LAW & ORDER: SVU “Totem” Review

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

LAW & ORDER: SVU “Totem” Season 12 Episode 20 – So the magical parade of guest stars continues through they alleyways and quiet city streets of Law & Order: SVU World. Every episode is now a showcase for a SuperDuperGuestStarOfAweInspiringProportion. Or two. The show trots ’em out and tries to make something—anything—cause a stir in the increasingly dull SVU air.

The show lucked out this week and found a few decent ones. And far be it for me to declare Jeremy Irons a good actor … (I’ll never forgive him for Dungeons & Dragons: the Movie.) (Ever.) (Eh-verrr.) … his turn as Dr. Cap Jackson, the resident sex therapist, wasn’t by and large horrible. In fact, it showed what Irons could do when he’s given a subtle part to play. You know, subtle. Like his screaming, slavering, slobbering wanker of a villain in Dungeons & Dragons: the Movie was not.

(I’m not bitter or anything.)

(I’m not a nerd or anything.)

Dr. Jackson comes across as slightly disheveled, slightly distracted, but holding an air of sadness about him. And Irons does know how to make what could be a bland character interesting; I think his calling could be in playing sad-but-brilliant physicians and professors. If Irons can summon a modicum of the reserve he showed in Law & Order: SVU in his new series The Borgias (coming soon on Showtime), they could have found a winner there. Jury’s still out, however. (Plus, everyone knows The Borgias is going to get killed by HBO’s Game of Thrones.)

What really shocked me was Elizabeth Mitchell’s performance.

Anyone who ever followed Lost (ABC) knows Mitchell; she played the scholarly-if-distracted character Juliet Burke in that seminal series, and (for the most part) acquitted herself quite well. And Lost followed an eye-opening role playing opposite Angelina Jolie in Gia, so a few years ago I had high hopes for the ethereal actress. Of course once I saw her in V (also ABC) I pretty much counted her out as a one-trick pony. She’s terrible in V.

Okay, everyone is terrible in V. Even Morena Baccarin is terrible in V, and I never thought it was possible for her to be terrible. I mean—Inara. Firefly. Come on.

But oh, my. Mitchell hit one out of the park with her fragile portrayal of June Frye, a prime suspect in the rape and murder of a young girl. This kind of thing is clearly what she should be doing. Her performance was heartbreaking, especially once you discover Frye’s ultimate motivations. How hard is it to turn on the only family you have left?

Writer Jonathan Greene and director Jonathan Kaplan hit some really good notes with this one. The twists felt like early-years episodes of SVU, and (once explained) were believable. Props also need to be given to Lisa Banes, who played the bitter sicko of a mother, and especially to Agatha Nowicki, who played June’s closeted-away psychotic sister. Nowicki was so convincing as the ultimate deranged pedophile murderer I sort of want to peek into the actress’s medical records and see if she’s just a little bit crazy in real life.

Nowicki has enticed me enough that I want to see what she’ll do next. There is a golden future for that woman in Hollywood, and it has “crazy” written all over it. I have a feeling this is not the last time we will see Nowicki use her thousand yard stare. Great casting.

But it does come back to Mitchell, who just broke a million hearts with this performance. And while I’m not quick to jump on any Emmy bandwagons (especially for the rapidly-declining SVU; it would make me feel … dirty …) there needs to be some sort of recognition for what she did.

So I guess I’ll just give it: Great job! Elizabeth Mitchell made this episode not suck.

Everyone else on the show was basically there to act as straight men / props for Irons and Mitchell. Benson was Benson, Stabler was Stabler. Meloni, Hargitay, etc, etc. The plus is we got very little Ice-T and no B.D. Wong. The minus is we got no Dann Florek (still the best) and worse, no Richard Belzer. I’m starting to worry for that dude.

Next week: more golden guest stars! (Shocking, I know.)

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