerful to see the DA want to try Kyle as an adult or some reaction to his decision to testify against his dad.
Despite this weakness, however, this was a relatively strong hour of SVU. It was disturbing and left more questions than answers, but maybe that was the point.
Like Liv said at the end, they were 13 years too late. There were no winners here.
What did you think of "Great Expectations"? Was it up to the standards set by the last few episodes of SVU? Did you think the abuse should have got Kyle almost entirely off the hook for his behavior, or does he bear more responsibility for Jack's death than anyone admits?
Weigh in below, and don't forget that if you missed anything you can watch Law & Order: SVU online to get caught up.
Jack Ori is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.