Recent years have seen a reckoning for law enforcement, real or fictional. However it was confusing. Many wondered, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the resurgence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, if cop shows were over. Law & Order: Organized Crime Craig Gore was the show’s new showrunner. This decision came amid controversy on social media about the 2020 protests. Since then, there have been five showrunners throughout its three-season run. But, it was the first year that Craig Gore was replaced. Law & Order was revived, and the sister Chicago P.D. The law enforcement franchise continues to be strong so it seems that shows like cop shows are increasing their numbers.
Yet, police shows are no longer apolitical. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit actress Kelli Giddish appears to have been a casualty of Law & Order’s shakeup, with her departure announced ahead of SVU’s 24th season premiere on Thursday. But this writer won’t miss Giddish’s Detective Amanda Rollins and her legacy of victim blaming and slut shaming, and her departure shows just how far the Law & Order universe has to go.
This is not a celebration of actress Kelli Giddish’s exit from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit — which was not of her own accord, and was cited by the series’ new showrunner David Graziano as just part of the “complex” behind-the-scenes creative and financial decisions that steer the show — but rather of her character’s. Giddish’s Amanda Rollins entered the Dick Wolf televisual universe as a member of SVU’s elite squad for the show’s 13th season after the departure of Chris Meloni’s equally problematic Detective Elliot Stabler (who is now back in this role in Organized CrimeHe also made many cameo appearances in the spinoff, which helped to make him popular. This made her a great example of how police shows cannot truly help and protect communities. She’s judgmental, reproachful, and probably more conservative than we know, if her defense of an Ann Coulter-like political pundit in the season 19 episode “Info Wars” is any indication.
In later seasons we find out that Rollins was raped by her former captain in Atlanta, who assaults another deputy in the season 16 episode “Forgiving Rollins.” “She’ll get over it,” Rollins says dismissively, clearly projecting her own trauma onto this survivor because it’s what Rollins herself had to do. It’s a reaction that flew in the face of how SVU As a kind of justice wish fulfillment for survivors, the program was received as a sort of justice.
Rollins is often compared with Benson. Forgiving Rollins afterwards was tough, even with all of the baggage that we find about her. This includes her sister Kim (played with great skill by Lindsay Pulsipher). Rollins’ chaotic upbringing should make her relatable and sympathetic. Rollins’ story, however, is often poorly written. This makes it difficult to see her true character. She has a twin superiority complex, where she seems to have risen above the toxic family, but then she regresses.
Though we have empathy for Rollins and understand why she sometimes responds questionably to survivors whom she doesn’t deem to behave the right way, she doesn’t perform her job with that same empathy. A halfhearted plot line of her going to therapy to work through her toxic upbringing ended in her being held hostage (and that’s it). The episode that completely soured me to the character was season 19’s “Service,” when Rollins questions why SVU “give[s] a damn” about sex workers who have been assaulted. It is deeply disturbing that a detective charged with finding rapists in court would be so hostile to a group who are at risk of suffering sexual violence, according the Urban Justice Center.
And it’s there that Rollins represents the uphill battle SVUIts brethren continue to wage a terrible war. The show’s “ripped from the headlines” schema doesn’t always allow enough distance from these newsworthy crimes for SVU They must be treated with respect (which is the problem with true-crime in general). SVU had the opportunity to change how it represented policing in late 2020’s season 22 return; however, many will argue that the damage the franchise has done to the perception of policing over the course of two decades cannot be undone in a few months. As it was, season 22’s premiere episode took on white woman Amy Cooper calling the cops on Black birdwatcher Christian Cooper (no relation) in Central Park’s the Ramble that occurred the same day as George Floyd’s murder, making no effort to unpack the racial reckoning of that summer with any of the care that made survivors fall in love with the show. You can watch the episode with SVUIn the next 24th season we will tackle the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp cases and end the current season. Roe V. Wade earlier this year, the show will likely be factoring more ripped-from-the-headlines plot lines into its schema.
Detective Rollins isn’t SVU’s only problem; she’s just one part of a wider issue with cop shows and law enforcement more broadly. It was her fault that she wasn’t allowed to make mistakes and grow up. Getting rid of her isn’t going to solve every Law & Order problem, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.
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