LAW & ORDER: SVU: The Duggars/Palin Mashup (S17 E6 RECAP)
Law & Order: SVU got off to a good start 100 years ago when it first aired. Olivia Benson was different from the women on Law & Order Original Brand. Physically she was a tall brunette like the endless string of way-too-young-for-a-geezer assistant district attorneys that Jack McCoy was sexually harassing, but she was tough – a child of rape with an abusive alcoholic mother who couldn’t look at her without thinking about the assault. Benson could have withered McCoy’s balls with a raised eyebrow.
But the show gave this viewer burnout. Too many really terrible things happened week after week. Even if the bad guy got caught in the end, the damage was done, and there’d be more coming. Plus those “ripped from the headline episodes” often seemed more tawdry and less interesting than the “real” stories. Why not just watch the Dateline version? My visits to the unit became so infrequent that if you’d asked me whether or not the show was still on the air, I wouldn’t have known. What made me come back?
It was you, HappyNiceTimers, who brought me there – you and your insatiable appetite for all things Duggar. Last week’s episode offered a spin on America’s favorite Christian family with too many kids, so someone around here had to check it out.
Shall we go to the recap?
The show opens reality TV-style with a purity ball. There are voiceovers and time shifts just like in a real documentary. I never thought I’d need to use trigger-warnings on HNTP, but the ick-level here is off the charts, so have your barf-bag at the ready.
Meet the Bakers. That’s “Bakers” with one k, no relation, except spiritual maybe, with the late great Tammy Faye or Jim. They aren’t exactly the Duggars. They appear to have slightly fewer children. Also, they are not in Arkansas, but upstate New York – which seems highly unlikely, but more about that later. Their kids do not all have names beginning with “J,” but some have odd names like Tymber and Summer, which may make us think us think of another celebrity family — and that, as it turns out, is no accident.
Little Lane is about to turn fourteen, so it’s time for her to
marry commit her virginity to her father. That might not have come out right. May I confess I’ve never actually seen 19 Kids and Counting? I can’t tell you whether the inadvertent double-entendres come this fast and furious on the original, but you might want to wear a helmet as you’re about to be hit over the head with the incestuous nature of the event with quotes like this:
“She’ll never forget this night with her Daddy.”
Daddy Frank has that weird drugged-out-by-the-light look in his eyes. Momma Pam has the pretend weird drugged-out-by-the-light look that’s hiding something. Could it be anger? Or is it just exhaustion and resentment?
Why are they having the Purity Ball in Sin City? Granted the show has to find some way to get them into our jurisdiction, and yes, all types come here as tourists, but what’s the point of coming to New York with your kids if even going to Wicked is going to be too risqué on account of the witches? Sure, they’ve opened an Applebees in Times Square, but how do you avoid all those palaces of Satan and the gays like The Disney Store?
Just so we know that they have mo’ betta values than us, Lane is thrilled to be wearing the dress that’s a hand-me-down from two of her sisters, which is morally superior to getting a new dress. (Actually it is morally superior, especially if it’s a homemade dress that wasn’t made by blind children in Bangladesh or condemned prison labor in China, so let’s give it up for the Christians on that one.)
Now it’s time for the father-daughter dance. Lane faints, which we all know can mean only one thing on television. She’s preggers. So now the question is: Will it turn out to be her awkward teenage brother? Or will they take artistic liberties and make it her dad?
How does the SVU get involved? If a child is pregnant, then a crime was committed, and they’re going to investigate. Given that the Bakers are a high-profile family, they get the high-profile team, so Lt. Benson herself shows up at the hospital with her crew. Pastor Eldon, who is conveniently also Lawyer Eldon, blows off the cops. He tells them they’ll follow up with their local police. Since the “crime” of conception occurred three months ago when the family was in their hometown of Allville, New York City has no jurisdiction.
This leads to some discussion amongst the police in which the Duggars are mentioned just so we’re 100% clear that while the Bakers are Duggar-like, they are not actual Duggars. The folks at TVJuriste can probably tell you more about how the franchise protects itself from lawsuits.
Staying away from the case makes sense for SVU because they are on shaky legal ground pursuing it, and as someone says, “religious communities close ranks.” However, Olivia can’t let it go because she is and always will be an angel of righteous outrage and bastion against cynicism, so the team explores their options. The very pregnant Det. Rollins, now on desk duty, has developed quite the internet habit. (Breaking her addiction will no doubt be handled in a very special episode next season). She’s seen every episode of the reality show and thinks she can find something useful on the net. She tells her comrades, “Their entire life is an open blog.”
Well, whose isn’t?
By this point, I will concede this show is better than I remember it. Instead of the extreme intensity of the Benson/Stabler partnership, there’s now a team, and they all work well together, and relate to each to each other as real coworkers might. Even without having seen it in years, the characterization is strong enough that I get who’s who without any added awkward backstory.
It turns out that going through the Bakers’ old posts is not a waste of time. They find out the children were on a mission in New York in July when Lane would have gotten knocked up. They get the family down to the station. One of the detectives hangs out with the bulk of the children and gets them pizza while Benson herself talks to Lane.
Benson can’t get Lane to tell her who the father of her baby is, but she does do a guessing game where she gets Lane to admit it was someone who worked for the family, and finally she gets her to write a name on a piece of paper. It’s the cameraman – Chris Elliot. And yes, stunt-casting television icon and always kind of creepy Chris Elliot, scores enormous points with your humble recapper!
The police want to do an amnio to get the DNA and make their case, but the Bakers won’t allow that because of the risk of miscarriage. They won’t even allow a blood test.
The police look through more footage. They notice some tape of two of the Baker teenage girls getting dressed. They get Chris Elliot in for questioning, threatening to charge him with child pornography because television has never exploited teenage girls in such a shocking way like what they just showed us.
But Chris Elliot couldn’t have done it. He had a vasectomy. He does have an idea, however, of who the guilty party is, and shows them footage of awkward teenage brother Graham copping a feel while one of sisters is getting a piano lesson.
Lane’s protecting whoever it is. As for Graham, turns out he’s been shipped out to Camp Righteous Path in Canada. Det. Ice-T and Carisi go up to the Bakers’ home base, the town of Allville in “The Catskills” to investigate. They want to talk to the local judge about Graham’s record.
Show loses points here for putting Allville in the Catskills. The Catskills are the historical home of the old-time Borscht belt and adjacent to hipster havens like Woodstock and granola eating hiking towns. The Catskills aren’t the Ozarks. They aren’t even Appalachia. There may be a few insular white Christian towns left, but an “Allville” seems unlikely. Now if they’d set this in the southern tier of the state, near Binghamton, they’d be on to something.
The judge, who is also an elder of the church, and golfs with Pastor Eldon’s father, isn’t willing to unseal Graham’s record. He tells them the boy had “high spirits” and needed to get away from all those sisters of his. (The vixens! Darn those teenage girls with their breasts and vaginas.)
On their way out of town, a local cop stops their car. At first it looks like this may turn into a horror film or Wayward Pines, or one of those ripped from the headlines driving-while-black “incidents” ending in a shoot-out, but it turns out the only way the local cop could sneak them Graham’s sealed juvenile record was by pretending to harass them.
SVU would love to talk to Graham, but he’s been sent on a mission to Ecuador. Benson herself shows up at the family’s church to appeal to Pam and try to convince her that Graham needs real help. Family spokesman, handler, pastor and lawyer, Gregory Eldon kicks the cops out.
Back in New York, binge watching pays off for Det. Rollins who has detected an interesting pattern. The kids were generally spaced out almost two years apart, but not baby Tate! He arrived just eleven months after his previous sibling, and there was no announcement. Plus Pam didn’t look pregnant! And, then twelve year old Baker girl, Summer, had to go off to visit an aunt in Michigan for most of the season. So it looks like Graham could be Tate’s father too.
You know who else was disappeared from her family before her little “brother” was born? That picture of a flat-bellied Pam who should have looked pregnant is just like those pictures of Palin when she should have been big with Trig. But the new twist, that the baby could have been the product of incest — that’s some high-class conspiracy mongering! That would explain why Palin would pretend it was her baby instead of just getting the shotgun out like they did when Bristol got pregnant the second time. When exactly did they ship Track off to the army? Not that I believe SVU is on to something, but great television makes you ask the questions.
The police don’t need Graham’s DNA to prove their theory. They have Tate’s DNA because when the kids were there he drooled on a detective’s jacket and it hasn’t been washed. They can get Frank’s DNA from the ROTC database. If they’re right, Frank’s DNA would show up as both the maternal and paternal grandpa. But guess what? New twist. Frank’s the grandpa, but only on the mother’s side. The father is a male of northern European descent.
Pastor Lane becomes the suspect. Tate’s conception would have happened in New York on another mission when Pam and Frank were not present to protect the kids. When confronted, the smarmy child-molester tells the detectives they live in Gomorrah, and he’s being religiously persecuted. They have a warrant and get his DNA.
We a have a match!
Benson herself schleps upstate to make the arrest even though she’s the boss. There are some scumbags you want to take down personally. Eldon’s not at his church. He’s over in the judge’s chambers getting married to Lane. It’s her 14th birthday and her wedding day so she’ll never forget her anniversary. Aren’t you glad you kept that barf bag handy?
Is getting married at 14 really a thing you ask? Yes it is. Your humble recapper did the research and here is your link. A fourteen year old in New York State can get married by a judge as long as the parents and the judge consent.
Mama Pam talks about what a good son-in-law he’ll make like she’s speaking in front of the cameras even though she’s not because they fired the cameraman. Benson is like, “Really?” Pam further explains it’ll be in name only to protect Lane and the baby, and they’ll get Graham the help he needs (someplace far away). Benson gives Pam some news. Her son may have gotten handsy in an incestuous way, but he didn’t get anyone pregnant. The pastor did it, and he did it before too. She tells Pam that Elron is the father of Summer’s baby. Mama Pam is still in denial. First she insists Summer didn’t have a baby. Then she looks at her husband and asks about Graham’s confession. Frank admits Graham didn’t actually confess to him. The Pastor told him he confessed. Finally when confronted with the DNA, Pam loses the faraway look in her eyes and starts yelling. Pam asks Lane to tell the truth, the real truth, and not the TV version. Lane admits she loves the pastor and says “This is god’s plan for us.”
The pastor goes super villain, insisting the Bakers won’t tell their fans, but Pam says she’ll testify. Frank says nothing as he’s been kind of a big dope throughout the episode. Never having watched the Duggars, I can’t speculate on how true to life that is.
In an epilogue, we watch the crew watching Pam and Frank on television making a statement about the pastor who betrayed them and their healing process. Benson announces that Elron is pleading guilty and facing hard time. Det. Dodds, the new guy, who had doubts about pursuing the case, has come around, but says thought he’d be taking rapists off the streets, not out of churches.
Benson delivers the lesson line, which somehow sounds right and not preachy. “Most rapists don’t hunt on the streets. They hunt where they’re trusted.” She is awesome, and I’m going to start watching this one again.