Changing one thing in your life can be extremely hard. Everyone knows that. But, making changes can also empower a person. In that context, this installment of Law & Order: SVU has heroine Olivia Benson contemplating her future, aka her ‘Next Chapter,’ which is fittingly the title of the episode.
Benson’s introspection takes places amid the backdrop of an intimate conversation and a criminal case, two seemingly opposite influences, and yet the two are intertwined with just the right amount of layered emotion to evoke serious contemplative thought.
The installment opens with Liv and Tucker, now seemingly completely ensconced in each other’s worlds, once again dining out (they sure do go out a lot, right?)
Liv is pleased with their choice of restaurant, signaling that maybe for once she feels some genuine optimism in her personal life. Tucker, while not necessarily intentionally, brings the room down by remarking that he’s thinking about giving up his badge and retiring, indicating that he thinks Liv should consider following suit.
The conversation takes Liv a bit by surprise and she seems none-too-pleased that Tucker has even brought this up. (Just like a man to spring something hefty like this on his GF during a nice meal, right?) Right on cue, Liv’s phone buzzes with what’s most likely a work emergency. (That phone seems to ring during every meal, doesn’t it?) Clearly doing her best to resist the urge to answer it, Liv contemplates what Tucker has said….but, like always, ends up at a crime scene just a short time later.
The crime involves the rape of Quinn Berris, who was attacked just after leaving a work party at a bar. Quinn points the finger at Ray Wilson, a guy who’s been stalking her for years. Wilson, fresh out of jail for a previous incident with Quinn and now working as a chef, insists he didn’t commit the crime and has an unlikely alibi to back it up – he was at church.
When fellow churchgoers confirm that Wilson was with them all night that night, suspicion then turns to Quinn’s male co-worker, Ryan, who her current boyfriend, Jack, caught watching her outside her apartment.
The detectives also talk to an ally of Quinn’s, a retired cop who helped her through the Ray Wilson stalking ordeal when she was in college. Sergeant Tom Cole, the father of one of Quinn’s friends at Rutgers, has stayed in touch with her, keeping an eye on her well-being.
After some evidence involving a discarded cigarette butt, an SUV on surveillance, along with a few detective deductions, the SVU squad realizes that it was the Sergeant who attacked Quinn.
Sadly, the squad doesn’t move quite fast enough and Cole kidnaps Quinn.
But, after determining his location, Benson and Carisi are hot on Cole’s tail. As he holds Quinn hostage in a house outside the city, the detectives formulate a plan to end the standoff, with Benson talking to Cole on the phone while Carisi sneaks into the house.
Things go awry when Cole catches Carisi off-guard and holds a gun to Carisi’s head. After a few very tense moments, a shot rings out – Cole drops as his blood spatters onto Carisi’s face. Carisi, after regaining his composure, nods at Benson, whose perfect aim and timing have brought down the prep.
As the crime scene is being processed, Carisi remarks that he hopes this doesn’t make Benson want to retire, to which she quickly responds, “No. The exact opposite.”
For an episode that on the surface seemed to be a bit cut and dry crime wise (who didn’t see that coming – that the cop did it), there was actually a lot more going on under that obvious exterior.
As a quick aside to the heavy stuff presented here, let’s all agree that this episode furthered the idea that smoking is bad – not just for your health, but because people can steal your cigarette butts and plant them as evidence at a crime scene. Nobody wants that.
On a more serious note, the narrative here explored elements of connection, trust, and redemption, all in an engaging and realistic manner. Much of this wasn’t so much about what people do, but why they do it.
First, there’s something going on with the Carisi/Benson element that’s interesting to watch play out. It’s intriguing to observe as this pairing transforms via the way they connect.
As many will recall, in his early days Carisi came off as an annoying know-it-all who often needed to be reigned in. Now, he’s one of Benson’s go-to guys when she needs someone she feels she can rely on (and well, ok, there’s only Carisi and Fin right now, but still, it’s nice to see these two together.)
It’s to the writers credit that they’re able to have each of these two reveal things about themselves through the other individual. For example, we see that Carisi is a caring person in the way that he keeps asking Benson about her life and how she’s doing. In turn, we see her, while not responding to his inquiries directly, letting him in a little while also asking him his thoughts on his own future. And, by deflecting his questions it shows that that’s not something she only does with Tucker. So, Benson may want to work on being bit more open with people going forward – especially those who clearly care about her.
Maybe she suffers from trust issues which wouldn’t be so farfetched given that it seems like everyone she trusts ends up disappointing her is some way – Elliott leaving without saying goodbye; Rollins, continually in trouble with gambling and her family; David Hayden, essentially dissolving their relationship because of job conflicts; Brian Cassidy, not wanting to grow up enough to be with Liv… and more. (There are some people who haven’t pulled the rug out from under Liv – Amaro, Cragen, and Munch – but they’re all gone now.)
In this episode Quinn didn’t trust many people and the one she did trust turned out to be the one who hurt her the most. That had to make Olivia think about the people in her life.
It was also interesting and ironic how the use of surveillance was presented here – Quinn always felt like someone was watching her. Ray felt like he was being constantly watched after he got out of prison. Ryan insisted that he was watching Quinn to protect her. Sergeant Cole, while pretending to be a good guy, was watching Ray and Quinn. It just goes to show that you never know who has you in their sights and for what reason.
Thinking about this can make obliterate your trust in anyone, right? If this was set up as a scare tactic, it clearly worked here.
Throughout the episode, as Benson evaluated her commitment to the job and her future, it wasn’t exactly clear as to why the Lieutenant is still so drawn to this particular career, but maybe that’s not for us to really know at this point. We can assume that it’s because she has a savior complex and that’s fine. There’s really no way to know exactly, but as long as Benson herself is sure, who are we to say things should be otherwise?
She seemed to make a point about her feelings for the job when she didn’t hesitate for a moment to shoot the man who was holding a gun to her co-worker’s head. Benson was completely self-assured in that moment and in the aftermath of the incident. It was like she said to herself, ‘this is my thing. I know how to do this,’ That kind of confidence seems to come with being in any job for an extended period of time and Benson’s nearly two decades clearly have made her more than strong enough to pull the trigger when needed.
Her firing that shot also provided something else that Benson clearly needed – some redemption.
When Carisi was headed into the house it was clear that Benson was having some flashbacks to how she was gripped with horror as she stood outside that house while Dodds took the bullet that ultimately claimed his life. But, when Carisi made his move into the house to pursue Cole and hopefully rescue Quinn, Benson had no choice but to let him go as she was on the phone with Cole, trying to keep the Sergeant from hurting Quinn.
Benson, in not vacillating for a moment and firing the shot that save Carisi, no doubt restored her faith in herself. The shot signaled some salvation for Benson, and she knew it the minute she did it.
She said as much as she declared this to Carisi, when she told him that the whole case had reassured her that she isn’t ready for retirement just yet.
In the opening moments of the episode, in Quinn’s office, she and her co-workers used the word ‘venerable’ a few times in describing a company. Venerable, means that something or someone is given a great deal of respect, because of age, wisdom and/or character. This term could certainly be used to describe Benson, with her longevity in her career and the wisdom that she’s gained from her years of experience.
Also at the onset of the episode, Quinn remarked that, ’changing who you are, who you really are, is almost impossible.’
Is this true for Olivia? Is it true for Tucker? If so, what does that mean for them as a couple?
When talking to Carisi about the case, Benson mentions the theory of Occam’s Razor, which states that when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is better. If this thinking holds true, then Tucker’s assertion that it’s time to smell the roses, which seems like the simpler solution, could be the right one.
But it is the right one for Benson at this point in her life? As proven by this case, the theory doesn’t always hold true.
Benson may have proclaimed that she feels it isn’t time for her give up this job, but earlier in the episode, before he turned out to have gone off the deep end, when Benson asked Cole about retirement, he remarked that maybe he should he done it earlier. While Benson might now question that statement from Cole (given how he turned out), remember that she did look longingly at his house in Jersey, and the life he seemed to have.
Thinking about this, why couldn’t Liv and Tucker compromise a bit – he can retire and run their home outside the city. She can still be a cop. Then, once and for all, maybe Olivia Benson could truly have it all – the guy, the family, the house and the career.
After all these years, it seems as though she’s earned it. All of it.
This episode stands out for the use of subtlety, subtext, the integration of the word ‘venerable,’ in this context, and the introduction and examination of the theory of Occam’s Razor as it relates to both criminology and personal issues. With the additional of some good old-fashioned police work, some great sassy dialogue (Rollins!), layered exchanges (that phone call between Sergeant Cole and Benson) believable character development (Carisi, Tucker, Benson), and you have another classic episode of what’s billed as a long-running ‘procedural drama,’ but this clearly proves that SVU continues to be anything but routine.