Law & Order: SVU Season 20 Episode 3 Review: Zero Tolerance

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Law & Order: SVU often puts its own spin on real-life events and shines a light on horrific practices that harm children.

It's no surprise that Law & Order: SVU Season 20 Episode 3 took on the issue of separating children from their parents at the border -- a policy that was condemned as barbaric by many groups on both sides of the immigration debate.

Finding Mom - Law & Order: SVU

Benson's decision to arrest a federal agent for enforcing that policy was unrealistic and doomed to failure but seeing her go all out to try to help a scared little girl was classic Benson.

The entire story was a beautiful fantasy about making things better for at least some of the children who have been cruelly separated from their parents -- but even that fantasy had limits, as the final scene showed.

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Before I get to the actual story, I want to take a second to applaud the casting.

Scarlet Daisy Lopez, who played Gabriela, was nothing short of amazing. This was not an easy role, especially for a child, and she brought Gabriela's fear and pain to life.

Gabriela cried for her mother, cowered behind tables, and begged the cops not to make her go with the federal agent, and it was all totally real and believable.

Gabriela: You have a baby?
Rollins: Yes, I have a little girl named Jessie. She's three years old.
Gabriela: [pointing] No, I mean, you have a baby in there?

So was Gabriela's connection with Rollins, which was my favorite part of this story.

Rollins' maternal instincts were in overdrive when it came to this lost little girl, so much so that she wanted to adopt her herself even though she has a child of her own and another on the way that she wasn't sure she wanted to keep!

She was heartbroken when Gabriela was removed by the federal agents, and she seemed to take her promise not to forget Gabriela seriously.

In fact, I think that Gabriela touching her womb and saying she wanted a brother was part of what made Rollins decide to keep the baby.

Feeling the Baby - Law & Order: SVU Season 20 Episode 3

Rollins seemed undecided about whether she wanted to carry to term, even telling Carisi not to "go Catholic" on her, and I'm sure Gabriela's interest in the baby helped her make her decision.

I wouldn't be surprised if she named the baby after Gabriela when he or she is finally born.

Carisi: Hey, Lieu, what's going on with Rollins?
Benson: If you want to know, why don't you ask Rollins?
Carisi: She's pregnant, isn't she?
Benson: Really?
Carisi: You gonna sit here and tell me she's not?

I didn't blame Rollins for being irritated with Fin and Carisi, either. Fin was acting like Rollins was too fragile to be able to do her job at all and Carisi was being nosy.

It was bad enough that he tried to pump Benson for info in the middle of a stakeout. Then he confronted Rollins about not telling him while approaching Gabriela's foster parents.

I know Carisi and Rollins have toed the line between friends and lovers, but that doesn't mean she's obligated to tell him anything about her pregnancy, and it certainly doesn't mean that her childbearing status should take priority in the middle of a case!

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I'm glad, though, that Rollins decided to kick Al to the curb.

Comforting a Scared Child - Law & Order: SVU Season 20 Episode 3

I really don't know why she let him into her house or back into her life to begin with. 

She started out strong, but quickly caved and allowed him to bond with her daughter, then gave him a second chance.

Al: To second chances? Or third, if we're keeping score? What?
Rollins: Al, I'm pregnant.

It wasn't until she got his absurdly clinical answer to her news that she was pregnant that she realized she was better off without him.

To be fair, Al might have just been in shock about the pregnancy, but considering his treatment of Rollins since his off-screen introduction in Law & Order: SVU Season 19, I'm not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

While Rollins was struggling with her own drama, Benson was fighting almost singlehandedly to save Gabriela, the way Benson always does.

It was inevitable that the judge would rule against her attempt to derail the Feds trying to take Gabriela back into custody.

If this were real life, I imagine Benson would have faced serious legal sanctions herself for pulling that kind of stunt. As it was, I thought she was going to get hit with contempt of court charges for her impassioned plea during the hearing.

I'm also curious as to whether Agent Phillips' threat that she would regret this was just empty words, or if it will come into play later.

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While it wasn't realistic to take on the federal government in this way, it made a powerful statement.

Benson told the reporters that the immigration policy not only caused damage to kids in its own right, but had led to Gabriela being kidnapped by a sex trafficker after she ran away from her foster parents.

I'm not sure why she couldn't go back to those foster parents. Benson said she would just run away again, but it was clear the only reason she ran away was to try to find her mother and not because she'd been abused in any way, 

She'd even begun to get to know the couple's biological sons and got the idea to go to JFK to try to get on a plane from one of them.

Plus, Rollins and Benson would be just one state over and she seemed to really like them, especially Rollins. Benson could have given her the same speech about courage without sending her away with an immigration detention guy.

Of course, that wouldn't have been dramatic or made the point about the way children in immigration detention are treated, but it seemed like a better solution.

I thought the cops' debate about the immigration issue was interesting, especially Fin's comment.

Fin is generally more conservative than many of the other cops, and his explanation that he couldn't quite believe in the words on the Statue of Liberty when his ancestors were slaves and he still experienced racism today made sense.

I was surprised, though, because Fin tends to be a bigger believer in personal responsibility than most of the other cops.

As recently as Law & Order: SVU Season 20 Episode 2, he was arguing that abuse doesn't cause people to shoot up schools, and he's rejected the argument that you can't rise above racism before.  

Of course, he can both believe that racism won't hold him back and be worn down by being on the receiving end, but it did seem like his feelings about this don't quite gel with the rest of his philosophy.

What did you think of "Zero Tolerance?" Regardless of your feelings about the immigration issue, did you think it was presented well?

Weigh in below, and don't forget that if you missed anything you can always watch Law & Order: SVU online to catch up.

Zero Tolerance Review

Editor Rating: 4.7 / 5.0
  • 4.7 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.1 / 5.0 (44 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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Law & Order: SVU Season 20 Episode 3 Quotes

At least she's here, even if she was tossed like a piece of trash.


Rollins: What's with the apology flowers?
Al: You never answered me about the Van Gogh exhibit, so I figured I'd take Van Gogh to you.