Lots of shows have addressed COVID-19, but few have focused on the way the pandemic has affected people’s mental health.
Law & Order: SVU Season 22 Episode 3 came close to doing that with its quarantine-inspired story.
This didn’t really feel like an SVU case with a few exceptions, but it got the point across effectively.
Maria’s death was a tragedy brought on by a ton of impulsive college-kid behavior made worse by the quarantine.
Bedhopping and relationship drama is part and parcel of the college experience for some students. Still, because these kids were all stuck together and had passionate views about proper pandemic behavior, their problems were more likely to end in violence.
And that’s exactly what happened: Perry was not only jealous that Maria got high and slept with someone else but felt betrayed by the only other person in the apartment to take the pandemic seriously.
Rollins: I don’t know what’s going on, Perry. Maybe you’re trying to cover for Lexi. But I do know you cared for Maria.
Perry: I did.
Fin: Should we tell him? Maria was alive when they put her in that freezer.
By the time Maria lost consciousness, nobody was thinking clearly, and a bizarre attempt to cover up the whole thing led to her death. Talk about a tearjerker!
At times, though, this case didn’t seem like it had anything to do with SVU’s mission of getting justice for victims of sexual violence.
Sure, Benson said homicide was so backed up that they wouldn’t mind the help, and there was no way to tell whether Maria’s sexual encounters before her death were consensual.
But for the most part, this was an investigation into a young woman’s murder, not into a rape. That didn’t make it any less compelling. It was just strange, and the un-SVUness of this mystery gnawed at the back of my mind.
Rollins: Okay, leaks to the press, Brad turning on her after she slept with him. This is officially a witch hunt.
Kat: I just hate the double standard. They all slept together and she’s the only one getting slut shamed.
Carisi: Kat, not now.
On the other hand, SVU addressed a couple of problems that contribute to sexual violence, chief among them the slut-shaming and victim-blaming that dominate the news cycle.
News anchors were quick to label Lexi “Lockdown Lexi” or, worse, “Sexy Lexi” and imply that the real crime here was that she slept with random men.
Both Kat and Rollins’ irritation about this seemed to be interpreted as feeling sorry for a woman who had done bad things, too. Not cool.
I didn’t particularly appreciate how Carisi dismissed Kat’s concerns as an annoyance when they had more important things to focus on. Carisi was under pressure to close the case, but that didn’t mean it was okay for him to be so insensitive.
When he told Kat not now, I half expected her to fire back, “Then when?” There’s never a convenient time to discuss double standards or other sexist tropes, and the only man involved in the discussion was shutting it down. Ugh.
The truth was that Lexi’s behavior was fueled by her inability to deal with the COVID-19 lockdown. It would be easy to dismiss her behavior as “typical youthful feelings of invincibility,” but that’s not what happened here.
Lexi felt depressed and helpless because she was surrounded by death and trying to make herself feel alive.
She went to bars and used sex to numb herself. And she not only put herself and everyone around her at risk of contracting COVID but did copious amounts of drugs to forget the world.
Rollins: How do you think Maria got into that freezer?
Shawn: This city and this year, people have lost their minds.
People often condemn those who don’t follow COVID-19 protocols, but they aren’t all selfish people who don’t care who dies.
Naturally, some would struggle with their mental health when surrounded by a seemingly neverending cycle of death and destruction and being asked to isolate themselves for everyone’s safety. This needs to be addressed better, and it’s rarely even talked about.
Unfortunately, ignoring COVID protocols doesn’t just put the maskless or non-social distancing person at risk. It’s a miracle that nobody in Lexi’s circle got the disease, given all the close contact and flouting of the rules!
Speaking of which, was anyone else concerned that Benson and Rollins got in Lexi’s face to try to intimidate her into telling them the truth?
They weren’t wearing masks themselves and knew their suspect had not been taking many if any, precautions against the virus.
So it didn’t seem like a great idea to expose themselves by getting so close.
I was worried about Rollins not wearing a mask when she was questioning Lexi the first time, given that the woman had so often violated the safety protocols, but this was even worse.
As for the case itself, I figured early on that all of the roommates were probably involved somehow.
That’s how these things usually go, though I didn’t expect Perry to have been the one who actually bashed Maria’s head in.
It sounded like the accident happened due to a too-high Maria trying to defend herself against getting raped.
Perry only differed from the typical incel in that his anger was based on Maria “betraying” him by not respecting social distancing guidelines rather than believing he was owed sex just because.
I should have known it was him, though. Everyone kept making a big deal out of how he was this nice kid who did a lot of community service, and the nice guy turning out to be the murderer is a fairly common trope.
As with many shows, Law & Order: SVU is taking a long hiatus now, and this episode didn’t give us a lot to talk about while waiting for it to return.
The most exciting news came from the trailer, which shows that former ADA Barba will return!
But there were no cliffhangers or unanswered questions at the end of this one unless you count Benson appearing to have some sort of prior relationship with the Italian police officer she was communicating with.
That’s disappointing. Diehard SVU fans like me will always watch regardless, but more casual fans may lose interest between the shortened season and the lack of cliffhangers to talk about between now and January.
Your turn, SVU fanatics!
Hit the big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know what you thought about this case, the emphasis on COVID fatigue, or the lack of cliffhangers to tide us over.
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Law & Order: SVU continues to air on NBC on Thursdays at 9 PM EST/PST. It returns on January 7, 2021.
Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.