The worst monsters are the ones you fight inside.
A he said/she said between two celebrity singers was obviously based on the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial, which had the SVU team in a media blitz.
However, the true focus of the episode was how Rollins was dealing with the aftermath of her shooting and the psychological effects continuing.
This had Rollins seeing much of herself in the victim, even as Benson and Carisi tried to reach out to her.
This made Mirror Effect a strong episode that sets up Kelli Giddish’s upcoming exit and a powerful story in its own right.
A superstar couple implodes
Rollins talked to therapist Diedre Keegan (Alison Cimmet) about her problems. Keegan stated Rollins was refusing to take any medication and pressed about her family. Rollins admitted it was hard to get back to a normal life, with Keegan saying that Rollins had to make her appointments or risk her job, while Rollins was more interested in a painting of a flying bird.
At a red carpet event, superstar singers Austin Collins (Grant Anstine) and Kelsey Jones (Julia Goldani Telles) were thrilling their fans. Austin seemed annoyed at holding a purse while Kelsey met her fans.
Rollins talked to her daughters before heading to dinner, with Carisi talking about how their mom was a hero.
Austin and Kelsey were in a limo, with Kelsey taking some photos with other men. Austin suddenly snapped to grab her for a brief fight.
Rollins and Carisi were walking home when they saw Kelsey exit the limo, punching Austin. She said it was nothing, even though her dress was ripped. They gave Kelsey a ride to her hotel as she brushed off Austin’s treatment as just their way and would make up later.
They dropped her off to see her embracing Austin as they headed inside. Carisi told Rollins she’d done all she could while she sighed that it didn’t feel like enough.
At the precinct, Fin complained about Muncy leaving a meal in his car as Benson wanted him to play nice. Velasco warned Muncy about pranking the others.
Kelsey entered with sunglasses covering a black eye, and Rollins introduced her to Benson. She claimed Austin had attacked her the previous night but passed out before he could do more. She decided she was “done covering for him” and wanted to press charges. Kelsey warned the cops there might be reporters following her to go through a back exit.
The limo driver tried to brush the behavior off as just kids. Austin was trying to call Kelsey as he told Benson Kelsey was lying and was the one who attacked him.
Carisi warned a celebrity he said/she said case was going to be a nightmare and that “this is going to come down to a popularity contest” with the press. Rollins seemed distracted, which had Benson and Carisi concerned.
At home, Carisi and Rollins talked of Kelsey’s life as a small-town girl who made it big, with Carisi pointing out Austin’s dad was a drunk and his mother in jail, so they were both broken people. They then saw a news report that Austin and Kelsey were engaged.
Suddenly, Rollins’ daughters started screaming about a monster in the closet. Rollins burst in with a gun drawn to find it was just a toy making sounds, with her girls more scared of their mother’s reaction.
The conflict of the stars rises
Kelsey was happy about the engagement as Rollins warned her that Austin was using her. Kelsey was worried this case could damage her career, which upset Rollins. Kelsey’s mother, Lilah (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson), arrived and, while she wasn’t happy with Austin, was supporting her daughter.
Rollins pressed on how “victims have a hard time seeing the abuse,” with Benson ending the talk quickly. As they talked about the obvious family issues, Benson brought up Rollins’ problems which had her asking what Carisi had said.
Muncy and Benson talked about the case, with Benson telling her, “There are no perfect victims and no perfect investigators.” Muncy assured Benson she didn’t think that way and wanted to stick around. Benson told Muncy she should at least consider changing her wardrobe.
Fin and Benson were talking about Muncy when Austin arrived to talk about managing his drinking and apologized for his behavior. Benson sympathized with Austin’s background and told him, “Whatever you were taught about being a man, do the opposite.”
Rollins was doubtful of Austin and seemed proven right when Lilah called to accuse Austin of attacking Kelsey. The cops had to stop an argument between them, and when Lilah threw a glass, they arrested them both.
Kelsey said that she and Austin got into another fight, and he raped her. Lilah said Austin had been flirting with a waitress, while Austin claimed Lilah was the one making a scene insulting him.
Austin admitted the two had sex but insisted it was their usual “foreplay” getting into a fight first. His lawyer, Elaine Samuels (Frances Turner), cut him off fast.
With the evidence, Carisi told them to arrest Austin but warned the team the press was already on this. Sure enough, the arraignment had as many cameras as an awards show, with the judge warning Austin and Kelsey to stay off social media while releasing Austin on bail.
Austin’s father, Joe Boyer (Tony Ward), claimed his son could never do this. Carisi noted the circus while Rollins admitted her girls were now staying with her mother. She wanted to wait for Carisi as “I don’t want to be alone for a while.”
Lilah testified to Kelsey, saying Austin had raped her. Samuels brought up Kelsey once accusing Lilah’s then-boyfriend of molesting her, which was a false accusation as a result of her being angry Lilah didn’t let her go to an audition. She added that Kelsey’s journal was made up of lies, not realizing the damage this was doing with the jury.
The reporters pressed if Kelsey was lying as she headed to the courtroom. She testified she and Austin had always been turbulent but hoped he could change. Samuels pressed on Kelsey when some women in the gallery yelled at Kelsey for lying, forcing the judge to call a recess.
As Rollins exited, she was confronted by those fans for arresting Austin. Dashing to the elevator, Rollins had to fight off a panic attack.
Rollins faces her monsters
Carisi wasn’t happy about the antics, with the judge trying to ban the more obvious Austin fans. Kelsey was complaining about her career being ruined with Rollins snapping, “You need to toughen up.” Benson told her to leave for a bit.
Joe told the press how his son had addiction issues as Austin arrived at a cheering crowd of supporters. Benson finally talked to Carisi about making sure Rollins was finally going to therapy.
Benson was surprised to see Kelsey arrive for Austin’s testimony before realizing this was part of Carisi’s strategy. Austin tearfully testified he never assaulted Kelsey.
Carisi brought up Austin’s bragging about him and Kelsey doing “Five play” only to make the mistake of saying it didn’t count because she was his fiancee. Carisi pressed about Austin’s father, and Austin finally erupted to confess he did indeed attack Kelsey and was sorry, which was “more than my father ever gave me.”
Benson couldn’t believe Kelsey was ready to drop this over an apology, and Carisi reminded her that it was no longer up to her. Samuels still played that Austin’s confession was trying to win Kelsey back.
As Carisi talked about how Austin needed help, Rollins entered to hear him say it was no excuse for someone’s behavior. Rollins told Benson of her behavior with her girls, and when Benson asked if she got the “monster,” Rollins said, “Not yet. But I will.” Benson just gave her an assuring pat on the back.
Austin was found not guilty of the first-degree charges but guilty of rape in the third degree. Benson helped Kelsey past the army of protestors to her limo as Kelsey was more concerned about her career. Benson told her that what they had wasn’t love and that Kelsey needed “to learn to love yourself before you love anyone else.”
Samuels was ready to appeal, while Austin just wanted it over. He asked about Kelsey, with Carisi giving him the same advice to stop listening to other people and focus on himself.
Rollins talked to Carisi about how she was afraid of messing up her first healthy relationship. Carisi told her she had to face her own monsters, with Rollins ready to face hers as they embraced.
While the celebrity-inspired case was a big deal, Rollins’ struggles made this episode resonate.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 24 airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.