The Seventh Year
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Will Harris
ometimes, you don’t know whether it’s worth the time to allot the space of a full-length review to cover the DVD release of a later season of a long-running show, but when it comes to “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” it’s rarely a struggle to find enough praise to produce 400+ words.
It’s become commonplace to cite “Law & Order: SVU” as an example of a spin-off that has come to outshine the show that originally spawned it, but it doesn’t make the commendation any less valid. While the original “Law & Order” certainly set the stage for the franchise by presenting both a criminal investigation, the inevitable arrest, and subsequent trial, “SVU” expanded on the scenario, not necessarily guaranteeing both law and order (sometimes, the investigations take up the entire episodes, never making it to the courtroom) and more deeply exploring the emotional intricacies of its characters. This doesn’t always mean that we’re constantly learning about their personal lives, however. For instance, even a major development like Det. Eliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) being served with divorce papers only comes out when he decides to have a one-on-one discussion with his partner, Det. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay). No, our education about the psychology of the characters occurs via their methods of dealing with their cases.
From a primary cast standpoint, the biggest development is that Tamara Tunie finally earns the right to appear in the opening credits, which is only fair, given that her character, medical examiner Dr. Melinda Warner, had been a staple of the show for several years already. Within the characters, however, there’s a significant transition toward the end of the season, when Benson has her throat slashed in the midst of pursuing a sex offender, leading her to realize that she and Stabler have reached a point where their personal relationship is interfering with their police work. As such, she requests a transfer, leaving Stabler to pick up a new partner, Det. Lucius Blaine (Anthony Anderson), for, like, one episode. (C’mon, did you really think Benson wouldn’t be coming back?)
As usual, guest stars appear on a consistent basis throughout the season. Recurring characters include Judith Light as Judge Elizabeth Donnelly, Annie Potts as defense attorney Sophie Devere, and Peter Riegert as defense attorney Chauncey Zeirko, with Mary Stuart Masterson making another appearance as Dr. Rebecca Hendrix and Ernest Waddell returning as Det. Tutuola’s son, Ken Randall. In the category of guest villains, Robert Patrick plays a convicted rapist who finishes his prison term but remains under the suspicion of the SVU team; Estella Warren and Lynda Carter are a mother-daughter team of con artists; Marcia Gay Harden is a federal Marshall who works undercover within a white supremacist organization; and Dean Cain in one of the most evil roles of his career. There is even a wink and a nod at the fellow NYC-set series “Spin City,” by having both Michael Boatman and Barry Bostwick appear in the same episode
Season Seven doesn’t necessarily stand out from the others, per se, but that’s only to say that the series continues to present solid segments on a weekly basis, with several episodes easily warranting the description of “outstanding.” Hargitay particular stands out in “911,” where Benson takes a 911 call that seems to be from an abused little girl and has to stick to her guns and her instincts when the evidence implies that it may be a prank. “Name” takes its cue from Philadelphia’s famous “boy in the box” murder case; “Storm” deals with the repercussions of dislocated New Orleans residents coming to NYC post-Katrina; and “Alien” shows how children can be caught up in the issues of their parents, when a little girl who is tormented at school because she has two mommies snaps and hurts one of the bullies.
Sure, you could catch these episodes on the USA Network just about any day of the week, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still worth owning.
Special Features: None. Disappointing, but not entirely surprising, given how far we are into the run of the show. Still, would it have killed Meloni and Hargitay to step up for a commentary or two?