SVU didn't waste any time after the long summer hiatus!
Law & Order: SVU Season 23 Episode 1 picked up more or less where the series left off, offering the kind of ripped-from-the-headlines tale about justice vs. power that the series does best.
It was timely, relevant, and disturbing, and this was only the first half of a two-hour story!
The political situation in this episode might have been a bit too on-the-nose for some viewers.
But for the most part, I was okay with that.
The internal NYPD politics elevated it above a thinly-veiled treatise about how state and federal prosecutors should be dealing with a certain former President's alleged crimes.
McGrath's attitude didn't seem much different from Howard's, even though he was disgusted by Howard's behavior, which led to a deeper story than SVU has had in some time.
At first, McGrath seemed to care more about cutting Garland off from any potential accolades than he did about arresting a sexual predator.
That changed halfway through when he realized his daughters could become the Congressman's next victims.
This was sadly realistic. Many people change their minds about serious issues when an issue affects them and their families, e.g., conservative politicians who are staunchly anti-gay until their child comes out as gay.
It also made a more significant point, though. Unlikeable as he was, McGrath wasn't completely amoral, which is how we often like to paint those who stand in the way of progress.
He was as power-hungry as Howard in his own way, resented Garland for exposing racism in the department (and perhaps for rising to the Deputy Chief position despite the color of Garland's skin.), and put optics over the well-being of his officers, including the undercover guy he secretly added to the team.
McGrath: I'd like to put a UC on this.
Benson: Sir, Howard is going to a fundraiser tonight and we have two CIs on it.
McGrath: Still. I'd like another UC. How can we make that happen?
Benson: Through Dr. Machado, I guess. I'll tell Garland.
McGrath: Don't. There's questions about Garland's loyalty because of his former association with Catalina Machado.
Benson: I can assure you that Garland's loyalty is to this department.
McGrath: Still, I'd prefer you not tell him. Or the rest of SVU. Lives could be riding on this.
Benson: This could be dangeorus for your guy.
McGrath: So make sure that it isn't.
But he also was disgusted by what Howard and his high-profile friends were doing as a family man with three daughters he wanted to protect.
His insistence on "punishing" Garland was obnoxious, and prioritizing optics over safety was abhorrent, but he didn't lack humanity.
That is important when you're trying to make a point about the way power corrupts. Villains who have some humanity to them are more realistic and believable than those who are purely evil.
The writing is on the wall for Garland, who is slated to leave SVU soon, though.
McGrath is pushing him out while giving him false promises about forgiving the past if Howard goes to jail.
The only question is whether Garland will be removed, quit voluntarily, or be sidelined by a heart attack or other health event.
He seemed to be having chest pains during Law & Order: SVU Season 22 Episode 16, but that's been dropped thus far. But could he fall ill just when everyone least expects it?
Anyway, that undercover officer McGrath hired behind Garland's back was the weakest part of an otherwise strong story.
First of all, having his undercover name be "Q" was way too on the nose. I was distracted, wondering when he would start spouting conspiracy theories to Howard and the other elites at that party!
I'm also not sure what McGrath thought he would accomplish by placing an undercover officer at the scene that no one but Benson knew about.
Benson: Chief McGrath sends his thanks to the entire team.
Rollins: It would have been nice to know who the entire team was.
It drove a wedge between Benson and Garland and between Benson and Rollins, at least temporarily. So if that's all he wanted, mission accomplished.
But still, it seemed pointless, and after the sting, the UC's stint in a holding cell with Howard didn't appear to advance the case much, if at all.
The other weak point was the cliffhanger.
It was suspenseful and made me want to know what would happen next. But it also made me wonder what the heck is going on with SVU.
Everyone knew Howard was as dangerous as he was powerful. Half the witnesses were reluctant to testify because they didn't want to risk their lives, and Kat promised Rosa protection if she talked.
So why, exactly, were all these people left unprotected? It's not like there was a rogue cop who facilitated any of these attacks, at least not as far as we know at this point.
Instead, it seemed like the witnesses were all left to their own devices, with no police protection, despite testifying against a dangerous, powerful criminal.
Come on! This isn't the first time SVU has dealt with these types of cases. In fact, Benson's son lost his biological mother when she defied her protective detail and went out alone in the middle of the night into an ambush.
And since Benson's best friend works for Organized Crime, surely there was ample manpower to protect four witnesses!
I was also confused about when the witnesses all agreed to come forward since they all said they wouldn't and then testified at a grand jury anyway.
It was the brave thing to do and the right thing to do, even if it came out of nowhere, and it's a shame the NYPD let them all be sacrificial lambs.
However, is it possible that Carisi could get the transcript of their statements admitted into evidence? Surely a judge will also think it's a massive coincidence that all these witnesses died the night before the hearing!
Either way, this story did an excellent job setting up the connection between SVU and Organized Crime -- and not just Stabler and Benson's relationship.
Howard seemed as close to a mob boss as you can get without proof he is one, and he might be on Stabler and Bell's radar soon.
And Benson's being run off the road by someone who might be tied to Wheatley was a brilliant way of writing in Mariska Hargitay's real-life injury.
It was logical and opened up several storyline possibilities for Benson, especially since she refuses to take time off to get treatment or allow her fractured ankle to heal!
Finally, those viewers worried that the romantic aspects would somehow turn SVU into Days of Our Lives can relax now, as that doesn't seem to be the case so far.
Most of the hour was devoted to the case, with only a few cute asides for Rollins and Carisi.
Carisi seemed reluctant to put work aside for their relationship, too, and the one time he tried to put aside work, he got derailed by the discovery that all his witnesses were dead.
Rollins/Carisi will likely have a more prominent role at some point, but at least for now, the focus is squarely on catching sexual predators, with romance being used to break up the tension as needed.
And that's as it should be!
Your turn, Law & Order: SVU fanatics! What did you think of SVU's latest attempt to confront super-powerful sexual predators?
Hit the big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know!
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Law & Order: SVU's historic 23rd season airs on NBC on Thursdays at 9 PM EST/PST.