Friday, February 9, 2024

REVIEW: 'Law & Order: SVU' - Things Get Tense and Personal When Chief McGrath's Daughter Is Victimized in 'Duty to Report'

NBC's Law & Order: SVU - Episode 25.04 "Duty to Report"

When Chief McGrath's daughter discloses a sexual assault, Benson must balance the intricacies of the investigation with McGrath's impulsive actions.

"Duty to Report" was written by Kathy Dobie & Candice Sanchez McFarlane and directed by Juan J. Campanella

Olivia walks into therapy to address her issues and walks out with a new case to investigate. The therapist has a duty to report when a child is believed to have been a victim of a crime. However, it's all incredibly personal because the victim is Chief McGrath's daughter. Moreover, the therapist already knows so many details about Olivia's life despite the captain's reluctance to the new technique. It doesn't particularly seem impressive either. It comes across as the story just needing to hit the basic plot points in the most immediate way possible. Olivia has been devoted to the job for 25 years. Work isn't the only thing that should matter. She has gone through therapy before. It always revolves around the same idea. Olivia found a better balance between work and her personal life in the past. It's complicated now because of Maddie's disappearance. The captain still blames herself for what happened. She explores a new form of therapy in order to address how she's feeling. It doesn't work. She still needs clarity as to what she is trying to navigate in life. She is making a difference through work. That's not the only quality she should aspire to explore.

Stabler gave the compass to Olivia months ago. Then, he went undercover. He's back but the two haven't reconnected since then. Instead, they are separately invested in their own cases. They continue to work. They are proud of what they are continuing to achieve. It doesn't involve their partnership anymore. They knew how to work together. They figured out how to be excellent at their jobs without the other person. But now, they are stuck in a limbo where the potential for more is possible. Neither one of them is capable of actually accepting it. They are just waiting for something to happen. Something big did occur right in front of Olivia. She believes she could have done more to save Maddie. The mystery persists. She isn't any closer to solving the case. She's trying to figure out how to take care of herself again. That mostly leads to Fin repeatedly telling her he was right that things with McGrath would get too personal and complicated with this latest investigation.

The SVU squad has tolerated McGrath for several seasons now. He is the chief overseeing their unit. He comes from a different era of policing. He has always been impulsive. He expects immediate results. He has never shown an interest in pursuing the truth. He largely wants whatever creates the most convenient and appealing story right away. Olivia has persuaded him from time to time to act more carefully. His temper was always apparent. He wasn't interested in embracing any of the reforms Olivia wants to apply to the profession. Instead, it's the same understanding of cops protecting their own and hating those who question their tactics and integrity. Olivia reports McGrath's behavior to IAB Captain Curry. She believes it's a selfless act meant to protect McGrath's career. The truth coming out inflicts the damage. It's not a result of politics and maneuvering by people looking to climb the ladder. Olivia has no interest in taking McGrath's job. That's the fear amongst the family. McGrath's wife, Katie, accuses Olivia of using their daughter's assault as an opportunity to get him out. Olivia doesn't operate like that. The end result remains the same. It's entirely from McGrath's own actions though. He pulls a gun on an unarmed civilian. He threatens to kill someone. He gets caught up in the moment and can't take any of it back.

Shea isn't a perfect victim either. The show has frequently highlighted the tricky ways in which memory works and how people try to protect those who abuse them. They underplay the severity of the assault. They try to rationalize it away. Shea wanted people to know what happened. Olivia gets involved. She pulls the truth out eventually. It also amounts to a lot of characters chiding teenagers for making stupid decisions. It's cold and didactic. The narrative goes around in circles on this plot point. It doesn't need to be stated either. It amounts to the story ultimately being rather thin. The detectives question the judgment of the young victims. Serious consequences must still be issued. It doesn't lead to Olivia getting a promotion. It does mean a new captain is joining SVU. However, it's hard to trust that transfer will last in a meaningful way given the rotating ensemble of characters in the squad over the last few seasons. Olivia, Fin and Carisi have been the sole consistency. That's enough given their history and depth of character. The new elements just don't present with a fresh enough perspective to highlight the ways in which this work is evolving. Instead, it's just suppose to be comforting that Olivia is still in charge and doing an incredible job every step of the way.