Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Channel 5 - TV review


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The Independent Culture

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on Channel 5 is another acquired taste. The police procedural set in New York City specialises in sexually based offences "ripped from the headlines" and is therefore on the gratuitously grisly end of the crime continuum. Even for hardened cop show viewers like myself, there are some plots so thoroughly nasty you feel unsettled for days after the have credits rolled.

Last night's story was one of those. It concerned a young woman called Larissa Welsh (Orange Is the New Black star Taryn Manning) who had escaped the clutches of a paedophile ring as a child. As an adult, she still lived in fear of stalkers who recognised her from the videos of her abuse still circulating online.

Usually, Law & Order's comforting moral simplicity makes everything OK again. Tough detectives Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), can just sneer at the DA's evidentiary requirements, beat a confession out of the "perp" and be home in time to read their children a bedtime story.

Det Stabler was particularly free with his fists this episode, but even after the monsters had been vanquished – David Patrick Kelly as child abuser Orville Underwood came off very much like a Hammer Horror Dracula – there was a lingering sense of unease. What could be done about the images of Larissa's abuse still available online? And should subject-matter like this really be a source of throwaway entertainment?