The “ripped from the headlines” concept is one that “Law & Order: SVU” keeps in its arsenal for slow points in the season, or when a particularly relevant situation pops up in current events. It is a strategy that keeps the show near the surface of pop culture discussions, but also serves to simplify ongoing issues in the news by wrapping them up in a pretty bow in less than an hour.
This week’s “SVU” includes tie-ins to the Solange Knowles elevator incident, the Darren Sharper rape accusations from February and the Donald Sterling uproar from this summer. Given the opportunity to tackle important feminist issues and the hero-worship by society of athletes and other high-profile men, the show first falters and then fails completely.
Beginning with retired superstar basketball player Shakir Williams signing a contract extension with an alternate reality version of Nike and immediately after being attacked in an elevator by a company assistant, the episode quickly spirals into victim-blaming and excuses for all involved. Multiple women around the country come forward and corroborate the rapes but before the case even reaches trial, the precinct is divided down gender lines as to whether the detectives believe the accusations or not.
It is an unprofessional representation of a police department actively investigating rapes and an unsettling realistic one at that. Even Rollins is initially blinded by her love for Shakir before multiple girls step forward. Watching cops second guess a victim specifically because she is accusing an athlete feels like something that happens in real life and is appalling to think about.
To make things worse, the show decides the requisite twist will be that the girls were in fact not raped but lied in service of a larger conspiracy against Shakir facilitated by the owner of the company with whom he just signed an extension. It egregiously undermines any positive points the show was trying to get across with a simple solution that absolves the alleged rapist and the department for second-guessing the victims.
It also includes racist speech from the other victims with spitting remarks about how “that black girl” is lying and the white victims are not. Unintentional or not it draws an easily recognizable line in the sand between certain economic brackets, race and the inaccurate idea that some people are more willing to lie about abuse and violence than others.
It may be that they were aiming to tie the ending references to Donald Sterling in with someone else in the episode before dropping that bomb, but no amount of breadcrumbs falling can make the final ten minutes of appalling racist remarks from the company owner seem any less out of place. Stacy Keach and Teri Polo are two great performances in thankless roles, both getting scenery to chew but to no productive end.
The reveal that Keach’s Orien Bauer framed Shakir for everything to ruin his reputation after he impregnated his daughter does nothing to remove the general disgust the rest of the episode instills. It is a tacked on ending that is clearly an attempt to fit in all athlete-related scandals in one go without a second thought as to how using other people’s tribulations can be used in a positive way. Even five minutes to dig deeper into how society and law enforcement views famous suspects as opposed to their female accusers would have been better served than almost everything else included.
In case you missed it, watch some clips from the episode below.