Because the only inevitabilities in life are death, taxes, and Ice-T finding out about some new, alarming sex-related trend, Law & Order: SVU’s new season features an entire episode about incels. In last week’s “Revenge” — shockingly the first episode of SVU to have that title, if you ignore season 13’s “Street Revenge” — a guy dressed as a pizza delivery person forces his way into a couple’s apartment, pistol whips the man, and then rapes the woman, calling them “Chad” and “Stacy” throughout the horrifying ordeal. The episode then slowly winds its way into a Strangers on a Train–esque plot, where a group of incels attack the victims of each others’ fixation to create alibis for themselves while punishing the “Stacys” and “Chads” who’ve supposedly wronged them.
SVU does at least have the grace to suggest that its crack squad of culturally cognizant sex crime investigators have heard of incels before. Once they make the connection, they’re on relatively firm footing about what an incel is: guys who are mad because they’re “not getting any,” Detective Carisi explains. “That guy in Toronto, he was an incel,” Rollins says, helpfully providing some current context. Ice-T’s Sergeant Tutuola takes up his familiar role as a detective who seems to have just walked into a police headquarters with no knowledge of current events or human behavior, suggesting that “There’s absolutely no reason for anybody to be involuntarily celibate. That’s why God invented hookers.” (Presumably, Tutuola’s eternal naïvete includes failing to see any problems with claiming that “God invented hookers.”) But fear not, because Carisi sets him straight. “Sex workers are part of the problem. For these guys, men shouldn’t have to pay for sex. A woman should want to please any man, any time.” Rollins snorts with disgust.
It takes a stunningly long time for SVU to get to that expository scene, though. Benson and her crew spend the first quarter of the episode asking around about whether anyone knows people named “Chad” and “Stacy,” before Carisi finally makes the connection between those names and incel vocabulary, something he claims to have discovered on “the dark web.” (The “dark web” in this case seems to be Reddit, or maybe Carisi read this helpful Vox explainer. Although if he had read it, he might’ve known that it’s usually spelled “Stacy,” even though most of the props in the episode read “Stacey.”)
Eventually things work out about as you’d expect them to, with the SVU team nailing the local incel ring and expressing obligatory disgust at the men who’d feel that entitled. But there’s no interest in any deeper analysis. The episode could’ve been significantly improved if B.D. Wong had showed up to do at least some cursory explanation of why a movement like this might be gaining traction at this moment in history. Instead, the best Tutuola can do is suggest that maybe one guy was messed up by his mother: “For these incel guys, there’s only two types of women: ones you screw and ones that screw you. They didn’t just wake up one morning and decide women were the enemy. These seeds were planted a long time ago. Can you name one [mother] that doesn’t play hardball with your head?” The episode also offers a final sardonic twist to make sure we’ve all gotten the point that an incel’s fury is baseless.
It feels notable that this gruesome corner of internet culture has finally leached into the mainstream world of SVU, and it is sadly entertaining to watch Tutuola have to learn, once again, about the depths of human depravity. If anything, though, it’s one more measure of how extreme this moment in history feels, and how ill-equipped a hoary police procedural like SVU is to handle it. In the past, the show has expressed full-throated passion about topics like child abuse by Catholic priests, hate crimes against Muslims, and child trafficking. Whatever you may think about SVU, its exploitative melodrama has always come hand in hand with at least an attempt at psychology and an effort to highlight the vulnerability of marginalized people. Faced with the prospect of Chads and Stacys, all it could offer was a perplexed shrug.