Spoilers ahead for Episode 6 of Law & Order: SVU Season 22, "The Long Arm of the Witness."
Law & Order: SVU is never exactly filled with laughs, and even the wins for the Special Victims Unit are usually bittersweet at best considering the heinous crimes that generally start each episode. In "The Long Arm of the Witness," the good guys actually got a good kind of surprise thanks to a little help from a returning character, and risking their careers ultimately paid off. That said, I should have known as soon as the judge dismissed the deal that let a rapist off easy to sentence him to jail that something bad was going to happen before the end of the hour, and it definitely did with some devastating advice Olivia Benson received.
Olivia chased after defense attorney Rita Calhoun, who had gone to bat in the courtroom to defend a judge with a history of raping women and then using his influence to keep his victims silent, to ask what she was thinking. Rita told Olivia to "read the room" because the courts are packed with men like the judge that Olivia just helped put behind bars. The fix is in, according to Rita, and the lawyer warned Olivia that she would be marginalized for the rest of her career if she "kept staying on the wrong side." Rita delivered a piece of advice to close the conversation, and I was downright shocked at what she said:
My advice: lie back and pretend you're enjoying it.
Olivia looked like she had the wind knocked out of her at the advice Rita gave, and I actually gasped myself, even though Rita obviously was speaking figuratively. Even after 22 seasons packed with terrible crimes, SVU can deliver an emotional punch. Olivia Benson being given this advice for her career after decades investigating sex crimes is just devastating, and it unfortunately raises the question of what comes next. Although I think we can be confident that Olivia will never stop fighting for the victims even if it means going up against powerful figures, it's worth noting that she didn't actually argue with most of the points that Rita was making about the fix being in.
Rita also raised the point that the court system may not change for the next 30 years or so, and even Law & Order: SVU surely isn't going to last into Season 50 and beyond! Will the events of "The Long Arm of the Witness" change how Olivia approaches cases to try and effectively work the legal system, or will she continue to fight for victims the same way she always has? Then again, this could simply be a case of SVU speaking to the audience about discrimination via the characters talking, as the show is no stranger to ripped-from-the-headlines cases.
Part of me initially wondered if Rita telling Olivia that the decks are stacked against them was somewhat in service of setting up the Law & Order: Organized Crime series that's on the way, since corruption in positions of power seems like something worth Elliot Stabler investigating, but I'm leaning toward the Stabler spinoff focusing more on the mob than anything else. Now, if the mob has somehow infiltrated the legal system, that could be another story.
Unfortunately, we won't see the aftermath of Olivia and Rita's conversation as soon as next week. Law & Order: SVU won't be back with new episodes until February 18, so fans have a few weeks to ponder what's on the way. Between this latest twist, the possibility of Kat making a change, and whether or not SVU might finally take some steps forward when it comes to Rollins and Carisi after the rough season that Carisi has had so far, a lot has happened in a complicated season.