It’s rare that a series continues for 19 seasons, much less maintains its excellence. Nevertheless, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” accomplishes just that. Coming off of one of its best seasons in “Law & Order: SVU” season 18, expectations are high for its 19th season run. “Law & Order: SVU” season 19 kicks off with “Gone Fishin,” which is full of surprises.
Unlike most “SVU” episodes which begin in New York City, “Gone Fishin” starts in Cuba. There, Byron Marks (Will Chase), a known rapist, is apprehended by SVU Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola (Ice-T). Fin returns to the United States with Marks in tow.
Back in NYC, SVU gears up to begin prosecuting Marks. Unfortunately, Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba (Raul Esparaza) encounters a few challenges. First, Fin brought Marks back to the States under fairly shady circumstances. Moreover, the case becomes politicized when the focus shifts to U.S. policing on foreign soil.
Meanwhile, Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) struggles with raising her son, Noah. He repeatedly reminds Liv of his fondness for his nanny. Later, after Liv yanks him out of the way of a speeding cab, Noah is left with a nasty bruise. As a result, his teacher, the ironically-named Ms. Smiley, requests a meeting with Benson. This makes for a fascinating dynamic, as Liv is usually the one asking the questions. However, it’s Benson who’s put on the hot seat.
Although “Gone Fishin” is certainly a solid episode, it lacks the prowess exhibited by “Law & Order: SVU” season 18. The previous season presented relevant issues ranging from a loosely-veiled take on the Brock Turner sexual assault case to “Making a Murder”-esque storylines. Unfortunately, “Law & Order: SVU” season 19 doesn’t start off as strongly. It’s not until the final moments of “Gone Fishin” that season 19 episode 1 morphs from good to great.
That’s not to say it’s a shoddily put together “SVU” entry. On the contrary, it’s entertaining and as nuanced as ever. In “Gone Fishin,” there’s a theme of breaking the rules. Fin, probably my favorite character, and the one that got me hooked on the series, gets ample screen time. I like his defense for kidnapping Mark, which is essentially that Byron is a scumbag. Well, Fin’s not wrong.
Amy Smart lends an inspired performance as Karla Wyatt, one of Marks’s victims. Smart truly nails her role with a top-notch acting job which makes the case feel all-too-real. At one point, Karla holds Marks at gunpoint while Liv attempts to talk her out of killing her rapist. Though Liv is merely fulfilling her duty as a law officer, it’s another breaking the rules moment. Like turning a blind eye to Fin’s probably illegal apprehension of Marks, it’s tough to save a rapist. Even ADA Barba quips that perhaps Liv should have allowed Karla to finish him off.
Ultimately, no surprise here, Marks is convicted. Especially with rescinded guidelines on campus sexual assault, this feels like a timely episode. But “Gone Fishin” lacks the elements which more concretely tie into real-world events and offer thought-provoking tidbits. Sure, grey areas pose questions to right and wrong, justice vs. the law. But overall, it’s generic, lacking the oomph of series entries such as “Rape Interrupted.” Or the epic finale of “American Dream,” and “Sanctuary.”
Dominick Carisi (Peter Scanavino) doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. Likewise, Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish) isn’t featured as heavily. Although, I suspect we’ll see more of Rollins and Carisi as the season progresses.
Nevertheless, the final moments find Brian Cassidy (Dean Winters, aka the Mayhem guy) returning to NY. With his reappearance, Cassidy brings mayhem into Liv’s life. It’s clear that “Gone Fishin” is mostly to set up what promises to be one of “SVU’s” most compelling storyarcs as “Law & Order: Season 19” continues.
Your turn: What did you think of “Law & Order: SVU” episode “Gone Fishin?”