[Reading Time: 6 minutes]
Law and Order: SVU, S20E24 “End Game”, starts out like any other SVU, with vaguely young girls at some sort of brothel being perused and abused by creepy men.
But it soon switches into a callback to the season’s villain, Rob Miller. He sounds like a boring lawyer; and as far as the general public is concerned, that’s exactly who he is. We get a short recap that our hero Olivia Benson is being targeted by this guy due to a previous investigation, and that the police are on her side. But we quickly learn that isn’t enough.
In case it isn’t obvious, this blog is NOT spoiler-free. In fact I spoil pretty much everything I write about. So if you want to see this episode for yourself, or you’re behind a season or two because you canceled Hulu a while back, back out now because I will be spoiling the entire plot. You have been warned.
“I wish I had better news,” says Peter Stone, the Assistant District Attorney.
Olivia jokes, “Please don’t tell me it’s worse than Rob Miller making bail.”
Stone “The Feds dropped the charges.”
Olivia “He blackmailed the judge. He threatened witnesses. He threatened Nikki Staines. We have him ON TAPE saying ‘no Nikki, no case.’”
Stone “A federal judge ruled that statement didn’t rise to the legal standard.”
Ice-T “What now?” (In my headcanon, Fin Tutuola is just the legal name of the in-universe rapper Ice-T. We also got an episode this season with a character being played by Snoop Dogg, which was funny to me because it’s like, “This guy is more famous than ALL of you.”)
This is no ordinary criminal, and the series needs you to understand that. He’s a rich, powerful, connected, evil individual. Olivia further alluded to this 30 seconds ago when she tells Fin in private “I should have shot the son of a bitch.”
To really sell how evil he is, it gets arguably worse than simple murder, extortion, and all his other crimes. When I found out in the next scene that Miller’s first order of business after being released from jail is that he killed Nikki’s dog, I shouted at my TV, “Oh, this guy dies TODAY.”
Titus Welliver, the actor who plays Rob Miller, is great at playing villains. I remember him as the Smoke Monster from Lost, as much sense as that ever made. But I maintain that a “villain” is exactly what Rob Miller is. He’s not just an episode antagonist, or a rape suspect. He’s a villain in the classic sense, a criminal mastermind, a legal overlord with the pull, reach, and brutality of Wilson Fisk from Daredevil, or Dominic Greene from Quantum of Solace.
The episode feels like it’s filmed as a superhero movie, or as close as SVU can get to one given nobody in the Law and Order universe has any magic powers. Even the episode’s title “End Game” feels pretty damn on-the-nose to me.
The tensions between the hero and villain rise over the course of the episode, making it clear that only one of them will survive this. Legally speaking. (Probably.) Olivia’s son gets almost-kidnapped, a message that Rob Miller can get to anyone he wants, including manipulating police officers. The one-liners from Carisi and Fin feel like they’d be at home in an Avengers movie. Their pieces of string on the corkboard get more robust and complex as the episode rolls along
“He’s a man, not a supervillain. He had to have made a mistake,” Olivia even opines in an ominous allusion. Tensions even rise between the two heroes Olivia and Peter, almost hinting that a Civil War might be oncoming, though the tension quickly breaks into an emotional moment of helplessness.
Peter Stone and Nikki Staines (also a lawyer) then meet in a parking lot and discuss their options. The series is now asking us to consider a question: What do you do when someone is above the law? Elementary’s final season did something very similar with their seasonal villain Richenbach, and I can’t help but think that Donald Trump is the inspiration for an all-powerful corrupt mogul who no law can touch.
In this case, the show resolves it with ADA Stone deliberately deciding to break the law, lie in court, and frame Rob Miller for a crime he didn’t commit in order to put him in jail for the crimes he actually did commit.
The court case plays out as Stone expects at first, with him emotionally making the case he made up, and the defendant seemingly beginning to unravel.
“The Defense calls Nikki Staines.” Stone looks understandably worried. She’s part of his frame operation and he never wanted her to testify in court whatsoever. Cut to commercials.
Nikki is a mess on the stand, but she’s clearly telling the truth, much to the visible dismay of Peter. She is openly telling the court she framed Rob Miller.
But then we realize that she’s not outing Stone. And as the two of them share a knowing look before the cross-examination, we realize this was the plan all along. They knew Miller and his legal team would figure out Nikki was framing him, but that was just the bait.
“You know what? There are things more important than a license to tap-dance around a courtroom,” Nikki says, alluding to the foreshadowing she gave us at the beginning of the episode, when she said “I am not about to risk getting myself disbarred” about violating attorney-client privilege to help put him behind bars.
But things are different now. “Sometimes the law is just not good enough. And a threat to my child’s safety is one of those times.” Our heroes are more powerful now, because they have so much more to lose. This isn’t about winning a case or seeking some intangible concept of justice. Friends and lives are at stake. Our police heroes are now vigilantes
I won’t spoil the actual ending, but it ends like a typical superhero movie. In these dark political times, sometimes we just need a cathartic happy ending. Sad goodbyes and all.
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