It only takes an instant. Really.
Any parent of a small child will tell you that absolutely anything can happen in a split second—a fall off the couch, a trip onto the driveway, a slip in the bathroom. Yes, anything can happen, so you’d better pay close attention. And, sometimes even doing that just isn’t enough.
Paying attention seemed to be the theme of this episode of SVU, but in a variety of very different ways, as the story unfolded.
This episode opened with Olivia in the park with tiny Noah. As she prepares for them to leave, the boy seems to disappear, causing a near panic attack for the usually stoic, in-control detective. As Olivia hunts frantically for her son, a fellow mother asks, “Should I call the police?” in that moment, Olivia is no doubt thinking, “I AM THE POLICE! DAMMIT! HOW COULD I—OLIVIA BENSON—LET THIS HAPPEN!” All is O.K. when Olivia finally spots Noah calmly playing with some other kids. She rushes to him and pulls him into a tight hug. Her gaze had only averted for only a few moments, but Momma Benson’s experience shows that even with the most stringent care, someone can slip away.
Cut to Fin and Dodds out on a call about a missing 15-year-old girl. Her parents are convinced that something is amiss with their daughter but Dodds believes she’s just probably just out doing some “teenaged” things. The fact that the girl’s parents seemed clueless about her online activity only enhances his thinking along these lines. Were they paying close enough attention?
Back in the squad room, Dodds hems and haws about whether there actually is a case here and is even scolded by Benson after he waits to call her in until the situation has reached a critical level.
When the girl’s body turns up under a bridge wrapped in a blanket, Dodds can barely look at her. He’s so unsteady that Fin even asks if he’s O.K. He says, not too confidently, that he is, but he has the same pained look on his face when he sees the girl later in the morgue. His horror at the situation grows when he realizes that the young woman was most likely killed during the time that he was still deciding if her disappearance was something even worth tracking. This was a mighty hard pill for Dodds to digest.
The crew catches a break when a partial DNA match turns up that says the material found at the crime scene belongs to a male relative of someone in the system. Thus begins the task of sorting through several gentlemen (relative confusion!!!) who have all been sired by the same man via various women. (Thank goodness there was a chart on the SVU whiteboard to help sort it all out.)
Finally, after using some sneaky tactics to obtain DNA samples from some unsuspecting suspects, the team nabs the right guy, who, after a bit of pressure from Benson and Dodds, admits to the crime.
With the case wrapped up, Dodds and Benson pay a visit the parents of the girl to try to bring them closure by explaining that it was nothing that their daughter did; she was simply kind to and trusting of the wrong person.
What makes the title of this episode, “Melancholy Pursuit,” so apropos is that it was just that, a sad, sad search for the truth. Sad that a young life was taken, sad that now her parents have to continue their lives without her, sad that in sorting through the various suspects so many family secrets were uncovered and sad that when all was said and done, it was really just another day in the Special Victims Unit.
It was nice to see this story told through newcomer Dodds’ eyes, because let’s face it, even as viewers we’ve become a bit jaded and seasoned at seeing this pattern—there’s a crime, someone is dead, there are suspects and grieving relatives, and then the case is solved and live goes on—but seeing from this viewpoint added a new texture to the narrative.
Even Dick Wolf recently told me, “The truth is, it’s the same story over and over; it’s just all in how it’s told.”
Executive Producer Warren Leight has said that the subtitle for this episode was “The Education of Mike Dodds” but it just as easily could have been “The Evolution of Mike Dodds” because his character clearly grew exponentially as the case progressed. Even Olivia’s expression as she watched Dodds work to sincerely relate to the family just how sorry he about their daughter’s death was spoke volumes about what she’s seeing in his development as an SVU detective. That scene was a great callback to the earlier exchange in which Dodds showed the parents the photo of their deceased daughter, for identification purposes, but held the photo in front of the grieving couple for far too long, seemingly forgetting that this was their child that they were just realizing they had lost. (Thankfully, Benson pulled the photo away. Admittedly, she has a little more experience at this than Dodds, but maybe now that’s something he’ll remember moving forward.)
While there was no in-depth cyber sleuthing, no significant chases (save for a quickly concluded foot pursuit) and no gun play in this episode, what it was heavy on was expression—the look on Olivia’s face when she saw her son after he was missing for a brief period was absolutely real. I saw that look on a friend’s face when she couldn’t find her son for a few minutes at a crowded swimming pool and it’s something you never quite forget. Dodds’ aforementioned expression as he looked upon the cold body of the young girl both on the ground and in the morgue, and the expression of disbelief by the teenagers parents that this has actually happened to their family. And, there was one small expression that caught me a little off guard—Carisi making the sign of the cross over the body of the young woman as he knelt beside her in the alley. That one seemed heartfelt and a bit curious at the same time but nevertheless honest and true to his character. (Remember Liv talking about empathy when Carisi first arrived in the SVU squad room? Maybe he’s had more if it all along than anyone realized.)
In the midst of all of this, there was Fin being Fin, not only doing his job superbly by coming up with a unique way to get DNA from those unsuspecting suspects, but also for thinking about his absent partner and keeping her in the loop when he knows how much her job means to her. (Love him capturing the exhumation of a body via his cellphone to share with Rollins later!)
Speaking to the reality of the complicated family situation at the center of this investigation, I just have to interject here that this type of thing really does happen. I have a close friend who, while in her forties learned via someone contacting her through Facebook, that she had a half-brother that she never knew about—and then she found out she had five other half-siblings spread out across the country! Some of the siblings were never told about their real parentage, while others knew they might have relatives somewhere but weren’t interested in pursuing any communication with them, and then there were a few like my friend who, while shocked, have now met most of their surprise siblings. So, this SVU storyline, like most, was absolutely plausible.
What “Melancholy Pursuit” did best was serve as a reminder that life can change dramatically in a second, whether you’re paying attention or not, and the best you can do is the best you can do, given any particular situation. It seems like a simple concept, but the fact that in reality the results of such a short passage of time can vary widely, the thought this ideal is truly of very little comfort. Moving on is the only thing that can be done. Again, something often easier said than done.
Framing this within the narrative of SVU, it will be quite interesting to see what Dodds, and the rest of the SVU team, will take from this moving forward. Fortunately, at only eight episodes into this season, there’s plenty still to see.
Now, as Lieutenant Benson related to her newest protégé, get out and have a life. Because whether you’re ready for it or not, whether it’s for happy reasons or sad reasons, your life, at some point, will change in a second so it’s best to get on living it.