Thursday, January 20, 2022

REVIEW: 'Law & Order: SVU' - A Rising Boxer Puts His Love and Trust in the Wrong People in 'Tommy Baker's Hardest Fight'

NBC's Law & Order: SVU - Episode 23.12 "Tommy Baker's Hardest Fight"

When a popular fighter doesn't show up for the biggest bout of the year, Rollins and Velasco are drawn into a complicated web of secrets. McGrath confides in Benson.

"Tommy Baker's Hardest Fight" was written by Candice Sanchez McFarlane & Bryan Goluboff and directed by Ed Bianchi

The world becomes a more enriching place when a person reveals their true self. For a long time, Tommy Baker lived his life in the closet. Part of that was cultural expectations around him in the South. He grew up in a time and place where being gay wasn't accepted. Part of that was being committed to a sport that embodies strength and toughness. And yet, he had the courage to come out. He wanted to do so as a champion. That's not the fate that befell him. However, he survives a brutal assault. It wasn't a hate crime meant to shame him back into the closet or kill him for having the conviction to live as his authentic self. Instead, it was a much more complicated personal drama. One built on trust and openness even when bad actors took advantage of him and his wife. It still builds to Tommy coming out to the world. He shares his truth. It's powerful because it's his truth regardless of what else he accomplishes. He struggles from time to time too. But acceptance does win out in the end. His homophobic father ultimately makes amends because he only has a few months left to live. Tommy's story has to be told by others for the majority of this episode. He's fighting for his life. It's the hardest fight he has ever had to win. He does prevail. His story is powerful. It can serve as an inspiration. Plus, the management team is completely supportive. Sure, one can question just how meaningful and effective the branding of Tommy as a "Rainbow Warrior" would be. But it also showcases a willingness to center this aspect of his life around his public identity. It's something that can be accepted by the world at large. It's not some shameful secret that spurs a bunch of gossip. That's how this investigation starts. Rumors swirl about Grindr being on his phone. The SVU squad can detail how it was a staged aspect of the attack. The truth still lies at the heart of the case though. That must be uncovered. Part of that is getting Chrissy to admit just how trusting she has been with the wrong person. Ricky has long been taking advantage of the couple. Phil has as well because he felt betrayed by Tommy always wanting to choose Chrissy as his family. Everything has the potential to change with Tommy coming out on the world stage. In private though, the dynamics may not alter as a result of this announcement. That's the shocking development that some can't accept. It takes awhile for the detectives to unravel the truth. They get there. They honor Tommy before he regains consciousness. That's their job. They have to speak for the victims even when they can't speak for themselves. This case doesn't ultimately need to be taken to trial. That's a win for the system as well. People are willing to take responsibility for their actions. That creates a rather concise conclusion. Sure, it's the way most stories end on this particular show. But it's also meaningful because it showcases LGBTQ+ identities on the same footing as the other stories the narrative deals with. The SVU squad is trusted every step of the way to lead with respect. Of course, the same can't be said for Chief McGrath. This episode tries to offer more complexity to the character. He is deserving of that given his stance as an antagonist to the reform efforts within the department. It highlights Olivia's humanity along the way. She doesn't hold leverage against someone in order to advance her own goals. She genuinely wants McGrath to work on himself in order to be of better service to others. Everyone has that potential within them. It's just too easy to write off McGrath as a one-note character though. That remains true despite the effort made here. That also prevents the show itself from doing the hard work of examining how police culture must change while the resistance remains strong from the old guard. It's just lightly touching on the subject while still centering itself as a progressive champion of service and justice through the work the squad does regardless of the conversation at large. The show has always been careful in the past with how it balances these elements. This season has struggled a bit though. It's mostly untapped potential given the setup that was established early on. Olivia and McGrath fight. Their dynamic is more complex than that. But it's not offering much of substance to delve into fully and with total conviction.