I've been waiting all summer for the return of Law & Order: SVU and the season premiere didn't disappoint. If anything, it exceeded expectations.
Law & Order: SVU Season 20 Episode 1 returned to the series' time-tested formula by combining an engaging, exciting crime story with major personal drama for the cops, and Law & Order: SVU Season 20 Episode 2 kicked it up a notch with a school shooting, an unlikeable father, and Benson's signature determination to fight for justice.
The story began with Benson and Carisi chasing a suspect who had nothing to do with anything else that happened except for that Benson got winded trying to chase him.
In a way, I felt that way about the real case at the center of the drama. It was engaging and brought up a lot of questions, but the point seemed to be all the personal drama the cops were dealing with in between trying to get justice for Sam and later for the classmates he mowed down in an utterly senseless act of violence.
Fin: Liv, no one expects you to be Wonder Woman.
Benson: I do.
Fin: Yeah, well I used to think I was Superman.
Benson: So what happened?
Fin: Life. Time. Whatcha gonna do?
I loved the subplot of Benson not knowing how to deal with her physical limitations.
SVU is headed into its 20th season and still going strong, but Olivia Benson is no longer the idealistic young cop she was when the series began. She's been in charge of the squad room for some time now while still being out in the field, on top of raising a child who she can't spend as much time with as she likes.
Benson is super committed to her job, sometimes at the expense of her personal life, so it's going to be rough for her to admit that growing older might mean slowing down. I'm excited to see where this arc takes her through the rest of Law & Order: SVU Season 20!
Benson's guilt over a biker having got injured during a chase was a nice touch. This is one of those seemingly inconsequential moments that deeply impacts the characters. I didn't expect to ever hear about this biker again once the chase was over and I've never been so glad to be wrong!
Rollins' struggle with her pregnancy promises to be an emotional storyline too.
When I read that Rollins was going to see her sleazy ex-boyfriend cheating on her again, I wasn't excited. I thought it sounded like yet another Rollins-the-perpetual-victim story.
Rollins is my favorite character besides Benson herself, but her love life stories always end up like that and I prefer seeing her be the only one to have the right idea about the case!
Nevertheless, this storyline surprised me. The sleazy guy was a side note, and the real story was about her accidental pregnancy.
It seemed like Rollins was more worried about bringing a second child into a violent and scary world, and that the things she's seen at SVU are getting to her.
I thought her mood swings and mixed feelings were natural and true to her character, and I especially appreciated the conversation she and Benson had about possibly terminating her pregnancy.
You worry about your kid getting sick or breaking a bone or God forbid getting hit by a taxi and it's like you're holding your breath underwater every day. And then you get to kiss them goodnight and tuck them in and you get to breathe again.Rollins
So many stories about unwanted pregnancy and abortion are one-sided. It's rare to see characters both support a woman's right to choose but have mixed feelings about themselves or someone they know making this choice.
And Rollins' perspective that the taboo against abortion in Georgia made it easier because abortion just wasn't an option was a point of view that's not usually even brought up in these discussions.
This whole conversation was refreshingly honest, though I agreed with Rollins that showing her Jessie's baby picture was a low blow.
I'm interested in what Rollins will decide to do, and what factors take the highest priority for her as she makes this choice.
I'm also curious about what happened in Benson's past. Did she have an abortion too, or was she merely thinking that she wouldn't be here if her mom had one after being raped?
Benson has a lot to deal with on the home front, too. What was up with Noah in that last scene?
I got the sense that Benson was worried his aggressive behavior was somehow inborn in him because of his gender, thanks to Conway's nonsense, and was struggling to respond appropriately.
But I also wondered how much of his anger and refusal to tell his mom he loved her was due to her not being home enough, especially since earlier he had told her over video messaging that he wished she'd been at his baseball game.
As for the case itself, it was as intense as any SVU story I've ever seen.
Bryce Romero did an impressive job showing Sam's tormented, confused feelings. Sam's breakdown on the stand, his increasingly passionate denials that his dad raped him, and his suicidal feelings after he shot his classmates were powerful.
I knew Sam was going to become yet another school shooter as soon as I saw the look in his eyes and the outline of the gun in his baseball bag. It was a harrowing, tense moment that freaked me out.
A lot of kids are assaulted, abused, and humiliated. They don't shoot up schools or hurt other kids.Fin
I wasn't sure that Stone's argument that Sam's dad was responsible for the shootings made sense, though.
John Conway was a real piece of work. He was abusing Sam physically and sexually, believed his wife was incapable of independent thought and had severely outdated ideas about men's proper role in this world.
It was a travesty that he was acquitted for raping Sam, though Sam's absolute refusal to admit it happened probably helped that along more than anything.
Maybe the cops should have had a stronger case before they arrested him so that they wouldn't have risked him getting away with it.
And Sam did say on the stand that he heard his dad's voice in his head telling him to be a man before he opened fire.
Clearly, Sam had some mental health issues stemming from the abuse, and Conway needed to answer for that, but Sam also did take the lives of random people who had nothing to do with anything, and it was clear Conway didn't condone that.
My friends are dead, my mom's a mess, my brother's locked up forever. None of this would have happened if you had just left us alone! You want to blame somebody? Blame yourselves!Brian
There was one loose end in this, and that was Brian.
Brian did his best to protect his little brother but ultimately failed, defended his father, and suffered a ton of loss when his friends got murdered, and his dad and brother both went to jail.
He had also been abused, at least physically, and seemed to have internalized a lot of his dad's beliefs about Sam and his mom being weak, plus blamed himself for everything that happened because he told his father that Sam couldn't shoot the rabbit.
And Sam nearly shot him, too.
I wouldn't be surprised if Brian grew up to do destructive things, given his chaotic home life and his anger at the cops for everything having been turned upside down.
Even in two hours, SVU couldn't possibly cover everything, but I was surprised no one, especially Olivia "Wonder Woman" Benson, was worried about what was going to happen to him.
So, SVU Fanatics, what did you think of "Man Up"/"Man Down"?
Did the season premiere meet your expectations, especially after a whole summer's worth of promos that said next to nothing about what was coming up?
In which character's arc are you most interested?
Weigh in below, and don't forget you can watch Law & Order: SVU online if you missed anything!
Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.