‘Law & Order: SVU’ Recap 17×17: The Broken Heart of the Special Victims Unit

Robert John Burke and Mariska Hargitay in Law & Order:SVU.
Robert John Burke and Mariska Hargitay in Law & Order:SVU. (photo: Michael Parmelee/NBC)

After being tipped off about a sex party with underage girls, the SVU team has a surveillance operation set up at the location, with Carisi as their inside man. When things take a turn and someone at the party pulls a gun on Carisi, the rest of the squad storms in with their weapons drawn.

As they sort things out back at the stationhouse, Benson, with Barba in tow, points out that they’ve discovered several high-ranking officials in their sweep of the guests at the party, including assemblymen, councilmen, a District Attorney and a judge. Also attending the shindig were two vice cops who claim to have been undercover in an attempt to bring down the trafficking ring.

If that seems complicated, just wait, it only gets more snarled from here.

Also snagged from the party was a nun, Sister Nina, who claims that she’s been trying to help the girls, all of whom attend the same school in the Bronx, St. Fabiola. After one of the girls, Cara, claims that the two vice cops are rapists, having assaulted her and other girls, the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) is called in and Lt. Tucker beings an investigation, working with the SVU squad.

When Tucker realizes that he knows a priest at the girls’ school, he pays Fr. Eugene a visit. The priest just happens to be Tucker’s cousin, although the two aren’t close, with Fr. Eugene letting it drop that his cousin has all but left the church.

Shortly after this visit, Cara is found dead of an overdose. The medical examiner can’t definitively determine whether her death was accidental or murder, but the detectives suspect it’s a homicide.

Tucker, suspecting Fr. Eugene is involved, returns to the church in a fury and angrily confronts his cousin. He comes close to striking the priest but is thwarted by Benson who physically pushes Tucker away from Fr. Eugene.

Once outside the church, Benson tells Tucker that this is not his case, that she’ll take it from here.

Paranoid Sr. Nina, who, it’s been revealed has been relieved of her duties due to perceived mental instability, is at Benson’s place looking after Noah. Apparently, Benson stashed her there for safe keeping after Cara’s death.

When Benson brings Tucker to the apartment, Sr. Nina gets spooked, thinking Benson’s in on some big conspiracy and out to kill her, so she takes off. At Barba’s office, the Monsignor from St. Fabiola is just leaving as Benson arrives.

Barba informs Benson that the priests are saying that they reported the vice cops   to Tucker a year ago and he did nothing. Benson’s initial stunned silence and her vehement defense of Tucker leads the ever astute Barba to figure out that Benson and Tucker are a couple. Upon confirming this, Barba orders Benson out of his office.

A flustered Benson meets Tucker in an out of the way bar and the two discuss what’s going down. Mid-conversation, Benson’s cell rings and she’s summoned to NYPD headquarters at One Police Plaza.

Back in the squad room, Benson enters and makes a beeline for her office, ordering Rollins and Carisi to bring her some evidence boxes. She also summons Sgt. Dodds to join her in her office. In a gruff, nonplussed manner, Benson reveals to her three underlings that she’s been relieved of her command and that Sgt. Dodds is now in charge, implying that he’s had a hand in this personnel change.

Wow. What an ending, right?

Actually, what an episode. Looked at in its entirety, it was a hell of a ride. It’s a little hard to critique this installment because this story is really still in progress, but let’s assess what we can.

First, a quick shout out to the writers for using St. Fabiola as the name of the parish in this storyline.  The female saint is apropos for this episode given that she is the patron saint of victims of abuse, adultery and unfaithfulness. Well done on this little gem.

Back to our main storyline – Yes, using a Catholic Church scandal as the main plot might seem like nothing more than a timely subject to tackle, but really that was just the foundation for telling a tale about a conspiracy that may or may not involve some folks we know.

It can’t be confirmed at this moment whether this storyline and previous episodes were all part of some masterfully intricate plan to make Tucker, a formerly despised guy, into a respected guy only to turn him back into a despised guy (which he will instantly become, not matter what else happens, if this whole thing ends up in heartbreak for Olivia), but, it’s absolutely grand anytime TBTP can use the history of a series and its characters to elevate a storyline.

In this instance, it almost felt like the actual criminal case was secondary to everything else that was going on – with Tucker, with Tucker and Benson, with Barba and Benson, and with Dodds and Benson.

Analyzing all of those interactions could take a bit. Here goes.

Tucker’s head has to be spinning. It isn’t that hard to believe that someone within the NYPD might be framing him. Just think about it, he’s spent years investigating other cops and people do hold grudges, especially when you mess with their career. (Not everyone can be like Olivia and forgive Tucker’s repeated attempts to take her shield through the years. More on that later.)

It’s a bit hard to believe that if someone did come to Tucker about dirty cops, as the Monsignor claims, that he would cover it up. If there’s one thing we know about Tucker it’s that he takes his job of policing the police very seriously.

As for Benson and Dodds, Benson has always given him the benefit of the doubt and has never accused him of being a ‘daddy’s boy.’ And, from what viewers have seen of him, he’s his own man, often openly disagreeing with his pops. But, does anyone really know him? Is his good guy routine all an act or his is a genuinely decent fellow? Who knows? It will be interesting to see what shakes out when he’s in command of the unit, if there are any revelations about what he did and didn’t know about this investigation, and if he took any direct action that caused Benson’s change of venue.

Then there’s Barba. No one in this episode looked as betrayed as Barba did when Benson slipped up and inadvertently called Tucker ‘Ed’ just as Rafael was thinking he’d finally had put his finger on Tucker. Turns out it’s Benson that Barba doesn’t know as well as he thought he did. Was that quivering in his eyes because he has feelings for Benson? Are those feelings the professional kind, the ‘looking out for her’ kind, or the ‘I thought there was the possibility of something more between us kind?’ Whatever he does next might shed some light on his thought process, or it might not. That’s the beauty of this relationship – the continuing ambiguity of it – that makes it so damn compelling. But, having said that, a bit of clarity at some point would be welcomed.

Then there’s Olivia and Ed or Ed and Olivia. However you refer to them, they certainly are an interesting couple. Don’t you just wonder what Olivia was thinking as she pulled Ed off of his cousin? She’s had to deal with men with anger issues before so she certainly has experience in this area, but we’ve never seen Tucker angry like this before, really, so maybe this outburst is an anomaly and Olivia knows this. Even Olivia gets mad at times. Everyone has their threshold and it’s quite possible that this case pushed Ed to his.

While Olivia looked a bit terrified when Barba revealed that Ed might be involved in a cover-up, she didn’t hesitate to run to her man and tell him what she knew, so she’s clearly not confused about how she feels about his honesty. But, you have to believe that there might be a small part of her that’s thinking, “Dear God, can’t I once fall for a guy who’s not accused of something!?”

If you think about it, it’s pretty brilliant to have this role reversal between Benson and Tucker – she’s usually the one in the hot seat and with him investigating her and now she’ll be investigating him as he’s facing accusations. (Yes, right now she’s not in the Special Victims Unit but I think we can all agree that no matter where Lt. Benson lands, she’ll still be investigating. It’s just in her nature to do that.)

The relationship between these two is clearly a unique one. The term love-hate seems fairly appropriate but it’s really more like a push-push type of thing where they each push the other in matters of intellect, morality and ethics.

Having a little fun here, how do you think their pillow talk goes? Maybe something like this – Benson: “ You had me arrested and sent to jail because you thought I cut off a biker’s Johnson.“ Tucker: “Yay, but I stood up for you when everyone thought you killed Lewis.” Benson: “You almost got my last boyfriend killed in an undercover operation.” Tucker laughs: “Well, I was trying to eliminate the competition and look, it worked.” Then Tucker, “Now let’s talk about that partner you used to have.” Benson: “Nick?” Tucker: “No, the other one, the one who up and abruptly retired.” Benson: “Oh,  him….how about we go to a show today?”  There could be hours of this as these two have been a part of each other’s lives for over a decade. Oh, to be a fly on the wall of Olivia’s place…..

Looking ahead, how will Dodds handle the transition to leader of the SVU team and more importantly what will Fin have to say about all of this when he gets back from wherever he’s been the past few weeks? It’s clear that Rollins is none-too-happy with this recent twist in leadership. Carisi, well, he may have gained some traction among his peers with some outstanding work recently, but he’s made it clear that he’s taken the bar exam so he already has one foot out the door, and this upheaval may be just the catalyst to push him to jumpstart his legal career.

Amid all of this chaos, a theory that one might consider when it comes to Benson’s transfer is that she hasn’t REALLY been ‘relieved of her command,’ that it only appears that way. Could she in fact be going undercover within the NYPD to find out what’s going on? No one was privy to the actual conversation that took place at 1PP.  If this is what’s happening here, it’s pretty brilliant and it will certainly make for some fascinating exchanges with all involved parties going forward.

As John Munch said in his retirement speech, Olivia Benson is the heart of SVU. Given that everyone knows this and the series itself has already been renewed for season 18, it’s a pretty sure bet that Ms. Benson will somehow end up back in the 16th precinct, but how soon and in what capacity is exactly what has everyone on edge —  both on and off-screen. ‘Law & Order: SVU’ Recap 17×17: The Broken Heart of the Special Victims Unit