Law & Order: Special Victims Unit celebrated the holidays a bit later this year.
Weeks after the epic crossover with Law & Order: Organized Crime, the SVU team welcomed a couple of old friends to handle a deadly case with Rollins in the middle of some thorny reunions.
Not so-happy holidays
Silent Night, Hateful Night began on Christmas Eve with a man doing a tirade to a camera while surrounded with guns on “we are in a war for our survival.”
Across New York, a synagogue was attacked, a man with a turban was stabbed while getting to his car, a restaurant was fire-bombed, and masked men beat up a man on a street.
As Benson and Noah left church, she saw police cars roaring by with McGrath calling her. The news was reporting a wave of hate crimes striking the city, with McGrath telling the team they were to help the Hate Crimes Division.
Our old friend Declan Murphy (Donal Logue) was heading it up with Rollins naturally thrown to find both him and Hasim Khaldun (Ari’el Stachel). Alongside were Detective Mia Ruz (Cyndee Rivera) and Detective Andy Parlato-Goldstein (Jason Bigg).
Murphy and Benson told reporters they would “push the envelope” to find the attackers as they checked out the synagogue that had been attacked. The man who’d been stabbed was okay in the hospital, saying his attacker had made various racist threats.
Rollins checked with Rollins at another crime scene as he hoped they could catch up. A witness (Keith Knobbs) reported seeing some kids running around the previous night while walking his dog. Khaldun and Fin discussed whether this could be several groups or one big one.
McGrath wanted to push a video of two kids at one scene with Benson and Murphy warning him that could just cause problems with the media blaming the wrong people.
On a Christmas hunt
Given it was Christmas Day, finding people to talk about this was tricky. But a priest identified one of the boys as Dalen, one of his altar boys. Dalen protested that he ran off as soon as he saw the other boys throwing the rocks and didn’t know their names.
They found the punks, who admitted to throwing the rock at the synagogue and pushing a guy into the street but not the other attacks. McGrath was ready to put the whole thing to bed with Benson and Murphy pointing out they weren’t sure these kids were behind everything as the other attacks were clearly racist, not just vandalism.
Just to prove them right, news broke of a mosque being bombed. While no one was killed, the cops were worried the attacker would escalate even as the FBI warned there had been no signs of this coming.
Rollins and Murphy finally had a chance to talk as Murphy shared he’d spent a few years undercover in Europe to bust a trafficking ring and was even forced to fake his death to get out of it. He also apologized for how, as Rollins supervisor, the affair was a bad move, even as Rollins said it was her choice. He added that leaving right after she became pregnant “was the biggest mistake of my life.”
Just as he asked if she was seeing someone, the dog-walking witness came up to ask about the case. Between his behavior and the suspicious name of “Don Johnson,” Rollins and Murphy knew something was off. Cruz discovered he was Darko Pavic, who the team suspected might be the guy on video attacking the mosque.
To Murphy’s outrage, the video of the kids attacking the church hit the media. Darko was identified as an immigrant who’d been injured in a fire that killed his dad and sued the Jewish building owner. Little in his background indicated he might have been radicalized, but Khaldun found Darko having been shot.
Rollins and Cruz talked to Darko, Cruz leaving with Rollins using a hand gesture to make Darko think, “you have a lot of folks in the NYPD on your side.” Darko bought it, giving up his apartment key and a reason for Rollins to check on his dog.
Checking the apartment, the cops discovered a closet packed with enough explosives to blow the building sky high.
Ringing down the Christmas season
Darko refused to give things up to the FBI despite a video of meeting a man ranting about a mass casualty event. Luckily, Cruz discovered Darko had called a burner phone right before his arrest. The evidence indicated there were at least four bombs unaccounted for.
Even McGrath felt the FBI were nearly useless on this, ignoring how easily these loons could find each other. Benson kept up Rollins’ act by claiming to Darko they’d followed her to the apartment and “she’s in big trouble.”
Darko claimed he’d never wanted the bombs in his place with Benson and Murphy soon getting him to confess he’d fallen in with this crowd who preyed on his anger toward others. He could only identify them by code names such as AJ and Northstar and didn’t know their full plan.
The team tracked a purchase of burner phones by a motorcycle-helmet-wearing man who they figured was AJ. The concern was that they were lying low and planning an attack for New Year’s Eve.
AJ turned out to be Antonio Juarez, an Ohio native whose wife was shocked to hear he was in New York and figured it was with his ex. Antonio was arrested, quickly giving up the bomb’s location.
The cops used him to suck in another member named Tom Nolan (John Patrick Jordan), whose wife Susan just happened to be the person videotaping that wild manifesto by Robert Paul Byers (Michael Laurence)…in a robe. “Anything for the cause, huh?” Benson smirked.
A hotel clerk stated that “Mr. and Mrs. Martell” had checked out with bags to head to a tree ceremony downtown. The cops quickly arrested Susan, with Robert pulling out a bomb. Benson put a bullet through his head with Susan thanking her for “giving our movement the martyr we need.”
Benson and Murphy were happy the day was saved, but Benson mused on how she was going to have to spend her Christmas handling all the paperwork of this mess.
It was a dark episode that shows even Christmas Day can’t be a happy one for the SVU team.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23 airs Thursdays at 8/7c on NBC.