May 22, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Law & Order: Special VIctims Unit”


A return visit to LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT on the occasion of its 15th season finale revealed a procedural that had gone positively soapy–possibly a result of creator Dick Wolf’s recent success with his more serialized Chicago pair of series.

Both of the cases covered in the hour, which was written by Executive Producers Warren Leight and Julie Martin (from a story by the two of them and Kevin Fox) and directed by Norberto Barba, had personal connections to the central characters.  In the lead story, Olivia Benson (now a Sergeant) discovered that the prostitute she’d arrested for being part of a ring in which her pimp robbed and sexually assaulted her johns was the mother of the baby Olivia had rescued earlier in the season from child pornographers.  That baby had been passed around the foster care system ever since, and after the mother was murdered during the course of the episode, Olivia agreed to become his foster mother herself.  Olivia was also due to be named the unit’s commanding officer, at least temporarily, after Lieutenant Murphy (recurring guest star Donal Logue) left for an undercover assignment, so it all set things up for Benson, and thus Hargitay, to be playing less of an active part in Season 16’s cases–a development that’s been rumored for a while.

The B story had Detective Amaro (Danny Pino) unable to control his temper and beating a suspected child molester played by Joshua Malina half to death.  He was only let out of jail after Detective Rollins (Kelli Giddish) blackmailed the suspect’s wife by threatening to provide the man with child pornography–which would land him in jail–if he didn’t tell the authorities that he’d thrown the first punch.  Along the way, Amaro was bailed out by John Munch (Richard Belzer, looking frail), now a DA’s investigator and no longer a series regular. (Ice T is still around from the old days, although he was barely present in the finale.)   By the end, Amaro was no longer facing criminal charges, but his place at SVU was set to be precarious in Season 16.

For all the more personal stories being told, SVU still felt much like its very old-fashioned procedural self.  Wolf still has little interest in high-tech investigatory methods, nor in the swift pace and busier, darker narratives of more current crime dramas.  SVU, even more than other veterans like CSI, is content to be rather dinosaur-ish, moving in its own deliberate way and staged like the rigid television dramas of its inception.  Even when the plots are supposed to be of deeper meaning to the protagonists, the actors’ show of emotion is limited, and a stiff upper lip is the prevailing reaction to just about any development.

SVU‘s ratings are a shadow of what they used to be among viewers under 50, and the show’s need to cut costs sharply (including Dick Wolf’s own fees) in order to survive for another season was well-publicized.  Nevertheless, at a time when NBC is still struggling to rebuild its primetime schedule, the series is useful for its loyal if aging fans.  The changes that seem to be in store for next season seem unlikely to bring any new viewers to the veteran procedural, but they may help keep SVU on the air a bit longer.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."