‘Law & Order: SVU’ season 18, episode 3 review: Barba’s rape-by-fraud battle leads to tragic end

Barba -If there is one thing that we have learned from watching years of “Law & Order: SVU,” it is this: Stay away from Hudson University. This particular locale is the site for countless unspeakable crimes, and it mostly has the misfortune of being a prominent college campus within the jurisdiction of the Special Victims Unit. It is the same reason why we would never pay a visit to Cabot Cove, Main, given all of the murders that happen there.

On a serious note, Wednesday night’s “Imposter” was a particularly harrowing episode due to the case at the center of it — as well as the shocker in the closing minutes, which we’ll get to later. First, the case: A man in Tom Metcalf was arrested after impersonating a powerful universal man, a device created for the sole intention of having sex with vulnerable women trying to get their children into school. The specific woman at the center of the case consented to have sex, but to the person Tom was pretending to be. She sent him a text message after the fact proclaiming that it was the “best sex ever,” which was another political ploy in order to further stroke the man’s ego.

Here was the challenge for Barba, and where this particular case became truly fascinating as a work of television: He wanted to have him accused as rape-by-fraud, but this would not be easy in the state of New York without the proper laws in place. His desire to change that is what led to her being on the stand in the first place.

Was this a political move on Barba’s part, as the defense argued? Maybe you can say that to a certain extent, but his desire to do what was right superseded that. Also, shouldn’t you try to get publicity when you are attempting to correct a massive wrong in the judicial system?

Right when the case was starting to turn in Barba’s favor, a surprise witness for the defense in a doorman in Gary Bell proved to be a wrench in the system — at least briefly. In another master stroke, the SVU team managed to get this doorman on illegal surveillance before they could pin him for trying to lie for Tom in court.

Unfortunately, all Barba could get Tom on was an impersonation charge, which is yet another remind that as great as he may be, there cannot always be victories. As a matter of fact, the high-profile nature of this case led to an even greater tragedy, as the son committed suicide while Barba and Benson were working overtime to get his mother justice for what happened. It was a heartwrenching ending, and one that even makes it difficult to grade the episode — but we must. It was heartbreaking, but a powerful story that “SVU” did a wonderful job telling. Grade: A-.

A few other notes on the episode:

-Seeing Fin go after Metcalf earlier in the episode was a nice dose of “SVU” fireworks.

-Meanwhile, a wonderful performance by “Necessarily Roughness” Callie Thorne as the tough-as-nails defense attorney, and someone who wasn’t willing to praise Tom on anything. Instead, all she wanted to do was highlight his innocence by the law. This was her first appearance on the show in over a decade.

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