Well, Law & Order: SVU Season 19 Episode 10 asked a lot of serious questions.
How just is it to punish mentally ill persons for serious crimes against other people? Is prison always the right answer to violent crime? How do you protect people from those who harm them in the name of loving them because of some mental defect?
SVU is always at its best when it tackles these tough questions, though there were so many issues raised that "Pathological" felt a little bit like it was all over the place.
I thought the issue that started off the hour would have made a fascinating case.
With the accused rapist being on the autistic spectrum and his alleged victim having both physical and mental defects, there were a ton of questions about whether consent was possible and whether both kids' limited understanding of the meaning of sex impacted any potential culpability.
I was a little bit disappointed when it quickly became clear the real story revolved around Mariel's mother, who I pegged as abusing her daughter from the moment she walked into the room.
Mariel: Am I in trouble?
Rollins: Oh honey, no. We just want to find out what happened between you and Cody.
[Mother runs in] Mother: Honey, are you okay?
Rollins: Detective Rollins, SVU.
Mother [to Vanessa]: You called the police???
Vanessa: We had to.
Mother: Mariel, honey, what happened?
Mariel: Mommy, Cody raped me.
Mariel matter-of-factly stated to her mother that Cody raped her, and instead of being concerned or upset, Dawn immediately wanted to take her home. If Rollins hadn't been suspicious, I would have questioned her qualifications to work in SVU.
While we didn't get to hear any more about Cody's case other than that Barba wasn't prosecuting, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Cody mentioned again during Mariel's trial.
Usually when a case is just a precursor to the real story, the players just disappear so SVU can get on with the business of telling that story. So linking Cody back both to Mariel and her motivation for killing her mother was a welcome change.
I got a little bit lost even though the story was straightforward because the subject of the hour kept changing. First, it was Cody and Mariel, which led to SVU vs. Dawn. But then it became Mariel killing Dawn.
While the progression was logical, I'd rather the show had stuck with Dawn's crimes against Mariel if it was going to move away from the original case. It was hard to invest in the story when it kept turning into something else.
Benson: You did your job, Rafael.
Barba: Did I?
Benson: You could always quit.
Barba: No, that leads to lawlessness. Do whatever you want as long as the defendant is sympathetic. The law says I have to prosecute.
Benson: But your heart's not in it. What are you going to do?
Barba: I don't know.
The stories were linked by the thematic question of what justice looks like when dealing with mentally ill offenders.
Benson and Rollins questioned whether sending Dawn to jail was the right thing to do and later Barba struggled with the question of whether Mariel belonged there either.
I'm not convinced that Barba's phone call in front of two of the jurors in Mariel's case was an accident. I'm also not comfortable with the idea of a girl who murdered her mother getting community service.
It seemed to me that the real problem is that the justice system is based on punishment for offenses and not helping people to not re-offend, something which I'm passionate about.
It seemed to me the question shouldn't be whether Mariel killed her mother because she had been overmedicated for 15 years or because she was mad that her mother's abuse extended to keeping her away from her boyfriend at school.
The question should have been how to best keep everyone safe from Mariel hurting herself or anyone else again, and the idea of getting her any kind of counseling, mandatory or otherwise, did not come up at all.
Rollins: What did you do?
Mariel: You're too late. She's dead. I killed her.
I also had some logistical problems with the whole Mariel storyline.
First, the murder itself.
Mariel was 15 and had been confined to a wheelchair most of her life. She was first walking on her own and regaining her strength.
Leaving aside the question of whether she was really strong enough to hit her mother with a hammer over and over, I wanted to know how she got to the apartment!
She said she sneaked out while her dad was not in her hospital room, took the hammer from his truck, and went to see her mom.
Did Dawn live across the street from the hospital? Did she take a cab or a subway?
How long was she gone and how long was her dad out of the room that she was able to accomplish this without him knowing any of it?
This was so confusing to me that I expected it to turn out that the father killed Dawn and that Mariel was so used to repeating whatever adults told her that she said she did it!
I also was surprised that Mariel warmed to her father so quickly.
Supposedly he had been out of her life for nine years and barred from any contact with her, yet she accepted his presence without any problems whatsoever.
Finally, Mariel's mental and physical development should have been stunted by all those meds she was on, and that issue was never really brought up at trial or in the hospital.
Benson: What does Barba say?
Rollins: He doesn't want to pursue it.
Benson: Okay. But there's something else.
Rollins: This mother... you know, last week Jessie had a fever and I was concerned but I didn't rush her to the ER, and I've seen you with Noah when he's sick. Granted, this mother's been through a lot, but I don't know. Something doesn't feel right.
In any event, I expected Rollins to get overly attached to this girl. She spent an awful lot of time with her, took the lead in this case, and gave Mariel her cell number.
When Mariel called her, I thought that the girl might start making up crises to have a reason to call her because Rollins had been so loving towards her, and I wondered if she was going to fall into a trap of that nature.
I was glad that she didn't, though. That last scene where she called her own mom was so emotional. I have very little use for Rollins' idiotic family but seeing her forgive her mother brought tears to my eyes anyway.
Benson: Do you really think this woman belongs behind bars? She's mentally ill, do we really want to punish her?
Barba: Like Sheila Porter?
Benson: Noah keeps asking me to see her. I don't know what to tell him.
Finally, I was thrilled to see the beginning of some aftermath for Noah after the Sheila fiasco. Noah is confused and wants to see Sheila, and I'm excited to see what Benson eventually does about this.
I know it was a throwaway line, but I think it's telling that Noah put his stuffed animal in a makeshift jail and the therapist in me can't help thinking he was working through some of his feelings about Sheila when he did that.
What did you think of "Pathological"?
Were you excited to see Olivet again?
Were you happy with the way the story progressed, or would you rather have seen SVU focus on a different aspect of this case?
Do you think Barba poisoned the jury on purpose?
Weigh in below, and don't forget you can watch Law & Order: SVU online if you missed anything.
Jack Ori is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.