The central figure of “American Dream” was Yousef, a young man from Syria who was a material witness in a rape. His sister Maya’s husband and daughters were the victims of a horrific rape-and-murder case, and he was the only one capable of telling the police what really happened as she struggled to remember. The problems were twofold: He was undocumented, and he was gay. If he went back to Syria, he understood what would be waiting for him there: Death, and the most gruesome kind imaginable.
After Benson, Carisi, and the rest of the SVU team promised him safety, he cooperated and sent them on the trail of a man named Hector, who was eventually brought in. They had him booked, Yousef confirmed it was him in a lineup, but then, there was a turn while Carisi was watching him out on the street: ICE turned up, and arrested Yousef even though New York is a Sanctuary City.
Following this revelation, the team went on a city and state-wide hunt in order to ensure that he was okay, only to later determine that he was already on a flight back to Syria. From this vantage point, and for this hour, the story had a tragic end while Hector found himself facing death.
SVU is a depressing show sometimes. That is just what happens when one of the foundations of it is creating authentic cases that mirror real life. “American Dream” was the most political episode of the season, at least of the ones that aired. In between ICE and the Sanctuary Cities, there was a distinct rhetoric here that echoed the Muslim ban and everything else that’s transpired in the Trump administration.
Creatively, the issue with “American Dream” is addressing it simply as a standalone hour. It may be even counter-intuitive to write this review as a result, given that on its own this is an unsatisfying end to the story. The case is still open, and Yousef is now on a flight somewhere else. The one thing that this episode on its own could have done better is further showcasing the impact of the case on the media and the region beyond a quick line from Benson and some protesters. This is one of the many things that HBO’s The Night Of did brilliantly.
In terms of setting up the finale “Sanctuary” (which will be reviewed soon at this link), “American Dream” did a fantastic job. Grade: B+.