About a year or so ago, I saw an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that actually made me stop watching the show.
The episode was from 2000, called “Nocturne.” I watch a lot of Law & Order on reruns on TNT and USA. In fact, I don’t think I even watch the show on it first run on NBC. I think the proliferation of reruns makes me think I don’t have to. Whatever. When I finally saw this episode in question, I got sick. Not to the stomach, although sometimes this show does push that envelope, however rightly, but I got sick in the head. I didn’t know who to hate or despise.
The episode centers around a piano teacher that has been molesting his students for years. He’s never gotten caught. As he is finally getting caught, something like twenty years of history has been piling up. When they start questioning people, they find some piano prodigy that now does concerts and albums was once one of his students, and once one of his victims.
I’m all right with the story so far. Normal SVU. While still a troubling situation, the good guys are going to stop it.
However, as the good guys are viewing the videotape evidence that the teacher was keeping, Detective Munch comes across one where the piano prodigy, once abused himself, is now starting the moves on a new student, under the direct tutelage of the teacher. He does not look coerced, but looks exactly the same as the footage of himself as a kid under the same situation.
So the good guys have a problem. As jail time is starting to be dished out, one of the detectives is simply angry at the piano prodigy. Can’t understand how he could do that to other kids. Others understand the horror that may have caused this and want to barter. However, somebody brings up the question of what originally set off the piano teacher then? Is it all a cycle? Should we be equally mad at both villains here, the teacher and the prodigy?
For some reason, this one upset me. First of all, the twenty year crimes of the teacher that we are all supposed to trust put fear into me, maybe because I am a teacher and have learned harsh lessons here that I always always always keep my classroom door open and never meet individually with students as I never know what may get falsely said. It hurts that that is even a factor in this world.
Second of all, I am disturbed at the prodigy’s actions. Yes, he did a bad thing and should be punished. However, I see how he started. He isn’t solely to blame here. Not at all. His psyche has been changed here for years and years. We started the episode feeling so sorry for the crimes committed against him. Now we suddenly have to hate him. And we have to violently hate him because this is how we feel against these heinous acts. I hate him and feel sorry for him at the same time. Can we do this? We have been rightly conditioned to hate these acts. How can I feel sorry for him?
The really sad part is that Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has done nothing wrong here. In all actuality, they put together one of the best single episodes I have ever seen in TV. I just can’t get over this conflict of emotion. When I started watching subsequent episodes, I started seeing perspectives that got me into conflict again. That critical part of me wonders why they don’t delve into the backgrounds of some of these other wrongdoers. But why do I care or even want to see. God, I am so confused.
This sort of reminds me of the last episode of M*A*S*H. I actually remember watching it first run, even though I was young. I remember the hoopla surrounding it. In the episode itself, Hawkeye is talking to a psychologist about an event he is repressing. As events are unfolding, we realize he is recalling a time on a bus where they had to be absolutely quiet to get away from a patrol by the enemy. Somebody’s baby was crying on the bus. If they couldn’t shut the baby up, the enemy would find them. Hawkeye relives that the mother had to suffocate the baby so that the rest of the people on the bus would live. That’s powerful stuff. A busload of people or a crying baby. Even if they chose the baby, there was no guarantee that any of them, baby included, would live for long if the patrol found them. You simply can’t, as a human being, live with either decision.
I was actually going to try to watch Law & Order: SVU again the other night. Doesn’t it figure—guess which episode it was? “Nocturne.” The same episode that I couldn’t face. I turned it off as quickly as I could when I realized.
Am I being stupid here? Am I not facing these issues? Am I out of line?
I think that’s what the SVU episode was actually supposed to do. I think it was derived to question the entire thing. It was designed to show the cause, effect, origin, sickness, disease of the mind. It just did its job way too well for me. Man, as I think about it, this was one of the most intelligent and well put together television episodes of all time. It was not formulaic. If anything, not only did it go above and beyond what a TV show is supposed to do, it put a spin on morality and conscious thinking and advanced the medium of storytelling.
Why can I not get past this? Why does that episode make me stop watching? I seem to be afraid of the series now and the conflict that it presents.
Now that I have looked at this a bit, I will try the show again. I think I needed to talk it through a bit. If I can understand that I am supposed to be conflicted, I can face it.