Friday, January 26, 2024

REVIEW: 'Law & Order: SVU' - Olivia Worries She Pushed a Victim Too Much When Her Case Goes to Trial in 'Truth Embargo'

NBC's Law & Order: SVU - Episode 25.02 "Truth Embargo"

As Benson teams up with the FBI on an unsolved case, Fin and Velasco investigate a flash mob robbery that leads to a sexual assault.

"Truth Embargo" was written by Brendan Feeney & Nicholas Evangelista and directed by Jean de Segonzac

Natalie and Brooke believe the criminal justice system has racism embedded within it. They have never had to engage personally with the system before either. When a crime overwhelms their lives, it's easier to believe a conspiracy. Brooke suspects the police allowed this robbery to happen to prove to the community just how necessary they are. In order to have a safe and protected community, the police are needed. When they aren't given the resources to do their jobs, then mass chaos erupts. These are big themes for the series to tackle. It doesn't work in the abstract. When the story allows more personal details to come to light, it works better. It's still a message without a meaning. It's the narrative going through the motions of the tentative dynamic between police and the community right now. It's buzzwords and suspicions. The humanity gets lost along the way. People extend so much empathy. That's at the heart of this story. That's a constant across the overall series. That theme is easy to accept. It just varies with the effectiveness in this situation.

Natalie and Brooke need Captain Benson to explain how she can operate in the criminal justice system every day of her life. This is her job. This is what she has decided to do with her life. Olivia has had her doubts over the years. She still believes she could have done more to save Maddie. The missing girl from the premiere still hasn't been found. Olivia continues to wear her bracelet until Maddie is reunited with her family. She is invited to join a task force headed by the FBI. Instead of clashing over jurisdictional issues, the feds understand the importance of allowing Olivia into the process. That's welcoming. It doesn't produce any meaningful leads. The gun found in the store doesn't identify a suspect. The team no longer has any clues to pursue. Instead, they have to turn their attention to a case they can investigate. It's relatively easy when the criminals broadcast their actions on social media. But that also robs the narrative of any real urgency. It doesn't take much for the team to do their jobs. As such, it's going through the motions instead of offering some investigative prowess.

Even when Olivia offers up the missing piece of evidence that holds Jay's DNA on it, it creates a convenient story. One that the defense counsel attacks in court. He offers the suggestion that the police are conspiring to make their case stick against his client to avoid embarrassment for getting it wrong. The police have certainly operated that way before. However, the viewer is never meant to view the SVU squad with any skepticism. They have moral complexities in this line of work. They cross the line on occasion. They aspire to advocate for the victims. Their pursuit of justice is in restoring what was taken. Innocence was robbed. The police and prosecutors hold the criminals accountable for their actions. These teens believed they could get away with anything because the world views them as invisible. They aren't criminal masterminds. They try to protect each other. They don't reckon with the consequences of what they have done. They just think it's cool to take advantage of a situation that's presented to them.

The criminal justice system is meant to punish those who break the law. These mass robbers do that. Natalie is victimized in another way. She was sexually assaulted. She identifies the man who did it. At first, she didn't believe she saw his face. Her memory was trying to protect her from the trauma. That only blinds her to the truth. Meanwhile, her past history with systemic bias in policing makes the decision to testify more difficult. She questions whether she is doing the right thing. She has the resources to heal. She remains strong in her relationship with Brooke. She can afford therapy. She doesn't want to destroy any future Jay may have. She doesn't believe the system can offer rehabilitation. It just sends people in to trap them in a cycle. She only wants to see things from that larger picture. Jay ultimately expresses genuine remorse. That encourages Carisi to negotiate a plea deal. That's the right outcome in this case. It's just another example of Olivia questioning her instincts when everyone knows she's a good cop. She can be challenged. The self-doubt that starts this season offers uncertainty instead of dimension. That's a significant problem that threatens to doom what has worked for two decades now.