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Law and Order: SVU - Blackout -Review

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Let's start this review of "Blackout" (20x18) , the latest gripping episode of Law and Order: SVU, with a short public service announcement. Due to a prior commitment your regular reviewer, Shirleena Cunningham was unable to review this episode and asked for someone to pinch hit for her. That would be me, DJRiter. When offered the opportunity I grabbed it to revisit a show I've been a fan of for a very long time. And by a long time, I mean I've been a fan of the Special Victims Unit since the days of Elliott Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), and ADA's Abbie Carmichael (Angie Harmon), Casey Novak (Diane Neal) and my absolute, all-time favorite Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March). I will admit I've not been a regular viewer in recent years but do stop in from time to time to catch up with the detectives of the 16th Precinct.

This week those detectives were faced with a challenging case that dealt strongly with the abuse of power. Benson and company are frustrated when one of their latest cases that have gone to trial is derailed by a familiar nemesis, defense attorney Nikki Staines (Callie Thorne). And to add insult to injury they later find themselves having to socialize with her at a police charity event, which doesn't sit well with many in attendance as Staines is suing to the department for $50 million. It's hard to tell if it's arrogance or sincerity when she tries to make nice with Fin (Ice-T) and Carisi (Peter Scanavino).

Fortunately, to take the sting out of her biting comments, Deputy Chief Dodd (Peter Gallagher) brings back-up in the form of high-profile attorney, Rob Miller, who is defending the department against Nikki's lawsuit, Rob Miller (Titus Welliver), a man he describes as being the true power in the city. Although powerful, Miller comes across a bit smarmy and sleazy after bungling attempts to hit on both Olivia and Detective Rollins (Kellie Giddish) who remain unimpressed. Welliver created a commanding presence as Miller, walking that fine line between charming and creepy.

Rollins and Carisi are stunned the next day when they find the assault victim of their next case is none other than Nikki, who can't help them identify her attacker because she suffered some sort of blackout and the last thing she remembers is being at the police charity event. The detectives follow standard procedure and begin their investigation by looking into Nikki's former clients, which does not sit well with Nikki. In a tense standoff with Olivia in her office, Nikki accuses them of dragging their feet on the case, chasing false leads because they don't want to admit that their prime suspects are likely the police that was present at the last place she remembers being, the department charity event. She seems inordinately upset with the loss of her phone, which she claims contains sensitive notes about her case against the department. Thorne showcases the strength and anger of her character and easily goes toe to toe with Hargitay, you see her fighting to not give in to the trauma of being a victim.

Olivia must admit she is right and instructs her squad to begin looking into those who were at the event. She then gets some unexpected help when Rob Miller calls her and offers her a file he has compiled on Nikki. She begrudgingly accepts his help and his invitation to have a drink. Later when Rollins discovers information in the file that he shouldn't have had access to she uncovers a connection he had to the judge in the case they just lost. When she goes to tell Olivia and finds her getting ready to go have drinks with the man, she tries to warn her but finds that Olivia is way ahead of her and tells her to keep digging into Miller. At dinner Olivia is stunned that Miller freely admits to a sexual encounter with Nikki, claiming it was consensual. He is not happy she rebuffs his advances and says she's going to get him. He warns her to let the case go.

Olivia and her squad soon experience what "the most powerful man who really runs the city" does with the power he wields. He gets the judge to warn Rollins to back off, he even attempts to get Nikki to recant when he threatens to ruin her and interfere in her bitter custody battle. He even tries to intimidate Olivia by having her pulled over by state troopers for DUI after she has a drink with him and is driving home with her son. That act proved to be a big part of his undoing. You don't try to intimidate Olivia Benson. Angered by Miller's actions, she goes to Dodd, knowing that she would need his help to bring someone powerful like Miller down and is at first dismayed that he is reluctant to help, but ultimately, he does and wears a wire to get Miller to admit his crime, that he committed just to get a hold of the information on Nikki's phone. After Miller realizes he is not as powerful as he thought he was and is arrested, she gets Dodd to admit that what Miller had over him was a copy of a damning memo about her which he later gives to her.

With Miller behind bars, Nikki comes to thank Olivia but breaks down admitting she doesn't know what to do next, she's not sure she can keep doing her job. It was a masterful moment for Thorne, showing that even the strongest have their breaking point. The entire scene is Mariska Hargitay being Olivia Benson at her best. She's the tough, no-nonsense commander of the squad, a loving mother, but at her heart and what has made this character resonate with viewers for over twenty seasons is her empathy for the victims. Whatever the case, it's clear, Olivia always stands with the victims.

You don't become the longest-running scripted non-animated United States prime time series by becoming stale and having a cast that appears to phone in performances. The current cast of Law and Order: SVU work like a well-oiled machine, operating smoothly no matter which members are working together. In this episode, it was a shining example of the camaraderie and connection between Benson and Rollins, as both women and cops and Hargitay and Giddish made the most of every scene. Yes, at times the story was a little predictable, but it was watching these characters operate as a team that made this a compelling episode, a sure sign that even after 20 seasons the show is still going strong.

My thanks to Shirleena for letting me step into her SVU neighborhood this week. What were your thoughts on this episode? Discuss in the comments below.

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