Now in its fifth season, this Law & Order spin off is sometimes compelling and sometimes too lurid to take. Both qualities have been on display as the series bids for ratings during November sweeps.
In an episode that was engrossing if a little preachy, Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) went beyond the call of duty to pursue a case involving fetal alcohol syndrome. The following week's show, sensationalized yet potent, used a murder case to examine homophobia from several angles. But the Nov. 18 episode, the series' 100th, testifies more to its flaws than to its virtues.
Sordid even by SVU standards, the script begins with a castration in a subway station, then puts Benson and partner Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) on the trail of a wacko (Austin Pendleton) who imprisons sex slaves in a dungeon. Eventually we're treated to a series of improbable twists designed to keep us guessing whether a glamorous antiquities dealer (guest star Jacqueline Bisset) could be a killer. This episode crosses the line—into self-parody.