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'SVU' Recap: Mariska Hargitay and Ice-T Take on the Jussie Smollett Case

By Kate Hudson | TV | October 12, 2019 |

By Kate Hudson | TV | October 12, 2019 |


This was a big week for me, personally. No, I didn’t finally make contact with Bigfoot, or the Loch Ness Monster but something equally mythic and huge happened. Dustin, the owner of this very site tasked me with something I do every week to a much less captive (and receptive) audience in the Pajiba Slack: Recap the latest episode of SVU, a show that I have watched religiously for the past 20 years. He almost immediately regretted the assignment but once you let this horse out of the barn there’s no putting it back in, so let’s get to it!


We’re currently on episode three of the newest season, which is enough time to let the chess pieces be set for whatever intrigue is going to play out for the SVU squad. To catch you up to speed, Carisi has moved over from the “law” to the “order” side, and he’s doing OK but he’s no Barba or Cabot. He’s working with Bureau Chief Vanessa Hadid, who I don’t trust, because she was seen having a meeting with a rapist in the first episode of the season, so either this is a fake-out and she and Benson are going to begrudgingly respect each other after a particularly tough case where Hadid reveals more of her backstory; or they’re setting up some kind of long-game issue with her that will ultimately end with Benson taking her down. These are our only options in the SVU world, friends. That leaves just Rollins and Fin to work all the SVU caseload. I don’t know if this is so that they can keep Benson in the mix of chopping it up, or if NBC is like “dudes, this show has been on the air for 20 years and we need to cut costs if we want to keep it on the air for 20 more, so…” but the lack of additional support for the SVU squad is noticeable. Also, to save the best for last, Benson was made the captain of the squad! Hell yeah, Olivia!

Anyway, this latest episode opened like many eps—someone decides to walk home late night to get some air. When this happens, either they are going to find a victim or be a victim and in this case, they become the victim … or do they? See, this episode is based on the Jussie Smollett case, or in Law & Order speak, it’s “ripped from the headlines.” Dun dun.

The “victim” is a major pop star named Mathis Brooks, and the SVU detectives are upset. See, there’s been a string of attacks on black men in gay bars, which results in their rape and sodomization. The victims are “on the low,” which means they are not out, making it hard for the detectives to get any victims to come forward. Through working with Fin’s son, Ken (which, hey! It’s been a while since we saw Ken!) they’re able to talk to a few victims, but none want to press charges. Mathis is the break in their case they need, and once he comes out and speaks publicly about his attack, SVU is finally able to work the case and get somewhere because now people are willing to come forward because Mathis did.

They finally get a break in the case when they go undercover and lure the attacker out, arresting him right before he tasers the new Deputy Chief of Police, who agreed to go undercover. Problem solved, right?


Turns out, Mathis isn’t really a victim. His description of the perp doesn’t line up with the others the detectives were able to find. He’s unable to pick the suspect out of a lineup and even goes so far as to ask the detectives which suspect it is so he can make a positive ID when they’re giving him a ride to precinct.

The perp is on the hook for all the attacks but one, Mathis. He has an airtight alibi that night, so there’s no way he could have done it. Mathis’ story is about to fall apart and the detectives want to get to the bottom of it, because this is SVU, baby!

Turns out Mathis was about to be outed and decided to take control of the narrative by jumping on the bandwagon of the attacks he heard about around the scene, so he staged his attack. He figured he’d get more sympathy if he was attacked and inadvertently outed as gay then if he was just outed by a gossip site. The Deputy Cheif wants to throw the book at him but SVU convinces everyone to drop it because they don’t want to make it harder for victims to come forward, and if they go after Mathis, that might be the outcome.

Anyway, they’re able to put the real attacker behind bars without having to go to trial (thanks to a well-timed photograph surfacing of the attacker with one of his victims, and his own homophobia wins out to make him want to take a deal from it getting out). Mathis is properly chastised for what he did, and Benson takes her son to a dance class because in this episode he proclaimed that he didn’t want to play baseball anymore and instead, he just wants to dance!

Sort of a clunky way to drive home the point of toxic masculinity in the episode but I happen to know that the actor who plays Noah is a dancer so I guess they wanted to put that in?

Never thought I’d see a choreographed dance to the SVU theme song, but then again, I never thought I’d see Crystal Pepsi some back, so what do I know?

This was a pretty good episode that handled its ripped from the headlines subject matter thoughtfully, however, there were no chase scenes that involved the detectives running after a perp commenting “I hate it when they run,” nor did it involve rescuing a monkey out of a basketball, so it’s not a top-tier ep. Solid 7/10 in my opinion.

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Kate is a staff contributor. You can follow her on Twitter.

Header Image Source: NBC