Law & Ordocki Season 5 #4 (#38): Carisi v. Barba: Dawn of Justice

Whenever an ADA or an EADA leaves a Law & Order program, there’s always the hope that they’ll return, preferably as an defense attorney, so that they and the current guy or gal can square off. It’s happened before, like when Paul Robinette would show up on Law & Order, or when Jamie Ross did the same. Here we have an anticipated full return of Rafael Barba (he had Skyped in a cameo in another episode, which doesn’t really count) as he opposes Dominick “Nobody calls me Sonny” Carisi Jr. In the courtroom. Like Batman v. Superman, the fight should end in about 3 seconds with Superman (Barba) throwing Batman (Carisi) into the sun. But does that make for good drama? No. Does Law & Order: SVU make for good drama? Also no, but we’re here already so we might as well make the best of it. “Sightless in a Savage Land” (fuck off with these pretentious titles) raises a dilemma that has plagued mankind for ages: “is it okay to kill your daughter’s rapist?” This comes on the heels of Barba’s last adventure, which was “is it okay to kill a baby?” SVU is asking the tough questions, folks.


It pains me to say this, but for once Noah is doing the right thing. Wear a fucking mask, folks!

As if the show wanted me not to watch, the episode begins on Olivia and her blessed Christ child Noah, as they stand in Times Square of the Big Apple (the city that never sleeps). Noah asks a lot of dumb questions and finally states “I just want this year to be over”. Ice-T is with his long-term partner Jennifer Esposito and we get to see why Ice-T is never normally given scenes in which he has to be affectionate with anyone. Meanwhile, Carisi and Rollins are shippers’ bait as they spent New Year’s Eve together. Carisi’s family is in the Poconos and Rollins can use a babysitter even when she’s home with her brood of forgotten children. (If they’re not The Blessed Noah, they’re TRASH.) They cuddle but get no further. Kat dances with a lady (do you remember she’s bisexual) but they don’t do anything either. Maybe if somebody got laid the tension wouldn’t be off the charts with these people. Look how relaxed Ice-T is! He doesn’t give a fuck about anything as long as the check clears.


I want to die.

I had to laugh at how insane some of the scenes come off if you didn’t have the context of the show running for 43 years. Like, Ice-T shows Benson the engagement ring he intends to give Jennifer Esposito. I dunno, doesn’t he have friends to which he can solicit advice, friends who aren’t his boss? Donald Cragen would never stand for engagement rings being festooned in his office. I preferred it when Ice-T had no onscreen private life and we could infer that it was the same as Ice Loves Coco. The montage, set to Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” is an obvious sop to the silent majority that wants more personal life scenes, more drama, and there’s five minutes of this shit before we’re thankfully saved by an Amber Alert of a missing girl who got shoved into a white van.


It’s Feign Your Enthusiasm with bad child actors Week on SVU.

Jennifer Esposito actually plays a larger part in the episode than “Ice-T’s girlfriend”, sincr she’s also a cop. She offers a lead, given she had arrested the girl’s mother and the mother’s pimp before. “I hate to say it, but you can make a lot of money running a 13 year old girl on New Year’s Eve” struck me as an unintentionally funny line. It’s a dead end as Nydia, the girl, is later found somewhere bleeding. Doctors determine she had just had an abortion, which Nydia claims was not her intention. You see, she is pregnant by Ajay, her foster father, and they’re in love. An added twist: Ajay is a big wheel down at ACS, Administration for Children’s Services. They search his computer to find deleted searches for abortion and abortion related materials. “Call Carisi, get a warrant for that blender” Benson orders, reasoning there’s abortion-drug filled smoothie at the core of the case.


Guy in background: fuck you, wear a mask

Ice-T, series star: hey, whatever, man

Not that it matters, because “Sightless Blah Blah Blah” is one of those episodes. You know the ones. You see, Nydia’s dad is a disabled veteran currently at the VA hospital. He didn’t notice anything untoward with Ajay and Nydia’s conduct other than Ajay always wrapping his arm around the girl so, you know, something untoward. He is outraged to find out his daughter is in the arms of a rapist, so after arraignment he camps out at where Ajay is being transferred and shoots him three times. Those episodes are the ones in which the crime being tried changes halfway through and the DA’s office must, often reluctantly, charge somebody acting in service of another. Me, I’ve always had a soft spot for ones that end the action with a shooting on the courtroom steps, then the camera cuts to the wearied face of one of the main characters and then end credits. That’s always good and we haven’t had one in a while. This is no substitute.


I like how ever since Kat came out as bisexual her only characterization is “she fucks girls, people!”. I guess it’s better than “is this because I’m a lesbian?” but not by much.

Ice-T has been steadfast in his view that murdering a guy is okay if you’re an Army Ranger, so he and Benson meet with Barba to discuss the case “hypothetically”. Here we witness a fantastic COVID-19 beard for Raul Esparza that he cruelly cuts off when he (shock!) defends the guy in court. They then act outraged that he actually defends him as opposed to only hypothetically defending him. “Sightless in a Savage Land” makes more sense if you view it as Warren Leight, showrunner past and showrunner present, trying to appease several shipping segments at once, because that would explain all the characters’ weird reactions to each other: it’s sexual tension! Poorly written sexual tension! Do Benson and Barba wanna fuck? Maaaaaaybe. Do Carisi and Barba wanna fuck? Perhaps.


Can’t even get the extras to wear masks consistently…

Who can blame them, though? It’s Raul Esparza. People look at him like Elaine looked at the guy who played The Wiz. That this is the best episode of the season is more of an indictment of the rest of it than anything this has to offer. That and the fact that Esparza is head and shoulders the most talented actor on the show. Like, it’s not close. Yet that’s not to say Barba is in fine form this week; he’s not. In fact, he’s something of a parody of himself. He was always theatrical but now he’s playing to the cheap seats, cheap seats that do not exist because social distancing makes courtrooms ghost towns now. Rather than finding him charming, as all right people do, I found him annoying. A better lawyer than Carisi, sure, but still annoying. He may as well have worn a zoot suit and a top hat for all his vamping. It’s an irritating performance and I know Raul Esparza is capable of better.


That beard though.

Let’s start with the fact that he has no case, or rather the case he builds is a insane one because it basically states that if you’re a war hero you can execute people in broad daylight. Keep in mind the guy murdered hadn’t been freed on a technicality or as the result of a mistrial; dude was being transferred to Rikers. Good chance he’d die in Rikers! For a guy who left the show because he killed a baby it’s ballsy for his return to hinge on “extrajudicial murders are good, actually”. Ice-T supports him on that because he believes Army Rangers should get away with anything, and the rest of the squad seems sympathetic to letting the guy off. SVU desperately wants to paint the situation in shades of grey when it’s pretty black and white. I mean, unless the show goes in a wild new direction, which they might as well at this point. Can I also say it’s a questionable look for the show to ring in 2021 by having a disgruntled veteran execute an Indian guy? I can think of at least one event in recent history that occurred because a fair number of disgruntled veterans thought they knew better than everyone else…


He should’ve kept the beard. It’s 2021. No one gives a shit about looking professional anymore. People are doing Zoom calls in their pajamas.

For all the hype surrounding the courtroom battle, there isn’t much of one. It exists, but not in the quantity nor really the quality suggested. A lot of it is padding, like the jury selection scenes. The jury’s constitution doesn’t become a key part of the trial, and nothing out of the ordinary happens, so why include it other than to show that procedure occurs in the Law & Order universe? I guess it shows how much more prepared Barba is than Carisi, but that’s a stretch. Anyway, Barba has this whole bullshit speech for his opening remarks, about how he’s a nice guy, but he’s going to be sarcastic, angry, loud, etc.… give me a fucking break. Carisi isn’t wrong when he calls it “the Rafael Barba show”. It becomes tiresome quickly, and since Barba doesn’t actually have a case he has to rely entirely on aforementioned razzle dazzle.


OH COME ON even the jury is mask optional???

I noticed Carisi also has a formula for his prosecution: his one trick is to raise his voice. He does it early and often in this case. It’s though he thinks he can shout his way into a conviction. Between him and Barba it makes for a lousy last 15 minutes of the episode. Another thing Barba does is emphasize the guy Davis’ veteran status to absurd degrees. In every instance he calls him a “war hero” and somehow establishes his daughter being groomed and raped by a predator as another betrayal of our beloved troops. Barba may as well have alleged people spit on Davis at some undetermined point in the past. The fuck would the defense be if he weren’t a veteran? “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if my client is found guilty he’ll never have the opportunity to enlist and become a war hero…” On the stand, Davis is asked why he served, and he responds “to fight the Taliban, to defend women and children from their brutality”. That is a…very generous distillation of why the USA went to war with Afghanistan. Every time Barba tried to invoke patriotism I rolled my eyes.


As a one-off him chugging Pepto was funny. Doing it all the time it’s like, damn dude. Just fucking quit. The job is making you miserable. Force the show hire another goddamn actor for ADA.

Carisi had offered Barba a deal of manslaughter in the second degree and he didn’t take it. The case’s verdict is…guilty on manslaughter in the second degree, so in essence the whole episode was a waste of time. “We’re back where we started” as Carisi puts it. All’s well that ends well as the gang continues their weekly ritual of unwinding with some drinks. What the hell is this shit? I hate it. For one thing, it’s a PANDEMIC. You’re not supposed to be in a BAR. Secondly, I dislike the camraderie. It feels forced. Maybe it’s because the old squad was led by a recovering alcoholic, but you’d never see Cragen saying everybody ought to go for drinks and talk about their personal lives. For him there was always another victim, you know? Olivia and Barba run into each other on the street and we get some garbage about how, according to Olivia, maybe the case was about Barba and not the defendant. Of course it was! Did you not SEE the trial? He was peacocking all over the fucking place! This scene runs on an ambiguous wavelength so that any viewer can read whatever they want into it. A tiff between two people interested in each other? A friendship weakened with distance? Whatever. Who cares. Raul Esparza should have better things to do so he won’t recur. Benson’s line “let’s hope that this year is a better one” already proving to be false did make me laugh. Haha, fuck you, fictional characters of SVU! Everything’s going to get worse forever.


It took four people to write this shit?

MASKWATCH: Look, you like to have a good time, I like to have a good time. We share some laughs, call Mariska Hargitay names, it’s good! It’s fine. What is not fine is SVU’s dogged refusal to commit to any consistent attitude regarding masks. I don’t care how repetitive it is, I’m going to complain until either they get it right or they drop the pretense of reflecting reality altogether. (I can’t imagine Stabler and Benson are not going to hug at their reunion, so expect “COVID? What COVID?” sooner rather than later.) It’s still this half-measure bullshit, where we’ll see the precinct’s check-in procedures, and we’ll see plenty of hand sanitizer stations everywhere, but people will be mask off in close conversation all the time. At this point I’d be satisfied if along with the “sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous” screed there was a short “we know this is inaccurate but we want to be able to highlight the actors’ faces in dialogue scenes”. That’s all I want at this point: an acknowledgement this shit is stupid and wrong. Then I’ll be on my merry way and I won’t be writing whiny “MASKWATCH” paragraphs. But apparently that’s too big an ask for Law & Order: SVU, so let’s have another scene of the cast at Cheers closing one out with nary a mask in sight. Fuck it.


I hope they all get COVID.

“Sightless in a Savage Land” may be technically better than the rest of Season 22, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. It says more about how shitty the season has been than how good this episode is. I guess it did accomplish the goal it set out to achieve: bring back Raul Esparza. A laudable goal, no doubt, but his presence just makes plain how shitty the show is now. Keep in mind, the show was NOT GREAT when he was on it! There’s always further to fall, though, as the episode demonstrates.

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