In most episodes of SVU the jury proceedings are quick and decisive. This installment of the series certainly did not follow that formula, and with interesting results.
The episode opens with the taped confession of Lewis Hodda, the suspect in the kidnapping of young Wyatt Morris and the murder of Hector Rodriguez. The latter case was Benson’s ‘white whale’ for over a decade and she was extremely happy to close the case in the disappearance of Hector. Well, close the case on her end anyway.
The legal proceedings featured Barba, with his shadow Carisi (yes, Carisi was a fixture at the prosecutor’s table), facing off against a crafty defense attorney over reasonable doubt. Sadly, actual guilt didn’t really seem to matter in this case, it more about reasonable doubt and there were several factors that contributed to the ultimately wavering jury.
The first decision that complicated Barba’s mission occurred when Wyatt’s mother refused to let her son testify, thus torpedoing the much stronger kidnapping case against Hodda. Ironically, the murder case, while a much more heinous crime, was a weaker pursuit since so much time had passed since the crime and due to a distinct lack of evidence in the case. With only the tenuous murder charge in play, Barba was all too aware that he would have a harder time securing a conviction.
Throughout the trial, Hodda and his defense attorney worked the angle that Benson was overzealous in her tactics to get Hodda’s confession, something that she vehemently denied to just about anyone who would listen – Barba, the jury, and even to her old friend Dr. Huang, whose testimony FOR the defense drew Benson’s ire.
Once the case finally made it to the jury, things got even more interesting as the deliberations dragged on for days. There was plenty of speculation about what was holding the panel up in reaching a decision. Just as things were heightening to a critical level and Hodda was about to take a plea that would require prison time, the jury announced that they were deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial.
As Barba vacillated about whether he should take a second go at bringing murder charges against Hodda, Benson worked some magic on the Wyatt’s mother. When the woman told Barba that her son was ready to testify against Hodda, she also assured Hector’s mother that this time Hodda wouldn’t be able to avoid getting put away. The thought of this measure of justice appeared to be comforting to Mrs. Rodriguez.
Executive Producer Warren Leight had said prior to airing that this episode was a different look at the legal system, that the storytelling deviated from the normal SVU pattern with a riff on the classic drama 12 Angry Men, and he was absolutely right. There was no smooth sailing at any juncture as this case seemed clunky with many more stops and starts than a ‘normal’ SVU case, but in a good way. The actual difficultly in determining which charges to pursue, the two-steps-forward-one-step-back pattern that befell Barba as he tried the case, and the jury questioning testimony and charges were all very real. What seemed like an open and shut case was anything but, and this, sadly, is very often what actually transpires within the confines of the legal system.
Once again, while this episode was about a trial on the surface, there were a lot of other things discreetly swimming below that top layer.
First, there was the mother /son connection between the two women featured in this case. In the 300th episode, Manhattan Vigil, which set the stage for this episode, Wyatt’s mother and Hector’s mother only met in passing. Presumably in the time since, and in this installment, they’re tied to one another by their shared experiences in the midst of coping with these horrible circumstances.
In the beginning it seemed shocking, disheartening, and a bit callous that Wyatt’s mother would immediately say that he son wouldn’t testify. She had to know that this was a possibility, but when faced with the actuality of it, it may have just been too much. The question here is – would you put your child in an uncomfortable and potentially psychologically harmful situation to help someone else? Isn’t your first duty to be a parent to YOUR child? The answer to that isn’t so easy.
But, that decision at that time may have been the best decision for everyone; they just didn’t know it – at that time. (Stay with me here.) Sometimes it’s all about a timing thing that’s going on that we don’t understand and can’t really control. We’ve all had times when things worked out the way they were supposed to, but they didn’t follow a path that we had planned and often not in the way that we could ever fathom they would. Think about it, If Barbra had gone ahead with the kidnapping case and Hodda had wrangled out of those charges, he would have been more reluctant to go after Hodda for the long past murder with its shaky evidence. But now, because he lost the murder case he gets a second shot at nailing this guy via the much stronger kidnapping case. It seems even Barba, using a bit of hindsight of course, might be reluctant to argue with that line of thinking.
Speaking of arguing, how about that Carisi? He didn’t do a bad job as Barba’s sidekick, now did he? But his presence begs the question – where does Carisi really see himself in all of this? Will he be a detective with a law degree or an attorney who used to be a cop? Either way, it’s fun and intriguing to watch the journey of someone with ambition, as we’ve seen for a while now with Barba. Moving forward, it will be interesting to watch Carisi’s trajectory – and especially if Barba becomes more involved in it.
Also on the topic of Det. Sonny, how about when he was sent to hand hold Mrs. Rodriguez the night before her testimony? Let’s remember this is the same brass Carisi who stormed into the Manhattan SVU squad room after quick, seemingly unremarkable, tours through several other boroughs. It seems Carisi’s empathy skills are growing and this is being recognized by others. And, it was telling that Barba sent him to undertake this task. Maybe Barba is starting to think Carisi has the goods – as both a detective and future barrister.
With regard to Benson in this episode, what was compelling here is that in a lot of instances lately it’s appeared she’s felt a little shaky in a her job. It was interesting to see her feel so assured in her methods. But, she was almost too confident, not that she should have any doubt – she did do everything by the book – but in the way she treated Barba. It seems like Benson sometimes forgets that Barba is on her side. What she might want to remember is that just as she is confidence in her ability to secure the guilty party via her police work, Barba is confident in his ability to interpret the law and define how to apply it to each case. It was a bit stinging to hear her tell Barba, with an almost alarming level of arrogance, that he needn’t worry, about her testifying, that she’s done it enough to absolutely know what she’s doing. Even she should know that every case is different and therefore every time on the witness stand is a singular experience. The venue and basic procedure may be the same but every case is extremely different and Benson should be well aware of that. That said, once again the clash of the strong personalities of Benson and Barba makes for some great angsty drama, doesn’t it? It seems that for many fans it’s become an essential part of the narrative in this current incarnation of the series.
And finally, we must touch on Rollins’ current situation – trying to keep that baby of hers healthy and successfully bring the child into the world. No small task there. Sadly, we’ll have to wait until the New Year to know the fate of both mom and baby. Not your typical procedural cliffhanger there, but right now it’s safe to say that nothing about this season of SVU seems necessarily ‘typical.’ And, it’s also fair to conclude that that’s precisely why most people keep coming back to this show week after week – while this series combines the uniqueness of being encapsulated just right and comforting in a certain weird way, it’s certainly not something that anyone would label as predictable.