Series: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit aka: Special Victims Unit
"In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories."
CHUNG CHUNGThe first spin-off of the Law & Order franchise. Like the original, the show features detectives investigating crimes and attorneys prosecuting the offenders. Changes in scene are marked by black screens stating the place and date, as well as the franchise's trademark "chung chung" noise. However, SVU focuses more on the detectives and less on the attorneys, whereas the original show usually shifts from the investigation to the prosecution at the halfway point.The SVU detectives investigate sex crimes, usually rapes, rape-homicides, and various forms of child abuse. The voiceover at the beginning identifies such crimes as "especially heinous," and the show often focuses on the characters' struggle to deal with unspeakable crimes and living victims.SVU has included since its beginning characters from two other shows: Capt. Cragen from the original Law & Order and Det./Sgt. Munch from Homicide. There have been numerous Cross Over events with the other Law & Order shows.SVU was retooled between the first and second seasons. The first season featured more of the characters' private lives, random courtroom scenes unrelated to the episodes' primary cases, and much brighter lit squadroom scenes. Also, there were several recurring Assistant DA's instead of a regular character serving that function. Some early episodes did not feature a trial portion at all. At the start of the second season, ADA Cabot was assigned to the unit and the show began to more closely resemble the original Law & Order series.The show is known for its dual-action It's Personal / Idiot Ball trope, in which each episode will usually feature one of the main detectives developing an extremely personal, unprofessional attachment or aversion to a victim or criminal, due to their personal history. This may sometimes cause them to follow false leads, or fall under suspicion and need to clear their name. These will manifest themselves in just about any episode that deals with crimes of a certain nature. Characters with "hot-button" issues are:
Benson: rape and alcoholism (Benson is a child of rape and her mother was an alcoholic)
Stabler: pedophilia, incest (due to the many male offender-young female victim cases he has worked; it doesn't help that he has kids)
Cragen: alcoholism (since he is a recovering alcoholic and card-carrying member of AA)
Huang: pseudo-psychology (it insults his intelligence) and gay-bashing.
Warner: unethical medical practices
Rollins: Rape and sexual assault. Also gambling.
Amaro: Cheating and deception.
This trope works backwards too; we learn more about the detectives by noticing what kinds of people they empathize with. When the usually cool attorney Casey Novak is uncharacteristically lenient to a young girl who committed vehicular manslaughter while off prescription medicine (thanks to following the advice of a popular artist who was against them, after his own tragic story), you later find out that, quite predictably, she has a personal history with mental illness - her ex-fiancé (who she abandoned and later found in the streets) suffered from schizophrenia.Sesame Street did a spot-on parody with muppets called ''Law and Order: Special Letters Unit''. The primary audience probably don't watch the original (or at least we hope not).Character Sheet can be found here.Not to be confused with the Special Vehicles Unit.SVU is currently the only American show of the franchise still in active production, having survived the demise of its parent, Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury, and LA.DOUM-DOUM
Provides Examples Of:
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Abusive Parents: Several victims have these but the worst was probably in "Sick" — the woman who was poisoning her granddaughter to make it appear she had cancer. She used the child's "illness" to bilk charities, and then convinced her to say she was molested by a celebrity so they can get money from him, telling her she would die if they didn't.
Elliot is also implied to be one of these; he is, at the very least, neglectful and his wife has even left him at least once because of it. He apparently has not learned his lesson, as in the episode "Wildlife", he chooses to do his own undercover investigation on animal smugglers (which are not even in his jurisdiction) despite his wife, his partner, his boss, and even the FBI telling him to go home and spend time with his family. He ends up getting shot by the smugglers and still refuses to go home and be with his wife and kids, instead going straight back to see the guys who just tried to kill him before he is even slightly healed.
As of the episode Turmoil, it can be confirmed that he is also physically abusive as he attacked his son after he pointed out his violent tendencies, of course knowing how he acts the fact he is violent with his kids is not a big surprise
Given that in an earlier episode, Ripped, we find out that Elliot's father was quite abusive himselfnote To be more specific, when Elliot was a little boy his father deliberately stomped on his diorama (which he and his father worked on) because he moved one of the trees and then called him weak (for crying about the stomped diorama) and a failure (something he apparently called him often)., it could be a case of it being In the Blood.
Benson's mother is described as having been a pretty mean drunk, among other things.
Acquitted Too Late: The detectives of the SVU have a long and stories history when it comes to arresting the wrong person, making lots of public accusations regarding sex crimes, and then not even caring about the destruction they've caused to other people's lives.
Season 2's "Taken" starts off with a teenaged girl stumbling out of an elevator during a hotel opening. The staff shuttles her off to the side, and a suspect (who is on the sex offender registry as a pedophile) is later arrested. Turns out it's a scam to get money from the hotel, the supposedly under-age "victim" was in her 20s rather than her teens, the sex was consensual, and the "suspect" was a patsy set up by the girl and her family. Unfortunately, by the time anyone remembers that they have an innocent man in jail, the "suspect" had already been killed in prison (pedophiles being very unpopular in prison populations). Fortunately, that made the woman and her accomplices legally culpable for murder.
Disturbingly enough, Munch is the only one who is bothered by the suspect's death (as opposed to being glad the woman and her accomplices didn't get away) and takes the trouble of informing the dead man's ex-girlfriend (who, it turns out, was the same girl the suspect purportedly "molested" when they both were teenagers, he 17 and she 15 and who, it also turns out was still in love with him and had been for nearly a decade).
During the investigation into the kidnap/murder of a small boy, it turns out that the boy's coach is actually working under an assumed name, and has a sex offender record. Stabler and Benson immediately confront him publicly at his job and reveal his record, effectively ruining the man's life. Turns out not only did he not have anything to do with the murder of the boy, the "sex offense" the man was guilty of was getting drunk, urinating in public, and while so urinating being witnessed by a child ("exposing" himself to the child accidentally). The detectives don't even apologize to the man.
A variation in an episode where they find out a man was wrongfully imprisoned and arrest the right man. Unfortunately, a hot head detective attacks and kills the real criminal, the only person who could exonerate the wrongfully accused man.
During an episode where a young girl is found to have been sexually abused, she eventually points the finger at her soccer coach who is also a close friend of her family. The man is taken into custody and held responsible for his actions but it's soon revealed that the only reason the girl accused him is because she was scared by the amount of pressure placed on her by the detectives. The episode ends with a Downer Ending for the originally accused man as he lost his job and will also never be able to apply to be a teacher ever again and is moving upstate with his family to his in-laws.
Acquired Poison Immunity: In the episode "Wet", a suspect is believed to have committed murder by poisonous mushroom spores, which he built up an immunity to through years of exposure.
Activist Fundamentalist Antics: In "Spectacle", a guy has tried for eight years to get his kidnapped brother back. The police and everyone else stopped caring many years ago, so now he resorted to kidnapping and raping a woman just to get the police's attention. Oh, and the woman is of course in on it. Pulling off a little Romanticized Abuse show to the audience as her "rape" gets broadcasted on the web.
Adam Westing: A rare non-comedic example with Jerry Lewis, whose Jerry-Lewis-like behavior is part of a manic episode that ends in murder.
Adult Fear: The show centers on Ripped from the Headlines plots, doesn't hesitate to whip out the truly alarming statistics on domestic abuse, sexual assault, incest, and child molestation. In one particularly upsetting-for-grownups episode, a little boy goes missing at a birthday party and is found dead shortly afterward. The security tape from the party shows him holding a balloon as he walks out of the camera's viewpoint— only for the balloon to roll by it without the boy only seconds later. The big kicker? He was killed by another child. An adult might have a healthy suspicion of other adults around their kids, but who would ever question another kid at a birthday party?
An Aesop: If the murder investigation doesn't hammer it in hard enough, the B-plot with Elliot's family for that week will usually parallel the investigation in some way.
Aesop Amnesia: In one third season episode "Wrath", a serial killer targeting perps put away by Olivia is revealed to be an innocent man who served 7 years before being cleared by DNA - because Olivia railroaded him. She's shaken to the core by this, which is interesting considering that never again does she ever show the slightest amount of hesitation in pursuing a suspect against whom only weak or circumstantial evidence exists.
Never again is erroneous. Olivia takes issue with Porter's weak evidence against environmentalists in "Infiltrated". The episode "Denial" (in the same season as "Wrath") also shows Olivia suggesting that more evidence should be gathered before charging a murder suspect.
Cragen and Elliot have also had weeks where they've been forced to learn that railroading suspects can lead to wrongful convictions and they need to consider that the suspects they finger might be innocent after all before pushing it. But then continue to operate like that at least every other week.
This was subverted in the episode "Double Strands", where they look into the background of a seemingly-guilty suspect, and find the true culprit, the original suspect's twin brother.
All There in the Manual: It's never explicitly stated on the show, but the reason Cragen was assigned to the SVU was because his wife died in a plane crash and he started drinking again and soliciting prostitutes, so he joined to take control of his life again.
Aluminium Christmas Trees: The 2011 episode "Flight" seems to be obviously based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, but in fact predated the incident by several months.
Always Female: The ADA. There have been more than half a dozen recurring ADAs, all of whom lacked a Y-chromosome:
Abbie Carmichael, crossing over from the original Law & Order, was the de facto ADA for most of the first season; she appeared in five of the first ten episodes.
Alex Cabot became the first permanent ADA for SVU in the premiere of season two; she lasted into season five, when she made a sudden and dramatic departure in time for November Sweeps.
She was immediately replaced by Casey Novak, who served for five seasons (holding the franchise record for longest-serving ADA, beating Carver, Cabot and Rubirosa); she was fired and disbarred at the end of season nine.note When she reappears in Season Twelve it's revealed she wasn't disbarred but rather censured. What she did in the three years she couldn't practice law is left unexplored.
She, too, was immediately replaced, by Kim Greylek, who lasted for the first half of the tenth season. After her rapid departure, she was replaced by:
Alex Cabot, for her second stint, lasting most of the tenth and eleventh seasons, interrupted by:
Sonia Paxton, an older and more senior ADA (her rank is explicitly given as EADA, the same as that of Jack McCoy before his election as DA).
After Cabot leaves yet again, she's replaced by Jo Marlowe, a former cop and partner of Stabler's, played in a four-episode stint by Sharon Stone.
Mikka Von was intended as the new ADA for season twelve, but the actress who played her left after one episode to film Mission Impossible IV. Her replacement was Gillian Hardwicke.
Starting in season 13, Alex Cabot and Casey Novak both return in (mostly) alternating episodes.
Subverted in "Disabled" where the EADA, Garrett Blaine, is male. Given a lampshade in his first appearance in the episode:
Cragen: You find me a replacement for Alex Cabot? Blaine: Still Looking. Stuck with me for now.
Averted from Season 14 on. The recurring in Season 14 and then regular ADA, Rafael Barba, is male. However, there is another recurring ADA handling child cases who is female, Pippa Cox.
Ambiguous Situation: SVU loves to leave stuff unresolved for the audience to ponder. Usually it's on the simple level whether the guy is guilty or not (such as in the episode "Doubt"), but sometimes they take it to a much deeper level. The detectives just keep spawning new theories, and none of them either gets verified. For example, the episode "Slaves" features a husband, his wife, and their nanny/girlfriend/Sex Slave, Elena. They keep the relationship hidden...
Either because Elena is in the country illegally, and also because her conservative aunt and other relatives would not approve of her living in a polyamorous relationship,
Or because they have kidnapped Elena and held her against her will until Stockholm Syndrome set in.
And Starring: Before Christopher Meloni's departure, the credits had always started with "Starring Christopher Meloninote Credited as Chris Meloni in the first season. , Mariska Hargitay, Richard Belzer" and ended with "And Dann Florek". In the first season, Florek immediately followed Belzer; up to Season 12, there have been a total of eight people credited in between the two of them (at different times). As of Season 15, Belzer and Florek have both left the cast, and no one gets And Starring billing anymore.
Anticlimax: A good number of episodes end with them catching the bad guys and nothing else. The viewer doesn't get to see the trial, or, most satisfyingly, the guilty verdict. This kind of ending is even more infuriating if the suspect had been in court previously in the episode, but the case was foiled for some reason.
Armoured Closet Gay: In one episode, a closeted gay Bronx D.A. is found murdered in his car. They exhaust the list of suspects until they land on his black male coworker. Fin then explains the phenomenon of being on the "down-low" in the African-American community. They investigate the coworker's poker group, and sure enough, they are all "on the down-low" and have sex with each other when they are supposedly playing poker. One of the friends, a former football player, actually refuses to testify after revealing this because he does not want to tarnish his image.
Asshole Victim: In Signature, a male victim is found alongside a female victim of a particularly sadistic Serial Killer. The detectives theorize that he had the bad luck to come across the dump site in the act. He was actually the killer, and was gunned down by The Profiler as revenge for the murders, and for driving her mentor to suicide.
Attempted Rape: Olivia. She was saved by Fin, in the episode Undercover.
Not to mention all the cases that have involved it.
They find a women walking around the park with a plastic baby doll. She says that after god took her real baby he gave her one who could never die. They take the baby from her and refuse to give it back until she says whether she kidnapped a real missing baby.
In another episode, a woman who'd suffered brain damage in a bus accident lost the ability to recognize her real daughter's face, treating the girl as if she were an impostor. Instead, the woman became obsessed with an online video game, and fixated on the virtual "child" of her online avatar as her "son". When the police take her and her boyfriend into custody for neglecting her real daughter, she cries and yells because they'd hauled her away from the video screen when her "son" was in in-game danger.
Bad Boss: The abusive female boss of Luscious Grape wine, who's a cross between Leona Helmsley and R. Budd Dwyer in that her dog got all her money while her abused employees got nothing after she held a news conference to publicly blame everyone except herself for her misfortunes and then shot herself in the head.
Jolene Castille, a cooking show host, restauranteur, and barely-concealed racist. She disallows her black employees from using the restaurant's bathrooms or serving white diners, she gets visibly upset when Fin touches her arm, and she tries to guilt Rollins about putting a fellow Southerner in jail for what she did. "Down home, they'd be givin' me a medal." What did she do? Shoot a sixteen year old black boy who happened to fit the description of a rapist targeting white women her age. He didn't do it.
The Bad Guys Are Cops: At least in Bedtime. Who killed Cal Cutler? Oh look, it was the former patrol cop played by Jaclyn Smith! And another surprise! Cal Cutler isn't dead after all!
Backstab Backfire: At the end of "Criminal". One man has a gun to the head of another, intending to kill him, but is eventually convinced to spare his life and let the police take him into custody for a crime he committed. As he walks away, the guy he wanted to kill picks up the discarded gun and attempts to shoot him in the back—only to be gunned down by a police sniper.
Batman Gambit: Ace. D.A. Marlowe shows the team footage of one of the cases' important witness and evidence being destroyed by a car bomb. So the team focuses on a crooked doctor who goes on to torpedo the entire case against a mafioso after claiming his attorney is in cahoots with the suspect. Turns out, the Feds found the bomb and orchestrated the ruse to appear the witness was killed while Marlowe has everyone else focus elsewhere on the case. The ruse also manages to deceive the mafioso as he is unable to intimidate the witness, as her parents were brought to the USA to prevent his associates from killing them in revenge.
Be Careful What You Say: In Sugar, when Vance Shepard finally confesses that it was his daughter (and not himself) who murdered his girlfriend, he notes that at the time she looked as if she might kill him too. When SVU gives him a few moments to say goodbye to her before they arrest her, she buries a pair of scissors in his neck.
The detectives and ADAs often make mention of prison rape when interrogating suspects. This turns around and bites Liv in the ass in "Perverted" when one man that she interrogated and was later convicted was raped in prison: he believes Liv arranged for him to be raped, and in revenge, has her DNA fabricated when he gets out so he can frame her for murder.
Berserk Button: Don't threaten Stabler or Amaro's families, just don't.
Don't ask not-Chris Brown who's texting him, especially if you're his girlfriend.
Don't abuse Rollins' sister Kim. Kim uses this to her advantage and sets up her abusive boyfriend to be killed.
Don't mock Liv when it comes to the fact that she's not a mother. She may just find a reason to lock your ass up.
Bilingual Bonus: Munch can speak or understand (at least) English, Russian, Greek, and Yiddish. This has come in handy on more than one occasion when a non-English-speaking witness has tried to pull a fast one on the detectives.
Ditto Huang with Chinese and Latin. Hilariously, he corrects the Latin translation of practicing Catholic Stabler.
Amaro and Barba are both native Spanish speakers. Amaro often speaks Spanish to suspects or victims, and Barba and Amaro have had an entire scene speaking Spanish to each other.
Black and White Morality: Mostly displayed by Elliot, who said when asked if a criminal can be rehabilitated that "Once a killer always a killer", and Fin, who believes that criminals are scum no matter what the crime or how heinous it is.
Body Double: Featured in both fall 2010 season openers. One mom forces her foster daughter to become a duplicate of her missing real daughter to the point of giving the kid a nose job, while another can no longer connect with her kid and even thinks she's an impostor due to Capgras delusion. If the second mom hears her daughter, then the connection's still there, but it disappears the second she sees her.
Bondage Is Bad: The first season episode "Stocks and Bondage" is all about this trope, and many other episodes have featured it as well.
Brick Joke: In a dark way. Where an Arab-hating teen kills a Middle Eastern fellow prisoner in a holding cell. It isn't brought back up again until the very last second of the episode, where Captain Craigen gets a phone call informing them the friends of said inmate just killed him in jail.
Broken Bird: Olivia, Alex, Casey, Amanda. In fact, pretty much every female character to ever appear on the show. If she isn't one the first time we see her, it's bound to happen eventually.
Broken Pedestal: In "Lunacy," Dick Finley becomes this to Elliot when he finds out that he murdered an astronaut because of his ambition.
The Bully: Annette Cole, literally. Guess what the title of the episode is that she appears in?
But Not Too Gay: A big deal is made about Fin's son being gay, with Fin having to deal with the news on top of the poor relationship he and Ken have already. But in spite of all the mentioning it gets, we haven't seen Ken so much as mention dating a guy so far.
Until the episode Learning Curve.
Though they do act much more like buddies than fiancees.
Well, except for the fact that Alejandro calls Ken "mi amor".
Butt Monkey: Dale Stuckey, the overeager, inexperienced Crime Scene Unit technician. Although he is initially incompetent (and extremely annoying) the other characters act like he's being a babbling, annoying moron no matter what. When he does contribute something valid, though, it's generally presenting in such an annoying manner they snap at him anyway.
Cassandra Truth: The mother in "Locum" insists that her daughter was lured away by an older girl with red hair who was wearing a green top and orange shorts. It takes ten years to prove she was right because no one thought to check the rest of the pictures of a suspected photographer.
Also in "Justice Denied," a man SVU put away eight years ago has continued to insist that his (recanted) confession was coerced and that he didn't commit a particularly brutal rape/assault, but no one believes him, in part because he knew a detail that was never made public; namely, that the scarf used to gag the victim was green. In the course of the episode, the victim mentions casually that the scarf was actually red, and subsequent investigation reveals that the officer who vouchered it was colorblind and wrote the wrong color into the report. At the end of the episode, the real culprit is found and the man who had served eight years for a crime he never committed is set free.
In "Dissonant Voices", a gay music teacher was accused of molesting several boys and girls. It turns out he was being set up by the sisters of the first two victims after he dropped them from his private coaching. The charges are dropped, but he'll still never be able to teach again.
The Cast Showoff: SVU has had exactly three episodes featuring French (or Franco-African) characters, two of which just so happened to be when Detective Beck was on the show. Interestingly, it appears that the writers actually showed restraint on this one, seeing as Connie Nielson speaks eight languages.
Averted when an episode shows most of the characters watching an Expy of American Idol. The only one not shown singing along is Barba, who is played by Broadway legend Raúl Esparza.
Stuckey has a particularly annoying one for when he figures something out: "Bing, bang, bong."
Categorism as a Phobia: In "Anchor," the villain of the week had killed a lot of immigrant children. The killer was overtly racist with his serial killing being an obvious hate-crime. But the defender somehow managed to convince the jury that the man couldn't help it - that his racism should be regarded as a mental problem. The defense lawyer took the case because he had seen his father "swept by evil forces" (his father was a Klansman) and believed the same thing happened to his client, but he murdered the client after learning that he fully intended to kill again.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Elliot originally had three daughters, however the oldest (Maureen) and youngest (Elizabeth) were last seen playing poker with the rest of the family around Season 7 and have not appeared since. While this might be understandable with Maureen, who is in her 20s and is probably out of the house, there is no excuse for Elizabeth's disappearance considering that she is still a teenager and her twin brother remains on the show. The younger's disappearance is especially noticeable in Dickie's Day in the Limelight episode "Turmoil", where he said it was hard to find kids that will talk with him and there is no mention of him having a sister the same age.
Maureen and Elizabeth both make brief appearances in the beginning of the episode "Scherezade". Season eight.
And Elizabeth's picture becomes a minor plot point in one of the episodes in season ten.
As of the Season Twelve episode 'Totem', Stabler claims he has 'five kids', so Maureen and Elizabeth still exist. They apparently have thankfully normal, uneventful lives.
This has happened to many characters as of Season 15; Ruben Morales, Judge Donnelly, Judge Pretrovsky, Bayard Ellis, and even Alex Cabot and Casey Novak haven't been heard from in years.
Conspiracy Theorist: Munch. Hearing a police officer rant about the nefarious machinations of The Man make them sound all the more ridiculous.
On the rare occasion an episode will hilariously turn it into a case of Chekhov's Hobby whenever the case involves needing to worm through a layer of paranoid conspiracy nuts. Then, Munch becomes an effective means of getting through to them.
Darius, Fin's stepson, was born from Fin's ex-wife being raped by her father, and her neglect turned him into a monster
Stabler's mother's bipolar disorder
Olivia being born from her mother's rape (also the Awful Truth to her half-brother)
FBI Agent Dana "Star" Lewis murdered her ex-boyfriend's fiancee 30 years ago and "unconsciously" pinned it on the serial rapist/murderer she was chasing at the time; things unravel when the rapist is finally caught and his "last victim" has nothing in common with the others.
Munch's father committed suicide when Munch was a teenager, and he's been wracked with guilt ever since because his last words to him were that he hated his guts.
Amanda having something happen, presumably sexual assault or harassment by her captain, back in Atlanta.
Dawson Casting: The episode "Obscene" revolves around a 16-year old starlet, played by a 21-year old actress.
In-universe: In the episode "Demon", they try to see if a rapist is guilty by baiting him with an adult cop who can pass for a teenager.
A Day in the Limelight: Munch and/or Fin, occasionally. Munch got to shine when his uncle Andy (played by none other than Jerry Lewis) got involved in a crime; the same happened with Fin and the episodes involving his gay son Ken, his ex-wife Theresa, and his evil stepson Darius.
Deadpan Snarker: Back when Munch had actual lines. Fin gets a few of these as well. Cragen too, occasionally. Once he came on in season 14, Barba became the team's main snarker.
Even Olivia has a moment. After a stalker is bitten by his victim's guard dog and arrested without seeing a doctor first, he demands the dog be tested for rabies. Cue "I highly doubt you gave the dog rabies."
The RDK copycat in "Scavenger" was pretty good at this:
RDK: She got away from him, but not me. Elliot: Well, she's a sixty-five year old woman. RDK: Not looking good for sixty-six. note He has the victim in question buried alive and hooked to an oxygen tank.[
Death by Sex: WAY too many times to count, but considering the fact that it's the main character's job to investigate sex crimes, it's a Justified Trope.
Death of Personality: An episode ends with Munch's clinically depressed uncle coming off his medication to "kill" himself as penance for murdering a suspect while in a mania caused as a side effect of his (different) medication.
Destructive Romance: The show has portrayed many of these over the years. In one episode, Olivia tries in vain to convince a woman to report her husband for Domestic Abuse. Of course, she refuses to betray her beloved like that and eventually ends up dying in Olivia's arms, stabbed to death by her husband.
There's the unfortunate singer who loves her abusive boyfriend even after he beats her face in and killed her producer/father-figure; after she lies for him to the grand jury they go to the Bahamas where he kills her a few days later over the same thing that caused him to beat her the first time years earlier: she asked who was texting him. She was from a dysfunctional family ruled by her mother's boyfriend; her boyfriend's father was a pimp; one person commented they were, unfortunately, "made for each other".
Another episode, based on Chris Brown and Rhianna, has this. [[Spoiler: not-Rhianna ends up dead]].
Dirty Harriet: Olivia does this twice, albeit briefly, in Season 10. She goes undercover as a prostitute in "Wildlife", and a madam in "Hothouse".
Disproportionate Retribution: The episode Juvenile centers around two young teenagers who broke into a woman's apartment, during which the younger one raped and repeatedly stabbed her. Due mainly to the ages of the two perpetrators, the younger assailant, who was the primary actor, is given the relatively light treatment of family court, while the older but less mature boy is tried in adult court, found guilty of felony murder, and is facing a possible life sentence.
Do Not Pass Go: In "Branded", said very seriously by Stabler to a perp when he's finally been caught and is going to jail. It seems completely irrelevant if you weren't paying attention, but the line is a Brick Joke: the first victim was found with game pieces inserted in his rectum, the reason the unit was called in the first place.
BENSON (to Amaro): "A cop who doesn't eat donuts? How can I trust you?"
Double Standard: The treatment of female villains and male victims on the show is vastly different then the treatment of male villains and female victims.
Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: The general belief for the majority of the episode "Ridicule" was that men can't be raped by women. This belief was partially due to the victim Peter Smith being a stripper and male actor. Many people also thought he was lying about being raped because he was a man.
Downer Ending: A significant chunk of the episodes fall under this.
Starting with the events in "Venom", leading up to "Screwed". Everything goes downhill for the cast as their past mistakes come back to bite them. Not to mention the results of those mistakes become the key reason why Darius Parker walks awayscot- free.
Another big example is "Unstable". Basically, a serial rapist was caught, exonerating another man falsely imprisoned for his crime. However, either due to the actions of the Cowboy Cop or the perp escaping, the guy dies and is therefore unable to testify, meaning the wrongfully imprisoned man doesn't get released.
The ending of "Sick", as if the Abusive Parents factor weren't bad enough. The granddaughter has permanent internal damage from the poisoning. The boy who claimed to have been molested by Billy Tripoli recants — but it's likely his parents forced him to in order to keep getting millions in hush money, and they sent the dangerously disturbed kid out of the country. With Billy declared innocent and acquitted, possibly thousands more kids are at risk unless a new victim steps forward, doesn't recant, and hopefully has lots of evidence and support against Billy's legal team, which will use the previous cases as precedent to accuse him/her of lying. Thanks, Grandma.
The end of Smoked. Despite the three men responsible for her mother's death being incarcerated (the rapist, the man the rapist hired to intimidate his victim but went one step further and murdered her, and an ATF agent who gave the murder weapon and then tried to cover it up), her daughter goes into the precinct, and after finding out from Benson who they all are, shoots all three and also several other innocent people for no good reason. What's more is that the murderer survives and eggs her on, saying that he should have killed her as well. She then tries to shoot him again, but Stabler fatally wounds her and she dies moments later. At the end, at least four people are dead (the girl, the rapist and the ATF agent, and the recurring character Sister Peg), while the psychopath who murdered her mother right in front of her survives. Shoot the Shaggy Dog, full stop. Not to mention this leads to Elliot Stabler leaving the force.
The end of "Funny Valentine": While the ads hinted at the abusive boyfriend getting killed what really happened was the abuser killed his girlfriend's producer/father-figure (the "he" in the "he's dead!" in the ads). After she lied to the grand jury and left the country to join him in the Bahamas the only thing the detectives could do was wait for the abusive boyfriend's next move — unfortunately it was to kill her after she dared to ask who was texting him, the very question that marked the beginning of his abuse.
"Surrender Benson": Benson is rescued from psychopath William Lewis before he can rape and kill her, but she has been tortured, forced to watch a rape and two murders, and is completely traumatized.
"American Tragedy": like in the real-life George Zimmerman verdict, Jolene Castille is acquitted of murdering an unarmed teenager.
"October Surprise": ADA Barba's childhood best friend is revealed to have been sexting and soliciting a teenage girl, which tanks his campaign for mayor. Barba's friendship with him is ruined because he was the one to press charges, and the mayoral candidate also threatens to end his political future. A reverend heckles Barba about choosing to prosecute him, which suggests that the citizens of NYC are turning against him, and he's made some enemies pretty high up.
"Dissonant Voices": the music teacher the squad was insisting had molested several boys and girls... isn't. He was set up by two girls he recently dropped from his private lessons. His reputation is ruined and he'll never be able to teach again.
"Rapist Anonymous": the guy Amanda is dating, who is also her Gamblers Anonymous sponsor, reveals that he cheated on her on the witness stand, publicly humiliating her. She ends up relapsing and the episode ends with her playing 21 in a casino.
Dramatic Irony: Olivia frequently expresses her fears that the combination of an alcoholic mother and a rapist father will one day make her into a monster; Elliot reassures her that she's fine, and that it's not all about the genes.. but he's the son of a mentally unstable mother and a physically abusive father, and he's been violent with at least one of his kids, and his daughter has the same mental difficulties as his mother.
Dressing as the Enemy: Undercover gigs are a staple of this show. One episode in particular, "Demons", had Elliot pretending to be a convicted sex offender in order to get close to a rapist who had just been released from prison. Not only does this challenge Elliot with his own issues, but at one point said sex offender orders Elliot to rape a teenage girl while he watches. It's as intense as it sounds.
Driven to Suicide: Often spurred by somebody crossing the Despair Event Horizon; most often a victim who's given up on seeing justice done or a former suspect who couldn't take the team's usual methods of interrogation.
A big one is the mentally ill witness whom Olivia bullies, browbeats and pressures into temporarily modifying his medical routine so he can testify in a specially difficult case. She later finds the dude's lifeless body, as he has hung himself due to both her abusive behavior towards him and the side-effects of said med changes..
One notable example is in "Spectacle" where a girl is taken captive and raped with one of her kidnappers threatening to kill her when confronted unless his demands are followed. Turns out it was all a ruse (with his partner and the victim herself) to get the police to search for his younger brother, after being pushed aside so many times for other events, knowing that they would do soif the life of a young girl was at stake.
Early-Installment Weirdness: The first season was, surprisingly enough, probably the closest the franchise has gotten to outright comedy. Obviously, given the show's subject matter, this resulted in a lot of Mood Whiplash moments (this is very evident in the Pilot). This is in stark contrast to the melodramatic and somber atmosphere associated with the show today.
* Believe it or not, in the early episodes, it was Olivia Benson who was the fly-off-the-handle-violent-temper hothead partner and Elliot Stabler who was the stable, analytical, don't-let-it-get-to-you partner.
Empty Cop Threat: A favorite trope of the entire franchise. Don't expect anyone to be called out on it no matter how much they use it to strong-arm people into talking.
Empty Shell: Missy in "Damaged" is probably as close to this as a (supposed to be) real person can ever be. "You can't kill me. I'm allready dead."
Enfant Terrible: The episode "Born Psychopath" revolves around Henry, a manipulative 10-year old boy who has homicidal tendencies whenever he doesn't get what he wants, to the point where he locks his mother in the laundry room, ties his sister to a bed while nearly lighting his family's apartment on fire, ties a neighbor's kid to a chair in a closet, drowns his neighbor's dog, takes another child hostage inside a playroom, and shoots Amaro in the abdomen. Fortunately, Amaro was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Enhance Button: Used often. Notably deconstructed in Authority guest-starring Robin Williams. He acts as his own defense attorney and questions the techie on the software used to enhance a photograph that showed him leaving a library, which was the key piece of evidence against him. He coaxed the techie into admitting that the software can only make educated guesses based on various factors of the picture itself and can't actually recreate the scene shown the photograph in higher resolutions. Williams's character then presented the original photograph, where his face is too shadowed to be seen. It works and the jury lets him go.
Every Car Is a Pinto: Occurs to hilarious effect in "Bullseye". A suspected pedophile takes off in his car outside of a courtroom and drives into the side of a truck at a relatively low speed. The crowd reacts with shock as the officers sprint towards the crash, and after several seconds have passed, the car explodes in a spectacular fireball complete with several-story high flames. From minor front end damage that barely even crumpled the bodywork.
Evil Counterpart: Robin Williams' character in "Authority". As a freedom-loving, anti-authoritarian anarchist whose "noble" goals are actually a cover for more selfish personal motives, he forms a poetic contrast to the SVU crew, whose fascistic tendencies are born out of a genuine, if perhaps misguided, desire for the greater good of the people.
Evil Twin: The plot of the episode Double Strands. The detectives arrest a suspect for a series of rapes, even tying him via DNA evidence and a distinctive tattoo, but further investigation into the suspect's background leads them to a twin brother that he did not even know about, but knew about him.
Exotic Entree: One episode has a character with an animal smuggling ring, whose members eat several of the animals.
Eye Scream: In the episode "Quickie", a man who is knowingly spreading around HIV is put on trial. One of the women he has infected comes up to him at the end of part of the trial and sprays him in the face with hydrochloric acid-maiming him and blinding him in one eye. Yikes.
Face-Heel Turn: CSU Scrappy Stuckey isn't good at handling insults and criticism... unfortunately he's great at handling the Idiot Ball.
FBI Agent Dana Lewis: first appears as "Star," a white supremacist activist, and then proves herself to be a smart and compassionate federal agent, and then a brave and determined rape victim...and then a murderer.
Failed a Spot Check: It's ridiculously amazing how many suspects ignore the detectives staking them out in a Crown Victoria Police Interceptor mere feet away from them.
Fandom Nod: in 11x13, "P.C.", Kathy Griffin's lesbian character coming onto Liv. The reasons she gives for her mistake are pretty much the same ones fans have been using for their Slash Fic since, oh, the start of the show.
The best part being when Olivia asks, "Why does everyone think I'm a lesbian?"
Females Are More Innocent: Despite the fact that they have meet several bad women the detectives of this show seem to stubbornly believe this especially if the girl is of childbearing age (older women are sometimes considered capable of evil). The worst offender is probably Olivia who has at various times refused to believe that a woman was capable of murder, bent over backwards to prove a vicious female rapist and mutilator was justified in her actions, refused to arrest a girl for filing false charges and killed an even younger girl, and once even argued that rape is less heinous when it was one female against another, namely a teenage girl who'd raped and killed her sister but had been abused herself when she was younger (she was overruled on the last two).
This could be explained, at least partially, by Olivia being new to SVU in the first season. As she gets more used to dealing with victims, she becomes the more rational of the two, especially because in one episode, they mention that Eliot's been in SVU for something like six times longer than the average cop.
Olivia and her half-brother, in as much he (and his girlfriend) foolishly ran away after getting in trouble with Child Protective Services rather than wait for the authorities as Olivia told him, which caused them to be charged with kidnapping.
Amanda Rollins is a straight-edge cop and protective of her sister Kim to a fault. Kim has substance abuse issues and a horrible boyfriend who she sets up to get shot by her sister for insurance money and when it's clear she's going to jail she disappears along with literally everything Amanda owns, from her furniture to her food.
"Friending Emily": Emily, the younger one, is straight-laced and obedient while older sister Taylor is a rebellious party girl. Unfortunately Emily's obedience is very attractive to a kidnapper/rapist.
Fin's son Ken and stepson Darius are an extreme version of this.
Foreshadowing: In "Bedtime", Jaclyn Smith greets Stabler and Benson at the front door of her apartment. Note that she does not seem to let them inside, and yells to 'Pietro' that she's stepping out for a moment. Gee, I wonder what she could be hiding?....Cal Cutler maybe?
Freudian Excuse: Practically every single criminal/victim/witness tries to pull one.
She later returns, the incident having shaken her up enough for her to have gone to AA and actually seem to be putting in an honest effort to stop drinking. (There's a brief "fake-out" moment during the episode where it appears she might have relapsed, but it's just a typical psych-out).
G - H
The Gambling Addict: Rollins, apparently, as of "Home Invasions." She confesses this to Cragen, and is getting help.
Gamer Chick: Harshly deconstructed in one episode. The detectives learn a young girl had been forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs and almost starved to death due to her mother and stepfather being total game addicts. The mother was a hit by a bus six months previously and is now suffering from a head injury which has led her to believe her daughter was replaced by someone else, and the stepfather doesn't care at all. The two of them are more concerned about their kid in a video game.
Genre Blindness: You'd think that the detectives would eventually figure out that the first suspect they nab and harangue in interrogate is almost never the actual culprit, especially if they're also telling them what their motives are and how they did it.
Good Cop/Bad Cop: Has been subverted, averted and played straight at various points through the series. It also Lampshaded on multiple occasions (usually by Genre Savvy suspects). Justified, because cops actually do use this technique in real life, though less blatantly.
Gory Discretion Shot: When investigators find a woman's chopped-off and buried breasts the camera pans up as the box is opened, so all we see is the disgusted reaction of the investigator.
Also, an episode that opened with two guys finding a drowned baby in a cooler.
Happens to Fin in an episode where he finds a child's remains in a garbage bag in a dumpster. The viewer only sees Fin recoil in shock and dry-heave before confirming the presence of the body over his radio.
And in an episode where a young psychopath has drowned his neighbor's dog.
Groin Attack: In the Season 11 episode "Hardwired", Elliot gets kicked in the groin by a grade school kid. Fortunately, he recovers and quips, "I know why they're called special victims."
Gray and Grey Morality: Utilized to the hilt in the episode "Doubt", which highlighted the main reasons as to why so many rape cases boil down to "He Said, She Said". The woman claimed her ex-boyfriend (and former Professor) had raped her, while he claimed that it was consensual. Complicating this is the victim's claim that Stabler had sexually assaulted her while escorting her home (he caught her when she'd stumbled), and one of her other ex-boyfriends stating that she was into rough sex, up to and including choking. The episode ends with "We, the jury, find the defendant...", Fade to Black, leaving viewers to form their own opinions.
Guilt Complex: "Mask" introduces Captain Jackson, a psychiatrist who is looking for a way to cure sexual addiction. This came about from an unfortunate summer where he believes he may had raped his lesbian daughter, prompting the two to become estranged, but can't remember due to his own struggles with sex and alcohol addiction at the time. As it turned out, he actually had consensual sex with his daughter's best friend. The estrangement was because his daughter was pissed that he slept with her first love.
Heteronormative Crusader: SVU often play with this trope, with detectives reminding themselves and each other that bruises aren't necessarily caused by abuse, they could also be caused by BDSM. In some episodes, the trope is played completely straight.
In one episode, a homosexual suspect named Lincoln Haver gets his football career destroyed because he was surrounded by Normative Sex Haters and Olivia accidentally outed him although it turns out Olivia's accidental reveal of the suspect's orientation wasn't the problem; the person who outed Haver was the real murderer, the manager of the football team, who had caught Haver kissing his boyfriend a while before. And Haver's career ended up ruined partly because the investigation revealed he had permanent brain damage as a result of the many concussions he suffered on the field.
In one episode, a shoe fetishist kills a woman for her boots. Dr. Huang insists that fetishism is a harmless sexual variation, and a very tragic story is gradually revealed. It turns out that the murderer's mother hated her son for being sexually "abnormal". She tried to "cure" his fetishism by beating him in the head with frying pans and other hard objects, and eventually this abuse caused him permanent brain damage that made him unstable enough to kill a woman by mistake.
Holier Than Thou: See Strawman Has a Point. The detectives can be extremely judgmental and close-minded on sexuality, to the point that even perfectly normal fetishes are demonized, and any other branch of law enforcement that has their hands in their case just complicates matters and has no regard for justice. For example:
"Clock" features a woman who was very young looking to the point she looked underage, and her boyfriend was a convicted pedophile. The detectives were disgusted with this relationship, feeling it was unhealthy and that his only interest in her was due to her looking like a child—however nothing illegal was being done and her appearance aside they were in a perfectly normal relationship.
As for the Jurisdiction Friction, the detectives often jeopardize investigations being conducted by other departments to further their own, even when the other department's investigation is far more important. Many times their suspects are agents working for the FBI or some other higher branch of authority, and the detectives refuse to back off and often force the other agency to include them. This rarely, if ever, goes well.
At the same time, when another branch of New York police are assigned to help SVU with their current case, the squad's first instinct is to box them out and handle it themselves.
In "Crush", the DA forces detective Benson to arrest a teenage girl on child porn charges (for "sexting" pictures of herself) in an effort to coerce her into testifying against an attacker. When she does so, the DA attempts to drop the charges, but the judge overrules her and sentences the girl to several years in prison. While the end of the episode reveals that the judge was corrupt, this has two problems. First, the arrest was an obvious case of Malicious Prosecution, which is a felony, and was one of the few cases (it's a notoriously difficult charge to prove in most jurisdictions) in which it would be an open and shut case. Second, even in juvenile court, the judge has no power to do any of that.
SVU has far more. Best one is evidence getting tossed because the man was part of a conspiracy with a lawyer and a thug and knew where the body was. Attorney-client privilege was used to toss it. Privilege doesn't work like that, especially if its a conspiracy a lawyer is involved with, and even more so if a third person who's not a spouse was privy to it as well.
In "Popular", a nurse cites doctor-patient privilege in refusing to talk with Detective Stabler when she treats a middle school girl who claims her teacher raped her. Captain Cragen, Stabler's wife and even the victim herself give Stabler grief for bothering to do his damn job and investigate the rape; even Stabler treats the whole thing like he's breaking procedure because the privilege is so sacrosanct. Doctor-patient privilege does not cover evidence of a crime: when a medical professional comes across evidence of things such as child abuse, they are required by law to report it to the authorities. A clear-cut admission from their patient would leave them with no wiggle room whatsoever for neglecting their duty in this case.
In "Manipulated", the detectives use a facial recognition program to compare a picture taken on the street to the DMV records for driver's licenses. The judge later throws this out, claiming that the technology was too inconclusive and all the subsequent evidence was tainted. A person has no privacy expectation in a picture taken on a public street or their driver's license photo, so comparing them to each other cannot possibly be a violation of the 4th Amendment. Without a violation, the tree isn't "poisoned" and the remaining evidence is acceptable. What's more, the unreliability of the technology bears upon its admissibility at trial, but they don't need the computer match at trial-once the computer found the picture, the detectives confirmed it by the eyeball test and the suspect's admission. Even further, they already knew of the suspect because he was the husband of the victim's boss and they had an easy argument for inevitable discovery (they would have recognized him from the photo given time).
In "Presumed Guilty", even after it was revealed that Fin's ex-brother-in-law had been stopping the attack against Fr. Shea, he is still labeled a vigilante, and the Obstructive Bureaucrat DA says he had no business assaulting someone while on parole, but should have just called 9-1-1. In Real Life, the law recognizes the difference between vigilantism, which is illegal, and defense of a third party, which is not. If you see a crime, such as a burglary or vandalism in progress, and you assault the criminal, or you assault a criminal after a crime has been committed, that is vigilantism. If, however, you see someone being assaulted, you are well within your rights to intervene, even if you literally have to fight off the assailants. (N.B. In some jurisdictions, you had better make sure the person you are helping is actually the victim.)
In "Her Negotiation", the judge declares a mistrial after it turns out the physical evidence may have been contaminated. This isn't grounds for a mistrial in real life. The defense can present it to the jury and encourage them to ignore that evidence, but the judge wouldn't declare a mistrial, especially if it was only possible, not certain, that the evidence was contaminated.
In "Psycho/Therapist", William Lewis, who is defending himself and called Olivia as his witness, asks to treat Benson as a hostile witness. In real life, this means asking a witness leading questions; in the SV Universe, this apparently means being allowed to scream at a victim while quite literally foaming at the mouth. Made especially painful by the fact that Barba had been objecting almost constantly before this, but stayed silent the entire time Lewis was screaming at her, up until the end, when he feebly protests that Lewis has crossed the line.
I Ate What?: Elliot's priceless reaction to being told he is about to put a bite of tiger meat into his mouth.
Also an underscored point of the episode "Beef."
I Have This Friend: In "Persona," an older woman tells a young battered wife that she had a friend who was abused by her husband and never told anyone. It was her, of course, and she killed the guy in 1974 and got away with it for thirty-odd years, until the detectives put it together.
I'm a Man, I Can't Help It: The detectives generally act as if this trope is a universal truth that's written in stone and handed down by God itself. More than one of their "early-in-the-episode red herring suspects" are only suspects because they said something along the lines of "Yes, believe it or not I actually turned down a chance to have sex when such a chance became available to me", and the detectives react with a "Pshh... right... sure you did, you lying bastard."
In the Blood: The tragic and criminal pasts of several cast members and guest stars.
Incest Is Relative: At least three times; one resulted in a child two, actually, but it was unreported.
Brought Up to Eleven with season 12 where practically every other episode deals with incest in some sort of context.
Insurance Fraud: Rollins's sister Kim sets up her abusive boyfriend to be killed so she can collect his life insurance... that she secretly put on him... and forged her sister's name to (she was gonna share!). When Kim learns that she won't get the money since her boyfriend was killed while committing a felony (Rollins thought Kim was being raped) she changes her story so it looks like Rollins shot him in cold blood. Fortunately for Rollins it becomes clear that the scheme has collapsed so Kim settles for skipping town with all of Rollins' possessions.
Ironic Death: Sister Peg dealt with mentally unstable homeless people, vicious pimps, and drug addicts on a daily basis, not to mention the various attempts on her life, and the person who (accidentally) kills her? A random teenage girl who was aiming at someone else. Then again, Sister Peg risking her life and heroically sacrificing herself is very appropriate.
Not even the judges are are immune to this trope, as in "Persona" Judge Donnelly temporarily steps down in order to prosecute a woman (whose case she had previously worked) who escaped conviction for murdering her husband for years, all because she inadvertently made her a laughingstock in front of the boys.
The episode "Blinded" has a double dose of this trope: the episode features a child rapist named Saul Picard who was suffering from schizophrenia and badly injured Elliot while suffering a psychotic break, rendering him temporarily blind. Casey ends up botching the ensuing court case to get him rendered incompetent to stand trial (even though he wanted to be extradited to Mississippi, where child rape is punishable by death) and sent to a psychiatric facility, due to her experience with a mentally ill boyfriend some years back that she thought she could help him and Picard. Olivia is quite pissed as a result and rats her out to Jack McCoy because she, personally, wanted to see Picard convicted and executed as revenge for Elliot.
Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: At times, Elliot, Fin or Olivia beat up suspects and culprits alike, or emotionally blackmailing both witnesses and victims, driving at least one of them to suicide. It's all in the name of justice!
Dr. Huang: "What are you gonna do next, bash in people's skulls to make them talk?"
Just A Flesh Wound: Without fail, every bullet taken by one of the main characters will "narrowly miss" a lung or major artery, and they can be expected to make a "full recovery", though occasionally the injury will carry over into the next few episodes.
Briefly subverted when everyone thinks Alex Cabot died from a bullet to the shoulder.
See also M.E. Warner's A Day in the Limelight episode, "Blast", where she shoots a perp in the leg, intending to cause nonfatal damage. Justified for two reasons: She's a medical doctor, and therefore would know where to aim to avoid a mortal injury; and, more importantly, the perp was holding up a bank with an entire squadron of police cars waiting outside, and he had just fired at them, and was seconds away from committing suicide by cop.
When Munch was Shot in the Ass, his partner several seasons later claims that he still sits on a doughnut.
Just One Little Mistake: Susan Delzio in Bedtime. It turns out the man everybody thought dead was actually alive, hidden away by Susan.
Ultimate Job Security: Over the show's 11 seasons, the SVU detectives have gotten at least a couple dozen innocent people killed, either through insane violation of common sense (putting a (wrongly) accused sex offender in the same cell as a biker gang, allowing a blatantly unstable victim to interact with an accused suspect without first searching her for a weapon) or railroading a (incorrect) suspect combined with suggestively leading a traumatized victim or family member to the mindset where they're ready to commit a vigilante execution. They've suffered no consequences for any of these incidents, and even Internal Affairs never brings it up even when they're butting heads with the team. You'd think that after so many deaths somebody would file a civil suit, or at least the media would pick up on the pattern and jump all over it.
Kayfabe Music: The show used this twice. Two big scary musicians, suspected of horrible crimes.
One is a black "gangster" rapper suspected of rape/murder on a white woman. However, he is actually quite naive and has no experience of real crime, his gangster persona being nothing more than a kayfabe persona. The woman was one of his friends, and he ends up getting killed by a real gangster (who just happens to be white) as he's trying to help the detectives catch the real villain.
The other is a "vampire" who is afraid of getting HIV from real blood.
Kicked Upstairs: Detective John Munch, after over a decade between Homicide and this series, is finally promoted to Sergeant, due to his taking the exam (which he claims was because of a bar bet). In practice, though, this is mostly just an excuse for keeping him away from the action and offscreen.
The Killer Becomes the Killed: "Chameleon" begins with the team going after a sexually motivated spree killer, who ends up being killed by a serial killing prostitute.
In the episode "Beef", Olivia was able to deduce that the foreman that they had a ton of evidence against including his DNA and a confession was innocent because he was left handed and his Corrupt Corporate Executive boss/mother was the real killer (not to mention a serious case of Nice Character, Mean Actor.
Subverted in the first episode, when a character tries to hide her left-handedness by using her right hand.
Last of its Kind The only remaining first-run series in a franchise that once roamed the NBC schedule like buffalo.
Left Hanging: The season eleven episode "Savior" did this. A young prostitute goes into premature labor and her baby is put on life support. The mother then runs away, giving power of attorney to Olivia, effectively giving Olivia the choice of whether the baby lives or dies. The episode ends with the baby needing immediate brain surgery and the doctors hammering Olivia for a decision that she never gives. This turns into a case of What Happened to the Mouse?, as neither the baby nor the mother are ever seen or heard from again.
Legal Jailbait: An episode involves a 17 year old girl with the body of a 10 year old going out with an older man. The officers try to bust the man, but the girl was legal and consenting.
Less Embarrassing Term: Inverted in one episode when they caught a suspect by exploiting his love of doll collecting. Fin tried to build rapport with the guy by admitting that as a child he had played with dolls, too, such as G.I. Joe. The guy corrected him that those were not dolls, they were action figures.
During the first half of the 2011 season, the episode "Missing Pieces" in which a mother claims that her car was stolen with her young son still buckled into his car seat bore more than a passing resemblance to the still-unfolding Sky Metalwala case.
"Personal Fouls" which revolves around a well-respected coach who uses a children's charity to molest young boys originally aired a few weeks before the Penn State molestation story broke. However, according to The Other Wiki, this one was actually based on a different sports abuse case.
In the episode Imprisoned lives, based on Ariel Castro but written before he was convicted, a scene with not-Castro allocuting about why he took the girls had to be cut when it ended up matching Castro's almost word for word.
Like Goes With Like: The episode Snitch has an African man married to a couple of African women and a white one. In the end of the episode it's just him and his black wife.
Limited Wardrobe: Usually averted, like most live TV shows, but weirdly played straight with Fin's son, Ken, who has worn the same grey T-shirt/tan jacket combination in all of the five episodes he appeared in for at least one scene.
Littlest Cancer Patient: "Sick" plays with this: the child is sick, but not from the leukemia she thinks she has — her grandmother is just making her ill to bilk charities.
Living Lie Detector: Martin Short as a serial killer, who uses his skills to pretend to be a psychic and play games with his victims' families.
Incidentally, the system he supposedly uses is real. It was developed by the guy who inspired Lie to Me.
Love Makes You Crazy and Evil and Stupid: Most recent example of all three being the swinger who fell in love with a con-artist (which caused his wife to stab him into a coma), paid her bail after she was arrested, and when the detectives revealed that the only person she really loved was her brother (yes, like that), killed her brother so she would have to be with him. One can only imagine what his teenage daughter thinks of all this.
'Nother one: FBI Agent Dana Lewis murdered her ex-boyfriend's fiancee in a fit of rage after she learned the other woman was pregnant (when she told him she was pregnant he made her get an abortion and a few months later dumped her and told her he was getting married) and pinned the crime on a serial rapist/murderer she was hunting. 20-something years later the rapist/murderer is caught and, wouldn't you know, isn't really keen on confessing to the one crime he didn't commit, especially since he hates redheads, he used his NBA connection to lure women (the victim didn't care for sports), and he hunted in bars (when he learned his "last victim" was pregnant he wondered why a pregnant woman, especially a kindergarten teacher, would be anywhere near a bar).
Lucky Bastard: William Lewis, the villain of Season 14's finale and part of Season 15, is this. Almost his entire criminal career hinges on this (that and a large number of Batman Gambits). He's got shades of Magnificent Bastard to him, but he seems to rely more on the fact that everything (usually) seems to go wrong for the police and the DA while they're after him. For example, in the Season 14 finale and Season 15 premiere, he refuses to take a plea for indecent exposure and the charges end up dropped when the witnesses go back to their home country. He then tortures and rapes an old woman, but before she can testify against him, she dies. What little evidence they have turns out to possibly be contaminated by the lab tech, which results in a mistrial. He then somehow finds Olivia's address, catches her when no one expects to hear from her for two days, breaks in without leaving any signs of a break-in, catches a seasoned detective off-guard and causes her to freeze instead of reaching for her gun like she had every other time someone broke into her home, manages to subdue her and drag her down the fire escape without anyone noticing, and doesn't get caught for days. It borders on Contrived Coincidence.
There's a few episodes that deal with "repressed memory" therapists and the problems they cause, since "repressed memories" are usually false.
The cast does it too, though. There are numerous incidents where a "victim" doesn't think she was victimized, and she is portrayed as being in denial. Which is possible, although in some cases it seems more like they legitimately weren't traumatized by whatever "should" have traumatized them.
On one occasion, the victim couldn't remember the rape since she'd been drugged (the squad only knows because the rapist recorded it) and makes the argument to Liv that she is trying to make her feel victimized while Liv maintains that the woman has to deal with the trauma, even if she can't remember.
Magical Queer: Fin's son, Ken, seems to be becoming a fairly realistic version of this trope; as he is a Twofer Token Minority, he could double as a Magical Negro as well, although most of his plotlines have more to do with being gay than black. In every episode he's appeared in, he's volunteering with some new group or helping a friend in danger. Naturally, his help never really works, but he's still a decent, helpful gay guy whose boyfriend has never been seen on camera. He finally appears as Ken's fiancee and is promptly beaten into a coma.
Mauve Shirt: This show is even better than the original at maintaining a large recurring cast. In addition to the billed cast (of whom both Dr. Huang and Dr. Warner were promoted to the opening titles; before that, they too were examples of this trope), we have the CSU techie(s), the TARU techie, about a half-dozen judges, about a half-dozen defense attorneys, Stabler's family, Fin's ex-wife and son, the recurring IAB guy... the list is endless. In some episodes, the only non-recurring characters to appear in more than one scene are the victim and the perp.
And yes, at least one of these Mauve Shirts was conspicuously killed off. It was the CSU techie(s). Plenty of others have had their share of close calls, too.
Fin's son goes by the name Ken Randall, but his actual name is Kwasi Tutuola. Kwasi is meant to sound like the stem quasi, which means "having some resemblance." He has a rather strained relationship with Fin...
Mighty Whitey: Stabler in the Chinatown-centric episode "Debt," especially since the actual Asian-American member of the main cast (Huang) gets shoved aside.
Justified since they were sending the young Asian woman into a potentially dangerous situation and wanted someone there who could handle himself if necessary. If you might get attacked at any moment, would you want Stabler or Huang at your side?
And this was kind of lampshaded with the exchange "What, you assume I speak Chinese?" "No, I heard you order take-out once."
More than one interrogation session feels a lot like this. A good example is Olivia and Dr. Hendrix browbeating and pressuring a stressed and terrified little girl into revealing who raped her, to the point that she falsely accuses her coach to just. have. them. stop. . Another is when Olivia bullies, browbeats and pressures a mentally-ill witness into temporarily modifying his medical routine so he can testify in a specially difficult case... ahe later finds the dude's lifeless body, as he has hung himself due to both her abusive behavior towards him and the side-effects of said med changes.. Truth in Television, as police interrogations really can seem like Mind Rape in Real Life and very often do lead to false accusations and/or confessions.
Mistaken for Gay: Fin, Munch (as well as Fin and Lake) are sometimes assumed to be a couple when they interview potential witnesses without flashing their badges at people, and they usually just roll with said assumption.
Mood Whiplash: the commercial break cliffhangers have a tendency to lead into upbeat, family-friendly commercials, often with loads of Unfortunate Implications due to the perverted subject matter of the show.
Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: "Harm" deals with a doctor who works with private military contractors to oversee their use of "enhanced interrogation methods" (a fancy way of saying "torture").
Barba: I'm already on my fourth cup. (Note that this scene takes place early in the morning, and throughout the day he is seen drinking at least two more cups.)
And in another episode:
Rollins: (After Barba talks fast enough that the detectives can't get a word in edgewise) You ever think about going off caffeine?
Barba: That would be a no. So, why are we here?
Mutual Envy: In October Surprise, Muñoz and Barba have this. Muñoz envies Barba for getting out of their barrio and getting an Ivy League scholarship, while Barba envies him because his mom said Muñoz would be mayor of New York one day, but never said that about him, and because Muñoz ended up married to the girl Barba loved (and still loves).
My Card: Olivia was actually once framed by a guy who killed somebody and left Olivia's card on the body... as well as her DNA on the knife.
The episode Wannabe has a rookie officer make mistakes while apprehending a rapist that get the case thrown out. The "officer" turns out to be a teenager with a stolen uniform.
Naughty Birdwatching: The cold open for one season 6 episode involves some scouts stargazing on a roof, and a couple of them use the opportunity for "peeping at other heavenly bodies". Naturally, they quickly spot a corpse too.
Never My Fault: Oh poor little Annette Cole. If you had not been such a bitch to your employees in the wine business...this could have all been avoided. But you just had to kill yourself...didn't you?
"Wrath" has an innocent man Olivia had arrested and provided the key testimony against (she had been acting in good faith and following procedure) goes around killing her other "victims" (the family members of victims she was unable to help and the like), obsessed with making her believe it was all her fault.
IIRC, at the end the other detectives tell her to just ignore the guy and that he was completely off base by blaming her, but she DOES accept that she contributed to these deaths through her actions, while still seeming clear that she knows it wasn't her FAULT.
The episode, "Rescue," is also pretty bad in this case to the point that the constant exclamations that Olivia making everything worse manages to ring true to the viewer. Stabler calls out Benson for not wanting to find Calvin's mother, a rape victim in the case, for fear of losing custody of Calvin. Benson finds Vivian, the mother, high on drugs and arrests her anyway after Cragen told Benson and Stabler to not get involved. They also get a confession before Cragen calls them both out for their disobeying him. Vivian admits to trying to protect her best friend, Sarah, after Sarah comes in and confesses she is really the killer. Sarah and Vivian indeed make bail, only for Sarah to get shot in the head in the garage. Finally the ex-boyfriend of Vivian gets arrested for the murder and Vivian court orders Benson to give up legal guardianship to her ex-husband's grandparents in Vermont while she goes into rehab, the whole time Benson trying to defy the court order and proclaim that Vivian's an unfit mother and basically shouldn't get her son back. So a quick recap: Vivian is high on drugs. She sees her best friend get murdered, her ex-boyfriend get arrested for the murder, Olivia accuse her of being an unfit mother after she put Calvin in Olivia's care because Vivian knew she couldn't raise Calvin, and finally is going to rehab while poor Calvin gets shuttled off to Vermont, an innocent victim whom Olivia has now lost custody of. Nice job, Olivia.
In the episode "Anchor", ADA Cabot was questioning, in court, the Bill O'Reilly Expy the defendant claimed had brainwashed him into killing illegal aliens. After obtaining the witness' testimony that he would never incite violence, Cabot then proceeds to bait him for absolutely no reason at all. The witness then proceeds to demand that his followers stop Cabot, inciting a riot in the courtroom, proving the defendant's case, and costing Cabot what would otherwise have been a slam dunk conviction. She is never called on this.
That wasn't an accidental case of this, though - she pretty obviously thought there were bigger fish to fry. In her mind, it was akin to letting a low-level thug off the hook in order to bring down the Don.
And the time that Cragen found a child that had been missing for years in a case that had always grated him. Turns out said kid was in a perfectly loving foster family only to be taken away from them once his biological father is discovered.
No Bisexuals: In one episode, a serial rapist of women is found to be living with another man as a gay couple. The cops all decide that he must just be using the rapes as a power-trip, not for the sex. At least they averted Depraved Bisexual... (this time)
Another episode is far, far more painful than this one and is all about a group of black men who have sex with each other on the side behind their wives' back. Despite that premise, not once is the idea of bisexuality brought up, even in passing, and any mention of the possibility of sex with men leads to the cast (particularly Elliot) to downright state that only gays are capable of it. This episode was based on the real life phenomenon of being "on the down low" in the African-American community, and people on the down-low likewise rarely admit to being anything but 100% straight.
11x13, "P.C.", finally averted the trope. It wasn't handled too well. More specifically, a very militant lesbian activist (she only cares about lesbian rights) came out as bi to save her boyfriend from being crucified as the perp of the week. When she announces it, most of the lesbians at the meeting act like she betrayed them. While there are both gay and straight people who, unfortunately, believe wholeheartedly in this trope, they're generally not so...melodramatic.
They're still doing this in season 14, somehow—in the episode "Criminal Hatred," the detectives go after a man who picks up and then attacks closeted gay men. Once the perp is found, they dismiss his claims of prostituting himself to women as utterly impossible because he himself is gay and attempt an unorthodox gay-on-gay hate crime charge, never once considering that the dude could be bi. Raul Esparza, who plays ADA Barba, has talked openly about his personal struggles with his gray-area sexuality, and yet none of the characters seem to think of it.
A witness suffers from Fatal Familial Insomnia, which makes him appear crazy (the victim's blood on his clothes doesn't help). Dr. Huang looks really guilty when the guy perks up and asks if he'll get better.
Odd Friendship: Olivia and a defense attorney (she's pointed several clients including her half-brother his way). Their friendship is especially odd since they first met when he decimates a rape case and gets the defendant acquitted even though the audience saw him do it. It's also rather inconvenient since they both do everything they can for justice, and in the attorney's case that includes threatening to reveal Olivia's romantic relationship with the ADA.
Off on a Technicality: Going this route is a bad idea, since the show adores some Vigilante Justice. (It generally means you've traded jail time for being shot in the head shortly after leaving the police station.)
Played straight at a number of points in an episode with MS patients.
Older than They Look: Invoked in "Pretend," which involves a 16-year-old high school student who turns out to be a 28-year-old woman who's been posing as a teen for ten years in order to scam the foster-care system.
Old Man Marrying A Child: This show has an episode about this. The marriage is not legally binding, but it's treated as a real marriage by the cultists.
Online Alias: One season 11 episode has a woman who goes by "Master Bater" online (she obscures her face and distorts her voice when she films her videos).
October Surprise, based on Anthony Weiner's adventures as Carlos Danger, gives us Enrique Trouble.
Only Sane Man: Criminal profiler and FBI Special Agent Dr. George Huang often fills this role pointing out things like sexuality is complicated and a person can be attracted to both men and women in "Lowdown" while every one else believes that there are No Bisexuals. Or pointing out in "Clock" that sleeping with some one of legal age that is Older than They Look is not a crime. Unfortunately they usually do not listen to his (professional and usually well-informed) opinion.
John Munch is occasionally this. When he actually has lines.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Irish actor Stephen Rea, known for playing Inspector Finch in V for Vendetta, guest stars in the episode "Solitary", and once in a while you'll hear a touch of UK in his speech. Listen to the way he says "years" when he's testifying about being in solitary confinement.
RDK: Why detective, is that your phone vibrating or do you just find me terribly exciting?
Out of Focus: Munch. By the time he retired, he was barely appearing enough for it to be noticeable or meaningful.
Out of Order: The second episode of season 2 featuring Monique Jeffries occurs late in the season yet is obviously meant to have been much earlier on. Hints include Fin wearing the same outfit as when first introduced as well as actually mentioning Fin's first name. The other episode featuring Jeffries involved her resigning from the force and Fin taking her place.
Overprotective Dad: Elliot. It was so exaggerated that Kathy actually kicked him out of home for more than a while.
Papa Wolf: Between Elliot and Fin... A special mention has to be given to "Venom", when they go head-to-head. Fin gets angry when Elliot interrogates his son, and responds by bringing up Kathleen's drunk driving. The two of them need to be pulled off of each other.
Parent of a Thousand Young: An Octomom-expy and a Dugger/Goselin couple who were vying for a reality TV deal if I recall correctly the henpecked husband killed his wife because a widower raising a bunch of adopted special-needs children trumped a single mother raising a bunch of apparently normal kids.
A "reproductive abuser" who fathered 46 children, twenty in New York alone and compared himself to Monteczuma and other harem keepers his 47th child was killed when his mother committed murder-suicide after he refused to become more involved than a check once a month. He met his end after the psychologist who identified him as an abuser decided to become a vigilante woman (again - she'd previously beaten a child rapist to death with a bat); she "just" wanted to cut off his penis but accidentally blew him up because the knife was filled with compressed air.
Pedophile Priest: There was an episode about this, of course. The priest himself was a far more sympathetic character than you might expect, and had a valid Freudian Excuse: he himself was molested by the bishop as a kid. In the episode's final scene, he redeems himself by agreeing to testify against the bishop.
Perp Walk: You can almost guess what comes next based on how many minutes into the show a suspect is being led away in cuffs.
Poe's Law: "Raw" has Stabler and Munch trace a murder weapon to a gun shop that turns out to also be the base for a white supremacist group. Of the three workers/members seen during their visit, the most obviously racist of the group turns out to actually be an undercover FBI agent.
Positive Discrimination: It's a pretty safe bet the criminal is a man. Granted, that isn't a departure from reality, but if there is a female suspect, it will turn out that a man actually did it, or pushed her to do it.
Of course, there are plenty of times where a female 'victim' turns out to be the perp, or at least in collaboration. This show loves its melodramatic plot twists.
Prison Rape: The detectives' favorite threat comes back to bite the SVU in the ass at least twice: The first time was when a pair of serial rapists was attacking men in Central Park while Olivia was distracted by her new-found half-brother Simon they got them to confess by threatening to reveal what happened to them in prison in a presidential investigation; the second was when a perp was raped in prison after Olivia threatened him with it, and deduced that Olivia had sent the man to rape him. Didn't stop Cabot from using the threat a week later.
Nearly happens to Olivia in "Undercover", at the hands of a rapist prison ward. Fin shows up to help in the nick of time.
Also happens in an episode featuring a pre-op male-to-female transgendered person, after she loses a fight to be housed in a women's prison and then retracts the deal she previously made with the ADA only to be convicted and sent back to the men's prison anyway.
Another notable one was the guy at the hotel party in Taken. As usual, when there's one guy who's just gotta be the perp, he turns out not to be. To add the final Butt Monkey touch, he ends up prison-raped to death in Rikers before he can be released.
Promotion to Parent: Sort of: A newly-ex-prostitute gives Olivia power of attorney over her very premature, very ill infant daughter while she (the ex-prostitute) gets her life to a point where she can be a good mother (at least, that's what she said). Earlier, Olivia tells Elliot that she would rather stop caring for the infant because there's no chance she'll have a normal, healthy life (Elliot disagrees and accuses her of coming to that decision because she's not a parent); the episode has a No Ending when the baby needs emergency surgery, and Liv is forced to decide whether to allow an operation which could leave the kid brain-damaged or let her die, and since the baby hasn't been mentioned since...
Word of God says (on Twitter) that the baby died. Uh...good to know.
Happens again to Olivia, who is now legal guardian to her not-half-sister's teenage son after she killed her mother's rapist/biological father and fled. The boy was happily living with Olivia (who was dragging her feet trying to find his bio-dad) until not-sister, now high as a kite and living with her enabling drug-addict girlfriend, returned for custody. (here's where things get a bit fuzzy) Not-sister was arrested but then her girlfriend revealed that she killed the rapist, and then the kid's bio-dad, who was desperately looking for his son and had had a room ready for years, killed his ex-wife's girlfriend because he blamed her for getting his wife addicted to drugs. So not-sister's in prison, bio-dad's in prison, and the boy is with bio-dad's parents.
Psycho Lesbian: When a lesbian is murdered, the unit believes that a rapist who targets lesbians may be responsible. It turns out that her girlfriend had serious anger issues and a history of abusing her partners. Somewhat of a subversion (?) the girlfriend had indeed been abusive, but she was in therapy, and the culprit was a male rapist targeting lesbians.
She herself has also been a victim of attempted rape twice. The first time, she was saved by Fin; the second time, she saved herself.
New detective Rollins was either raped or assaulted, possibly by someone in her own unit.
Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: The monologue at the beginning of each episodes states that sexually based offences are considered especially heinous.
Reactionary Fantasy: A favorite of the whole franchise, but taken to new levels considering this show focuses around sexual crimes. What would the horror of kidnapping a teenage girl be without a lurid recounting of the bondage and sexual perversions she suffered?
Olivia launched a classic one to the leader of the teen pregnancy pact in "Babes." Flaunting pregnancy (as a teenager) is one thing, but bringing up Liv's biological clock is just asking for it.
Red Herring: Generally the first suspect that gets brought in, though occasionally subverted.
Usually you can tell when it looks like they've got their man and there's 40 minutes of show left.
Double red herring in S03/Ep06 "Redemption"
Redshirt Army: The competence of the ordinary police officers inversely correlates with how dramatic the scene they are in is. Hostage situations, the Monster of the Week making an escape attempt, a gunman attacks the courthouse, will all see any rank-and-file policemen quickly neutralized to heighten the drama.
Refuge in Audacity: In "Flight", the billionaire child molester who accused a twelve-year-old girl of rape surely qualifies. He's shocked that the detectives don't appear to take his case seriously.
Replacement Goldfish: In the episode "Locum", a couple is revealed to have adopted a orphan girl simply because she looked almost identical to the biological daughter who was abducted and possibly killed ten years before. To make the newly adopted kid look as much like their lost child the parents (but mostly the mother) forced the 8-12 year old to wear the girl's clothes (she was originally a tomboy), straighten and dye her hair, and even get a nose job and a RFID chip implanted in her so her parents can find her if she gets lost. The kicker? The biological daughter is found by the police alive and at the end of the episode, is returned to her parents as the replacement daughter watches on.
The Resenter: "Theatre Tricks" (which might be an homage to Perfect Blue and by extension Black Swan) had a very resentful plain, chubby wannabe actress who was so jealous of her naive, pretty friend that she set her up to be raped by a judge and pinned it on her director because the pretty girl stole the plain one's part just by showing up, while the plain girl had to prostitute herself in order to be considered and wanted her friend to "suffer for once in her life". The detectives found it ironic that, out of all the exploitative men in the pretty girl's life (she had a stalker plus a sleazy director), the one who actually hurt her was a woman who acted like her friend.
Similarly, FBI Agent Dana Lewis killed her boyfriend's fiancee: a pretty schoolteacher who wasn't Married to the Job and when she revealed she was pregnant her boyfriend asked her to marry him instead of forcing her to get an abortion and then dumping her months later. The last thing Dana remembers before she realized she was cleaning the scene of the murder was "this girl's never suffered in her life".
James Van Der Beek's character goes the extra mile to get revenge on the (admittedly insufferable) med school classmate who ruined his life by stealing his identity and using "genetic attraction" to seduce his rival's three teenage sperm donor daughters (getting one pregnant) and the guy's "legitimate" daughter. When he's arrested he tells the wife (also his ex-girlfriend) that her daughter is dead — she isn't, but she's now convinced her "lover" is her real father.
A major example of this is in "Blinded" where Olivia deliberately informs the feds of a perp's location, knowing that he would be sent back to Louisiana to be executed. All to get revenge for him headbutting Elliot into a car window, which caused him to go blind (He got better). And after Casey calls her out on it, she informs the DA that she threw the case (Which she did, but that's another issue).
Twisted up in the episode where Terrence Howard's DA from Law & Order: LAappears to defend his cousin, who raped a woman who turned out to be the granddaughter of one of three men who raped his mother when he was a child and made him watch (and called her a whore to escape justice on top of it). Except he didn't — he couldn't bring himself to do it and she only said that because grandpa told her no one would believe she was "just" assaulted and "black men always rape". The DA's cousin still gets a measure of revenge because the granddaughter A) is going to jail because of the false accusations and B) now utterly despises her grandfather.
Revisiting The Roots: The series was forced by Christopher Meloni's departure to go back to a more rounded set of characters instead of being the Stabler & Benson Show. But as of Season 15, they seem to have stopped and are instead just making it The Benson Show.
Rich Bitch: Holy hell, the grandmother (who's May Parker!) in the Mushroom Samba episode "Wet", who sees her granddaughter as weak for becoming a drug addict and needing silly things like therapy and emotional support. Later, she visits her granddaughter after a suicide attempt just to take back her necklace and disown her the granddaughter did kill someone (who grandma saw as more of a granddaughter than her own) but even the detectives can see how grandma drove her to it.
Ripped from the Headlines: Soooo many. To the point where an SVU marathon on the USA channel was called the "Ripped from the headlines SVU marathon".
Romanticized Abuse: The show sometimes go for having their cake and eat it too, denouncing the horrors of sexual abuse by displaying it in almost pornographic details.
One episode, named "Slaves", revels in the details on how a young Romanian woman has been imprisoned, brainwashed and used as sex toy by an American couple. Lots of neatly presented details about the horrors she endured makes for a strange mix of Fetish Fuel and Nausea Fuel. Surprisingly, the detectives let the wife off the hook in exchange for selling out her husband, in spite of the fact that she murdered the girl's aunt without even informing her husband about it afterwards, though one could argue that there was some heavy implication that the wife was also the subject of abuse and brainwashing.
Another episode, named "Spectacle", runs on the principle that no one can resist watching a good rape. The episode starts with a video broadcast of a woman getting raped by a masked man popping up on the intranet of a university campus. It turns out that the guy who had the woman kidnapped and raped lost his little brother a long time ago. The brother was kidnapped, and the police gave up searching after a little while. After this cold case is solved, the unsurprising reveal is made that they was simply playing make-believe rape as a little Activist Fundamentalist Antics plot to get the police's attention.
To be fair it was said they tried closing the window but couldn't. And everyone couldn't tell if it was real or not.
Rule of Three: Apparently just being Ripped from the Headlines isn't enough, it has to involve three stories: "American Tragedy" combined Treyvon Martin's shooting, Paula Deen's Deep South racism, and the controversial practice of "stop-and-frisk" which disproportionately targets African-American men.
Running Gag: As Benson puts it, "why does everyone think I'm a lesbian?"
Also the fact that Elliot gets terribly wounded every time he runs into a certain FBI Agent, Dana Lewis. In the most recent episode "Penetration", he actually gets shot by her because a bullet she fired at her rapist ricocheted off of a metal beam. The resigned look on his face after getting shot is absolutely hilarious.
Self-Surgery: In "Shattered", Dr. Warner is shot by a grief-deranged mother, and has to talk Olivia through the procedure to insert a chest tube so her lung won't collapse.
Serial Killings, Specific Target: One episode features a man who killed his wife and then killed another woman for this exact reason. However, it doesn't fool the detectives, as they note that the second killing was cold and detached, whereas the original victim died brutally, showing that the murderer had a lot of genuine rage towards the first one, but didn't care at all about the second.
Series Continuity Error: At the beginning of Season 9, Olivia gets her hair cut. However, in the 3rd episode of the season "Impulsive", Olivia's hair has suddenly grown significantly longer. In the next episode, it returns to it's previous style.
Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: One episode featured a man raping other men, even though the thought of sex with males disgusted him, while another had a guy raping promiscuous women, who he was utterly disgusted by; he believed he was "purifying" them by raping them.
Shell-Shock Silence: A pretty eerie example in the appropriately titled Season 10 episode "PTSD": while trying to break up a fistfight, Liv, still working through her near-rape experience from the previous season, is knocked in the head when shoved off. The sounds become muffled as Liv comes dangerously close to reflexively blowing a suspect's head off...
Shipper on Deck: USA Network itself supports Elliot/Olivia, if the fact that they dedicated an entire marathon to the ship is any indication.
Shoot The Hostage Taker: In the episode "Debt" the police raid a brothel run by Chinese gang. In one of the rooms a gang member takes one of the prostitute hostage and uses her as as a Human Shield. The prostitute is saved when Detective Elliot Stabler dives through the door of the room and shoots the gang member in the head.
Shot in the Ass: Happens to Munch when a bunch of Neo-Nazis shoot up a courtroom.
Should Have Thought of That Before X: In one disturbing example, a man is framed for raping a teenage girl, and is subsequently abused in prison. He pleads with the officers for protection but they just tell him, "You should have thought about the pecking order before you raped that girl." He ends up getting killed.
Elliot and Olivia are named after two of Dick Wolf's children.
In "Pure", Huang basically outlines the premise of Lie to Me, including namedropping Lightman's real-life counterpart, Paul Ekman.
Possibly in "Imprisoned Lives" to the novel Room, which also has a young boy with an odd way of talking because his mother (though in the episode he doesn't know which of the women is his mother) was kidnapped as a child and after being born both were hidden in a tiny room.
The episode "Debt" has shout outs for Mulan, of all things. The Victim of the Week was searching for her daughter, Ping. There are no fewer than three Asian-American actors in the episode who also starred in the Disney film.
Shut Up, Hannibal!: Olivia's kidnapper/torturer/wanna-be rapist (she notes he's only attacked older women and young girls, needling him that he's afraid of a "real woman") tells her to shut up with her pathetic story about how her old partner would know what to do with him. She eventually beats him into a coma with an iron bedpost.
Sins of Our Fathers: In "Reparations", a man rapes a young woman as an act of revenge against her father, who was a clansman involved in the brutal rape of his mother several years ago.
Smart People Know Latin: Dr. Huang effortlessly steps in to correct a mistranslated Latin word in the episode "Silence". Bonus points because Elliot, who studied Latin as a kid as part of his religion, didn't quite get it. (Elliot translated it as "I have sinned." The correct translation was "You have sinned.")
Smug Snake: Most of the recurring defense attorneys, which come in various shades of Jerkass and most of whom are as just as slimy, smooth and arrogant as all other Hollywood lawyers. On at least one occasion though, one such attorney (albeit reluctantly) helped the detectives bring in his AWOL client when he failed to show up at court.
The detectives themselves qualify.
Slut Shaming: Shows up repeatedly as the defense tries to smear the victim.
Soft Glass: Elliot gets headbutted through a police car window with enough force to shatter it. The blow knocks him out, gives him a concussion, and temporary brain damage rendering him in a short coma, and making him temporary blind when he woke up.
The Southpaw: A major plot point in one episode; a defining characteristic of the perp was that he was left-handed.
Spousal Privilege: One episode revolves around the concept that two abusers had married their victims precisely to abuse spousal privilege, something they openly mock the detectives with. Their overconfidence eventually backfires when investigations dig up a prior marriage license they hadn't gotten annulled, making their current marriages null and void...
And again in Criminal Hatred, where two men were married in Provincetown. The detectives get one to confess what the other did, only to learn that they are married and they can't use what he told them. Trying to argue that the spousal privilege doesn't apply because they were married out of state before New York recognized same-sex marriages doesn't work.
Standard Cop Backstory: Olivia Benson is a child of rape, or thought she was, and was abused by her alcoholic mother.
Status Quo Is God: A great deal of the main characters are Static Characters. Despite the many episodes that have carried anvilicious aesops about such, after twelve seasons Elliot is still abusing the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique and bending rules without serious long-term consequences, Olivia is still getting too close to victims, and the precinct as a whole is still completely gung-ho towards convicting the first suspect that appears on their radar and trying to railroad them into a conviction despite shaky evidence. In particular to the last point, you could make a lengthy list of all the episodes where the first suspect they collar is a Red Herring and is completely innocent despite the evidence of their guilt, but they have not picked up on this nor have they learned from it.
Strawman Ball: Elliot not believing that men could be raped by women, Olivia being scared of mentally ill people and/or being baffled as to why a gay football player would have it hard.
Straw Feminist: Olivia sometimes gets lines like this. At one point she stated she didn't think a woman could perform cold-blooded murder, and her general behavior around male victims likely gets her just on the edge of this trope.
Strictly Formula: And how. By the 20-minute mark it's possible to determine what the entire rest of a given episode's plot looks like, up to and including who else dies, why, and when, to the minute.
His middle daughter, Kathleen, goes out of control, which turns out to be the bipolar disorder she inherited from her paternal grandmother (which, it should be pointed out, is not how that works).
His eldest son wants to escape his dad's tyrannical rule by, uh, joining the military as a minor (the recruiter's creepy "we'll get him eventually" manner didn't help). When he's suspected in his ex-druggie friend's disappearance, he makes some stinging remarks about his sister and grandmother ("Well, I'm not the first Stabler to go crazy") and Benson and Stabler's UST ("So how many partners have you slept with, Olivia?).
To be fair to Elliot's kids, given who their father is, it's not entirely unexpected that they'd end up a little... neurotic.
Stabler and Fin (depending on the episode), Stabler and Huang, Jeffries and Munch, Fin and Munch (at times, though it's usually more playful than hostile), Stabler or Fin when either is paired up with a detective from another unit, Novak and Stabler (depending on the episode). Notice whose name keeps popping up? Amaro seems to be picking up where Stabler left off: he has this with Rollins, Barba, and sometimes even Olivia and Fin.
Subverted with Benson and Munch, as she generally gets along with him, but pulls some amusing eye-rolls and other annoyed expressions when he starts going off on a rant.
There Are No Therapists: Averted. They come by the buttload, but they don't seem to make that much difference to the protagonists despite their best efforts.
Depends on who is getting the therapy. Munch and Stabler (to a lesser extent, Cragen) are very resistant and only concede in dire circumstances, but Tutuola and Benson have attended therapy willingly.
Fin Tutuola: Just keep at it; the flashbacks will go away. They did for me.
Too Dumb to Live: In "Personal Fouls", a manager of the basketball star Prince Miller had told detectives he was wearing custom-made prototype shoes. He wore those shoes when he killed a man who would effectively expose the fact that Prince had been sexually abused by his coach years ago.
Took a Level in Badass: Melinda Warner in "Shattered"; she resisted passing out and guided Olivia through keeping pressure on her wound and even draining her lung, which was filling with blood after she was shot by an emotionally unstable mother whose son had just been killed.
In another episode, a girl is raped at gunpoint. She looks very young, and throughout the episode, she is is consistently portrayed as a teenager who is not yet fully adult - neither intellectually nor emotionally. This is not held against her, instead it simply underscores how vulnerable she is. However, she happens to be 19, so the prosecution must prove that she didn't consent. And of course, the defense has Blatant Lies about the gun as one of their top priorities.
Trapped by Gambling Debts: Random asshole of the week tries to pull this on Rollins. She shows an impressive presence of mind, promptly confessing the problem to fellow officers and seeking help.
Trailers Always Lie: Previews made it seem like Tutuola was going Vigilante Man on the gay-bashers who beat his son's fiancee into a coma; actually, the gay-bashers were found fairly quickly and the real story was about a copy-cat.
Again, when it appeared that not-Rihanna's abusive boyfriend not-Chris Brown was found dead it was actually her producer/father figure (not-Jay-Z?) who was killed by not-Chris, and despite all the set-ups for a vigilante execution not-Rihanna wound up getting killed by not-Chris.
The promo for Psycho/Therapist said this would be "the final chapter of the #Save Benson saga." Then the last scene of the episode showed William Lewis possibly breaking out of prison. Just in time for May Sweeps, too!
True Companions: A notable subversion. Sometimes it's as if this lot are a family (there are certainly a few intensely close friendships amongst them, and woe betide anyone who hurts Casey Novak), but actually, they turn on each other pretty quickly. Fin and Elliot are consistently awful to each other, Munch took the sergeant's exam behind all their backs, and there is pretty sketchy support when any of them try a Clear My NameBunny-Ears Lawyer gambit. It shows up when you compare it to something like NCIS: when Tony is framed for murder, they all assume he's being framed and do everything they can to keep him in the loop. When Liv is framed for murder, they all act suspicious and do everything they can to stonewall her.
They've gotten better in more recent seasons. In general everybody is supportive of everyone else when there are issues. (Case in point, everyone goes to bat for Rollins when she's thrown under the bus by her own sister and charged with murder.)
Truth in Television/This Loser Is You: The characters display or outright express offensive, untrue, or ignorant beliefs about rape and sex in general. (See Double Standard for one of many examples.) They often reflect offensive, untrue, or ignorant beliefs about rape and sex in general held by people in real life. One of the most notable examples was in Legitimate Rape, where a congressman Expy of Todd Akin said that it was impossible for a woman to become pregnant from rape. This resulted in her rapist being acquitted because of one holdout juror, suing for custody of the victim's son, and thus forcing her to flee the country.
The Unfair Sex: Comes up fairly often, especially in the case of female perps. The episode "Totem" has one of the worst examples: the detectives, or at least Olivia, initially doubt that a woman can commit sodomy and murder. While they come around relatively quickly, it all starts rolling downhill once they find a suspect. The killer is sent to a mental facility without any mention of her going to prison because she was traumatized from being sexually abused herself and was therefore mentally unfit to stand trial. Male perps who use that defense usually earn nothing but disdain from the squad and everyone around them. Further, woman who sexually abused her is stated to be going to jail, but unlike male abusive parents, doesn't spend any time in interrogation, put on trial, or offer a flimsy excuse for the squad to be disgusted by or scoff at.
Used To Be More Social: One episode had a woman who had been raped by the same man on numerous occasions become this. After the first time, he was never caught and eventually tracked her down again. Even after changing her identity, moving to another state, and becoming a paranoid shut-in, he still found her and did it again.
V - W
Victim Blaming: Possibly most notoriously, in Alien, where a little boy forcibly tries to kiss the daughter of two lesbians as part of an attempt to "cure her of being a dyke" and, when she refuses, chops off her hair with scissors, all after several months of constant bullying, which the Catholic school authorities ignore because they think homosexuality is wrong and don't think the girl should be attending at all. When she finally lashes out, she gets an unfortunate critical hit and stabs him with a pair of scissors, paralyzing him from the waist down. When all is said and done, the little girl is the defendant-of-the-day, the SVU blames the (Catholic) lesbian couple for not removing their daughter from the school, and the bully is treated as The Woobie instead of a budding sex offender with "attempted corrective rape" and "violent assault with a weapon" on his record.
Amaro got this from his wife when she found out he had beaten up her army buddy after basically stalking her for days after he started to suspecting her of cheating. It seems that they're just friends.
Worth It: In "Spectacle", the criminal states that it's worth being arrested and punished for faking a kidnapping and rape because he accomplished what he set out to do: to get the police to revisit his kidnapped brother's cold case.
Huang at the end of Users. He effectively kidnapped a teen heroin addict to give him an illegal drug, Ibogaine, to cure his addiction. When the boy's guardian/quack shrink threatens to report him, Huang says he already reported himself, received a thirty day suspension of his license, and it was worth it.
Worthy Opponent: One of the only defense attorneys who is consistently portrayed in a positive manner is constitutional lawyer Barry Moredock, who clearly despises many of his clients but represents them anyway for the sake of the constitution. He even becomes a judge later in the show's run.
Bayard Ellis is a defense attorney, but he's also a close friend to Olivia.
Rita Calhoun, a former prosecutor, is presented as this. Her first episode makes it seem like she's the same scumbag defender the others are, but later episodes show her sometimes helping the detectives and having a friendly relationship with them.
Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Used more than once, like the case where a woman has consensual sex with her lawyer and then accuses her ex-husband of raping her... purely out of bitchy spite and to ruin his life. The guy can't prove that he wasn't a marital rapist, loses it and sets her on fire. In her very death bed, she keeps lying to Olivia about how she was "raped". Olivia only finds out the truth casually, as she speaks to the lawyer, and is appalled by how it got Worse.
"Chameleons" has a prostitute perp (based on serial killer Aileen Wuornos) who tries making herself out to be some kind of Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds, and it appears to be working with the court, since her victims included guys like a known wife beater and a fellow serial killer. In the end, it's discovered she had lied about her horribly abusive past, and the baby son she claimed to love so much isn't hers; she stole him from the real mother, a random woman she strangled to death.
Wrong Genetic Sex: "Identity" starts with a rapist getting killed by his victim and the DNA evidence leads the detectives to a teenage boy who just happens to have an ironclad alibi. It turns out his twin "sister" is actually his twin brother; it seems he lost his penis when they were circumcised as babies and the doctors who botched the operation covered their tracks by completing the job and talking his parents into raising him as a girl.
Sadly, this is actually Truth in Television: The episode is based on an actual case. Just like the character in the episode, the real man vehemently reverted to a male gender identity as soon as he got the chance. Sadly, both the real man and his twin brother ended up killing themselves (in separate incidents) instead of killing the doctor like his fictional counterpart in SVU did.
You Look Familiar: Casey Novak; her actress played a one-episode character before Casey's introduction... one of the aforementioned Wall Street higher-ups ladies, in fact.
This lady played two different characters in season 4 and season 5.
Ice-T normally plays Fin, but in the in-universe movie Exiled he plays Seymour Stockton, a pimp.
The newest ADA, Gillian Hardwicke, is played by Melissa Sagemiller, who made her acting debut in an episode of the first season.
Hayden Panettiere has played two different characters within 5 years (in season 2 and season 6).
Liza Lapira has played two other characters besides a lab tech, see here.
KyleGallner has appeared on the show as two different characters, in Season 4 and Season 9.
Andre Braugher as an attorney. Kinda weird, given that Homicide: Life On The Street exists in the same universe as the Law & Order series. It works because Frank Pembleton never appeared on SVU and (aside from Munch) never met or worked with any of the SVU characters.
Lampshaded when Munch greets Ellis in a familiar (and sarcastic) way, and Ellis replies "Have we met?"
Tamara Tunie appeared as a defense attorney in the Law & Order episode "Deadbeat" before she landed a role in SVU as Dr. Melinda Warner.
Raúl Esparza was on both the original series and Criminal Intent in the episodes "Blackmail" and "Lady's Man", respectively.
You're Insane!: Elliot to a particularly disgusting pedophile perp who's trying to defend his rape of young girls (and dressing a woman as a young girl to rape her) as "natural". When he calls the "love" he has "natural" as that which [Elliot] feels for his wife, Ell is visibly trying not to leap up and beat the scumbag to death.
The prisoners at Riker's do everyone a favor and take him out.