Are you feeling good on the seventh day into the new year of 2021? In “Sightless in a Savage Land,” you learn some icky things, that on New Year’s Eve, sex trafficking is big business and there’s lots of money to be made out of a 13-year-old girl.
The missing girl, Nydia Davis (Vanessa Carrasco), is a foster child and her foster dad (Bhavesh Patel) has reported her missing. This is “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” so there’s more to this story. How else will they bring back Raúl Esparza as Rafael Barba.
Barba first appeared in Season 14 (“Twenty-Five Acts”) and became a series regular for Season 15. During Season 19, ADA Barba disconnected the life support of a comatose infant whose parents were arguing over what to do (The Undiscovered Country”). He had left his father on life support when he was in a diabetic coma and regretted it. The DA (Sam Waterson as Jack McCoy) had Barba charged with murder and although he was acquitted, Barba decided to leave after 21 years as a prosecutor (He was replaced by Philip Winchester’s Peter Stone).
Barba still keeps in touch with Benson. She was Skyping with him during Season 21 (“Redemption in her Corner”) while he’s working in Iowa as a voter fraud investigator.
The episode begins with the unmasked Sgt. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) in Times Square talking about New Year’s Eve with her adopted son, Noah, who is masked. Because of COVID-19, no crowds will be gathering, but the area will be blocked off. Olivia and Noah (Ryan Bubble) will be spending New Year’s Eve as always, at home watching the ball drop on television. Noah can’t wait for the year to be over.
Fin (Ice-T) is working up the nerve to propose to his first partner and current girlfriend, Sgt. Phoebe Baker (Jennifer Esposito) with Vice and shows the ring to Benson. It’s a good-sized rock. Carisi’s (Peter Scanavino) family is in the Poconos, but because he has five depositions on Monday, he’s spending New Year’s alone. Amanda (Kelli Giddish) finds out while handing him some files and invites him over to pizza night with her daughters. Katriona Tamin (Jamie Gray Hyder) is meeting her girlfriend for New Year’s Eve. An Amber Alert brings the team back on the job.
The foster father, Ajay Sharma (Bhavesh Patel), and his wife, Rani (Lipica Shah), report Nydia Davis (Vanessa Carrasco), their foster child, has been kidnapped. The foster father tells SVU he saw her being taken away in a white box truck. Nydia doesn’t have her phone and her phone and computer are turned over to the police.
Nydia’s mother lost custody because she’s a prostitute on drugs. Her pimp is known for working out of a white box truck. They go and check him out and you get to learn the slogan, “shorty for forty,” meaning 15 minutes for $40. Nydia’s not there.
Nydia’s found on the sidewalk, bleeding out in an ambulance bay. An orderly realized that she resembled the Amber Alert child. Nydia had traces of the abortion pill in her tox screen. A D&C (dilation and curettage) was performed and she was at least eight weeks pregnant. Nydia’s bombshell is: She was pregnant to her foster father.
Nydia’s real father, Mickey Davis, a former Ranger (Brett Parks), is in rehab at the Bronx VA Hospital. He has a Purple Heart, a titanium leg and Fin’s sympathy. At the arraignment of the foster father, Fin accompanies the father. “All I want is for him to look me in the eye,” Davis says. Oh, now that’s a possible culture class. Some cultures and subcultures don’t view looking someone in the eye as a sign of respect, but a sign of disrespect.
This is where the case begins: The father shoots the foster father.
Benson reels in Barba to look into the defense for the vet and Barba goes to see Carisi who has caught the case. Barba takes the case and while Benson warns him, “We cannot send a message that it’s okay to take the law into your own hands,” Barba doesn’t work for the DA office any more and so he’s not worried about messages. He’s worried about winning the hearts of 12 New Yorkers.
This episode does illustrate the change in representation of a man’s right to avenge the defilement of a female under his protection. In 1906, Harry Kendall Thaw, the heir to a great fortune, was taken to trial for the shooting and killing of Stanford White in front of hundreds of witnesses. White had raped Evelyn Nesbit when she was a teenaged girl and before she was married to Thaw. Thaw was found not guilty due to temporary insanity. Temporary insanity as a defense was first used in the case of Congressman Daniel Sickles of New York in 1859 for the Washington, DC murder of his wife’s lover, Philip Barton Key II, an attorney who served as the US Attorney of the District of Columbia.
Now, it’s murder or man(slaughter).
The conceit behind Barba’s return isn’t totally convincing and that lapse on Fin’s part also tweaks believability, but this episode is about inopportune phone calls. The last part is basically showing us the COVID-19 protocols for jury duty and if the student, Carisi, has learned anything from the master, Barba. Will Barba return as the crusading defense attorney? We’ll see. Kudos for Law & Order keeping up with production under COVID-19, dealing with current issues, and their curious face mask choreography. I’d give it a B+.