Friday, May 17, 2024

REVIEW: 'Law & Order: SVU' - Olivia and Fin Work to Free an Innocent Man and Identify the True Criminal in 'Duty to Hope'

NBC's Law & Order: SVU - Episode 25.13 "Duty to Hope"

The SVU searches for a pattern assailant before his crimes escalate to murder. Fin must contend with a suspect's aggrieved son. Carisi is pressured to close the case quickly to ease public concern.

"Duty to Hope" was written by David Graziano & Julie Martin and directed by Norberto Barba

The Manhattan District Attorney's office has a new Chief of the Trial Division in Heidi Russell. She immediately wants everyone to know she is more important than anyone else. It's an annoying quality the moment she appears. That also happens to be the first scene of the season finale. As such, it requires the main characters to tangle with new legal issues over the course of their investigation. Russell has no shame about showing up late to a briefing and announcing her presence. Sure, she operates in a position of authority. She's right to have questions about the ongoing investigation. She's concerned about a serial assailant escalating with no leads to identify him. Of course, she isn't the only one bothered by that. Olivia's unit is looking for any viable leads. They want to stop this criminal just as badly. However, they want to do it right. When a mistake is made, they will do everything in their power to correct it. Meanwhile, Russell refuses to admit a mistake ever under the assumption it would reflect poorly on her and the connections she is hoping to build in this department.

A suspect is identified through a single fingerprint. It was the only evidence found at the latest crime scene. SVU interrogates the suspect. The blame for all of the rapes is essentially thrown onto him because he doesn't have an alibi for the latest assault. That's the only crime he is charged for. His public defender negotiates a plea because he doesn't want to go to trial. He is already overburdened by his case load. Everyone recognizes the flaws in the system. It still results in an innocent man spending time in jail. He did nothing wrong. Only one piece of evidence is damning. The detectives have to investigate further to actually provide another reasonable conclusion for why his fingerprint was found in the victim's apartment. They have the freedom to pursue that as well. They aren't hampered in any way. It's all about convincing Russell that there is enough reasonable doubt to question the legitimacy of the conviction. Only once it's overwhelmingly obvious will she listen. She's not engaged in the process whatsoever though. She's comfortable letting Billy Hedges serve a prison sentence for a crime he didn't commit. That too makes her a dangerous and toxic figure in this universe.

Hedges also has a young son. He tracks down Fin and holds him at gunpoint. He doesn't know how to use the weapon. Fin still ultimately gets shot. He chooses not to arrest him. He doesn't want any further legal consequences to destroy this family. He believes scaring the kid straight is enough punishment. That's the accountability he deserves. Fin's instincts should be trusted. However, doubt still creeps in. No one believes Fin's story of how he got injured. He needs more medical treatment than simply cleaning out the wound himself. Everyone provides him the grace to determine how to handle this situation. That comes from the history he and Olivia share. She trusts him as her second-in-command. Frankly, it's just nice to have a significant story for Fin. It easily could have transferred to Olivia given she made comments to the press as well about this case. In lesser hands, the creative team would have thought any dramatic twist had to involve the protagonist who offers the most grounded emotional developments. It happening to Fin instead allows the wealth of storytelling to be shared. It's just a minor moment in the grand scheme of things though. It's only a small look into his worldview at a time when the Captain orders everyone to go home to their personal lives.

The detectives eventually find the evidence to exonerate Hedges. They also confront the true predator. That allows the story to escalate significantly. The criminal opens fire on the police. One officer is injured. Olivia gets to have a badass action moment where she risks her life to save another. It's thrilling and well-executed. In fact, it's a highlight of the entire episode. However, not enough time is truly left to highlight the hostage situation that developed. Olivia has no time to negotiate. Instead, the cops go in immediately and kill the criminal. That means no trial will be needed. He was still guilty of all the rapes. Olivia shares that news. That provides resolution. And yet, the show doesn't just let that stand as the moment of conclusion. Instead, it puts Olivia right back in Maddie Flynn's family. It's stated that she is bonded to them for life now. That too is annoying because it no longer serves a narrative purpose. She got invested because it was her job. She thought she could have done more initially. However, she has provided a ton of help and support so far. The journey to healing is still long. Olivia gifts Eileen the compass necklace Stabler gave her. She then calls him mostly for him to sign off on that being the right decision. It's all incredibly forced without offering any hint of character development. It's going through the motions of life instead of actually connecting in a resonant way. That's a sour note to end the season on.