Law & Order: Special Victims Unit recap: SVU vs social media makes for a tough trial

Law and Order SVU Carisi
Carisi (Peter Scanavino) questions witness Willa (Lena Torluemke) on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Pic credit: NBC

It’s never pretty when the SVU team tangles with social media. 

On this week’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the team’s attempt to see if a TikTok star had been the subject of assault pulled them into the public spotlight.

On top of that, Benson had to give aid for a dangerous case that plays into this week’s Law & Order: Organized Crime episode. 

Did an attack really just happen?

As Fast Times @ The Wheelhouse began, rising TikTok star Willa Bartola (Lena Torluemke) was gushing about being invited to the Wheelhouse, a popular online website alongside best friend Kevan (Jake Ryan Lozano). She met Diggy Wheeler (Taylor Trensch), the supposed boss, but it was clear that top stars and brothers Liam (Conor Sweeney) and Tate Rivers (Jakob Winter) wielded the real power. 

Willa joined them for a dance video that quickly became a hit. She agreed to some congratulatory drinks and was soon drunk while at a hot tub party. Willa headed to lie down and when Kevan checked on her later, he found her sobbing.

At a cafe, Noah showed Benson a video on his phone from Willa talking about the Rivers brothers raping her. Benson tried to find out more, only to find the video had already been deleted. Carisi admitted he wasn’t sure about the case either.

Detective Jet Slootmaekers (Ainsley Seiger) entered to discuss Stabler’s discovery of a missing waitress and possibly a trafficking ring. Naturally, Jet knew who Willa was (and is amused that the “old folks” didn’t) and that she’s heard some troubling rumors about how the Wheelhouse works. 

Benson and Rollins met with Willa, who said she took the video down after a horrible backlash from Wheelhouse fans. She shared how Tate and Liam took advantage of her drunk and was afraid that “with no tape, it never happened.”

Kevan explained he quit the Wheelhouse a while ago and would gladly testify on Willa’s behalf. Sadly, the lack of a rape kit would hurt the case, so Carisi suggested Willa talk to Diggy to try and get a confession.

Benson talked to Bell on the trafficking case while getting Jet to go undercover at the Wheelhouse. Diggy actually thought it was consensual and even “jealous” of the brothers.

Liam and Tate showed up in person to demand Willa retract her words and started recording live to force her a terrified Willa to smile along with them and a “gotcha.” The team rushed in with Jet taking great pleasure arresting the brothers. 

The trial goes badly

Carisi summed up a jury would see that video, not hear the tape, and conclude Willa made the whole thing up for attention. The pair claimed Willa was into the whole thing and Diggy backing them up.

No one at the Wheelhouse would speak out against their bosses as the place was trending. Tate and Liam then posted a video where they bragged about “double-teaming” Willa and took pride in ticking off the cops. Carisi’s response was to order them arrested at once. 

The arraignment judge ordered everyone to turn off their phones while hitting the brothers with one million dollars bail. They made that easily while telling the cameras outside they were innocent. Diggy was trying to play nice, but several Wheelhouse fans began throwing trash at Carisi and Rollins.

Carisi demanded a gag order as “a jury can’t stay off social media,” with Judge Catano (Aida Turturro) warning the brothers not to post anymore. Willa and Diggy had a confrontation in the hallway, with Diggy unsure of the Rivers’ innocence.

The trial began with the Rivers’ lawyer, Swope (Julian Elijah Martinez), working quickly to make Willa a liar out for followers even as Benson held her own on the stand. Kevan came off as biased due to Tate and Liam treating him with homophobia turning his time at the Wheelhouse.

Willa took the stand, calm at first but Swope used Willa’s past comments online to make her out to have been trying to “cancel” the brothers. Willa had it out with Diggy outside the courthouse on how he’d set her up for all this with Carisi firing in that Diggy was responsible.

At his apartment, Carisi was shown a video by Rollins of Diggy doing a livestream condemning the brothers for their actions and apologizing to Willa. Carisi worried that this would mean a mistrial.

Justice denied….very briefly

Just as Carisi predicted, Swope moved for a mistrial as Wheeler’s video would influence the jury. Carisi had Diggy take the stand with the backhand compliment that Willa “wasn’t that good an actress” to have been faking all this. 

Swope hit back by using Diggy’s past e-mails to force him to blurt he was “in love” with Willa, making himself look jealous because Liam and Tate were with her. He snapped that he had covered for scores of women the pair assaulted and “you repay me by going after the one girl I liked,” which had him arrested for contempt and showed he was only caring about himself in this.

Benson met the leader of a self-styled “vigilante” group in an Albanian neighborhood who shared that there was a trafficking ring going around and was willing to help as long as he and his “Knights” were there to see them go down. 

At trial, the jury gave a “not guilty” verdict to the Rivers brothers. Willa and Diggy were both upset by this, Diggy pointing out how one female juror seemed into the brothers, which got Carisi’s attention. A little digging turned up a photo of the woman with the brothers after the verdict.

Carisi brought the judge an e-mail where Liam and Tate had offered that juror (and another) membership in the Wheelhouse in exchange for a not-guilty verdict, which they brushed off as “just recruiting.” Even Swope couldn’t believe how stupid the pair was not to expect to get caught on this as they were now facing at least seven years in prison for jury tampering and bribery. 

Willa was happy the Rivers would go to jail for something and shared she was joining Diggy and Kevan in rebranding the Wheelhouse with a new attitude of helping those involved. She asked Rollins to thank Carisi and “I see why he likes you,” with Benson smirking. 

The final scene had Benson telling Jet and Bell about a shipment of underage girls coming in with Bell saying they might need Benson’s help later, which sets up this week’s Law & Order: Organized Crime. 

While the set-up for Benson’s Law & Order: Organized Crime appearance was interesting, it was also fun seeing Jet working with the SVU team to bring some justice for this woman.

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

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