Thursday, April 11, 2024

REVIEW: 'Law & Order: SVU' - Olivia Loses Control at Work and Provides Answers to Noah at Home in 'Children of Wolves'

NBC's Law & Order: SVU - Episode 25.09 "Children of Wolves"

A teenager found unconscious in the park leads to a missing persons investigation. Benson must help Noah come to terms with the past when he questions the origins of his birth.

"Children of Wolves" was written by David Graziano & Julie Martin and directed by Mariska Hargitay

The drama's longevity is built on the strength and breadth of Mariska Hargitay's performance. This season though, that appears to be the only thing keeping the storytelling afloat. Captain Olivia Benson has always been central to the narrative. And yet, the audience could easily invest in other characters in this world. The creative team made the effort to ensure they had stories of merit as well. It didn't have to solely rely on Olivia. At the very least, the cases could be consistently complicated and compelling. After so many years, Olivia has seen it all. The burden of the job still hits her hard. The losses are still devastating. She can't save a teenage girl found in the park. All she can do is get justice for her. That's the extent of the job she can provide. But again, everything feels like a thinly veiled attempt at providing the formula without necessarily doing anything to ensure it's still worthy of investment. Hargitay continues to sell every development that happens to Olivia. She has her faults as well. Those are on display too. However, nothing else comes close to providing that same depth. That unfortunately makes everything feel more like a slog.

Noah has started researching his mother online. He has always known about the dangers of her job. She is committed to the work. However, he still follows a binary understanding of good and evil. He hasn't been forced to see the gray areas of justice. His intrigue leads him to some of the heinous crimes that made front page news. The audience endured those traumas alongside Olivia. But now, she is forced to revisit what happened with William Lewis and Johnny D. because Noah has questions. She knew she would have to explain his family history at some point. He hasn't been completely shielded from the truth either. He was kidnapped by his biological grandmother after all. He discovered he had a half-brother. Olivia knows the crushing weight of the truth. She too was conceived through rape. That informed her life. It wasn't the end of her story. She's proud to tell Noah about Ellie. That's the detail that matters. She arrives at that peace and comfort eventually. She can't deflect or get upset with Noah for asking these questions. She just needs to be present to help him through it.

All of that is in contrast to the volatility Olivia displays at work. The legal case against Maddie's kidnapper hasn't yet been resolved. Carisi doesn't believe a plea deal will come together. Olivia thinks the strength of her testimony will be enough to convict. However, the word of a singular witness should never be the entire case against someone in the criminal justice system. In order to be trusted, more needs to be offered. Carisi has confidence. He just knows the defense counsel will poke holes in the story. That may be enough for reasonable doubt. It's despicable. That's how the process is suppose to work though. Olivia lets out her rage at the inhumanity of others. It's easy to fall into the belief that some just behave like animals. They are violent and vicious. There is no other explanation that can be offered. That too is an easy understanding of how life operates. A criminal was always weird. It just required escalation before any action could be taken. Olivia enacts her own form of punishment for the gang of assailants who terrorized two teenage girls in a park. She enlists Velasco believing he will go along with all of it. She pulls back before going too far. It's still frightening to see her unleash like this.

Olivia receives warnings about her behavior. Of course, no consequences ultimately come. Captain Curry is no longer at Internal Affairs. It doesn't jeopardize Carisi's case even though all of the criminals are trying to blame each other for the most heinous abuses. It's a rather simplistic conclusion even though it clearly isn't the end of the story. Carisi has work to do as a prosecutor. The narrative largely feels like including him as a cop. Yes, he's a reliable friend for Olivia. However, that is no longer his job. He doesn't need to be in the field helping the police conduct a search. The roles are blurred. In fact, he hasn't even had a compelling trial for awhile. Again, that's further evidence of the creative team not knowing what to do with the ensemble of characters. Instead, everything has to ultimately reflect back on Olivia. The focus so far has largely been on how the team investigates the cases. The resolution after the fact has become inconsequential. That's disappointing. Carisi made his career change awhile ago. He rarely gets to show it off anymore. That has the potential to be influential in Olivia's orbit too. Justice isn't reached once an arrest is made. That's what everything appears to boil down to. Life is more complicated than that. It's recognized in some aspects of the storytelling but not everywhere at a time when the show needs a creative reboot.