Why I'm Questioning Olivia Benson's Promotion to Captain

by StevenHelmer

Reasons why I think Law & Order: Special Victims Unit character Olivia Benson didn't deserve her recent promotion.

Like many people, my wife and I watched the record-breaking 21st season premiere of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit last night. Overall, I enjoyed the episode, which featured Lieutenant Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and her team investigating a movie producer (Ian McShane) accused of raping wannabe actresses. However, when she was promoted to captain at the end of the episode, her third promotion in the past 6 seasons, I honestly couldn't help but roll my eyes a bit.
Yes, the promotion came mostly as a gift from the departing Chief Dodds (Peter Gallagher). And, I'm sure you could argue she deserves it after all the success her team has had. However, there are several reasons why the promotion seems unwarranted and even a little forced, at least in my opinion.

First, There Was That Whole William Lewis Thing

Not only was Olivia taken hostage by Lewis (Pablo Schreiber), it happened to her on two separate occasions.

Granted, the second time was her idea. But, while there are those who will argue she is the reason Lewis is no longer a threat, I'm just not convinced of that. He had her exactly where he wanted her and she's extremely lucky he decided to kill himself rather than use the gun to kill her.

I also have a hard time overlooking the blatant police brutality from the first time she was abducted, something that was so obvious, even her committing perjury didn't prevent the jury from acquitting him of attempted murder and rape. Her ex-partner, Nick Amaro (Danny Pino) was temporarily demoted to patrol officer for beating up a suspected child molester. She nearly killed an already-handcuffed Lewis with a metal bar, lied about it on the stand and was promoted?

William Lewis Also Isn't The Only One Who Has Taken Her Hostage

My wife and I actually have a little joke - take a drink whenever Olivia loses her gun. In fact, for a hardened, veteran detective, she sure seems to play the damsel in distress a lot, something that wouldn't have her on my promotion list.

This includes episodes like Townhouse Incident, where she is taken hostage by a pair of almost amateur crooks and can't even prevent the rape of a 16-year-old, Merritt Rook (Robin Williams) managing to escape in the episode Authority by tying her to a chair and Olivia being taken hostage by a drug dealer in Spooked. Those are just the ones I can think of at the moment. I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting.

Let's Also Not Forget the Sheila Porter Incident

Personally, I don't blame Olivia for being fooled by her son's grandmother, Sheila (Brooke Shields). Heck, I was even fooled when she managed to pull off the kidnapping and make it look random.

But, I can't even imagine the number of rules she broke by pursuing Sheila, against orders and without backup, outside her jurisdiction. I am, however, pretty sure, it was enough to justify removing her from her job.

Not to mention Sheila, an untrained civilian (and grandmother), barely broke a sweat disarming Olivia and using her own weapon to hold her at gunpoint. Once again, this isn't exactly something that is going to scream "promote this woman" to me.

A Rookie Mistake Led to One of Her Detectives Dying

Even without the incidents I've already mentioned, this is one that should be a big red flag when it comes to her latest promotion. Sergeant Michael Dodds (Andy Karl) is dead because she didn't check for weapons when dealing with a suspected rapist and wife abuser.

Granted, Dodds made the same mistake. But, Olivia was the ranking officer so the blame falls solely on her shoulders.

Yet, instead of being removed from command or, at minimum, receiving some sort of suspension for incompetence, she now has the rank of captain thanks mostly to Dodds' dad pulling a few strings. That just doesn't seem right.

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Closing Argument

I do like Captain Olivia Benson and respect her tireless efforts to bring rapists to judgement. Plus, the fact she is doing this while also trying to raise a son on her own is pretty impressive.

However, she has a long history of making serious blunders that, at minimum, should be preventing her promotion and, more realistically, should have resulted in her being demoted or even fired. Not to mention, her squad currently consists of her, Fin (Ice-T) and Rollins (Kelli Giddish), making her promotion to captain a bit of an overkill.

In fact, I kind of feel like Rollins is the one getting the raw deal with this. In the eight seasons she's been part of the Manhattan SVU team, she has seen Olivia promoted three times, Fin promoted to sergeant and Carisi (Peter Scanavino) "promoted" to assistant district attorney. Yet, she hasn't even been in the promotion conversation despite being a big reason a lot of rapists are off the street.

I think the thing that bugs me most about this promotion is it just doesn't feel like she earned it. I would have much rather seen this promotion happen without it coming as a gift from Chief Dodds, perhaps during the series finale, when she is promoted, upon retirement, as a reward for her years of service. The way the show made it happened kind of cheapens the promotion in a way it just is hard to take it seriously and feel like it was something she deserved.

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Updated: 09/27/2019, StevenHelmer
 
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