Every once in awhile, Law & Order: SVU gets distracted by hiring a big-name guest star and forgets to create a reasonable story to go with the name.
Law & Order: SVU Season 21 Episode 8 was one of those times.
Adam Arkin did amazing work as a psychiatrist who may or may not have had a psychotic break, but the story was all over the place.
It's a shame, because the case had promise before it split off in multiple directions that went nowhere.
We had a victim from Kansas who couldn't articulate what happened, and not just from trauma. The drugs she'd been given made it nearly impossible for her to separate hallucinations and reality.
Fin: What was she doing in New York?
Kat: Bachelorette party.
Fin: And her friends didn't report her missing?
Kat: Some friends.
She'd been tied up and raped but had no way to explain what had happened to her, making prosecution of her case nearly impossible.
That was a compelling story, but as soon as Benson learned there were other victims, this one disappeared and was never seen again.
Instead, SVU focused mostly on a different victim, Freya, who was able to better articulate what happened to her even though she had also been given a powerful hallucinogen.
That would have been fine if the story had gone in the direction of making a case on behalf of both Freya and Meghan despite them being unreliable witnesses.
You know, standard SVU stuff.
You were so brilliant and look what has happened to your mindRollins
Instead, Freya ALSO disappeared--the detectives said she returned to Sweden--and the case became about Rollins' quest to prove her former-life hero wasn't a rapist.
The detectives found out the pedicab driver was in on the whole thing and was a member of a cult run by Adler, a thread which was quickly dropped in favor of Rollins asking Adler why he said his wife was dead when she was actually in a mental institution.
That led to Adler suddenly and randomly turning out to be psychotic himself.
His daughter -- who had last been seen in the interrogation room after being arrested as a co-conspirator -- was suddenly treated like another victim.
She even got an encouraging speech from Benson about it being okay if it was hard to face her mother after all these years.
All of this made about as much sense as the word salad the actual victims provided when they tried to explain what had happened to them, and the ending scene was even more confusing.
Kathleen commented that she'd talked to Anais' father about her. Was that more psychosis, or were Kathleen and Julius Adler working together to ensure nobody got charged with a crime?
Either way, as the credits rolled, I was left wondering what, exactly, was the point.
It wasn't impactful. It was messy and confusing and not nearly as good as the logline made it sound.
There were SO many directions this could have gone in that might have left a better impression on viewers.
If SVU wanted to do a story about a cult that uses hallucinogenics to keep members in line and regularly rapes those members, ten that's what it should have done.
If it wanted to do a story about a young girl from Kansas falling prey to a predator who used hallucinogenics to keep her from being able to report her rape, then THAT'S what they should have done.
Fin: She give you anything?
Rollins: She started going on about machine elves.
Fin: She's tripping out.
Rollins: Drugs or psychotic break or both.
Benson: [over radio]: I may have something.
[At grave site]
Fin: They buried her alive.
Rollins: They got her to do it. Told her to dig her own grave.
Fin: What the hell did they do to this girl?
Rollins disagreeing with her colleagues because she was an admirer of Adler's work could have been part of the story.
But it didn't need to take up the whole second half of the episode at the expense of anything resembling a point.
A far better story would have been Carisi trying to make his case, but Hadid insisting that Megan and Freya's testimony was not enough and giving the cops 24 hours to give her something better or she'd drop the charges.
Fin: Come on Carisi, you can trust us.
Carisi: I do, but every time I go out on a limb for you guys, you saw it off.
It wasn't necessary for the pedicab driver to be part of the plot rather than a random driver who didn't know what was going on.
But if they had to use him that way, we should have seen a conversation between him and one of the detectives suggesting he had been brainwashed rather than a throwaway scene with his parents explaining it.
And where was the department psychiatrist?
If BD Wong were available, I would have loved to have seen Dr. Huang evaluate the cult members or the victims. If not, Dr. Olivette would have been a welcome addition to this story.
Either way, it seemed that the department shrink could have helped the victims separate hallucinations from memories, evaluated what was going on with Adler and his daughter, or provided testimony on how cults work that could be used to help make the case.
Speaking of which, SVU is normally strong on mental health issues, so what was that throwaway line about psychiatry being BS?
Fin has consulted with Huang and Olivette on many a case, so that didn't even make sense coming from him, and having the only psychiatrist character in the whole episode turn out to be a lunatic didn't help counteract Fin's claim.
There is more than enough negative messaging about mental health issues and mental health treatment without that. SVU knows better, and it was disappointing that the show went there.
What did you think, SVU fanatics?
Am I being too hard on SVU, or did you also think the story was all over the place?
Share your thoughts in the comments below, and don't forget you can watch Law & Order: SVU online if you missed anything.
Law & Order: SVU airs on NBC on Thursdays at 10 PM EST/PST. Its fall finale airs on November 21, 2019.
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Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.