Law & Order: Special Victims Unit recap: a terrible cycle continues

Law & Order SVU
Carisi (Peter Scanavino) and Benson (Mariska Hargitay) discuss a case on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Pic credit: NBC

Sometimes, it’s impossible to break a cycle.

Right after dealing with a wave of hate crimes across New York, the SVU team had to handle a kidnapped child, an irate uncle and a case that got more complex as it went, putting Carisi in a tough spot.

A child is missing

Burning With Rage Forever opened with Benson finding Noah’s friend Hudson locked in a cage with a dog collar and forced to bark. Noah admitted Hudson had made him eat dog food and Benson was ready to slap a kid in handcuffs.

Across town, Carlos Guzman (Christian Navarro) was checking on his nephew Tino (Nicholas Calero), who was playing video games, telling the boy not to let his parents know Carlos was heading out for an errand. 

Tino got a message from an online gaming friend and was met with a stranger (Ryan Woodle) claiming to be his father. He foolishly believed him, taken to the guy’s home. Quickly realizing there was no other kid, Tino tried to leave, but the man pulled him back just as Tino’s father, Sebastian (Sebastian Sozzi), was irate to find his son missing.

The SVU team was soon on the scene, Sebastian still furious about his brother leaving Tino alone with Tino’s mother Gloria (Jacqueline Torres) trying to make peace. The team tracked Tino’s laptop signal to an apartment building, hearing someone going out a window with a gagged Tino handcuffed to the radiator.

Rollins reported that Tino had been drugged with alcohol and cough syrup and was terrified of being touched. Fin and Velasco learned the building’s owner cut side deals for guys using a place for an affair. 

The apartment was owned by Theodore “Teddy” Murtaugh, Rollins and Velasco going to arrest him. But, instead, they found someone had beat them to it and spotted a stabbed and bleeding Murtaugh handcuffed to a pipe.

Who attacked the attacker?

Tino identified Murtaugh as his abductor, but that left the question: Who attacked Murtaugh?

Tino’s dad was the obvious suspect, but he “defended” himself on “if it was me, he wouldn’t be in surgery, he’d be in the morgue.” His wife and neighbors backed him up, saying he’d been home all night.

Carlos, however, admitted he’d been out to clear his head. His girlfriend, Maya (Jamila Velazquez) said Carlos had been with her most of the night.

But Rollins found surveillance footage of Carlos arriving at Murtaugh’s home. He swiftly confessed to Fin and Velasco that he was overwhelmed with guilt and tracked Murtaugh by one of the bills in his car Tino had pocketed. He confronted Murtaugh, who bragged, “Tino wanted it” and that set Carlos off to beat him up and stab him.

In a bit of foreshadowing, Carisi hoped that Carlos pled guilty because the press and a jury would have a field day with the uncle seeking justice for his abducted nephew.

At the arraignment, the Guzmans were joined by Elvis Baktashi (Michael Dempsey), leader of a local activist group helping the community who the team had met before. He assured them he got Carlos a great attorney and Carlos pleaded not guilty with bail.

Murtaugh was led into court in a wheelchair where, to the shock of everyone, he pled not guilty. When Sebastian started complaining, Murtaugh let out a laugh, which nearly had Sebastian throttling him and being dragged out of court.

With protestors championing Carlos outside, Sebastian and Elvis pushed Carisi on how they wouldn’t accept any deal until Murtaugh was in jail. 

Murtaugh played that Tino had gotten into his car willingly and brushed off all evidence of the assault, with even his lawyer realizing taking this to trial was a bad idea. Carisi refused anything less than twenty years, with Murtaugh still wanting his day in court.

Sebastian had to break the news that Tino was refusing to testify, and he wasn’t going to put him through the agony of a trial, instantly weakening the entire case. That left Carlos, with Carisi offering a deal to testify on Murtaugh’s confession. 

Carlos revealed he’d kept Murtaugh’s phone with a video of him and Tino, which was good enough to have Murtaugh going to jail for child pornography. Elvis still called a press conference slamming the D.A.’s office for prosecuting Carlos.

Just as the team was debating Carlos deserving a lighter sentence, Maya came in, saying her son had become upset watching the news on Carlos and never wanted to see him again.

Who’s the real victim?

A tearful Maya broke down about how her son Andre claimed Carlos had touched him when he had come by the previous day. Carlos himself claimed it was the first time he’d ever done this and Maya was frantic as to what had happened.

Andre confirmed the incident and didn’t want Carlos in trouble, while Velasco wondered if this was a shakedown for the money raised to help Carlos’ defense. They then got a text from Elvis of Carlos on the roof of his building.

Benson and Velasco confronted Carlos, who pulled a knife on himself. He ranted he knew Andre would never get over it because “it happened to me!” He dropped the knife in tears as Benson told him they wanted to help.

Carlos explained that he’d been abused by a teacher back in the third grade. He’s repressed the whole thing, but when he saw news of the man dying in a fire on the same night Tino was abducted, it all came rushing back. That fueled his rage against Murtaugh.

Sebastian was stunned his brother never told him of this, but it explained a lot about his behavior over the years and hoped he got help. Benson could only sigh at how the cycles of abuse just kept going.

Carlos’ lawyer and Carisi were ready to cut a deal for four years in jail and counseling, with the lawyer protesting Carlos couldn’t be on a sex offender registry. However, Carlos agreed, not wanting to put Andres through a trial and even thinking he should have jumped as “I’ve been dead since I was nine years old.”

Rollins and Benson shared their worries over missing any signs of problems in their own children. Noah talked about Hudson bulling various kids and even telling Hudson he was bi, with Benson praising his bravery as they headed off.

It was a tough case for the team in many ways and a sad reminder of the long-term effects abused victims can suffer.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23 airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.

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