Law & Order: SVU has never been afraid to ask tough questions -- even if they upset some viewers.
Law & Order: SVU Season 25 Episode 2 was a prime example. Natalie spent most of the hour refusing to cooperate in the investigation into her rape because she didn't want to contribute to systemic racism by accusing a Black teenager.
Her distrust of the police led her to hurt her case in a myriad of ways, almost letting a rapist go free in the process. But that wasn't justice either.
This story demonstrated that two things can be true. There can be racism baked into the criminal justice system, AND in an individual case, a Black person can be guilty of a serious crime.
That's what made this case so impossible. Natalie had to choose between justice for herself and taking a stand against the system as a whole by refusing to admit a Black kid raped her.
Carter's defense of his client boiled down to claiming that he was misidentified because of racism and that the police were corruptly manufacturing evidence.
That made him look desperate, which might not have played well with a jury. It certainly reinforced Natalie's fear of implicating Jay, though.
Law & Order: SVU's treatment of racial justice issues has evolved over the years; they're now talking about it openly, and it wasn't that long ago that the department got sued when they mistakenly arrested a Black man who was doing nothing wrong.
But did this episode's discussion of not going too far the other way help or hurt the cause of racial justice?
Benson had a point that letting guilty people off the hook wasn't any better just than convicting innocent ones because of their skin color.
But the writers made it too clear which side they stood on.
Natalie and Brooke were so virulently anti-police that they seemed like caricatures of people who want systemic reform, while Carter's arguments were ridiculous. And there was no doubt that Jay was guilty, making everyone else's attitude seem foolish.
Brooke: What happened to this city? Are the police trying to prove a point?
Fin: What point?
Brooke: That we still need you?
Brooke suggested that the cops let rapes happen to prove they were still a necessary part of society, while Natalie wouldn't as much as look at mug shots without proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspects were guilty.
Benson answered her questions honestly, which could have hurt the case. Giving the victim too much evidence ahead of a lineup could have prejudiced her.
I also wish there'd been a clearer connection between Benson's obsession with finding Maddie after the non-resolution of that case at the end of Law & Order Season 25 Episode 1 and how she was approaching this case.
Carisi thought she was driven too much by her obsession with Maddie's case, and later, Benson said that she thought she pushed Natalie too hard because of it, but there was little evidence to support those claims.
Benson could have empathized with Natalie's fear of implicating the wrong man by telling her about the mixup with the energy drink trucks and then explaining that there was a lot of other evidence in this case.
It might have backfired, but her honesty might have also impressed Natalie and helped her see that Benson wasn't a run-of-the-mill cop who only cares about closing cases.
Despite these flaws, the story kept my attention.
The police work part of the hour was solid, and as a bonus, we got two weeks in a row of Bruno, the best new detective.
Benson: Freeze. Right there.
Fin: Nice shirt. Travis Butler, you're under arrest.
Travis: For what?
Fin: You posted a video of it, genius. You practically arrested yourself.
Travis Butler was one entitled teen. He didn't think that livestreaming his crimes would get him in trouble, and it never occurred to him that breaking into the police station was a serious crime.
Sheesh. He deserved Bruno telling him to stop being so stupid and then some.
At first, I thought Natalie knew her attacker, and that's why she was so reluctant to testify. Once she revealed her distrust of the police, I doubted she'd take the stand.
Her request to use the bathroom was a classic misdirection; I was sure she'd follow the tired TV trope of running away when she was set to testify, but instead, she took the stand but refused to identify her attacker.
Carter's claim that the cops manipulated her during the recess was somewhat understandable since she changed her story again.
This would have been an excellent time to have Dr. Huang or another psychiatrist testify as to the way trauma can affect victims on the stand to neutralize that line of argument.
But why did the judge object to Benson calling Natalie's attack a brutal rape? That's what it was.
The only problem with her choice of words was that it opened the door for Carter to claim police brutality, absent any evidence of his client being mistreated by the police.
The case was wrapped up neatly -- something that happens more often than not on SVU -- with Jay confessing and making a plea deal that involved prison time.
But Maddie's case still hangs over Benson's head, and her question to Carisi about how she's supposed to move forward now is valid since she can't seem to focus on anything else.
Her meeting with the FBI agent took up all of five seconds of the hour; hopefully, we'll have some more movement on that soon.
I also still expect Elliot Stabler and the rest of the Organized Crime Unit to get involved at some point. It can't be a coincidence that Stabler watched the last press conference or that he has also been dealing with fentanyl dealers.
What did you think, Law & Order: SVU fanatics? Hit the big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know.
Law & Order: SVU's historic 25th season airs on NBC on Thursdays at 9/8c. New episodes are available to stream on Peacock the day after they air.