Title: Families (Season 5, Episode 15)
Uncomfortable Synopsis: A forbidden teen romance leads to a startling discovery.
Memorable Line: “I had sex with my sister?” (proceeds to vomit)
Plot: Pursuing a suspect who identifies himself as “Screw Ya”, the detectives K-9 assistance finds the body of Shannon Coyle. The sixteen-year old was a student at an exclusive prep school (aren’t they all?) and had sex shortly before she died, but not necessarily raped.
Benson and Stabler interview the school’s choir teacher, who comes off more than just a little pervy. The detectives then interview various friends of the victim, including Aidan Connor.
After discovering the choir teacher in bed with Shannon’s best friend, Stabler and Benson learn she opened his home to Shannon and her secret boyfriend, Aidan Connor.
Surprise! Shannon was eight-weeks pregnant. Double surprise! The baby’s father was somehow related to her. The detectives suspect Shannon’s brother, but the DNA test proves negative. Soon, Aidan’s father Jason is found killed. The gun used in the murder was bought by Jason, but registered to Shannon’s mother.
M.E. Warner discovers the relationship between all of these people. Shannon’s father was Jason Connor. Aidan was unaware of this incestuous relationship. Stabler tells him the news. Observing Aidan’s reaction, Dr. Huang announces he could not have killed Shannon.
Oh, so some diamonds were stolen and Shannon’s mother (Helen Slater!) is arrested for Jason’s death. ADA Casey Novak decides to proceed to trial. Aidan comes to the SVU squad room and confesses to Jason’s murder, but it turns out to be more assumed guilt because of the incest. The SVU team uses his emotional state to get Mrs. Connor (did I forget to mention Jane Seymour is in this episode?) to confess. Shannon’s mother still goes to jail for the diamond robbery.
Stabler convinces Aidan to get it together and talk to his brother, who was also Shannon’s brother, but not Mrs. Connor’s son. As Stabler puts it, “You were all born into this mess.”
Why it is second best in show: Until the arrival of “Identity” the next year, “Families” was the best episode of SVU. It has all the hallmarks of a great episode. Blind alleys, allegations of parental incest, affluent families with dark secrets, and at least one teen girl not willing to come clean to the SVU detectives. The lead up to the memorable line is the kicker here. Up until this defining moment, the detectives think Aidan good for both murders. It is only at this horror of horrors moment can Dr. Huang clear him.
But good lord does so much happen in this episode! We’ve got a murder, a jewelery heist, incest, a long-term love affair, an attempted flee to Havana, teenage angst and probably the best performance of Helen Slater’s career. The episode ends with Aidan and Shannon’s brother as the only two members of this family left alive or out of police custody.
That said, the centerpiece of the episode is still the moment when Aidan learns the truth. This episodes shining star is actor Patrick Flueger who manages to rack up the emotion as Stabler gives him more and more bad news. His reading of “The fetus?” is almost as good as this episode’s memorable line.
With the arrival of “Identity,” this episode’s flaws come to light. It turns out Shannon’s presumed father, Barry Coyle, is a myth created by both Shannon’s mother and Jason Connor. That’s problematic because Shannon’s brother talks about Barry Coyle as though he’s had interactions with him. Shannon’s brother is also established to known nothing of the deception. It’s an inconsistency that is hard to notice because of the force of the plot, but it is easy to spot after a repeated viewing or two. Shannon’s death is an accident that gets explained away in a scene that you could easily miss after the crescendo of the memorable line.
Lessons learned: When your mom is adamant about you not dating your boyfriend, it doesn’t hurt to ask “Why mom? Is he your son?”