Thursday, February 24, 2022

REVIEW: 'Law & Order: SVU' - The Truth Brings a Family Together After Years of the Unknown in 'If I Knew Then What I Know Now'

NBC's Law & Order: SVU - Episode 23.13 "If I Knew Then What I Know Now"

A young woman learning about her birth parents asks Benson for help. Carisi and Rollins weigh the risks of taking their relationship public.

"If I Knew Then What I Know Now" was directed by Juan J. Campanella with story by Micharne Cloughley & Warren Leight and teleplay by Micharne Cloughley & Julie Martin

Being a child of rape has informed Olivia's life. It motivated her to join SVU in the first place. It has been the focal point for so many stories told about her across the years. After two decades, one would assume the creative team no longer has stories to tell about that aspect of her life. And yet, it's always present. It's always something that informs her life. It's never something she can ignore. She lives with the knowledge. It's a part of her. This episode questions if such a visceral, transformational detail needs to be known. A teenager meets her birth mother for the first time. During that meeting, she learns she was conceived during a sexual assault. It's a traumatic event that stunted so much of life for her birth mother. Meanwhile, she has been thriving in a loving home. She has grown up to be a smart and compassionate young woman. Her life is full of possibilities. She yearns for answers. She wants to help her birth mother get closure as well. This revelation doesn't send her spiraling. Of course, she always hopes for the best. She latches onto the idea that maybe her conception wasn't as bad as everyone fears. A viable candidate emerges who could possibly be her birth father. He has all the same interests as her. They even look like they could be family. He isn't a genetic match though. Instead, her true father doesn't want to admit that he did anything wrong. He has a family of his own and a successful career. He is a well-connected businessman. Pursuing justice could be devastating for this family. As such, the story pivots around what each of them wants from all of this. Michelle simply wants her daughter to be happy. She may feel like she abandoned her. None of her success can be attributed to what Michelle did. But her daughter wants Michelle to be part of her life. They are family. They seek to care for one another. Sometimes it doesn't take jail time in order to feel the crime has been resolved adequately. The family just wants Cole to admit what he did. A plea deal won't include any time behind bars. He will simply be sentenced to probation and community service. Once that justice is issued, then they can have the potential to be a family. It's a messy dynamic. However, the truth is out there. That allows them to all move forward with absolute clarity instead of being left in the dark about the truth.

All of this spreads to Rollins and Carisi's relationship as well. Rollins is more than capable of compartmentalize the parts of her life. She wants to keep things separate. Of course, she built strong relationships once she trusted the people she works with. She let them into her personal life. They care about her. It's no secret that Rollins and Carisi are dating. Olivia isn't surprised by that news. She is happy for them. It's still smart that they disclose it to their bosses officially. That ensures it won't be a problem on the job. It's also a symbol of things continuing to move in the right direction. Rollins is reluctant to change. Everything is perfect for her as is. For Carisi, it doesn't feel like they are continuing to grow together. It's just a bond that has been private between them for months. They aren't a couple in public. Rollins' kids don't even know why he is spending so much time with them. It's all complicated. Those parenting decisions have to be handled with care. Rollins doesn't need Carisi's instant analysis of her psyche. She has a therapist to do that. All of this presents as an obstacle that could derail the happy couple. It doesn't. Again, it highlights the benefits of having the truth out there. It allows Rollins and Carisi to continue evolving as a couple. Olivia is genuinely happy for them. Carrying burdens privately doesn't necessarily destroy one's public perception. Maxwell shares her story of sexual assault for the first time ever. She confides in Olivia and Carisi. She knows she has their support. It helps inform them of how she reacts to this case. It's personal. It proves her willingness to believe the victim even though she is connected to the man who abused Michelle. She is armed with these details that could compromise the integrity of the office. And yet, it's important to follow the law no matter where it leads. She has that steadfast belief. That allows her to be a more fully informed character. One who can offer sage advice to Carisi while being a trusted equal for the police even when the prosecutions get tricky. Everything is informed by the past. It's freeing to let the truth out. It's still a part of each person's story. That can't be ignored. That doesn't mean it should be pent up. That only ensures more dysfunction when so much happiness is out there waiting for that brighter future.