The Second Season
In 1999 the first spin-off series of the popular television show Law & Order aired for the first time. This spin-off series, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit takes nearly the same format as its parent show, with a similar balance of criminal investigations and the legal proceedings that follow. The major difference from the original series is the type of cases that the detectives investigate. This series focuses on the special victims unit, who are responsible for investigating crimes of a horrific nature known as sex crimes. Each episode in season two promises gruesome detail that covers issues like incest, pedophilia, rape, etc. There is also a lot of focus on the emotional burden that the victims and the cast detectives have to face. And it is how emotionally powerful some of the stories can get that really make the character so intriguing and the stories, despite their gruesomeness, gripping and entertaining.
The main cast returning from season one includes case detectives Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), and John Munch (Richard Belzer). Leading the charge is Captain Donald Cragen (Dan Florek), who led the cast in the first three seasons of the original series. For those who aren't familiar with the series, Stabler and Benson are the main attraction of SVU. Their characters are both very strong and their powerful emotions drive them as characters. Benson was the product a rape and her birthright has become the staple of her career. Stabler is a family man, who wants nothing more than to protect his family and everyone else in the world from the sick members of society. Then there is Munch, my favorite character. He adds a dry witty humor to the cast and he has been an intriguing character to watch develop through seven seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street and into the character he is now in SVU. Cragen is a driven captain and a no nonsense kind of guy. He gets straight to the point and pushes his detectives in the right way when they need it. Overall, the main cast returning from season one is quite strong together.
As for the season two changes and additions, there were quite a few. In the first season Dean Winters played case detective Brian Cassidy, a rookie detective who couldn't handle sex crimes' gruesome nature. His mid-season replacement was Monique Jefferies (Michelle Hurd). Jefferies added a stronger character than Cassidy, but she never really stood out amongst the other regulars. In the end of the first season, she and Stabler told a psychologist, under what they thought to be in confidence, some unsettling things. Jefferies admitted to having sex with a suspect, while Stabler said he thought about killing certain suspects.
The season two premiere episode opens with both Jefferies and Stabler under investigation of the Morris Commission--a committee investigating all aspects of the New York Police Department. In the end, Jefferies is put to desk duty and Ice-T as Odafin Tutuola transfers from narcotics to SVU. Tutuola has never been my favorite Law & Order character, but he definitely made a better partner for Munch than Jefferies or Cassidy ever did. In the early stages of the season he doesn't add much to the show, but slowly as more details are revealed about Tutuola, he becomes much more important as a character.
This season also sees a new A.D.A. assigned to SVU, Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March). As with Tutuola, she is introduced in the season premiere episode. Cabot is an A.D.A. I have never struck me right. Her character seems to try too hard and in the light of characters like Stabler and Benson, she really doesn't compare. She is replaced by Casey Novak (Diane Neal) in season five. Another character added at the end of the season is B.D. Wong. He is the F.B.I. psychologist who periodically helps the cast out with profiling criminals. Later in the series, season five, Wong becomes a fulltime cast member.
The stories in this season are pretty gruesome and emotional. One such story comes from the season premiere about Jefferies. After the second season gets underway in "Asunder", Jefferies files a racial prejudice compliant against the police department. This produces an unwanted ripple for the brass and Cragen is forced to handle the situation. Another strong episode towards the end of the season is "Manhunt". In it, Benson and Stabler step back and let Munch of Tutuola take the fore. Munch gets primary on a case that turns out to be linked to a serial killer he was unable to stop a year ago. He becomes enthralled, emotionally closed, and determined to catch this guy. The way Belzer carried his character in this episode outshined any other performance of his in this season. "Runaway" is a powerful episode that gets the entire cast in an uproar of emotions. A police sergeant's daughter runs away and he takes an internet reporter hostage to find her whereabouts. This officer turns out to be a friend of Cragen's and Cragen pushes his detectives to find this girl at all costs. The search turns out to be more than the tracking of a runaway girl, as the SVU crew finds themselves immersed in an underground world of sex and drugs.
Other intriguing stories include "Closure, Part 2", where Benson and Stabler run into a rapist who got off in a technicality in season one, "Baby Killer", a seven year old boy kills a girl in the school yard, "Abuse", Benson becomes too emotionally involved in a case and gets a restraining order filed against her from a victim, "Paranoia", Benson's training sergeant is raped or at least it appears she is, an emotionally powerful episode for Benson to deal with and quite an intriguing back story, and "Pique", a very disturbing story and also heralds the introduction of B.D. Wong. This season also has quite a few visits from the internal affairs bureau and when they visit, something is always afoot.
Overall I thought the second season was a fine addition to the series. The episodes offer the right amount of drama and emotional intrigue from the cast and victims to keep you hooked. Fans of the series should definitely pick this set up. For everyone new, it is a great way to be introduced to the cast of an emotionally powerful crime drama that looks at the gruesome underbelly of society.
1. Wrong Is Right
3. Closure, Part 2
5. Baby Killer
This release is given in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame color. The picture quality for the most part is fairly good. Detail is good, with colors looking pretty sharp and minor effects from distortion and grain. There are some traces of edge enhancement.
The audio track included with this box set is in English 2.0 Dolby digital stereo sound. The sound quality is good, the track is pretty clean and spoken dialogue is easily heard. Like most TV on DVD releases it is fairly flat and there is not much to it, but it fits the presentation well. This release also comes with subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
The bulk of the extras are deleted scenes for episodes "Wrong is Right", "Honor", "Legacy", "Baby Killer", "Noncompliance", "Asunder", "Taken", "Abuse", "Secrets", "Victims", "Paranoia", "Manhunt", "Pique", and "Scourge". Next we have several featurettes. The first two are interview featurettes about Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni's characters. In both interviews they talk about becoming actors, their SVU auditions, their SVU roles, and SVU. In "Sex Crimes & Storylines", the cast members talk very briefly, less than three minutes, about how the storylines of SVU affect them. Next is "Fun Set" is two and a half minutes of showing a different side to the cast. Instead of their usual serious bedside manner, we get a brief chance to see them act playfully. The last extra is a short three and a half minutes presentation entitled "Real SVU". Executive producer Ted Kotcheff and other cast members talk about what they think about the real cops in SVU and feedback they've gotten about the series from SVU cops. Overall the extras are better than nothing. I liked the deleted scenes and "Fun Set" was a nice diversion from the serious tone, although I would have really enjoyed a longer bloopers reel or something to that effect.
Unlike the other series in the Law & Order lineup, SVU get emotionally dramatic. Due to the nature of the crimes investigated, there is always plenty of emotion being tossed around from the case detectives or the victims. It is the emotional intrigue that makes the characters likeable and realistic. The stories used to expel these emotions through the cases and the victims are also done very well. Fans of the series should pick this box set up with haste and everyone else should also look into it. It is powerful, gripping, and every second is entertaining.