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'Law & Order: SVU' tackles Ray Rice's domestic violence case

Season 16 | Episode 8 | “Spousal Privilege” | Aired Nov 19, 2014

This week, Law & Order: SVU took on the infamous Ray Rice domestic violence case. It’s an issue near and dear to the show’s heart. Mariska Hargitay (aka our heroine, Sgt. Olivia Benson) heads up the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization created to empower victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. You might have seen the “No More” PSAs on NBC. They’ve got a powerful message, and “Spousal Privilege” was an hour of television that demonstrated exactly why such an organization has to exist.

A.J. Martin (The Walking Dead’s Chad Coleman) is a former pro NFL player turned network sportscaster. Whilst perusing leaked celebrity nude pics under the cover of “investigating,” Fin stumbles upon footage of Martin fighting with his wife, Paula (Meagan Good), in a parking garage. We see A.J. swatting Paula on the backside as they argue. The next shot is a little more serious. Remember Ray Rice dragging his wife’s unconscious body? Yeah—that. Paula eventually awakens and stumbles to their car, helped by her husband. The gang notes a patrolman approaching them to get to the bottom of why Paula is missing a Louboutin and needs to hold on to the side of the SUV for support. Rollins figures out by their formal clothes that this must have occurred after a celebrity ball that took place in town six weeks ago. Liv wants to follow up on this.

A.J. and his wife are questioned, arrested on softball charges, and released after paying a fine. The captain of the arresting officer’s precinct pretty much brushes the whole thing off, telling our dicks that they were both drunk and Paula merely tripped due to her inebriation. That was some stumble. She was out like Richard Simmons, and no conscious woman is going to let one of her luxury shoes out of her sight. By the way, the chief? He’s got a football in his office.

SVU‘s most seasoned detectives, Olivia Benson and Odafin Tutuola, pay a visit to the Martins. Everything seems hunky-dory, except for the tension in the air when A.J. snaps at his son. He also gives a scary side-eye to his wife when she dares talk over him. Oh yeah, this one is a pillar of the community. Liv takes Paula aside and asks her if there’s anything she needs to tell her in private. Did you find my Louboutin? No. That’s all I got for you, Liv. A.J. lumbers upon them, noting it’s his house and anything Liv needs to say to Paula, she can say to him. His big ham-hock arm is slung “protectively” over his wife’s shoulders. Just arrest him now.

This case hits the cops pretty hard. Liv wants A.J. in jail, if not brought before a firing squad. Amaro says it is never okay to put your hands on a woman or child. Fin wants to get back to surfing celebrity nudes.

The heady discourse is interrupted by the television debut of the rest of the parking garage footage. Remember the biggest talking point of the Ray Rice vid? Him knocking his wife out with one punch? Yeah—that. It’s a whole different story now. It probably should have been a whole different story for everyone when they witnessed an unconscious woman being dragged through a parking garage, but I digress.

A.J. and Paula are brought in for questioning. It’s the usual B.S. designed to protect their money situation—I was drunk, he was drunk, I got jealous, I provoked him, I’m sorry, it will never happen again, we’re seeking spiritual counseling, don’t you touch our endorsement deal.

Barba sides with Liv. Honestly, watching a giant slab of a man punch his wife tends to do that to you. A.J. is charged with reckless endangerment and will face prison time if found guilty.

After his arraignment and bail is set, Liv approaches Paula in the insanely nice ladies’ room of an NYC courthouse to try again. Paula is having none of it, despite Liv’s quiet imploring for her to let them help her. Paula accuses Liv and her officers of wanting to stifle a strong black man. Liv manages to keep from rolling her eyes, realizing that Paula is grasping at any excuse she can.

We go to trial. Barba is on fire. His opponent, human scalpel defense attorney Rita Calhoun (Elizabeth Marvel), is scoring just as many points. The climax of the trial is Barba’s interrogation of Paula Martin. She protests that this is a matter they are handling within their family, and it’s no one’s business but theirs. She also insists that A.J. is a wonderful, sensitive man who is a superlative husband and father. His striking her was just “a reflex.” I’d hate to be the doctor who taps his knee with that rubber hammer. Dude will end up through a wall and into the fish tank in the reception area. Barba continually points out that she keeps looking to A.J. for something while testifying. Support? Permission? Is she gauging his reactions to her testimony?

The jury is in. A.J. is found guilty. No one is happy because a family has been torn apart. Paula takes the opportunity to tell Liv that she beat her worse than A.J. ever did. And scene.

Yeah, it was a sad ending. I have to give the SVU writers kudos this week. We’ve come to expect that signature SVU twist at the end of every episode. By the time the credits roll, someone is usually revealed to be on fire, receiving a large insurance payout, or pregnant. Sometimes it’s all three! This week, there was just Barba assuring Liv that she did the right thing. She did … but it doesn’t make it any easier or less sad.

Law & Order: SVU airs Wednesdays at 9/8C on NBC.