Law & Ordocki Season 5 #7 (#41): Good Time Amanda, Uncle Ice, and the Great SVU Freak-Out
I’m back to doing Season 21 because SVU has had a break of new episodes for the past couple of weeks. “We Dream of Machine Elves” was one of the repeats, and given I didn’t cover Season 21 besides the opener I felt it worthwhile to investigate. 21, you’ll remember, is the debut of Officer Kat and the transition of Dominick “Nobody Calls Me Sonny” Carisi from police detective to beleaguered ADA. It also was pre-pandemic so when people don’t wear masks all the time I won’t feel inclined to whine about it. I didn’t watch much of it, to be honest. I found the Carisi change stupid and the addition of a cub officer to the mix didn’t address the fact that the characters had grown stagnant and (more) irritating. Still, NBC aired this as a repeat during the hiatus between episodes so I dutifully watched it. What do I think of it? Well, it’s funny, which isn’t necessarily a good sign because I don’t think SVU has been intentionally funny in about 15 years. Oh, uh, Adam Arkin guest stars, which is cool because I thought I had read somewhere he was stepping back from acting in favor of directing. Now I kinda want SVU to begin like The Tonight Show, Mariska Hargitay telling a few anodyne political jokes and saying “we’ve got a great show, Adam Arkin and the Kings of Leon are here!” It’d be better than this shit.
Me when it’s time for SVU
Something I haven’t talked about much because it’s lessened in relevance is the insidious true purpose of SVU and shows of its ilk: to make you afraid. Every stranger is a potential rapist, every friend is a potential rapist, every new experience, anything and everything can be a pipeline to sex trafficking. SVU aims to instill the belief in suburban parents that their little girls (or in some cases little boys) can be swept off the street and whisked into something nefarious, like human milking or sewing counterfeit wallets to sell in Chinatown. “We Dream of Machine Elves” is very much in this vein, as we’re introduced to Megan, a tourist from Kansas. If pressed for her hometown I’m sure she’d offer up “…Anytown, USA?”. She’s lost her friends and a New Yorker, Anais, offers to help her. Red flag. In the Big Apple That Never Sleeps, no one helps anyone. It’s a rat race, a dog eat dog world, some other animal metaphors. They hop into a pedicab, something I didn’t know existed but immediately learned how to hate, and the next thing you know she’s tied to a bed, breathing in fumes through a gas mask and seeing machine elves that want her to dig her own grave. She’s found in Central Park and the detectives must figure out what happened and whether she was raped, since she’s not lucid enough to consent to a rape kit. See! This is what fucking happens if you go to New York City! Parents, keep your children in your go nowhere small towns with no employment opportunities forever.
See this is why people hate New York City. They think this encapsulates New York living.
“I haven’t seen this in years”, Benson marvels when told the kid is hopped up on DMT. DMT is not some old wives tale, nor is it particularly obscure. Anyone with any familiarity with Joe Rogan will know his question “have you ever tried DMT?” is up there with Marc Maron asking “who are your guys?” or saying he hates going to the post office in terms of shorthand podcaster impersonations. Okay, maybe I’m too online, that’s possible. These DMT levels are 100 times the normal dose, and what’s worse, there’s another girl at Bellvue suffering from the same overdose. She went there and never came out. [thunderclap] Scared yet, parents? You should be! There’s a man-woman team, a guy who Kansas says looks like a wizard and the girl who helped her in the first place, drugging women, raping them and dumping them out like they’ve been inside John Malkovich’s head. A third woman turns up, and in a novel twist she’s Swedish. A Swedish exchange student is also not safe from the perils of DMT drugging machine rape elves, so every parent everywhere be warned: don’t go to New York for any reason. Your daughter will be violated. I do like how the Swedish girl calls the elves “trolls” and the wizard man a “king”, you know, to show that cultures are different. One girl’s machine elves are another’s cyborg trolls. I wish they had kept with this. It would’ve been a great entrypoint for B.D. Wong to explain how societies across the globe each have their own rape elf myth, from the sexual assault goblins of Germany to the diddler spiders of Kenya.
Hallucinations provided by the film Birdemic
They take Freja on a field trip and she eventually identifies a brownstone with a white haired guy (white hair = wizard) conspicuously looking out the window. He’s Julius Adler, an “esteemed professor of radical psychiatry”. SVU’s second target of the hour: psychiatry. The way this hippie bullshit is conflated with the rest of therapy suggests the show is underwritten by Scientology. Hence why the character of Rollins, who can be charitably described as “a hot mess” on a good day, confides in Olivia that she took some psych classes at Georgia State at which he was a guest lecturer. “He’s brilliant, emphatically, a real healer”, Rollins claims. SVU irrationally places characters on opposing sides of an issue to suggest there’s some sort of debate, like when they discuss pornography and half the characters are like “maybe they should restrict pornography and Janet Jackson deserved what she got” and the other half is forced to white knight for sanity. This culminates in Rollins donning a pair of glasses to infiltrate one of Adler’s lectures. I like how NYPD undercover and Superman’s secret identity are functionally the same. Cue some godawful flirty banter between the two and she’s invited to an open house. I do mean godawful; “I’m finishing up my masters in liberation psychiatry and all roads lead to you” “oh, call me Rome” is an example of it. More proof of SVU’s agenda: Kat says “I don’t believe in regular psychiatry, let alone this.” “I’m with Kat”, Ice-T chimes in. “Paying someone to listen to you talk?” That’s psychology, sir. Psychiatry involves pharmaceuticals. Considering Kat is such a zoomer libtard in every other respect, her skepticism regarding therapy seems out of character. Bullshit she doesn’t have an anxiety disorder and imposter syndrome at least.
I understand the purpose is “cops don’t like therapy”, but why not just have Ice-T voice it? It’s in his character. For someone whose job it is to show victims of sex crimes how it helps immeasurably to talk to someone about it it’s an absurd viewpoint to hold. I guess the writers felt Rollins had enough stupid beliefs already and had to shift a few to Kat.
In case you’re wondering what the hell prompted this episode, because the show never conjures its own plots, this one tracks with the Sarah Lawrence college trafficking case. Instead of plying his victims with all sorts of drugs and shrink talk, Larry Ray relied on Bernie Kerik anecdotes to impress youngsters. Anais, the girl who lured the victim to the pedicab, is actually Adler’s daughter. She calls The Brady Bunch “an artificial construct to make us all conform”, which I believe was also Tom Shales’ review. The undercover dragnet traps all sorts of students and Alder, but not before Amanda “I didn’t inhale” Rollins undergoes a shitty half-assed hallucinatory spell. Goddamnit, I wanted something like Benson’s freakout from mushrooms in “Wet”. Rollins just sees a bird and that’s it. You have a gold premise like “detective trips balls on DMT” and that’s what you go with? By far the most disappointing aspect of the episode. Even something as low effort as Amanda Rollins sitting on the precinct couch and staring at an Aqua Teen Hunger Force Vol. 2 DVD menu would be superior to, like, everything the show’s done since 2009.
Of course the elves have eyes! What depiction of elves in folklore mythology or pop culture exists in which they don’t have eyes? Why would eyes be a surprising attribute for elves to have? Stupid show, dumb dialogue.
There’s a break in the case when it turns out Adler’s wife didn’t die, she just ended up in a psychiatric facility, too fucked up to ever reintegrate into society. He’d told everyone else, including his daughter, that she had died. Moreover, Adler basically self-destructs in his final interrogation room confrontation with Rollins. His paranoia overcomes him and he’s railing against the AMA, Big Pharma, quoting Walt Whitman and Dr. Seuss and mistaking Rollins for his wife. He tries to jump out the window! In the end he’s clearly incompetent to stand trial, yet Carisi claims he’ll charge the guy anyway. Good thing the episode is almost over and there’s no time for courtroom scenes. Therefore, “We Dream of Machine Elves” doesn’t have to ask thorny questions of “who is charged for what”, “how can the prosecution make its case”, things of that nature. Guy had a psychotic break, the good guys win by default! Woo hoo! De-fault! De-fault!
Ice-T in definite “say the line Bart” territory.
“We Dream of Machine Elves” suffers from a common SVU malady which is mission drift. By the end of the episode you’d be forgiven for forgetting the girl from Kansas ever existed. She doesn’t play a part after her scenes. No one ever checks in to see how she’s coping with being drugged and raped. For a show about the victims of sexually based offenses, or at least that’s what it claims to be when faced with criticism that it’s a lurid exploitative horrorshow, this episode seems a lot more interested in the demented doctor Adler. Now, I’m all for Adam Arkin chewing the scenery, but there comes a point that the show is less about the rapes committed under his tutelage and more about Rollins goading him into seeing the face of Joe Rogan, aka overdosing on DMT. It makes the show come off as overstuffed and/or unfinished. We don’t find out what happens to the pedicab driver, who receives a token scene of his parents bleating about how they drained their retirement fund on a deprogrammer… see, it’s not about the “cult” either. SVU never shows why someone would be susceptible to joining, chalking it up to not being as “smart”, which people who know anything about cults is not the case. Reading The Cut’s article about the real life inspiration is more enlightening and somehow more entertaining.
Mariska Hargitay is the woman of maybe six expressions and here’s one of ‘em!
The episode makes much of Rollins’ natural subservience to men she believes are smarter than her, with Olivia saying as much offhandedly, but again this seems to be the byproduct of the show’s need to have people on opposing sides of an issue, and for some stupid reason the issue of the week is “therapy”. You know, you can think that a professional prescribed a person medication to control their moods or alleviate their depression is a helpful and in a lot of cases life-saving without believing that getting fucked up on DMT and fucking a girl with a gas mask strapped to her face is a recommended course of treatment, yet SVU, as retrograde as it is, sees fit to conflate the two. It makes me sympathetic to Rollins, something that does not happen often.
Uh does a gas mask count? No?
MASKWATCH: Oh, right. Sorry.
I could’ve done with more crappy hallucination vision, honestly. Wouldn’t it be great to see crappy hallucination vision Mariska Hargitay? Or Ice-T? Oh man. That’d be swell.
I kinda liked this episode, have to say. It’s stupid, of course, but every episode is stupid. I like how it was strange, made little to no sense and gave ample airtime for Adam Arkin to just riff about nonsense. It reminds me of my youth, when I’d be in a house populated by drug users, sitting there while my friend tried to procure some for himself. I’d be stone faced, listening to idiots ramble on about nothing, amidst posters of 300 and Taxi Driver and Boondock Saints covering the walls. The minutes ticked by, idiots rambling about “emotional respect”, me wondering where my friend went, the room smelling of cigarettes, bad unprotected sex and ramen. To evoke such an experience shows that this episode of SVU at least has something to it, which is more than I can say for a lot of recent ones, especially those in Season 22. So for the first time in quite a while I give this a qualified recommendation: don’t go expecting anything actually good and you’ll be reasonably entertained.