In recent years, both fictional and real law enforcement has been subject to a reckoning. It was however 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 showrunner, but he quit amid controversy Facebook posts 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 Resurrected. 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.
However, the cop show does not exist anymore apolitically. 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 cameos in his spinoff, which earned him a lot of fame. This made her a great example of how police shows cannot truly help and serve 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 was compared to Benson. It was difficult to forgive Rollins, especially when we learn more about her sister Kim. Lindsay Pulsipher played the irritating Kim with ease. 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. The Urban Justice Center says it is sickening for a detective assigned to bring rapists into justice to show such hostility toward people with between 45% and 75% chance of being subject to sexual violence.
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 (a common problem in true-crime). 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 SVUThe Amber Heard/Johnny Depp Case will be tackled in the 24th Season, along with the overturning 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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