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Cragen is finally back! Since he’s recently been under so much scrutiny, he wants to make sure that our favorite elite squad follows the rules from now on. Does he not know his unit? This clearly won’t last long. Amaro is still really bitter about the team not trusting him during the scandal, so he’s been acting like a cranky teenager for the past few months (or two episodes in our time).
The SVU is alerted to a prostitution ring when one of the sex workers is involved in a car accident, having been in the middle of a “date” in the backseat of a limo driven by a drunk driver. The girl, Pilar, is branded with a barcode tattoo on her neck to show that she is property, and though she claims to be American, the detectives are somehow able to guess that she is from Columbia. When Pilar gives them no information, the cops search for the driver (who fled the scene). When he is found, he produces Pilar’s Columbian passport and U.S. visa, which he claims she gave him for safe-keeping. Benson tries to question Pilar again as she is being released from the hospital, but she leaves with a mysterious young woman named Sophia.
As soon as Pilar leaves, the detectives are called to a cove to look at the body of a girl with a barcode tattoo on her neck that has washed up on the shore. The autopsy reveals that she was pregnant, had many marks associated with a very active sex life, and was beaten to death. Killing someone with an identifiable marking as soon as another person with the same identifiable mark has been caught hooking doesn’t seem like a bright idea.
After threatening the driver with being charged as an accomplice to murder, he admits that the women’s pimp, Lou, arranges for him to pick the sex workers and take them on their dates, though he has never been to the house and has no way of contacting Lou directly. He also admits that Lou gave him Pilar’s passport. He gives police the phone service number he has for Lou so that Fin can pretend to want a driving job.
Fin goes undercover as a limo driver to offer his services, meets with a man named Mikey (who we later find out is Lou’s son) and is nearly instantly given the job of driving the women around. He questions his first passenger, Ana, but gets little from her other than that she is from Moldova. As Ana leaves her “date,” Fin notices that her dress is ripped and she’s shaken, so he insists on driving her home instead of dropping her off at the subway. Now that the detectives know where the ring is located, they wait for a warrant so that they can raid the house, but instead the case is shut down by Lieutenant Alexandra Eames, one of the characters from Law & Order: Criminal Intent (which aired its final season last year). She’s currently on loan to a joint task force with Homeland Security.
Eames explains that she’s working a terrorism case and was alerted to this case when Pilar’s visa was put into the system. Pilar was purchased by Lou and Mikey Pappas, a father-son pimp team. While her passport is real, her visa was a fraud made by a man who is also making fake documents for terrorists. Eames and her team are waiting for a major terrorist to enter the United States with one of these fake documents, so they can’t bust the prostitution ring because it could tip the terrorists off that the police know the documents are fake. If the terrorist enters with different fake identification, the police won’t spot it.
Ah, here comes the rule-breaking! Despite Cragen’s request to keep everything above board, the detectives decide that they want to pretend to know nothing about the passports and just arrest the girls as if by chance and take the ring down that way. Despite Cragen asking Amaro to stay away from direct contact with sex workers after the scandal with Carissa (the dead prostitute from earlier episodes), Amaro goes undercover as a john in a hotel room covered in surveillance cameras and asks for Ana. Where’s Munch? They couldn’t have asked him to do this so that Amaro could avoid the inevitable questions about Carissa that will be raised during this trial? Anyway, Amaro gets his way to go undercover because he’s still acting sullen, but they get Ana. She claims that her pimps will kill her, but the unit promises to protect her.
Ana reveals that the dead girl’s name was Vika. Mikey had taken her to a doctor to get an abortion on the day that she died. The detectives also learn that there are eight or nine girls in the house and Mikey assaults them. Ana says that mysterious Sophia is new and has her own room. All of the girls were tricked into this job when they answered a job posting for a nanny.
Eames is furious that the SVU would arrest one of the prostitutes when she said to leave it be. She learned that the terrorist she was watching is already in the country, but she doesn’t know when it happened. She blames missing the suspect on the SVU’s actions with the prostitution ring, believing that the terrorists were tipped off. Cragen doesn’t care that he could be risking his job; he orders his detectives to raid the house. Lou and Mikey are arrested; Lou blames everything on his “idiot” son, Mikey admits to killing Vika because she ran away from her abortion appointment.
After the raid, the detectives realize the Sophia is missing. They piece together that she’s not really a sex worker. She has no dates in the detailed ledgers the pimps kept, she was just talking softly in another language to her “date,” she’s Middle Eastern-looking, she has her own room, and she’s only been around for two weeks. They believe that she is the terrorist Eames was targeting.
Despite having nothing to do with the terrorism case, Benson announces that she is going after Sophia. Eames protests, then agrees to go along. I can look past a lot of ridiculous plot twists, but this is just completely unrealistic for a group of sex crimes detectives to run into a terrorist hideout with a couple of bulletproof vests and no plan when the case already belongs to a joint task force. They recover Sophia, as well as her accomplice.
Eames and Benson question Sophia; again, I have no idea why Benson is still involved with this case. The detectives confirm that she is not really a sex worker, than her barcode tattoo is fake, and that she is a terrorist who wants to avenge her father’s death, which happened when he was struck by a bomb while aiding the victims who had been hit by an earlier bomb. Like episodes of Criminal Intent, this episode does not include any scenes of the trial – it ends with a confession. Except this episode gives us just a little bit more after the confession.
Benson and Eames go out for a drink after cracking the case and Benson commends Eames on getting the suspect to tell her story. Eames credits it to her old partner, Goran. The final episode of Criminal Intent left off with Eames and Goran being called off on another major case, so Eames provides updates since then. Goran decided to “move on,” which is why Eames decided she needed a change. The women continue their awkward conversation and Eames said her partnership was like being married to Goran, and Benson adds, “But you weren’t.” Well, that’s an awkward thing to say. Was that for the benefit of fans who thought the two would end up together?