Law & Order SVU – Recap & Review – Totem

photo: nbc

Law & Order SVU

Original Air Date: Mar 30, 2011

Caitlin- Associate Staff Writer

Tonight’s episode features the return of Jeremy Irons as Dr. Jackson, who once thought he may have raped his daughter but didn’t and is now a friend of the SVU. Elizabeth Mitchell of V also shows up as a piano teacher who…well, it’s complicated.

Two girls are running through the park. In typical show fashion, the dramatic feeling gives way to the revelation they’re just playing a game. But then they find a girl’s body in a suitcase. Soon after the detectives show up, the girl’s mother does as well.

The little girl’s name is Marnie, and Olivia announces her tragic fate to the press. An investigation into the church near where the suitcase was found brings up nothing, nor do security tapes from across the street, because a moving truck blocked the drop off of the duffel. Warner announces that Marnie was sodomized and suffocated, and Dr. Jackson shows up to help in Dr. Huang’s place. He points out that Marnie was found wrapped up with a doll (that is later revealed to be one that wasn’t made after 1989), and sex offenders are soon rounded up and interrogated. Unfortunately, they all have alibis. Marnie’s father is coming back from a business trip, and Elliot and Olivia go to Marnie’s mother’s house to wait. Soon a man shows up and shoves the mother after only talking to her for a moment.

This man turns out not to be the father, but rather a new boyfriend named Chet. Though Marnie’s mother defends him, he was also accused of touching a 13-year old girl. Eventually, the mother reveals she was in bed with Chet when Marnie disappeared. Back at the station, Dr. Jackson suggests the killer could be a woman, a theory nobody else warms up to. Yet the person they’re looking for wrapped Marnie up carefully in a sign of remorse and was probably abused herself. A search begins into all the women in Marnie’s life, including her piano teacher, June. At first, she is just one of several suspects, but when she tries to run away at Marnie’s funeral, she jumps to the top of the list.

June had said Marnie’s mother cancelled her piano lesson the day she was taken, but she was actually the one who broke the appointment. Jackson says that June’s abuse may have caused her to want to hurt Marnie, who she tried to keep away, but who showed up anyway. He accompanies Elliot and Olivia to June’s home and manages to put her at ease enough that she lets them in. Olivia tries to talk to June while Jackson and Elliot head outside. Suddenly, Olivia’s voice comes over a handset calling for an ambulance for cardiac arrest. In the home, June is lying on the floor, having only told Olivia to tell Marnie’s parents that she was sorry before she collapsed. Thanks to Jackson’s intervention, she survives and wakes up in the hospital, but says she doesn’t deserve to live after what she did- something she refuses to talk about.

Having already bonded somewhat with June, Jackson now approaches her as a psychiatrist, talking about her life. Her mother taught her piano, and the doll Marnie was found with was given to her by her father, who raped her when she was seven. Jackson slips up in suggesting she doesn’t need a lawyer, but when he gets her to say as much herself, she starts to break down. Eventually she confesses to everything and sobs apologies to Marnie’s photo. The detectives realize that June will have to go to jail, but say she’ll be on suicide watch. June interrupts the conversation with desperate praying, in which she refers to the other souls- as in multiple children- who’ve been hurt. Talking to June’s other piano students brings up nothing, but then they stumble upon June’s mother, a woman who was supposedly dead.

June may have said her mother, Elaine, was dead because of her anger that Elaine didn’t protect her from her father’s abuse. Or, as Jackson suggests, it may have been because Elaine herself was the abuser. She also might be Marnie’s real killer. At Elaine’s home, they find a terrified young woman named Katie, Elaine’s daughter from another marriage. She’s clearly disturbed and we learn that she and her mother share a bedroom. Katie and June meet in prison and Jackson says Katie knows June wasn’t responsible. In an interview with Elliot, Katie says June invited her to her home, where she saw Marnie on the porch. As she keeps talking, June doesn’t want to listen, but at least hears Katie will be taken into psychiatric care instead of prison. Katie comes to the window of the interrogation room, saying she still loves June, who is stricken. Dr. Jackson tries to comfort her as he leads her away.

The term “totem”, according to Merriam-Webster Online, basically means an object symbolic of family, and is referring to the doll Marnie was found with. I’m sure there’s a connection between the conventional notion that girls play with dolls and the nature of the crimes in this episode. This was an extreme episode even by SVU standards, but it certainly put a light on some common views about sexual violence. On the one hand, we often play how objectified and in danger of violence women are. On the other, we often, as Elliot and Olivia did here, don’t even consider the possibly that women are capable of committing such acts themselves. Anyway, it was nice to see Jeremy Irons again- though I hope Dr. Huang’s absence isn’t foreshadowing, considering B.D. Wong has a new show that might get picked up- and Elizabeth Mitchell. Next week: the return of Casey Novak!

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