Law & Order SVU: Episode #261 “Mask” the Latest Sordid Tale

In its new time spot on Wednesday nights at 10 PM, Law & Order SVU brought veteran (and Oscar-winning) actor Jeremy Irons onboard for “Mask”, episode #261, the thirteenth of this twelfth season. For the general audience which tunes in for the latest sordid tale it is the usual well-crafted sixty minutes of whodunit, a Perry Mason drama (from the detectives’ perspective, not the lawyer’s) which graphically delves into all aspects of human sexual behavior, this episode touching upon topics such as lesbianism, incest, rape, mugging, sex addiction and ethics. Have we missed anything?

For the obsessive SVU fans who post comments on the All Things Law And Order blog, well, they are looking for more bang for their buck, however, the program is still a good watch despite its mileage.

Where Irons was a terrorist, Simon Peter Gruber, in the third Die Hard film, here he is a recovered sex-addict who is now a sex therapist, Captain “Cap” Jackson. The thing that drives this critic bonkers about SVU is all the coincidences, some first lover from the past of Ann Jackson, the daughter of Irons’ character, oh just happens to be an essential part of the plot.

It’s as aggravating as members of the SVU detectives’ respective families always bringing extra drama to the drama. You never got that in Perry Mason and it is a distraction from the thing that made SVU so popular. The Whodunnit. The thing that made Murder She Wrote (264 episodes in 12 seasons, an achievement which SVU is about to surpass), Ellery Queen, Columbo and so many others – including the aforementioned Perry Mason series, so special. It’s the whodunnit, not Eliot Stabler fighting with his wife, not Detective Olivia Benson obsessing about her mother’s alcoholism. In real life Mariska Hargitay (the actress who plays Benson) is the daughter of the late Jayne Mansfield, and was actually in the car on June 29, 1967 (at three and a half years old) with two of her brothers on that fateful trip. Her mother would be proud at what a terrific actress Hargitay has become, and the chemistry between her and Christopher Meloni, he of the drama Oz in the 1990s.

So smack dab in the middle of Season 12 we have these personalities who have become essential tv due to reruns happening simultaneous with new programming, and the fact that the current show, “Mask”, maintains the good drama we expect is an indicator that the high standards are still there. Bea Arthuer left The Golden Girls after seven seasons, the show dropped from the top 10 (where it ruled for 6 years) to 30th place, yet Golden Girls, as influential as it was, didn’t expand. SVU can grow stronger if it gets back to the core element that makes a murder mystery show so compelling: the mystery.

Corinne Heller at On The Red noted from a conference-call interview that Irons said: “I like playing characters who are not necessarily what they seem,” “I like playing enigmas. I like playing people who live outside our normal life experience.”

Perhaps calling upon that enigma for future episodes with an eye towards more action and less in-house drama is the prescription to keep this show moving forward and breaking new ground rather than fading out. The fact that the show works so well in repeats gives us a chance to give a second opinion in a timely fashion.

Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at He was a film critic for Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, has written thousands of reviews and biographies for, and produces and hosts Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a fifteen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed John Lennon’s Uncle Charlie, Margaret Cho, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere, Marty Balin, Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.