Law & Order: SVU Season 23 Episode 21 Review: Confess Your Sins To Be Free

Benson’s in a tough spot.

She’s always the voice speaking up for survivors, not their assailants.

But on Law & Order: SVU Season 23 Episode 21, she had to decide whether to forgive the man who had taken advantage of her when she was sixteen.

Stories about supposedly reformed abusers are tricky to write.

As statistics show, most abusers don’t change. They only pretend to so that they can suck someone back into their trap.

And even if an abuser does manage to turn over a new leaf, writing a redemption story where he establishes a relationship with a former victim has to be done very carefully. Otherwise, it may be perceived as sending the message that survivors should give their abusers another chance to hurt them.

As challenging as this story was to pull off, SVU did it well.

Crisis of Faith - Law & Order: SVU Season 23 Episode 21

Benson wanted to forgive Burton but couldn’t quite do it, which was as it should be.

As it was, she was spending far too much time with him. It was one thing to meet with him to hear his attempt at making amends, but she shouldn’t have gone to his AA meeting, and she definitely shouldn’t have questioned him herself about Beverly Morrison’s accusation.

Burton: Look,, Livvie, I’m sorry.
Benson: Sorry for what? For abusing women? For using women? For using alcohol as an excuse?

Benson didn’t lose sight of what Burton had done, though, and she didn’t maintain more than a distant friendship with him, so those were points in her favor.

She had Fin watching her back, and he wasn’t about to put up with any nonsense.

Making Amends - Law & Order: SVU Season 23 Episode 21

Fin didn’t believe Burton had changed, and he had no reason to think so.

Burton was yet another perp — and one that had taken advantage of Benson when she was a vulnerable teenager who was seeking a father figure.

He didn’t have the baggage Benson did and could size up Burton more clearly. But was Fin too cynical for his own good?

So far, Burton is making all the right moves, but it’s hard to tell how serious he is about changing.

The Confessional Seal - Law & Order: SVU Season 23 Episode 21

Everything he said about knowing that what he did to Benson was wrong was nice words, but ultimately they were just words, and I wish Benson hadn’t responded in kind when he said that despite what he did to her, he really did love her.

On the other hand, he did plead guilty to rape when his lawyer thought he could win at trial because he wanted to do whatever it took to make amends for his previous behavior with other women.

That counted for something, especially since that case wasn’t as clear-cut as it seemed. Beverly Morrison felt taken advantage of because she was drunk, and she’s right — there’s no ability to consent when you’re highly intoxicated.

But Burton was also so intoxicated he didn’t remember what he did, so it wasn’t the same as if he was sober or just a bit tipsy and she was drunk off her ass.

An Old Friend - Law & Order: SVU Season 23 Episode 21

Hopefully, this will be the end of his relationship with Benson. She wished him well, and they parted ways. She had the sense not to let him anywhere near Noah, and she doesn’t seem interested in reigniting whatever flame she once thought she had for Burton.

Meanwhile, Carisi’s crisis of faith may last long past the end of the hour.

He had visited the church in the first place because he wanted Father Duffy to set up pre-cana for him and Rollins, even though he hadn’t even proposed yet. But will he still want to do that now?

Will he propose at all, or is he too distracted by not knowing how he feels about God or the Catholic Church after this experience?

Carisi is Conflicted - Law & Order: SVU Season 23 Episode 21

This isn’t the first time Carisi’s had to deal with corruption and violence on the part of priests, but this one hit too close to home for him. His friendship with Father Duffy wasn’t strong enough to get Duffy to abandon his vows and stop Father Regis’ reign of terror.

Duffy: Sonny. Are you still asking a priest to break his vows?
Carisi: No. I’m asking you to look into your heart. I’m asking you to look into your soul. We both know how the church works. He’s going to be transferred to another parish and he is going to rape again. What if next time it’s a child?

And worse, a priest was raping vulnerable women who came to him in the confessional. The fact that the church could keep transferring Father Regis instead of kicking him out the first time it happened had to have bothered Carisi.

Carisi defended the church in the wake of child molestation scandals in the past, and this time he tried to protect his friend. But it all added up to him wondering whether Catholicism is really for him.

Carisi’s mother might have something to say about that at his next Sunday dinner!

The Cops Need Evidence - Law & Order: SVU Season 23 Episode 21

The confessional seal question is interesting, and Carisi’s indictment of it was powerful.

But ultimately, Father Duffy could only be expected to do what he did: point Carisi in another direction.

The confessional seal is absolute; unlike doctors or other mandated reporters, priests cannot break the confidentiality of the confession box for ANY reason, not even to save a life.

That’s where Carisi’s crisis of faith is really coming from. He wonders what kind of God could demand a priest turn a blind eye to injustice, and felt that if his friend was the man he was supposed to be, he would break those vows for the sake of all those Father Regis could still target.

Over to you, SVU fanatics. Hit the big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know if you think Carisi’s expectations of Father Duffy were justified and whether Benson should forgive Burton.

If you need an SVU fix, don’t forget you can watch Law & Order: SVU online right here on TV Fanatic.

Law & Order: SVU airs on NBC on Thursdays at 9 PM EST / PST.

Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.

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