Law & Order SVU “Spousal Privilege” was ripped from the headlines of the Ray Rice story, and followed that story so closely that the episode was devoid of suspense. This episode WAS full of double standards and a touch of hypocrisy.
Amaro has anger has issues again. This time it is triggered by a phone call with his wife Maria where Amaro hears he won’t get his daughter Zara as promised for Thanksgiving. Just like Stabler, Amaro has learned nothing about controlling his anger. The only improvement (if you can call it that) with Amaro is now he takes out his anger on inanimate objects (a locker, a glass) rather than people. He clearly is a boiling mess of rage inside. His anger issues are far from resolved and they simmer underneath the surface. But, I feel like we’ve been there too many times before. I became tired with Stabler’s repeated anger issues and his inability to improve and I have no desire to go there again with Amaro. I am becoming indifferent to Amaro’s issues.
Rollins appears to be having an inner struggle of her own. She has too much to drink while at a bar with Amaro and goads him by physically pushing him and raising her voice at him. Lucky for Amaro, Rollins' childish and violent provocations don’t work and he smartly exits the bar (after knocking a glass off the bar in anger). One can write off Rollins’ behavior that she had too much to drink, but drinking is no excuse for anyone – men or women – for violent behavior. Does Amaro’s calm attitude towards her the next day mean that he is, in fact, making excuses for her behavior? Rollins could be defending AJ/Paula because she may see a little of herself in them regarding the loss of judgment while under the influence. Also, does Rollins’ lack of control with drink at the bar mean that a return to gambling is not far behind? I don’t mind flawed characters, but if they keep going to the same well with Rollins, I fear I will be bored.
Chad Coleman and Meagan Good were both excellent as AJ and Paula and they made this episode bearable. As always, Raúl Esparza and Elizabeth Marvel bring a real spark to the legal side of the story. Just about everyone else seemed to be phoning this one in. The whole bar scene with Amaro and Rollins was cringe-worthy and seemed forced to me.
Benson takes a bit of a holier-than-thou approach to this case. She is displeased with the fact that original ADA took the arresting officer’s word, and Barba smartly reminds he does the same for her. She also seems annoyed with Fin when he stumbled on a child porn site, but once the detectives spot a possible case of domestic violence with a famous person on that same site, suddenly she’s interested. She was dismissive with Fin and the others, acting as if she thought they were wasting their time. In reality, had Fin not been looking at that site, they may have never seen what happened to Paula until it blew up on the news. It was fitting that Calhoun took Benson to task about for having Amaro back on the squad – with a gun no less - after his episode of violent behavior and subsequent anger management. Benson was acting like domestic violence should be handled differently than violence at the hands of the police. The issue should be violence against all others, and there should be no double standard for police when something happens outside the line of duty. Benson also has to admit that the rehabilitative powers of anger management doesn’t always work, and clearly it is not working for Amaro. Benson may be in denial that her own detectives are just as flawed as the SVU perps she is trying to put in jail.
The hypocrisy: Rollins makes a comment in the squad room in sympathy for Paula, saying this was the worst night of Paula’s life - for their entertainment. Law & Order SVU takes often tragic “ripped from the headlines” crime stories and turns them into entertainment and the network sells ad time for profit. If Rollins statement was to be some kind of subliminal condemnation of how the media and the internet takes personal tragedies and turns them into huge news stories for ratings or profit, Law & Order SVU should take a really hard look at themselves. Sometimes I think there’s a little too much excitement and glee expressed about salacious news stories that would make good SVU story lines.
Avoiding domestic violence should be as simple as having a rule saying “no person should strike another person, ever”. It’s an easy rule to live by - a lot easier if a person is raised that way. Cultural and behavioral issues can explain part of how domestic violence happens, but it should never excuse it. In reality, when it comes to prosecuting these cases, things get messy. In this case, the video showed the violence was clearly one sided, but in the privacy of one’s own home where not ever second is recorded for posterity, things may not seem so clear.
Here is the recap:
Mariska Hargitay – Sergeant Olivia Benson
Ice-T – Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola
Kelli Giddish - Detective Amanda Rollins
Danny Pino - Detective Nick Amaro
Raúl Esparza - ADA Rafael Barba
Peter Scanavino - Detective Dominick Carisi, Jr.
Meagan Good - Paula Martin
Chad Coleman - A.J. Martin
Elizabeth Marvel - Counselor Rita Calhoun
Jefferson Mays - M.E. Rudnick
Leslie Odom Jr. - Reverend Curtis Scott
Jeb Brown – Officer Denard
Korey Jackson – Brian
Lisa Kron - Judge Robin Schaeffer
David Dinkins - Judge Chet Baker
Hoda Kotb - Herself
Ian O’Malley – League Official
Nik Walker – Former Teammate
Brian Richardson – Jury Foreperson
Sebastien J. Antoine - A.J. Martin, Jr.
In the SVU squad room, Amaro is on the phone with his wife Maria. He loudly argues about custody of Zara for the Thanksgiving holiday. When Amaro hears Zara is not coming and Maria hangs up on him, he punches his locker while everyone in the squad room watches in stunned silence. Rollins tells him to take breath, but Amaro tells her not to tell him what to do. As Amaro walks off, Rollins walks to her desk and tells Fin not to say it. Fin asks, “Say what?” Benson enters the squad room and asks Amaro what happened to his hand. Amaro says it is nothing, he’s fine. Benson sees Fin looking at a web site of celebrity photos in a state of undress and asks if that is work related. He explains someone hacked celebrity nude photos and says some of the celebs are under age which makes it child porn. She tells him to wrap it up and if he finds anything to have TARU trace it. Amaro pipes in and says if you don’t want naked pictures of yourself on the internet, don’t take naked pictures of yourself. Rollins snaps it’s like if you don’t want to get assaulted, don’t wear a short skirt. They glare at each other. Amaro notices a video on the web site Fin is browsing and it is of AJ Martin, a Heisman Trophy winner and 8-time Pro-Bowler, with his baby-mamma Paula Bryant and they are fighting. They then see AJ dragging Paula into the parking lot, unconscious. Benson walks out of her office when she sees them still looking at the web site and testily asks if this is the new celebrity nude task force. They show her the video and Rollins adds it looks like it happened after the Black & White Gala at The Met 6 weeks ago. Benson comments she doesn’t remember hearing AJ was picked up on a domestic, and Amaro thinks they must have picked him up, pointing out a patrolman on the scene in the video. Fin says AJ is a sports hero and you know how this goes. Benson asks them to find if there is any video of what happened in between and when Amaro says he does not see it anyway, he suggests contacting the garage. Benson tells them to call the local precinct and find out what really happened and she will call the Chief. Fin questions that she wants them to investigate, and Benson says after Ray Rice and the others, if it looks like domestic violence, they follow up, before this becomes news.
Amaro and Rollins are at the precinct speaking with an officer and find the couple was arrested at the scene. Rollins argues Paula was woozy and missing a shoe and looked roughed up. They hear that Paula declined medical attention; AJ was polite and Paula was contrite. They were not interviewed separately. Amaro sees a football autographed by AJ and says he gets it. The officer says some low life leaked the video to RedChan and now they want to Monday morning quarterback? Rollins explains they are trying to figure out why no charges were filed. The officer says it was adjourned, contemplating dismissal. He says if they have a problem they can take it up with the DA.
Benson and Fin take the video to Barba, who says that out of context the video is disturbing but it does not contradict the police report sent to the ADA. The ADA is green, but good. They discuss what the precinct did and the outcome and says this is the deal he gave when the victim refuses to cooperate. He asks since they are celebrities should he have given them anti-preferential treatment? Benson counters the ADA should not have taken the arresting officer’s word. Barba says he takes her word all the time. He adds the deal is moot, a deal was offered and a lawyer said no. Fin questions why they turned down a get out of jail free card, and Benson thinks they called the ADA’s bluff and assumed he would get away with it. He is probably worried about PR and doing community service so he gets away with everything. Barba states there is not a lot here, asking if there is any footage from the stairwell. Fin explains Amaro and Rollins are tracking it down, and Benson adds they will know what they are going to see: the same thing they’ve seen before from these guys. He knocked her out. Barba asks with sarcasm why not convict him now? Benson firmly states AJ dragged Paula’s unconscious body out of that stairwell with no concern for her and then she said she slipped and fell? Barba says in certain ways he does not disagree – Benson says she hates it when people say that – and Barba goes on, saying since AJ did not take the offer, the case is still open. He tells Benson to find the video or get Paula to change her story.
At the home of AJ Martin and Paula Bryant on Tuesday, November 11, the couple presents a loving front to Benson and Fin. When their son walks in and tosses a football to Fin, Paula calmly chastises him for coming in while grownups are talking, and when the boy presses on, AJ shouts at him and the boy looks scared and goes to his room. While they talk about their son, Paula interjects a comment an AJ gives her an angry look. Benson makes the excuse to use the rest room to separate Paula and AJ. When they leave, Fin asks AJ if he knows what this is all about, and AJ says he is doing his job. Fin says his Sergeant wants to double check everything and asks AJ to walk him through it. AJ says they had too much to drink that night and had some words, and he loves his girl but even she will tell them she goes off the rails when she’s had a few. He is just trying to make sure everything stays within the hash marks.
Meanwhile, Benson tries to get Paula to give her more information but Paula insists she had been drinking and she tripped. AJ enters and cuts the discussion short, much to Benson’s dismay.
Back at SVU, Benson sees Fin and Rollins looking at video footage from the gala. The garage claims they erase their security cache every 7 days. Benson asks then how did the first video ends up at RedChan after 6 weeks after the event, saying they are lying and tells them to get a search warrant to find out what went down in that stairwell. Fin comments IF something went down in that stairwell. Amaro questions “if”, stating AJ dragged her out with no concern. Rollins counters if he’s ever had to move 100 pounds of passed out drunk, stating it ain’t easy. Benson thinks Paula is covering for him, reminding Fin that he saw it. She adds he was controlling and AJ’s son is terrified. Fin replies he was terrified of his mother and Rollins adds she was raised the same way. Benson questions now they are making cultural exemptions? Amaro says his father went after him with his fist and it taught him you never lay a hand on a child or a woman. Rollins says it is possible AJ could have been fending her off and both Benson and Amaro do not agree. Benson gets a phone call and then tells them to turn on LMZ on the TV now. They see the full video of AJ punching Paula in the stairway, Benson commenting that LMZ paid for the footage. Rollins states this changes everything.
Later, AJ and Paula enter the SVU squad room. Benson is apologetic to Paula about the video, explaining there is no shield law for domestic violence victims. Paula states she is not a victim. Counselor Calhoun wants to speak with her clients and when Benson says she wants to speak with the separately, Calhoun explains she brought a second attorney, Brian, so they will both have counsel.
AJ explains to Benson and Fin how women flirt with him and Fin thinks AJ was flirting and Paula got mad. Meanwhile, Paula explains to Amaro and Rollins that she embarrassed AJ. AJ explains Paula was stumbling and could have hurt herself and had to stop her. Benson questions it was with his fist, and he admits he also had a few. His reflexes weren’t 100%. Paula says AJ was trying to protect her; they already told the NYPD what happened and they are putting it behind them.
As Barba observes Paula’s questioning form Benson’s office, Benson enters and says their story is they were drunk and Paula was stumbling and he had to “stop her.” Benson saw an assault, and Barba says they are on the same page. He hopes the video is damming enough AJ won’t want to go to trial. Benson is surprised Barba wants to plead this down, adding AJ should be in jail. Barba agrees, but feels AJ is personable and charismatic, Paula supports him and the jury will want to forgive him. Benson sarcastically says he is right, they should just slap him on the wrists and send him home.
Barba and Benson are in the interrogation room with AJ and Calhoun who says AJ was defending himself but if they want to make a reasonable offer she will hear them out. AJ adds the other DA mentioned anger management and they will go – AA, whatever it takes. Barba suggest assault 3, 90 days, and Calhoun says no jail time and 200 hours of community service. Benson says AJ will have to do a lot more than pick up garbage with a pointed stick for this one. Calhoun says AJ has already been suspended by his network and assault 3 with jail time is an overreach; Paula didn’t even go to the hospital. Barba says Calhoun is right, this is really reckless endangerment with gross disregard to Paula’s safety which could have cause serious injury. Calhoun is stunned, asking that Barba wants them to plead to a felony? AJ stands up and says he would never hurt Paula and she will back him up. Calhoun adds they heard they man; they will see them in court. Barba tells them tomorrow at 9AM.
At arraignment court part 5 on Thursday, November 13, AJ pleads not guilty and Barba asks for remand. The judge does not agree and sets bail at $20,000. AJ looks to Paula and smiles.
Afterwards, Benson enters the ladies room where Paula is already there and tries to get her to talk but Paula sticks to her story. Benson warns Paula it will happen again. Paula thinks that it’s because her husband is a strong black man he has to be taken down by the public and by Benson. Benson says she is concerned about the safety of her and her son and is not concerned about the public perception of black men. Calhoun enters and cuts any change of this off, telling Benson she should know better than to talk to Paula without her counsel. Calhoun takes Paula away.
Later, outside the courthouse, Reverend Scott holds a press conference with AJ and Paula. Paula thinks some people have an interest in her being the victim and that is not going to happen. Benson and Barba watch on as Paula takes responsibility for provoking AJ. She adds they are working on their issues and asks for privacy.
On the Hoda! Show, she interviews AJ and Paula who tell their fans now to believe the gutter press and not to believe the haters. Meanwhile, Benson, at home with Noah, is on the phone with Barba who says this is the next stop on the apology tour. Barba and Benson watch as Paula states AJ proposed and they are getting married later that day.
At a later date in court, a doctor testifies for the prosecution about the science behind the force of the blow AJ gave to Paula and the punch could have killed her but she got lucky. Calhoun cross examines him and brings out that the doctor never examined Paula and his speculation is based on a grainy black and white video and an algorithm. She also brings out the fact that Paula shows no sign of neurological injury at the time or later.
Benson is testifying for the prosecution, stating it is not uncommon for victims of domestic violence to say it is their fault or to refuse to testify. Some are emotionally or financially dependent on their abusers or scared of reprisals. They are most at risk when the victim goes against their abuser or tries to leave. This is why domestic violence laws were changed in New York, to protect people who are unable or unwilling to protect themselves, Just because victims are in denial or won’t admit the abuse doesn’t mean the abuse didn’t happen or won’t worsen. Under cross examination, Calhoun gets Benson to admit that Paula did not show fear nor did she cite financial dependence as reasons not to testify. Calhoun asks it is possible Paula isn’t testifying because she is in love with AJ and believes he will be a good husband. Benson says that is not what she saw in the video. Calhoun mentions her client has expressed regret and will get anger management and spiritual counseling. Benson comments she has heard that before. Calhoun asks Benson if she believes in the rehabilitative powers of anger management, and Benson replies not always, no. Calhoun brings up the situation where a detective in her squad beat up a civilian who recently returned to active duty after a short stint in anger management. Amaro, sitting in the gallery squirms in his seat. Benson said her detective lost his temper with a horrific child abuser, not his wife. Calhoun counters that the anger management was sufficient enough for a violent police officer to get his gun back but insufficient to rehabilitate AJ Martin, who doesn’t even have a speeding ticket. Barba objects and Calhoun says she is sorry, she won’t ask any more question about Benson’s double standard. Amaro looks unhappy and AJ looks pleased.
In a bar, Rollins is drinking and watching some news related to AJ’s story as Amaro enters and sits down at the bar next to her. Rollins looks like she’s had a few already. They talk about what happened in the courtroom but Rollins thinks Calhoun has a point – it’s a private matter between Paula and AJ and they are overreaching. Amaro says he hit her, end of story. Rollins argues they get to decide what is best for her, saying that is infantilizing and is SVU making her a victim all over again. He tells her to take it easy and she asks if he is counting her drinks now, calling him Saint Nick, Savior of Damaged Women. Amaro says no man has a right to hit a woman, and Rollins says that is right but some of “us” don’t need to be saved. She says he married a woman who didn’t, adding she saw how Maria went after him in the squad room. He says he never laid a hand on Maria, and Rollins asks that he never wanted to. Rollins says Maria got to him, and she still gets to him. She pushes his shoulder and ask if that doesn’t get to him. He says no, so she pushes his shoulder harder again and again to try to get a rise out of him. He asks if she is jealous of Maria now, and she asks if that is where they are going now. He asks what are they talking about, and Rollins shoves him very hard and says “You Nick” telling him to “just drop the rock.” She goes on about how they have all seen him lose it, the whole squad room heard him yelling at his wife on the phone. She continues to shove at him when she mentions Paula Martin has the right to chose whether she presses charges or not, “because some of us don’t want to be victims” and she pushes Amaro so hard he starts to fall off the barstool He leaps up and gets in her face and then swipes a glass off the bar, breaking it. Rollins thinks this is funny as patrons stare. Amaro gets money out of his wallet and says he is going to do what AJ Martin should have done, and, placing the cash on the bar, says “Walk away.” He storms out of the bar, taking Rollins; drink, as the patrons stare, Rollins looking slightly amused and drunk.
At SVU, the squad room watches a news conference about the league cracking down on domestic violence or child abuse. Rollins enters and Fin comments that AJ has no friends left. Rollins comments that Paula gets tarred, too, asking how is this fair to Paula? She says it is the worst night of her life, for their entertainment. Fin says she is preaching to the choir but AJ did hit her. Rollins says you can’t save someone that doesn’t want to be saved, trust her, she has tried. He asks if Nick agrees with that, and she replies that Nick thinks he can save the whole wide world. Fin says he has learned two things in his 15 years at SVU: One – you can’t take this job home (Rollins says she is working on that); two – you can’t take anyone FROM the job home with you. He says he just wants her to take care of herself. She says she hears him.
In Supreme Court, Part 11 on November 18, Reverend Scott testifies on behalf of AJ and Paula and the fact they are trying to change learned behavior. They are working to finding positive ways to communicate He performed their wedding ceremony; they have been committed to each other for 10 years and are raising their son in a solid, loving, Christian marriage of equals.
Barba challenges the fact they are equals, giving AJ’s earnings which makes Paula dependent on AJ. Barba asks about the drinking and Scott says this is another issue they are working on. Barba states that Scott doesn’t know how AJ acts towards Paula when they are not on their best behavior. Scott testifies he has never witnessed anything other than a genuine love for each other. Barba asks what he thought about the video of AJ punching his wife, and Scott says he did not watch it. Barba asks if that is because AJ’s lawyer told him not to, and Calhoun objects. Barba withdraws the question.
Afterwards, AJ testifies about how much he loves Paula and he will always regret that night but did not intend to hurt her. He decided to testify as Paula had the strength to sit in the courtroom and if she can be brave enough to sit in here, he can be brave enough to sit here and take responsibility and teach his son to be a man. Under cross examination, Barba mentions that AJ lied when he told the police his wife had slipped, and AJ says he knows now that was wrong, he was trying to protect his family. Barba plays back the video of the punch and AJ said he put up his hand to stop her but it was a reflex action. Barba thinks he is blaming Paula, but AJ says he did not intend to hurl her. He did not call 911 as she came to in a few minutes. Barba brings up the fact at AJ is a professional athlete and is aware of the dangers of losing consciousness only briefly and he chose to ignore that, but AJ counters that he made a judgment call. Barba says he made a judgment call to punch a woman in the face, to drag her unconscious body across a garage and attempt to get out of there before anyone could find out. Calhoun objects but the judge allows it as AJ says he loves his wife Barba plays back the video asking if AJ loved her, highlighting all the times he manhandled her and hit her. Calhoun objects again and the judge tells Barba to move along. Barba says AJ opened the door, but if this is how he shows he loves his wife, then he is done.
Later, the judge asks Calhoun before they bring the jury back from lunch, is she ready for her closing arguments? Calhoun says she wants to call one last witness, Paula. Barba asks the judge to approach and he is concerned that Paula has been in the courtroom for the entire trial. But the judge counters that Paula lives with the defendant and whatever she’s heard in court she has already heard at home. She allows it.
In the hallway, Benson asks Barba how is it looking, and he explains there are 7 women on the jury, domestic violence, she knows the drill. Benson says at least two will be looking to blame her and excuse him. Barba informs her that Calhoun sandbagged him and she is putting Paula on the stand in 2 hours. He asks what Benson knows about her and that relationship. Benson explains they did their due diligence, and Barba tells her to talk to him.
In Supreme Court part 11 on Wednesday, November 19, Paula testifies to defend AJ. She said AJ loved her, she was drunk and jealous and not abusive to her. That night was private between two passionate people and she is not afraid of AJ. She knows him and he is a gentle, good man. He doesn’t deserve this and their family doesn’t deserve this. Barba cross examines and he says everything is always good and fine in the Martin house, He won’t replay the video. He asks about their relationship; she says she met when she was 21 and he was 35, toward the end of his playing career. Barba asks if she had no significant relationships up until then, asking if AJ was her first serious relationship. She says he is the love of her life and still is. She had AJ Jr. a few years after they moved in. She was a lifestyle reporter for local TV news but she gave that up willingly. She is close to her sister and the other retired players’ wives. Barba asks if she can go out with anyone without AJ being there, stating her life revolves around AJ and his son. She says she is happy, and when Barba says even when AJ yells at her, she testifies he does not yell at her. Barba asks if AJ yells at their son, and Paula pauses then says he doesn’t yell, he raises his voice because he wants him to listen and he loves him. Barba asks if it’s the way he loves her, and Calhoun objects. Barba rephrases, asking when AJ raises his voice at Junior, how does that make her feel. Paula asks what does it matter? Barba continues to press but Paula says he does now know what is right for her and her family. She tells him not to lecture her; she is not leaving him and doesn’t care what any of them say. Barba questions whether she is getting comments from family and friends, and notices she looks toward AJ before she answers. He mentions this and wonders if she is worried about AJ’s reaction, and when she looks again, Barba tells her not to look at AJ, he can’t answer for her. She says she does not want to lose him or her family. She asks why is that wrong, and what gives him the right. She says to just leave them be.
Later, at closing arguments, Calhoun says she feels sorry for the DA’s office being under pressure to show they are politically correct on domestic violence. She says domestic violence is a scourge that should not be tolerated, but this case is not that. She states this case is a case of a misunderstanding between two passionate people, a private matter, not a test case. Paula loves AJ and did not want to press charges. If they convict AJ, they will tear the family apart. She asks if that is what the judicial system is for, to destroy families?
Barba states that this case and the decision is important. He says they may be asking how it is there business to interfere in another person’s marriage as they don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. They do know, as a society, we have evolved. Beyond the idea that women are property and what they feel or experience does not matter. By hitting Paula and knocking her out, AJ says Paula doesn’t matter and showed disregard for her safety and her life. She has a child with him and she loves him. Convicting her husband may not be what she wants, but to not convict him is plainly and simply wrong. It sends a message that it is okay to be a bully in your own home; to control, intimidate and physically injure your spouse is not okay. We must not stand by and by our silence, say that it is acceptable to look the other way. Physical violence against another human being is a crime, even if she is “just your wife.”
Back at SVU, Amaro opens the fridge while Rollins gets coffee. He looks at her and says “hey” and she replies “hi.” There is a moment of discomfort and as Amaro sees Benson, he calls out to her and walks away. He asks her what is the word with Barba, and she says he is biting his nails or whatever it is that Barba does. The jury now questioning if the video was doctored. Rollins says they are trying to find a reason to acquit; they know it doesn’t feel right. Benson questions that sending the two of them home does and that boy growing up in fear? Rollins thinks AJ has learned his lesson. Benson replies, “You do? I don’t.”
Back in Supreme Court part 11 on Friday, November 21, AJ is found guilty or reckless endangerment. AJ is shocked as the judge remands him to Rikers pending sentencing. As the judge dismisses the jury, Calhoun tries to reassure AJ and Paula calls to him as his friends surround her. Benson looks on from the gallery as Paula is consoled by her friends.
Afterwards, in the courthouse hall, Benson asks Barba what he thinks AJ is looking at. Barba thinks the minimum 2 years. Benson says it sends a message. As Paula exits the court room, she walks over to Benson and says she hopes Benson is happy; she lost a husband and her son lost his father. As Paula walks off, Benson says Paula deserved better than that and so does her son. Paula screams back at Benson, asking what the hell does she know about that? She was happy, she was fine, she and her son were making it work and it was her choice and Benson took that away. She feels Benson thinks AJ was beating her up, then asks Benson what doe Benson think SHE did? Paula walks off and steps into the elevator with her friends. Barba tells Benson she did the right thing, and Benson, shaking her head, says she knows. She walks off as we fade to black.
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