SVU: What Does Justice Really Mean?
By Koli Marie
The second episode of the first season of SVU is called “A Single Life”. The whole episode is devoted to bringing a woman’s killer to justice.
The episode starts out with very obvious victim blaming. When Benson (Mariska Hargitay) is walking home and stumbles across a scene where a woman in a camise is sprawled out on top of a car, dead, she asks if anyone had notified SVU. The cop on scene responds “Because she’s not wearing panties, you mean?”
The victim blaming continues when SVU and what we assume is Homicide are going through the victim, Gretchen Quinn’s belongings, and Benson mentions that she’s thinking their victim may have been raped. The Homicide detective states there was no evidence of forced entry, when Benson jumps back with “I didn’t say it was a stranger,” the unnamed Homicide detective says, “Plus, she wasn’t exactly dressed in her refusal outfit.”
So begins the investigation into who threw this woman through a window, tumbling eight stories down, landing on a car, and killing her. They find what becomes the central theme of the episode, betrayal. She’d been sleeping with a National news anchor, and her therapist— who also said she’d have sex with random men, so long as she chose him before he chose her.
The investigation digs deeper and finds out that Gretchen’s real name was Susan Sidarsky, she’d been running away from her family, and herself, changing her name, not touching her trust fund, what she called “blood money”, because her father raped her as a child. When the detectives meet her sister, who had been living in Denver for over 20 years, we find out that he did the same to her. Only she had been dipping into her trust fund, meanwhile Gretchen/Susan’s was over $3 Million and still climbing.
The detectives track down the father, Robert Sidarsky in New Jersey (why’s it always gotta be Jersey!?) to inform him that his daughter is dead. He, having a new family, thinks it’s his 10 year old daughter. He’s visibly distraught until he finds out it was Susan, then it’s as if someone told him the sky is blue, he shrugs it off.
The detectives of SVU are in the bullpen (I feel cool using cop lingo, that’s where all their desks are!) talking about theories of the crime. It’s not the news anchor, he’s got an alibi. That leaves the therapist or the dad. Most everyone is convinced it’s the therapist, everyone but Benson. Her theory is maybe Susan did cash a trust fund check, the father finds her having sex with the news anchor or her therapist, gets filled with violent rage, and tosses her through the window, sending her plummeting to her death.
Benson convinced the sister, Ellie Travis, to stay for one more day, “Just one more day… in a lifetime,” and she has a moment alone with her father in an interrogation room, while they listen in the adjacent room where cops usually listen in on interrogations. Ellie came prepared. She confronts her father about the abuse that she and Susan suffered, he threatens her trust fund to which she replies, in a way that makes you want to cheer and throw your fist in the air, “Shove it up your ass.”
Then comes the clincher, the plot twist that not only SVU, but the entire Law and Order franchise is famous for, Ellie reads Susan’s obituary, the obituary she wrote herself and mailed (snail mail, who remembers that!?) it to her sister in Denver. It turns out Susan committed suicide.
Overall, the theme of betrayal, especially from the father and the psychiatrist, is done well. The writers also talk about the effects of childhood sexual abuse, and while they hit the most common effects, it’s important to remember that every person reacts to trauma differently and that there’s no such thing as a perfect victim.
There are a few lines in this dark, heavy episode, that make me chuckle. Specifically, my favorite line, when Elliot (Chris Meloni) and Olivia go to question a reporter at The New York Ledger and Olivia shows him a picture of “Gretchen”. The reporter doesn’t recognize her and when he goes to describe her Olivia fills in what she assumes would be his answer— a babe, a stone cold fox? He replies with, “No, you’re a babe… and a stone cold fox…”
The episode is one that leaves you feeling heartbroken for Susan, angry at her father, Robert, and kind of like you need a shower with the way the men in the victim’s life acted towards her and in general. It’s a painfully good episode. But the thing that will always haunt me, is that Susan didn’t open the window before she jumped.