Is there any such thing as a rape gene?
Olivia Benson had questioned herself about that years ago, when an accused rapist turned out to be the son of another rapist.
Now, on Law & Order: SVU Season 18 Episode 13, that old unsettled question came back to haunt her despite her strong belief that the rape gene defense is ridiculous.
I love it when Olivia's complicated past is brought up, especially now that she's older and wiser and presumably has had a lot more time to think and learn about her own history.
Olivia originally became an SVU detective because she was the product of rape and wanted to do for other victims what she could not go back in time and do for her mother.
Over the years, we've seen her question who she is as she rose from an inexperienced detective to the leader of the squad. Along the way she was almost raped while undercover and was kidnapped and raped by a serial killer.
These experiences have undoubtedly shaped her understanding of herself, and now almost 20 years after we first met her, it's interesting to see how she's grown -- and how she hasn't.
Rollins: It's obvious you didn't tell Carisi about your father.
Benson: Obviously, neither did you.
Rollins: Isn't my place. This genetics stuff... are you okay with that?
Benson: Oh yeah. I'm fine.
Olivia seemed to initially reject the rape gene defense as ridiculous, and it seemed like she kind of knew the whole idea was silly when she brought it up to her therapist.
Yet the violent way she acted out after her own brutal rape was still frightening to her, and she just couldn't seem to let go of the fear that Noah had inherited a sociopathic gene from his biological father.
Olivia's fears for Noah really concerned me, because if she doesn't get that under control she could treat Noah differently because of her anxiety and that could cause her fears to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The last scene of Olivia looking in on Noah was haunting for that reason. She kept telling him she loved him as if she were expecting him to do something bad that she would have to struggle with.
Meanwhile, the cops got into ethically sticky territory more than once while investigating this case.
Barba: Motion to suppress.
Benson: Suppress what?
Barba: Dalton's confession at the therapy group. They're claiming it's inadmissible because of clergy/congregant privilege.
Benson: Clergy/congregant? That's a stretch.
Barba: The law's evolving.
Benson: Okay. So worst case scenario, we lose the confession, what happens?
Barba: We're screwed. We lose the confession, we lose everything. Fruit of a poisonous tree.
While I agreed with Benson and Barba that calling the group leader a religious leader was really a stretch, I felt uncomfortable with the cops sitting in on this support meeting.
The premise that the members are all rapists who can't help it is ridiculous and inappropriate, but it seemed to me the members had an expectation of privacy, since it was a therapy group in an empty warehouse.
Plus, using a member as an informant without training him properly was problematic, especially since Nick probably only agreed to do it in order to avoid a lengthier jail sentence. This resulted in another member pulling a knife on Nick, and if anyone had injured the NYPD would probably have been held responsible.
Will: I don't want to betray anyone.
Sonny: You don't owe Dalton a damn thing. He is a predator. He is everything you are trying so hard to overcome. And if you protect him, he's going to rape again. And that's gonna be on you.
If that wasn't bad enough, look at what almost happened to Will!
As a result of the police not using proper investigative procedures in the first place, they were forced to try to get the evidence they needed in a different way. They thus turned to Will, the one member of the group who had not actually raped anyone.
Will was a young guy who feared becoming a rapist like his father and hated himself even though he'd never done anything wrong. The group leader was irresponsible in encouraging his belief that he had this "rape gene."
But Carisi was more irresponsible, using Will's fear against him to coerce him into testifying. Will sincerely believed he'd be responsible for Sam's further sexual assaults if he didn't come forward, thanks to what Sonny had to say.
Naturally, Will didn't show up in court. But what neither Carisi nor the ridiculous group leader who was trying to coerce Will in the other direction realized was that Will was so fragile that the conflict was driving him towards suicide.
I blame both the SVU team and the group leader for that.
Will suffered from the delusion that he was a rapist because of who his father was, and the group leader's shared belief in that delusion was making things worse and convincing the kid that he really was bad news. But the pressure from SVU to go against what the leader said or else be responsible for other rapes didn't help either.
It was great to see Benson come full circle and convince Will his belief was mistaken by using her own history, but this whole suicide risk scenario didn't have to happen.
Even if the group leader was not consulting a mental health expert like he should have been, SVU could have before they even went down this road.
Once upon a time, they called in the house psychiatrist when they had a victim, witness, or defendant who was acting strangely.
Nick's claim about the rape gene should have triggered that consult in the first place, and Will's insistence on being part of a group for recovering rapists when he'd never done anything sexual with anyone should also have made them think they needed the psychiatrist's opinion before they proceeded.
Mark Brown: You want me to tell you whether I have family in the area. What else do you want? Want me to wash your hair?
Rollins: No, we have people who do that. One of the few perks of being a cop.
Even the detectives' claim that Mark Brown's relative had been in a bad accident so that they could find out who the rapist was struck me as ethically dubious.
Sure, SVU detectives and other cops in TV Land and real life lie to suspects all the time, but making a prisoner think his only relative was dying seemed needlessly cruel, especially when they probably could have got the same information by looking through his records or his visitor log.
What did you think of "Genes"? Will Olivia overcome her fears for Noah before it's too late? Is SVU becoming an ethically compromised police department?
Weigh in below, and don't forget you can watch Law & Order: SVU online if you missed anything.
Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.