Take a fistful of Ray Rice, secretly sprinkle in some Donald Sterling (when you think no one's paying attention), throw in some Solange Knowles for a kick, add in a pinch of Darren Sharper (that no one really wants), stir 'em up in a pot, let it cool for about 45 minutes... and enjoy yourself some Law & Order: SVU Season 16 Episode 2!
On tonight's episode, the writers revert back to their natural state after deviating from the standard formula for last week's premiere, "Girls Disappeared." Taking a bunch of cues from recent headlines and public controversies surrounding misogyny, racism, and professional athletics, "American Disgrace" is a strong, topical, hour of TV.
Beginning with Carla Gannon's Solange-esque attack of professional basketball star, Shakir "The Shark" Wilkins, the episode spent the hour touching on the various stories at the forefront of today's culture.
At first, it all seems very straightforward: the athlete accused of rape, the apparent evidence of a pattern as more women begin to come forward, the athlete being dropped from sponsorships/having his name defaced. However, as we saw, it wasn't so open and shut this time around.
Although Detective Caresi was mostly just an ill-mannered loudmouth, he was right, to an extent, the entire episode when he defended one of his favorite athletes. Wilkins did NOT commit the heinous acts he was accused of.
He was just a player (pun not really intended), and was already paying the consequences for his playboy lifestyle through his divorce and custody battle with his wife. The last thing he needed were false accusations of rape, and little did he know how convoluted the entire scenario actually was.
Orion Bauer, owner of Orion Bay clothing line (and surrogate Donald Sterling as far as this episode is concerned), proved to be the mastermind behind the entire debacle.
His deep-rooted racism and ignorance proved to be his undoing as his daughter (and lawyer) Cordelia discovered the truth -- that her dear ol' dad had paid off the three women accusing Wilkins of rape in order to void their business contract and that he only did so because he was sickened by Cordelia's own relationship and forthcoming child with the basketball star. He felt like he knew a thing or two about those "animals," that his daughter did not; that she was "blind like her mother."
Good thing Cordelia was taping that final confession because Detective Fin was less than pleased to hear the staggering ignorance of Orion Sterling (as I like to call him).
"Animals? He makes his living off athletes, and he calls them that?"Detective Odafin 'Fin' Tutuola
Before the final revelation was made clear, the typical spectrum of slut-shamming, negligence, and ignorance made their appearance. Wilkins may have been innocent, but these are still very real issues manifesting themselves in today's "rape culture."
Even though he knew he wasn't guilty, "The Shark" knew to mention one of the witness's previous sexual history to her in an attempt to get her to withdraw her testimony. He was sure it would be used against her.
"We both know how many athletes you've been with."Shakir "The Shark" Wilkins
But it shouldn't matter.
There is bias on both sides, against the accuser and the accused, that needs to be eradicated in order for justice to ever prevail. When the episode began, and I didn't really question Wilkins's innocence, I assumed all his poised, seemingly genuine actions, were a front.
They weren't, as was exemplified best towards the conclusion of the episode where he broke down upon hearing that Cordelia had aborted their child. He was flawed, but he cared, and ultimately had his name become the punch line of a joke due to Orion Sterling.
And, in the same vein, I believed every word the "victims" uttered without a second guess. Every accusation should be taken seriously, but with thorough investigation as exhibited on tonight's episode.
It doesn't matter if it's an athlete (or any other celebrity) being accused, it doesn't matter if the accuser has been sexually active (why the hell should it?), it doesn't matter if you're white, black, purple, or magenta. Rape is rape, even if in this particular case the allegations were false and there was more going on than we were initially aware of.
After the long, meaningful, look Cordelia and Wilkins shared in court practically confirmed that there was something more going, I wasn't too surprised by their secret relationship.
I was impressed with the performances. Guest stars Stacy Keach and Teri Polo really did a fantastic job as the father/daughter (respectively) combo, and Henry Simmons was equally believable as the wrongly accused, but not entirely moral, Wilkins. All around solid work from the rest of the moving pieces (as I like to refer to the slew of supporting actors), and a captivating story devoid of most plot conveniences.
A great hour that tried to touch on a variety of issues, "American Disgrace" was a fitting follow up to the premiere and continued the strong start to this season. Watch Law & Order: SVU online to revisit their take on the most topical controversies plaguing today's headlines and feel free to leave your thoughts about the episode in the comments section!