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Law and Order: SVU - No Good Reason - Review

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The case in this week’s SVU starts of like any other: a charming, happy, na├»ve sophomore named Mandy keeps a video blog of her endearingly routine life. We see her school, her friends, the boys they crush on, and we see them get asked to a party. The next video entry takes a dark turn. Mandy has had the “worst day of her life” and shows a picture of herself at the party the night before, but she’s passed out, partially dressed, and has vulgarities written all over her body. Mandy disappears.

The detectives pick her case up as a missing person’s and spend the first chunk of the episode tracking her down, and it becomes apparent that representing a "typical case", from start to finish, is the point of the episode. They interview her friends and the boys who were at the party. All the kids play dumb, but there is a break when Mandy starts a live Facebook feed to announce she’s never coming back. This allows the detectives to track the IP address to the friend Mandy’s crashing with. Mandy is brought back home, but only after admitting things are worse than she claimed on her vlog: she was raped at the party.

So far, there isn’t anything out of the ordinary going on for this show. The case turns into a he said/she said, though Mandy’s friends have abandoned her, and her schoolmates have turned against her. After interviewing the three boys involved, Benson, Rollins, and Carisi determine that only one boy assaulted her, Andrew. This is difficult for Mandy to take, since Andrew was her friend, the one of the three she knew best, and this is partly why she isn’t believed by her schoolmates. She certainly doesn’t want to testify against Andrew, she doesn’t even want to show her face at school ever again.

As the focus shifts to the trial, the detectives work on interrogating Andrew. At first, he only admits to kissing Mandy, then to the sex, though he claims it was consensual. While this is going on, the harassment against Mandy continues and she starts to spiral, to “pink cloud”, as they put it. That term was brought up a few seasons ago during a case Rollins had where a victim fell into a deep enough denial to feel almost elated, and then when reality came crashing down on her it was so devastating she committed suicide. Rollins and Benson immediately recognize the signs in Mandy and get through to her before it can get that far.

While interrogating Max, the boy who took the photo of Mandy, he lets slip the fact that Andrew had feelings for Mandy that weren’t reciprocated. This sparks the idea that he may have reached out to Mandy, especially if he wanted the “sex” they had to mean something. This ends up being the big break, as the find that Mandy had communicated with him and through a text reply he basically admitted to raping her.

The detectives use this text to get Andrew to admit that he knew Mandy wasn’t interested in him but took advantage of her anyway, partly because he wanted her to like him, but also because he was so frustrated that she didn’t. They get him to admit to the rape publicly to clear Mandy’s name, and Liv goes on to give a presentation on assault and bullying with Mandy at her school. It’s a pretty sentimental ending, bordering on shmaltzy, but it’s effective nonetheless. That seems to sum up the episode as a whole: predictable, but not without its redeeming qualities.

When it comes to telling stories about trauma, SVU has had varying degrees of success. Stories of violence and victimhood ideally must strike a balance that keeps their integrity while being entertaining without being exploitive. I think the old glory days of SVU tended to lean toward the exploitive, but they were so campy they could get away with it. The other side of that coin is to tell the story of a crime in a way that is responsible to the victim but also lacks entertainment value. I think this episode ultimately falls into that category.

This isn’t really a negative; I think it’s paramount, when telling stories of trauma, to be responsible to the victim, whether they are fictional or not. One of the most important roles of this type of fiction is providing representation to actual survivors of trauma, regardless of how realistic the story is. As this episode illustrated, everyone is touched by some form of it some way, and people never know what character they may end up identifying with. So it’s important that these stories are told, if for no other reason than to help real people feel less alone with their own difficult experiences.

On that front, this episode is successful. I found it to be a realistic depiction of a he said/she said case, albeit the best-case scenario: the detectives work hard, fight for the victim, and then everything pretty much falls into place. The downside is that this doesn’t seem to happen much in real life, and it doesn’t make for especially interesting TV. I found it to be satisfying in a wish-fulfillment, fan-fiction sort of way, but it also leaves me wondering if SVU has lost its sense for why it wants to tell these stories at all. Is it just to put forward tales of victims and criminals in a formula that doesn’t do any harm but doesn’t really feel real either?

I think that this episode exists as an interlude between the more sensational installments of SVU, an attempt to tell a more subtle, relatable story. This episode represented its characters honestly, with a victim who made mistakes, a criminal who didn’t fully understand the wrong he committed, and kids who were close to a crime do so much damage for no real reason other than the fact that kids can be cruel. All of these pieces of the episode rang true, but there’s still something missing. Maybe it was just some nuance, something to make it feel less generic, but it was enough to leave me feeling dissapointed, in spite of the fact that the story of this girl's pain was told with care and integrity. At this point, we know the details of investigations, interrogations, and trials, and we know that crimes are not black and white. This story is important, but it's also one we've seen before many times, and it's time SVU decides what kind of show it wants to be going forward, because there's no point in telling the same story twice if you aren't going to shed light on a part that hasn't been seen before.

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