[Spoiler alert: This story reveals major plot points from Wednesday's episode of Law & Order: SVU.]
Week after week for the last 14 years, Law & Order: SVU has depicted grisly, gruesome and unspeakable acts of violence. However, Wednesday's episode of the long-running procedural caused a media firestorm in recent weeks not because of what was depicted, but because of who was helping to tell the story.
The casting of Mike Tyson, athlete and convicted rapist, sparked outrage from viewers and rape victims, as well as a Change.org petition signed by more than 15,000 asking NBC and the series to reconsider Tyson's casting.
Despite his own past criminal history, on Wednesday's episode, Tyson played the victim of a series of injustices. Although his character, Reggie Rhodes, was behind bars for a murder he admitted to committing, the reasons why he committed the crime were kept from the jury during his trial. With just 10 days left before Reggie was due to receive the death penalty, Det. Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and activist attorney Bayard Ellis (Andre Braugher) headed to Ohio to meet Reggie and confirm that he had, in fact, been sexually assaulted by a Jerry Sandusky-like camp counselor (Ed Asner) who had terrorized another young man under investigation by the rest of the SVU squad in New York.
Both Benson and Ellis were horrified to learn that Reggie had suffered sexual abuse throughout his life, beginning at the age of 5 or 6 by an uncle, then by his mother's boyfriend, then by the camp counselor and then by the man Reggie eventually murdered, Danforth.
At first, Reggie refused Benson and Ellis' help in getting a stay of execution because of these many hidden facts. "I did kill him. And I can't take that back. I'm trying to stay at peace. Now get the hell out of here," he yelled at the two in one unnerving scene.
Ellis tried to get Reggie a stay of execution, but was initially dismissed by a biased board. However, the second time — with just three days left before Reggie was set to die — he was granted a stay of execution because of the blatant prosecutorial misconduct evident in the original murder trial. Just as Ellis was telling Reggie the good news, and getting a bear hug from Reggie, the camp counselor was seen in a police jumpsuit and handcuffs presumably going away for a very long time.
Although SVU showrunner Warren Leight has not spoken out publicly about Tyson's casting, or the subsequent controversy, on Wednesday he tweeted a thanks to Tyson for "taking on a role a lot of actors would not be brave enough to play."
So what did you think of Tyson's role and his performance? Sound off below.