'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit': Season finale smackdown
"Zebras" (2009): The case: A mother was murdered in Central Park, and the case is compromised after Stuckey accidentally contaminates evidence.
The characters: Stuckey's careless mistake allowed for the suspect, Harrison, to go free, much to the frustration of the SVU squad. Elliot ripped into him and the devastation Stuckey felt was clear. Bodies, which indicated Harrison as the killer, started turning up, but it wasn't that simple.
Turned out Stuckey wasn't just annoying and incompetent, he was also bonkers. He broke in a spectacular fashion, killing people and planting evidence, pinning the crimes on their initial suspect. When he felt the walls closing in on him, Stuckey killed O'Halloran -- a long-running, albeit minor character. Elliot went to the lab to discuss evidence with O'Halloran and Stuckey finally got the chance to take his frustrations out on him. Olivia found Elliot tied up and bloody and talked/seduced Stuckey out of killing him.
"Shattered" (2010): The case: A child is kidnapped by an unknown man and the suspicion falls on his separated parents, Sophie and Paul.
The characters: Sophie, in serious denial over her child's death, took Paul, Olivia, Dr. Warner and Jo hostage at the morgue. Sophie fired a shot at Paul, but hit Dr. Warner instead. Olivia was forced to insert a chest tube into Dr. Warner. Paul and Sophie argued, but she got agitated about them fighting in front of their son. Jo talked Sophie into letting Dr. Warner and Olivia leave, so Sophie's son wouldn't have to witness Dr. Warner die.
As Elliot worked on getting into the morgue, Jo admitted to Sophie that she had battled cancer earlier that year. Jo was close to convincing Sophie that she had to accept her son's death when Elliot's cell phone went off and he was forced out of hiding. Elliot told Sophie that they have proof that Paul was the one who had arranged for their son to be kidnapped and Sophie snapped and put the gun to Paul's head. She only put the gun down after Jo picked up Sophie's dead kid and convinced her that her son needed her.
Our pick: "Zebras." While both episodes had over-the-top hostage takers endangering the lives of characters we care about, we bought the dramatics of the hostage situation in "Zebras" more. The show had set up Stuckey as an underling who so badly wanted to fit in with the cool kids, desiring Elliot and Olivia's approval to an almost amusing degree, over a span of multiple episodes. Because the audience had been given time to know the kid -- even if he was annoying -- seeing him fall so hard, so fast was a kick in the gut. His vicious cutting of Elliot was brutal and chilling.
And really, does the show need to make it so poor Olivia has to do everything? She is an amazing cop, but consistently putting her in ridiculous situations -- like making her insert a chest tube on Dr. Warner... Seriously? -- is a bit tiring. Yes, we understand this was a life-or-death situation, but it was still ridiculous.
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Photo credit: NBC