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TV Review: Law & Order: SVU – “Solitary”

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Synopsize me, Lieutenant! “A young woman is reported missing, and her boyfriend points Benson and Stabler in the direction of her downstairs neighbor, a convicted bank robber, but in a twist the case brings out other details of his dark past that shock everyone.”

Sounds fun! Ha, just kidding. This one’s about solitary confinement. Guh? How did they get there?

Callum DonovanRelax, detectives. The “missing woman” was simply a ruse to get us into the dark, tortured mind of Callum Donovan, a recently released convict who is kind of having trouble adjusting back into the world. In fact, Donovan is known to the amorous couple living in sin upstairs as “the creepy guy downstairs.” Uh huh. And the redhead upstairs (portrayed by True Blood‘s Deborah Ann Woll) is initially known to the SVU as “a missing victim,” but it turns out she was actually “that lying meth head.” See, we hardly know these people!

Academy Award-nominee Stephen Rea from The Crying Game brings the tears as the very disturbing Donovan, who is eventually cleared of raping and murdering the lying sack of estrogen when it turns out that she was found, in fact, alive and unraped.

This is now twice in three episodes that Stabler had to go apologize to a wrongfully accused man (the other time was in “Unstable”, and that didn’t turn out so well) so you’d think that lately he’d realize that maybe going for the softer, gentler, cuddlier Stabler just isn’t the best idea. Because this time, it got him thrown off a roof by a spooked Donovan who wasn’t ready to go back to jail.

Attempted murder of a copper is not exactly something the legal system takes lightly, and in comes ADA Sonya Paxton (Christine Lahti) with pistols a-blazin’ to lock the bastard up and piss off Stabler in the process.

Why did Donovan do it? Simple: his lawyer, Petra Gilmartin (Lauren Walter*), says that he was terrified of returning to solitary confinement, in which he spent the better of his 18-year prison sentence and nearly lost his mind. So this episode is really about how prisoners re-adapt to society after living in solitary confinement. Hey, I’ve seen Shawshank Redemption. They end up causing the warden to commit suicide, or something, then build a boat.

Aside: Many of you know might recognize Lauren Walter if you saw her as Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development. I had to pause the show to rub my eyes and see if it was actually Gangy, and if so, why she never asked the judge for a whiskey sour. AD is always going to be one of those shows in which I associate the cast forever with those roles. Even if Tony Hale wins a Nobel Peace Prize, he’ll still be our little well-adjusted brother that gives great back rubs.

On a whim, Stabler gives solitary a shot for three days, just to see if Donovan was trying to divert the point that he threw a goddamn cop off the roof. And that five-minute scene was just for the ladies who wanted to see Stabler shirtless.

You know when else you’re gonna see him sans top? When he finally has hate-sex with ADA Paxton. No, I don’t have carnal spoiler information here, but I can tell. The interdepartmental tension was turning into sexual tension before my very eyes, and the face slap sealed the deal for me. (Oh, but she apologized and they shook on it, you say. Well, I’m pretty sure that’s how I met my ex.) Even if this tryst isn’t mentioned on the show, I can rest assured that the two will probably, between episodes, use the handcuffs voluntarily.

But it really makes one wonder about solitary. There really is like nothing to do in “the hole” except let that mind create an alternate reality in which insects and shadows become FASCINATING. It sounds terrible. Almost as terrible as being in prison for killing a dude.

But seriously, how about a deck of cards? Or Legos? Hell, if I deserved solitary, just give me the Legos from my childhood and I could waste 10 years. Not that I’m encouraging intentional crimes just for a shot at the tiny private room, but if you ever find yourself in such a situation, consider negotiating some wonderful harmless timewasters. It can only help improve the prison system.

Twist Factor — Enh, 3 out of 10. With how Stabler stared down the walls, you could pretty much tell how it’d change his perspective. There was a twinge of happiness at the end, which again affirms the fact that Paxton and Stabler are gonna get busy’ makin’ babies at some point. Perhaps the solitary cell will be vacant by then.

Munch Watch[points over here] Found him! Call off the search. A couple scenes was all I needed, and we got that. Sure enough, he railed on the prison system, noting that we treat free range chickens better than prisoners:

Munch: “Humans are social creatures. Prolonged isolation warps their humanity.”
Tutuola: “That’s what happened to you, Munch?”

Ah. Welcome back.

The Verdict — We the people find this episode, “Solitary,” not guilty of adhering to the garden-variety SVU formula, because the special victim was lying, out of sight, and out of mind by the end of the episode. It then became an episode dedicated to an issue that we don’t really care about, but probably should, because the guy living underneath my apartment might end up being an antisocial loon. And if I’m living a double life, I can blame it on him. This show also mentioned Twitter, and we like Twitter. But we’re pretty sure there have been better episodes.

Law & Order: SVU broadcasts at 9 p.m. ET Wednesdays on NBC.

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  • Renee

    I totally agree that there have been better episodes. This season has been quite bland so far. I don’t know if there are new writers or what, but the “twist” factor is definitely off. Plus, we already saw the snippy ADA interfering with the SVU peeps’ work when Michaela McManus tried her hand at it last season (thank goodness she’s gone, at least). I wonder if the show hasn’t run its course. I hope not; let’s get back to the gotta-watch-it, thought-provoking, adrenaline-rush SVU soon.

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