Thursday, February 23, 2023

REVIEW: 'Law & Order: SVU' - Olivia Works to Provide Clarity After an Epic Love Story Ends in Tragedy in 'King of the Moon'

NBC's Law & Order: SVU - Episode 24.15 "King of the Moon"

A man with dementia confesses to murder, but Benson and Carisi believe there's more to the case. When rumors swirl around the squadroom, Fin presses Velasco for the truth.

"King of the Moon" was written by David Graziano & Julie Martin and directed by Mariska Hargitay

When the rest of the world is laughing at him, Winnie shows Pence complete love and compassion. They are middle-school sweethearts. He was captivated by her from the moment she showed him grace during the spelling bee. She appreciated the story he wrote for class about loneliness and the power of love. That started an epic romance that last for decades. Tragedy struck when he was diagnosed with dementia. And yet, she loyally stood by his side. She cared for him. In fact, their love grew stronger because he had to let his guard down. He could no longer exist as a man driven solely by logic. He had to put his faith in someone else. Winnie always provided that. It's devastating when she's killed. He assumes he did it. That was the plan they made. Neither one wanted to be lonely ever again. They only wanted to explore the moon together. When the time came, they would both exit graciously. That's not what happens. Instead, Winnie is killed. Pence confesses to the crime. He does so because he knows the burden of being trapped in memories is more painful than anything in a jail cell. Of course, he's enlightened to that fact because he knows he will receive a very lenient punishment. Carisi asks Olivia to investigate further because something is off. He wants to believe in the epic love story. Only one side is being shared in the video confession. That was a plan that didn't happen. Pence assumes it did because he can't trust his mind to remember anything. He believes he failed to follow through on the second action of killing himself. Instead, he still has the capacity to understand what truly happened. He recognizes the nephew through his cold eyes. He understands how that narrative played out. Olivia presents him with the evidence that proves his innocence. It doesn't make sense. Pence wants to carry this blame. He knows it's something he deserves. He doesn't want to force this suffering onto someone else. Life is full of pain beyond the limitations of the criminal justice system. That's not how Olivia operates. She needs to get a true and honest confession. She sees the nuances within Pence's life. He's in pain because of what he can't remember. He's also deliberate with his actions. She takes pity on him because she is also a loving, generous soul. She sees the power of compassion. She connects with the story he wrote all those years ago. She plays into the fantasy. She loves the grand romance too even though it has long been elusive in her life. That doesn't deter her from doing this job. She uncovers the truth. Punishment is delivered. A confession is made. Every detail is revealed. Olivia explains how nothing can be kept hidden. It all has to come out for the pain to be alleviated. That's not necessarily true in Pence's case. He's still all alone after all. He's at home though. That's what Olivia gave to him even though Winnie is gone and can't easily be replaced.

Elsewhere, the entire Velasco drama is built around the idea that no one knows anything about him. He's just a couple of vague details thrown together. It was never clear if the show wanted to be serious with his murder confession. It was introduced to bring uncertainty into Olivia's squad. Velasco provides a convenient excuse to Fin. He details how he was forced into a gang and his friend committed the murders to spare him from making that brutal choice. Ever since then, Velasco has just been blending into whatever situation he finds himself in. He has never tried to plant roots down anywhere. He has a job with the New York police department. He is held to a high standard. And yet, he's still largely doing whatever others expect of him. He doesn't have any actual convictions himself. He's a blank slate. Olivia calls him out. She sees the truth in this story. She's comforted by knowing he lied about the drugs. That's not a concern she could casually ignore. He still has to work to earn her trust back. Even then, it's all about following an order given to him that he doesn't want to do. As such, the situation in the present isn't all that different from the burden he faced in the past. He couldn't commit murder. He found a way to escape that life because his friend gave him an opportunity to survive. He can't turn against him now simply to provide resolution to that unsolved crime. That matters to him. If he wants to start living a life though, that's the action he must embrace to show his willingness to change. It's possible. It's all done with the intention of making him a more engaging character. It's also just messy in a way that doesn't exactly shape the narrative. It's the absence of a character. Velasco believes he has lived a strong and clear life. He's still just finding his way. That has the possibility to be fascinating as it shows Olivia and Fin forming a new generation of detectives in this unit. Velasco was brought in by McGrath. Meanwhile, Olivia saw greatness within Muncy while Fin would love to nurture Bruno and Churlish. The latter provides new purpose to the brief stint in the Bronx by the main detectives. It also ensures that none of the characters who were introduced in that environment were ultimately trusted to stay there. Reform was the whole reason why Olivia and Fin were sent there by the NYPD. They had other ideas on their minds. They still largely look out for their own precinct. They enact a whole lot of good in the world. It's just clear the show wants to clearly separate this squad from the rest of policing. That's fine to a certain extent. It just needs more specificity because Olivia and Fin are already well-established characters now being paired with thinly-sketched newcomers. Anything could happen with them and it would be easy for the audience to go along with it. That's true with Velasco. It may provide more depth. The follow-through will ultimately be crucial.