True to form, Law & Order: SVU returned with an episode that forced viewers to choose who to believe, who to side with, and just how to feel about an issue that’s extremely relevant, with a little bit of personal drama thrown in for good measure.
In the opening moments of the episode, a tiny boy rushes ahead of his caregiver, a woman who is then unfortunately run down by a cyclist.
When the boy is later found in Central Park, Lieutenant Benson is called in to help decipher who he is and how to find of someone, hopefully in his family, to come and take care of him.
Benson, with her son Noah in tow, approaches the boy as he plays in a sandbox. Uttering words in a foreign language, the small child backs away from Benson when she tires to communicate with him. As she attempts to inch closer, the boy reaches into his nearby backpack and retrieves a gun that he immediately points directly at Benson. She, in turn pushes her son behind her, shows her badge to onlookers and manages, with a quick move, to grab the gun away from the child. It’s a tense few minutes that sets the stage for Benson to become obsessed with finding out how a four-year-old got a gun.
In the course of their investigation, it’s discovered that the boy’s name is Ali and that his parents are Luka and Ana. The SVU team isn’t immediately able to locate the couple, but they do find a cache of firearms and what appear to be explosives in their apartment.
This sets off an intense manhunt for the pair. As the team tries to pinpoint what Luka and Ana plan to do, the couple approaches a crowd watching a public performance in Central Park. An NYPD officer notices something amiss and calls out to Luka who immediately shoots him and fires shots at others in the crowd. Fortunately, the SVU squad had been just a few steps behind the couple and they quickly take down Luka. But, when they approach Ana with guns drawn, she begs for them to help her.
Speaking with Benson and attorney Rita Calhoun, Ana claims that she was forced to participate in the Central Park attack by Luka and his brother Armin. She describes how they have been raping and brutalizing her for years.
Because the NYPD officer and another young woman were killed in the attack, Chief Dodds and ADA Barba repeatedly tell Benson that Ana’s participation in those murders, whether coerced or not, trump the fact that she may or may not have been raped.
Of course, this doesn’t sit well with Benson who believes Ana’s claims wholeheartedly and when DNA proves that Armin, not Luka, is Ali’s father, Benson is even more determined to help Ana so that Armin doesn’t get custody of the boy.
Fighting against Barba and Dodds, Benson realizes that Barba may have his reasons for doing what he’s doing. Dodds, on the other hand, makes it very clear that he’s carrying some resentment toward her for the death of his son.
Throughout the investigation, all involved realize that key pieces of evidence lie within Luka’s locked cellphone. Earlier on in the investigation, the phone likely contained information that would have helped the detectives stop the original attack in the park, and video on the phone might have proved Ana’s claims of rape. But, the manufacturer of the phone refused to unlock it for the police. Barba was even successful in getting a judge to order the company to break into the phone, but the company immediately filed an appeal. So in the end, no information was gleaned from the phone.
As Calhoun worked to broker a deal for Ana relating to the attack, she implored Barba to agree to terms that included going after Armin for Ana’s rape. Barba only said that he would try his best if evidence warranted moving forward with the rape case.
Just after this discussion, Benson pleaded with Barba to let her move forward with rape charges against Armin and he relented. As she and her team moved in to arrest Armin, they discovered that the FBI was already taking him into custody for something related to his terrorist activities. This meant that the SVU team wouldn’t be able to get Armin for Ana’s assault, but it also meant that he wouldn’t be able to get custody of Ali either, which seemed almost as important to Benson as the rape case.
Later, as Ana played with her son in lock-up, Benson informed her that her sister was coming to New York to get Ali and would be taking him back to Bosnia. Ana then said a tearful goodbye to the boy.
The episode closed out with Olivia and Noah once again playing in the park. When Ed joined them, Olivia remarked that she’d never been happier. However, she was quick to tell Ed that her joy was tinged with a fear that her newfound happiness wouldn’t last.
There was a lot going on in this episode of SVU, just as one would expect in a season premiere — a toddler with a gun focused on Benson, terrorism activity, a locked phone and the struggle to get the information on it, and a victim of rape. All of it was pretty terrifying so the title of the episode ‘Terrorized’ worked on many levels.
This episode was also a success in that it was both topical and personal.
There was the return of defense attorney Rita Calhoun, who at first Benson is none-too-pleased to see, immediately remarking, ‘oh, you’re representing terrorists now?’ But then Benson clearly changes her mind about Calhoun’s involvement with Ana when it’s revealed that Ana is a victim.
And speaking of Ana as a victim, show of hands, who initially thought that her rape allegations were just a ploy to get around being charged for her involvement in the Central Park incident? Her case evoked that all too familiar feeling that there would be an SVU twist that would ultimate shock victims in the end, right? Add to that that Benson seemed to believe Ana almost too quickly and it was a tension-filled storyline that evoked that familiar feeling of not exactly knowing who to believe in this situation.
As for the inclusion of the cellphone issue here, that’s a topic that will probably be debated forever – privacy versus need–to-know. When you look at both sides, both have a very valid point – an ADA wanting information to enforce the law and a manufacturer wanting to keep clients information secure. The manufacturers argument that if you do this for one person it can be done for all is completely fair. But, in a society where gaining information from technology could potentially protect people from illegal activities, does privacy take precedent over that? Again, this is a tough issue with no right or wrong answer and it was compelling to see it explored in this episode.
Within that squad room, there were clearly some changes and some tension as well. First, what’s up with Carisi? Didn’t it seem like he was taking the lead on a few things? Like when he demanded Armin call Luka. And, ‘demanded’ is an appropriate word here. Have we ever seen Carisi that forceful before? For a guy who just passed the bar, it sure seems like he’s putting it all into his police work. Watching him and his methods going forward should be interesting.
That obvious tension between Dodds Sr. and Benson has nowhere to go but up. There had to be some fall out from what happened with Dodds Jr on Benson’s watch and it’s clearly started. What will happen between the Chief and Benson as they both deal with this in their own way will be intriguing to watch.
Speaking of interesting, how about Tucker’s new job in the Conviction Integrity Unit? Wait, doesn’t that involve investigation previous cases? Like maybe SVU cases? Really? Isn’t this sort the sort of thing that torpedoed Olivia’s relationship with David Hayden as he was going to be investigating some of her old cases? So….Why couldn’t Ed have moved to a different unit? Because, let’s face it, this is the logical way to create some conflict for the couple. I think we can collectively say that we’re not really looking forward to that, right? And, sadly, it seems once again Olivia was right; her happiness may not last.
All of this is a good set-up for storylines that could go in various directions this season on SVU. Just like that little kid pulling a gun on Benson, it looks like things have started off with a bang.