The latest episode of Law & Order: SVU, titled “Info Wars”, has sparked a bit of outrage from conservatives for it’s depiction of a blonde right-wing writer and the search for her rapist because the episode dares to show an Alt-Right man in a negative light. Lost in this “backlash”, and it’s sensationalist headlines from right-wing outlets, is all semblance of nuance, for not only is an Antifa man also shown in a negative light but nuance – and challenging one’s own biases – is the entire point of the episode.
Contrary to the sensationalist headlines, this episode does not actually depict the “gruesome rape” of the conservative writer. The rape is not shown at all, and the episode ends without telling the audience definitively who the rapist is. From a storytelling aspect, these choices are important. SVU has not been shy about it’s depiction of rape in the past, and any time the show chooses not to show the rapist on screen, the uncertainty of the identity of the rapist is a crucial element to the story. The point in this episode is not the identity of the rapist; the point in this episode is how our biases influence our response to the identity of the rapist.
Throughout the episode, the SVU squad must challenge their own biases in order to get justice for the victim. Lieutenant Benson had to set aside her political disagreements with the writer in order to advocate for her. Detectives Rollins and Carisi had to set aside their political biases to do their investigative diligence. And ADA Barba had to set aside any moral beliefs he held and make the most logical call. Even the writer had to acknowledge her own biases when remembering exactly what happened. In the end, the only two people who didn’t acknowledge their biases were the two people the audience wasn’t supposed to feel empathy for: the Antifa man and the Alt-Right man.
As a left-leaning Independent, when the episode began and showed the left-leaning protesters starting the rioting, I was annoyed. When the episode depicted the Antifa man being identified as the rapist over any of the “Make America Great Again” people, I was yelling at my screen. When the episode revealed the Alt-Right man was belittled by the writer the night before the rape, I was saying, ‘Well, of course he did it’. But just as the SVU squad had to face their own biases, I had to face mine. I was predisposed to believing the Alt-Right man was the rapist and the Antifa man was was not guilty, regardless of the fact that the writer claimed the Antifa man was the rapist. My own biases took precedence over believing the victim in this instance.
While the outraged conservatives believe “Info Wars” showed clear bias against conservatives, the episode actually strikes a fairly good balance in it’s depiction of the Left-Right scale. Both the more moderate liberals and the more moderate conservatives were given space to state their stances and distance themselves from the Antifa and Alt-Right crowds, and both the Antifa and the Alt-Right stances were painted as wrong. In the end, the victim didn’t get justice, as the case was dismissed because of reasonable doubt. This lack of justice may seem wrong, but because the identity of the rapist was not the point of the story, from a political aspect, it was the only correct choice for the show’s writers to make. Had either the Antifa man or the Alt-Right man been convicted, the show would have been taking a political side. By not revealing the identity of the rapist, the show kept it’s political balance.
The beauty of “Info Wars” is how the nuance of the episode sparks one’s biases, and then uses that spark to challenge one’s biases. My emotion fueled my biases while watching this episode, but the episode challenged what I was predisposed to believe, which lead to rational thought curtailing my biases. We all have biases, and it is our job not to let those biases get in the way of clear, logical thought.
The tragedy of “Info Wars” is how the nuance of the episode is lost on those who fail to recognize their own biases. The right-leaning people outraged by this episode are so wrapped up in being outraged by any perceived slight from Hollywood that they didn’t pay attention to the fact that challenging the biases of the characters, and thus the audience, was the entire point of the episode (or they just read a sensationalist headline and didn’t bother to watch the episode at all).