Saturday, May 14, 2022

REVIEW: 'Law & Order: SVU' - Olivia and Carisi Question If People Are Willing to Atone for Their Sins in 'Confess Your Sins to Be Free'

NBC's Law & Order: SVU - Episode 23.21 "Confess Your Sins to Be Free"

When the only evidence in a crime is a church confession, Carisi must find another way to prove his suspect guilty. Benson agrees to meet with an old friend seeking to make amends for past transgressions.

"Confess Your Sins to Be Free" was directed by Norberto Barba with story by Denis Hamill & Warren Leight and teleplay by Julie Martin & Christian Tyler

What does it truly take to atone for one's past actions? For some, they believe they are absolved of their sins through the act of confession. It's a sacred moment. One where someone repents for what they've done. They receive the grace and glory from God as communicated through a priest. That carries certain legal and ethical protections as well. Whatever is said in the confessional is kept completely confidential. A priest can never break their sacred vows. They can't reveal what they know without facing judgment for prioritizing life in this realm. It's all meant to be in service to a higher power. One built on asking for absolution and receiving it. For one priest, it's simply a way to exploit the system so he can continue to rape with impunity. All it takes is someone confessing their sins in just enough details for him to take advantage. And then, he too will be bound by the confessional in sharing his truth with another priest. It's a system that creates the perfect motive and opportunity. It's still a powerful man exploiting a vulnerable situation for his own benefit. In listening to confessions, he isn't serving his community. Instead, it's all about himself. The trouble comes when the squad tries to arrest him for this crime. They have no physical evidence. Meanwhile, they arrest the wrong priest who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Carisi is particularly affected by this case. He is a devout man. He cherishes the relationships he has at church. He has been friends with many in this community for a long time. It means something to him. In fact, the priests are already planning his wedding to Rollins. That's getting far too ahead of things. Carisi hasn't proposed yet. Rollins doesn't appear here whatsoever. This episode just wants Carisi to reckon with his faith. He verges on losing it. He wants to believe in the inherent goodness of his friend. He doesn't want to cynically accept that he has been deceived. He simply can't cope with someone placing the need to protect a rapist above serving the community at large. The church can't keep moving this man around to different parishes. He isn't willing to actually atone for his crimes. He commits them again and again. It takes a creative workaround for Fin and Velasco to have an opportunity to record him. That's still incredibly convenient. It's meant to bring hope and order to this community once more. But it's also just the latest bad act in a faith that is home to plenty of corruption and people abusing their power.

All of this contrasts with what Benson is going through as Burton Lowe reaches out wishing to make amends. He was exposed as a predator who preyed on teenagers. Olivia long fantasized this relationship because it was her first true love. She was willing to run away and start a life with him. Her mother stopped it. That was actually a blessing. All these decades later, Olivia realizes that. Moreover, Burton is putting in the work to make things right. Not everything can be traced back to his issues with alcohol. He is attending meetings now. He's working the program to stay sober. At first, it seems like he is just going through the motions. He wants to make amends and then gets frustrated when those he's hurt don't respond the way he thinks they should. He still struggles with listening. He isn't suddenly perfect. He's only five months into this sober journey. It's a tough road ahead for him. Olivia doesn't owe her forgiveness. He has to earn that. She shows up to give him the chance. That's a huge gesture as well. It confirms how she believes people are capable of change. That may not make up for all the damage that was done. The effort is placed into the situation regardless. Burton provides Olivia with the opportunity to see him doing this work. She has to be aware of that. She needs to know that he's trying. She sees the importance of hearing what he has to say. Being in love at a young age doesn't make up for the power imbalance that was always between them. He was a young adult taking advantage of a teenager who didn't know any better. Of course, Olivia wasn't the only woman he hurt. Everyone is entitled to their own feelings. Some are willing to speak to him again. Others are justified in cutting him from their lives completely. That's what Burton has to endure. He has to accept whatever people think about him. Not everyone has to give him another chance to make things right. Everyone has a different expectation of what that means. Olivia works sex crimes. She has compassion when a woman comes in wanting to file charges against Burton. She brings the situation to his attention. It's not so he can fight to ensure this specific punishment is avoided. It's simply a new statement for how someone demands he atone for the past. He understands that. He has the clarity to accept that despite what the personal disruption to his life will be. That's meaningful too. He receives his punishment. He pleads guilty to a misdemeanor and will be on probation for years. That will present its own struggles. He accepts that because he truly did hurt others. Nothing can justify that behavior. He simply has to prove he is capable of redemption and earning back trust. He's on that journey now and Olivia respects that.