Law & Ordocki Season 3 #1 (#24): Go Ahead, Call It A Comeback
The absurdity of the present political moment has resulted in a former deputy assistant attorney general postulating that a woman was sexually assaulted not by a man currently under consideration to the Supreme Court but a close facsimile, a doppelganger. I know the last few years have raised the bar for stupid shit, but Jesus Christ. When I heard Ed Whelan’s inane gibberish my first thought was “that was an episode of Law & Order: SVU”. It’s one thing for SVU to reflect reality; for reality to reflect SVU is evidence that something has gone very, very wrong. “Double Strands”, the fourth episode of Season 13, takes us back to a more innocent era of the United States. Back then, sexual harassment allegations actually derailed presidential campaigns, Libya had been liberated from tyranny forever and I could watch Leonard Part 6 without a twinge of guilt. Christopher Meloni had just departed the series and SVU was getting used to centering itself on Olivia Benson while adding Danny Pino and Kelli Giddish as complementary pieces to fill the void. Season 13 is really the bridge between the “crazy nonsense” of Stabler’s last few seasons and the “personal life bullshit” that has befallen the show since. “Double Strands” is therefore insane, absurd, stupid and still trying to do what the show did, minus the comforting familiarity of Christopher Meloni. This Danny Pino guy is fine, but it feels like he’d only beat pedophiles, not stab them, spit on them, cut them into tiny pieces, throw the pieces in the East River and then kill any and all marine life that ingested pedophile remains. You know, like Elliot would do.
“Eat it, Meloni! Now I’M starring! No more storylines about your shitty kids, they’re gonna have to invent a whole NEW shitty kid just for ME!”
Interchangeable blonde victim has it going on, having just won the part for a Broadway play. Unfortunately there’s a guy with a yin-yang tattoo (what subtle foreshadowing!) photographing her as she’s working out. He escalates it to following her late at night and plateaus with a rape after she doesn’t respond to his requests to smile. By the show’s standards the depiction of rape is pretty tasteful in that it’s interrupted by fade outs to and fade ins from black. The rapist makes a big point of telling his victim to look at his face. Look, he may be a rapist, but at least he’s helping his victims collect evidence that will lead to his arrest. I’m surprised he didn’t offer her a fresh set of his fingerprints and a business card before leaving.
“I should’ve just smiled when he asked” the woman who played that woman who got killed and stuffed into a suitcase in The Americans says to Benson. Well, you weren’t even facing him when he told you to smile. I also don’t think any rapist has ever been dissuaded by a woman acquiescing on the smiling front. There’s a reason the phrase “a smile a day keeps the rapist away” didn’t exist until right now in this article. “Double Strands” functions as a Rollins spotlight episode and so she’s actually investigated this serial rapist before, yin-yang tattoo and signature one-liner “tell me you love me, mommy” and all, down in the South. Benson isn’t having it, Rollins’ tales of a washboard playin’, bullfrog catchin’, Bulldogs supportin’, hard g opposing Georgia serial rapist, saying “the city is filled with rapists with the same M.O.”. This is transparently a ‘haze the newbie’ situation, because while I don’t doubt a lot of New Yorkers have dumbass neck tattoos, the specifics cannot be a coincidence. Has she not watched her own TV show? More ridiculous leaps occur all the fucking time. Will this difference of opinion and clash in work styles escalate into a Hargitay-on-Georgia Peach catfight? Keep reading to find out!
“The Atlantic Coast Rapist”, as he’s called, has committed 15 rapes in 9 years, from Georgia to Virginia to Maryland to now The Big Apple (3 AM). He didn’t wear a condom initially and left a partial fingerprint on a screwdriver in one of the rapes. While Rollins is briefing the squad on all this, Benson shows her up by contracting Fujita – apparently a slow and expensive sketch artist – to draw a photorealistic sketch of Grey’s Anatomy person T.R. Knight. Fujita also replicates the tattoo, which seems like a waste of time. Yin-yang is yin-yang is yin-yang, you know? Disseminating the sketch leads to another victim coming forward and some choice Munch moments working the rapist tipline. (“Somebody please take over for me, I’m going to chew some glass” he says after explaining to a woman that the rapist is a white man.) It also leads them to Gabriel Thomas (T.R. Knight), a young professional or “ungprof” with a wife and young son. He’s the hopelessly naive type who claims he doesn’t need a lawyer on account of his innocence. He also doesn’t read tabloids so he didn’t see a huge sketch of himself on the front page. Maybe the New York Slimes wouldn’t be so failing if the top of the fold told you what rapists to look out for, huh?
Have You Seen This Man Outside Of A Licensed Comic Book?
Rollins is convinced they have him, since both victims picked him out of a lineup, but Danny Pino’s Amaro is biased towards family men and wants more proof, such as “any” proof. Unfortunately, Gabriel’s interview does nothing but incriminate him, as he freely admits his work as a pharmaceutical rep has taken him to states such as Georgia, Virginia and Maryland. Amaro still doesn’t buy it, though, reasoning that for a rapist supposedly “obsessed with blondes” he points out Gabriel has shown no interest in Rollins. Classic defense: “he doesn’t even want to fuck you, Rollins!” I see what they’re trying to do to reinvigorate the show formula. Rollins and Amaro are meant to be a Mulder and Scully-like pair, with her always believing and him as a 5’3” skeptic. Too bad Rollins doesn’t have her own office because then she could stick a huge “I WANT TO BELIEVE” poster on one of the walls. “I want to believe” is probably a better slogan for someone who records testimony from victims of rape than a guy who investigates Bigfoot and the Jersey Devil anyhow.
This is Kelli Giddish’s “reaction face”. You’ll get tired of it quicker than I did, I think!
DNA results peg him for the rapist but Gabriel remains adamant he’s innocent, going so far as to dramatically slash his wrists while in lockup, grabbing Amaro and saying “you tell my boy I didn’t rape anyone”. Of course, “attempt suicide to prove innocence” has been done before, such as the arson episode that kicked off Sharon Stone’s regrettable guest turn on the show. Why mess with a winning formula? It stokes Amaro’s nascent doubts into a full-fledged suspicion. Amaro actually pivots to Mulderian outlandish theories, asking a doctor “is there any way Gabriel could commit these crimes and have no awareness of it?”. A deleted scene sees him visiting the Lone Gunmen; Frohike hits on Rollins while Langley reveals nanobots programmed to rape are clogging the suspect’s bloodstream. Good couple of minutes, I don’t know why they cut it.
Here’s some great SVU writing in action: T.R. Knight’s wife, unprompted, relates to the cops an anecdote about her Halloween party miscarriage and that he never left her side that entire weekend. Wouldn’t you know it, a rape occurred then, sowing doubt. It turns out cops will move heaven and earth to keep an innocent man out of prison as long as they’re white and look like a celebrity (even if it’s a sixth most important character on a primetime soap who’s best known for being called a ‘faggot’ by the villain from Romeo Must Die kinda celebrity). Munch agrees with Amaro’s sentiment, waxing nostalgically about the good old days before science ruined everything and a detective’s best resource was their gut. Sure, it and implicit racial bias sent a lot of innocent men to prison, but goddamnit THOSE WERE THE DAYS.
“Something isn’t white about this…”
They decide to do some basic research into Gabriel’s backstory and find he’s both adopted and a biological twin. The other T.R. Knight, Brian, had an adoptive mother who burned his adoptive father alive and made the kid watch. The bio mom is pretty hilarious; she’s a chainsmoker living in a halfway house who describes her rebuffing the Evil Twin’s efforts to reconnect with her as “I gave him up once, he should’ve taken the hint”. Mom also let slip he had a twin, so now the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. Brian wanted a connection with his brother, but since he’s adopted AND a twin (that’s an evil multiplier) his moral compass is broken. “Stalking your brother around the country and framing him for serial rape” is an adopted twin’s way of saying “howdy, brother!”. One can only imagine how he’d react if his brother was being nominated to the Supreme Court.
If this were Criminal Minds, Thomas Gibson would just tell Garcia to “search for guys who look like this guy” and she’d find his identical twin that way, none of this cross reference name with birth date bullshit.
ADA Novak points out that twin brothers creates so much reasonable doubt it’s impossible to make a case out of it, so SVU does one of its typical harebrained schemes that borders on entrapment. It fakes Gabriel’s release on bail (the New York Ledger headline screams “RAPE FIEND FREED”, which isn’t punny enough for my liking) and has Rollins jog around the park at which Brian works, hoping he’ll go for some afternoon delight, by which I mean violent rape. This plan works; Brian sees a jogging blonde like a shipwrecked man on a deserted island envisions his compatriot as a juicy steak. It’s a rite of passage for Rollins, because every female SVU cast member has to be almost-raped or they’re not a true member of the team. I’m just surprised it happened so quickly. Benson didn’t get almost-raped for a season or two. Amaro also earns his wings when he punches T.R. Knight (the bad one) four or five times in the face, not stopping until multiple co-workers go “that’s enough!” and physically restrain him. Rollins gets him to confess just by laying out how shitty his life has been and repeating his rape catchphrase “look at my face” back at him. That’s…empowering? Who fucking knows. One of these days she’ll rape a guy while interrogating him and no one will find anything wrong with it.
A double role is always a tough one and it’s unrealistic to expect Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers, but T.R. Knight is pretty bad in “Double Strands”. Good twin is basically Tobey Maguire after a small coffee whereas Evil Twin is the same basic performance, only with a Southern twang and a slower delivery of dialogue, the latter of which is classic indicator that someone’s a serial killer or rapist or both. The show’s too cheap to give them any scenes together so their sum interaction is a freed Good Twin looking through the two sided mirror at Bad Twin. The episode ends on him realizing the real rapist is an exact double of his he never knew he had! Besides that, the episode is a dual showcase for the then-new cast members and it disappoints them both. Kelli Giddish is an unknown quantity for me outside of SVU (I saw her in that one season blunder Chase but nothing registered beyond “oh, this is Justified for idiots”), but I know Danny Pino can do good work as evidenced by his stint on The Shield as drug lord/child rapist/burn victim Armadillo Quintero. Yet here his Amaro is a Stabler clone, so much so that I don’t think any dialogue would have to be changed for Meloni to have his role in this episode.
Originally the episode was going to end in a faithful recreation of the Harpo mirror gag but it was too much of a tonal clash.
Despite the plot hinging on a man stalking his brother and scheduling his rapes accordingly (as well as getting a matching tattoo that’s about as on the nose as the Janus Project in Judge Dredd) at the same time the detective investigating his earlier rapes ALSO moves to New York City, this fictional tale of nonsense is still a more credible chain of events than Christine Blassey Ford being assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh’s equivalent to Guy Incognito. Since SVU develops its story ideas by looking through an issue of USA Today and cross-pollinating the thrust of Story A with details from Story B, I hope this spring they air an episode titled “Fuck Bart O’Kavanaugh” and it consists entirely of Ice-T screaming insults like it’s a diss track at the title character in handcuffs and prison orange. I’m not holding my breath, though; it’s been two years and still the Trump Access Hollywood show they shot and shelved has yet to see the light of day. In case you don’t remember, Gary Cole played the Trump analogue. This means there’s a slight possibility that SVU exists in an alternate universe where Gary Cole is the pussy grabbing (or taint grabbing; Dick Wolf shows always like to change the details a bit) commander-in-chief. I’ll say it: I’d have less problems with the man if Donald Trump was played by Gary Cole.