Both real and fictional law enforcement have suffered a reckoning, albeit a confusing one, in recent years. Many wondered, in the wake of the George Floyd assassination and the revival of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, when police shows were over. Law & Order: Organized Crime has dumped its showrunner Craig Gore amid controversial Facebook comments about the 2020 protests (the show has since) five showrunners over three seasons). And yet, last year the original Law & authority was resurrected, and the sister Chicago PD law enforcement franchise is going strong, so it looks like police shows are doubling down.
Yet police shows no longer exist apolitical, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit actress Kelli Giddish appears to have been a victim of the Law & Order uproar, with her departure announced prior to 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 must go.
This is not a celebration of actress Kelli Giddish’s departure from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – which was not of its own accord, and was cited by the series’ new showrunner, David Graziano, as just one part of the “complex” behind-the-scenes creative and financial decisions that drive the show — but rather those of her character. Giddish’s Amanda Rollins entered Dick Wolf’s television universe as a member of SVUelite squad for the show’s 13th season following the departure of Chris Meloni’s equally troubled detective Elliot Stabler (who is now back in this role in Organized crime, as well as numerous cameos in the spin-off that made him famous). And she quickly (and often) became an example of pushing the limits of police shows to truly protect and serve their communities. She’s judgmental, accusatory, and probably more conservative than we know, if her defense of an Ann Coulter-esque 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 assaulted another deputy in the Season 16 episode “Forgiving Rollins.” clearly on this survivor, because that’s what Rollins himself had to do. It’s a comment that flew in the face of how SVU was received at the time, as a kind of justice wish fulfillment for survivors who hoped their assaults were treated with as much care as the dedicated detectives who investigated these brutal crimes every week on NBC, but especially Captain Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), the patron saint of rape avengers.
Compared to Benson, it was hard to forgive Rollins afterward, even with all the baggage we learn about her, especially when it comes to her sister, the furious Kim, played with confidence by Lindsay Pulsipher. Having such chaotic relatives should make Rollins relatable and likable. And yet, her story is always poorly written and leaves the slightest mark on her as a character that prevents her from growing, with her twin superiority complex seemingly rising above her toxic family but always declining.
While we have empathy for Rollins and understand why she sometimes reacts dubiously to survivors who she feels are not behaving appropriately, she doesn’t carry out her job with that same empathy. A half-hearted plotline of her going into therapy to work through her toxic upbringing ended in a hostage situation (and that was it). The episode that completely soured me for the character was Season 19’s “Service” when Rollins wondered why SVU “give[s] a damn” about sex workers being attacked. For a detective tasked with bringing rapists to justice to make such a mockery of a group of people living between… 45% to 75% chance of sexual violence at workis nauseating, according to the Urban Justice Center.
And it is there that Rollins represents the uphill battle SVU and his brothers are still doing badly. The show’s “ripped from the headlines” scheme doesn’t always allow enough distance from these newsworthy crimes for: SVU to treat them with the sensitivity they warrant (that is: a problem with the true-crime genre in general). SVU got the chance to change the way police work represented in late 2020 season 22 return; However, many will argue that the damage the franchise has done to the perception of police work over the course of two decades cannot be undone in a few months. As it was, the season 22 premiere episode took white woman Amy Cooper calling the police on Black birdwatcher Christian Cooper (no relation) in Central Park’s the Ramble that happened the same day as George Floyd’s murder, and no attempt took to that summer’s racial reckoning with the concern that left survivors falling in love with the show. Of SVU tackling the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp case in the upcoming 24th season, and with the destruction of Roe v. Wade earlier this year, the show will likely include more ripped plotlines in its schedule.
Detective Rollins isn’t SVU‘s only problem; she’s just one part of a wider problem with police shows and law enforcement in general. She was protected from ever growing up and learning from her mistakes. Losing hair isn’t going to solve everything Law & authority problem, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.