In order to adapt, Law & Order had to kill off one of its long-running characters
Amanda Rollins, played by Kelli Giddish on SVU, strained the bounds of the show's credo of "standing up for victims."
In recent years, both actual and fictional law enforcement have faced a reckoning, albeit a perplexing one. Many people wondered if cop shows were dead after George Floyd’s murder and the emergence of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. Craig Gore, the showrunner of Law & Order: SVU, was fired after making provocative comments on Facebook regarding the 2020 demonstrations (the show has since had five showrunners across its three-season tenure). Nonetheless, the original Law & Order was relaunched last year, and the sibling Chicago P.D. law enforcement brand is still going strong, so it appears that cop series are doubling down.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit actress Kelli Giddish looks to have been a casualty of Law & Order’s shakeup, with her departure disclosed before of SVU’s 24th season debut on Thursday. But Giddish’s Detective Amanda Rollins and her legacy of victim blaming and slut shaming will be missed by this writer, and her departure demonstrates how far the Law & Order world needs to go.
This is not a celebration of actress Kelli Giddish’s departure from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit — which was not of her own volition and was cited by the show’s new showrunner David Graziano as part of the “complex” behind-the-scenes creative and financial decisions that steer the show — but of her character’s.After the departure of Chris Meloni’s equally troublesome Detective Elliot Stabler, Giddish’s Amanda Rollins joined the Dick Wolf televisual universe as a member of SVU’s elite unit for the show’s 13th season (who is now back in this role in Organized Crime, as well as plenty of cameos in the spinoff that made him famous). And she rapidly (and frequently) became a symbol of the limits of cop shows in terms of really protecting and serving their communities. If her support of an Ann Coulter-like political pundit in the season 19 episode “Info Wars” is any clue, she’s critical, reproachful, and possibly more conservative than we realize.
Rollins was raped by her old commander in Atlanta, who abuses another deputy in the season 16 episode “Forgiving Rollins,” we learn later in the series. “She’ll get over it,” Rollins dismissively remarks, plainly projecting her own grief onto this survivor since that’s what she had to do herself. It’s a reaction that contradicted how SVU was perceived at the time, as a kind of justice wish fulfillment for survivors who hoped their assaults would be treated with the same care as the dedicated detectives who investigated these heinous crimes every week on NBC, particularly Captain Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), the patron saint of rape avengers.
In comparison to Benson, forgiving Rollins after that was difficult, especially with all the baggage we come to learn about her, particularly as it related to her sister, the vexing Kim, portrayed with flair by Lindsay Pulsipher. Rollins should be able to relate to and sympathize with his dysfunctional relatives. And yet, her tale is constantly poorly portrayed, allowing for the least sympathetic interpretation of her as a character, preventing her from maturing, with her double superiority complex at appearing rising above her poisonous family but always regressing.
Though we feel empathy for Rollins and understand why she occasionally behaves in a questionable manner to survivors who do not appear to be behaving appropriately, she does not conduct her job with the same sensitivity. Her going to therapy to get over her dysfunctional childhood resulted in her being taken prisoner (and that’s all). The episode that completely turned me off Rollins was “Service” from season 19, in which he questions why SVU “give[s] a damn” about sex workers who have been assaulted. It’s sickening for a detective tasked with apprehending rapists to show such contempt for a group of people who, according to the Urban Justice Center, have a 45% to 75% chance of experiencing sexual violence on the job.
Rollins epitomizes the uphill battle that SVU and its contemporaries are still fighting. The show’s “ripped from the headlines” format doesn’t often provide enough distance from these publicized events for SVU to address them sensitively (which is a problem with the true-crime genre in general). Many will argue that the damage the franchise has done to the perception of policing over the course of two decades cannot be undone in a few months when SVU returns in late 2020.As it was, the season 22 premiere episode featured white woman Amy Cooper calling the cops on Black birdwatcher Christian Cooper (no relation) in Central Park’s the Ramble on the same day as George Floyd’s murder, with no attempt to unpack the racial reckoning of that summer with the care that made survivors fall in love with the show. With the forthcoming 24th season of SVU covering the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp case, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade earlier this year, the show will most certainly incorporate more ripped-from-the-headlines narrative lines.
Detective Rollins isn’t SVU’s only fault; she’s part of a larger problem with cop shows and law enforcement in general. She was shielded from having to mature and learn from her mistakes. Getting rid of her won’t fix all of Law & Order’s problems, but it’s a step in the right way.