Title: Fallacy (Season 4, Episode 21)
Uncomfortable Synopsis: A unusual victim leads to an uneasy conviction.
Memorable Line: “Cheryl Avery was gang-raped at Riker’s.”
Plot: Reporting to an attempted rape at a party, Detective Benson finds the victim has fled the scene of the crime. Interviewing guests at the party, Benson and Stabler learn the attacker was Joe, the brother of the victim’s boyfriend.
Oh, did I mention Joe hit the tub (the attack took place in a bathroom) when the victim, Cheryl, hit him with a vase? He died as a result of the injuries.
Benson and Stabler find Cheryl and interview her. Later in the squad room, the detectives and ADA Cabot debate whether or not to charge Cheryl as the incident has a few question marks. Interviewing the ambulence driver, Benson and Stabler learn Joe’s last words were “Get Eddie. He did it.”
The detectives take Eddie back to the station and grill him. Trying to piece the story together, Eddie admits he entered the bathroom, but Joe was already on the ground. With the Eddie and Cheryl now covering for the other, Captain Cragen suggests the rape might be a lie.
Checking the physical evidence, they learn Cheryl’s blood has a Y-chromosome. Cheryl is a man.
Dr. Huang suggests the fight may have begun when Joe learned the secret. Huang suggests trying to break Eddie by confronting him with the secret. As soon as Stabler mentions it, he discerns Eddie didn’t know. Making his way to the room where they’re holding Cheryl, Eddie does a crotch-check to confirm for himself. Detectives restrain him when he tries to attack her.
With everything out, Cheryl tells Benson she hit Joe with the vase as he was leaving the bathroom.
Meanwhile, in the restroom, Stabler tries to empathize with Eddie, telling him it wasn’t his fault. Eddie responds with our runner-up for memorable line: “My brother’s dead because my girlfriend’s … a guy.” After a brief talk, Eddie collapses on the restroom floor.
Did I forget to mention he’s on medication for a weak heart? Yeah, I forget details like that sometimes.
Eddie took all the meds he had on him and Dr. Huang pronounces him dead after Stabler attempts CPR. Quick as a flash, Internal Affairs Sgt. Tucker is on the scene to investigate the “death while in custody.” Tucker, not the most sensitive of detectives tells Huang he hopes his malpractice insurance is paid up.
Cheryl is arranged for Joe’s death.
Benson interviews Cheryl’s parents (who refuse to accept her as anything but their son Charlie), learning she once put a kid in the hospital. One of Cheryl’s sisters intercepts Benson to tell her the incident was self-defense.
Huang interviews Cheryl and determines she did not intend to kill Joe, but was deathly afraid of what would happen if Joe told the other party goers the truth. Cabot gets a hold of Cheryl in an attempt to get her to take a plea. Cabot believes a jury will be prejudiced against her. It turns out Cheryl’s lawyer never told her about the plea bargain.
Cheryl decides to take the deal, but soon learns she will be placed with the male population at Riker’s Island. Benson immediately blames Cheryl’s lawyer for setting her up. Legally, Cheryl is a man and cannot be placed in the female population.
To work around this situation, the court vacates Cheryl’s guilty plea.
Cabot attempts to escape the case, but District Attorney Arthur Branch tells her, “Your empathy is a strength, not a weakness.” Cabot gets a conviction. Cheryl lasts less than 12 hours in prison.
Why it is third best: “Fallacy” is an early favorite and one of those episodes USA would showcase during SVU marathons a few years back. Like the rest of the top five, the episode features ever-shifting goal posts as Cheryl’s situation never allows for a clear cut case. This probably makes the concept attractive to the show’s writing staff.
Like “Famillies” it also features Stabler informing a young man of some earth-shattering news. While the scene in “Families” is an improvement upon this one, Eddie’s tiered breakdown and eventual suicide happens twenty minutes into the episode. The episode could have very easily ended on this mark, but entered interesting territory by touching on how transgendered people are housed within the prison system and the subtle legalities involved.
It occurs to me now this episode must’ve been relatively inexpensive to shoot. It has minimal locations with most of the scenes taking place in standing sets. The force of the plot progression never really gives you the chance to notice it is about as close as SVU gets to a bottle show.
This episode also has the main characters step back to highlight the guests. Though there is a thread about Cabot’s increasing unease with the case and a special appearance by Fred Thompson as DA Branch to give that tension some added punch, the episode revolves around Cheryl. This is somewhat unusual for the show as the format of SVU allows for the characters to be personally involved in cases. Generally this means one of the detectives takes the lead and many scenes revolve around that character and the victim. Though Benson takes lead in this episode, she never becomes particularly involved.
“Fallacy” is the first full-fledged transgender related episode of the show. (I seem to recall an earlier episode that had a plot point tangential to the actual investigation.) Despite its slightly punny title, the episode portrays Cheryl in a sympathetic light. While, ultimately, she still commits a murder, the circumstances of the crime tend to make the audience side with her. Her ultimate fate (and the memorable line) is lit as a failure of the system to take into account such a case. With one more transgender episode on the top 5, I’m going to save some general comments about the show’s reliance on that issue until then.
Lessons learned: If you love someone, you have to be completely honest about yourself.