Thanks to the wonders of multiple TV rights, UK viewers saw this episode last week. “Captive” departs from Law and Order tradition because the victim isn’t found dead at the start, but rather the “distraction actors” doing something totally unconnected to the crime, stumble upon a kidnapping that happens right in front of them.
Post-credits, we see the search for the kidnapped child and the distraction over the kidnapper’s car but he is found dead, taking us out of SVU territory and back to the main show about figuring out the killer.
Let’s save some time here; Law and Order quite happily took real-life events (eg the Mel Gibson anti-Semitic meltdown and child abuse in religious cults) and made episodes out of them , making a mockery of its disclaimer, but usually getting the tone right and provoking thought. It was an accident of timing that the first air date for this episode was two months after Shawn Hornbeck was returned under similar circumstances to the fictional story and parading the returned kidnap victim in the media is the sole accurate point of the story.
It seems a lot more like the writers asked themselves the question “What if Steven Stayner turned out like his killer brother?” and had great fun reinforcing ignorance and prejudicial assumption, it’s no accident that we have the prosecutor asking the “why didn’t he run/call the police” kind of questions aimed at children in these situations, when in real life, the first kidnap victim aided the second to some degree, in Stayner’s case, directly rescued him.
So “Captive” was a pointless exercise, deliberately falsifying reality because it didn’t provide a dramatic enough outcome, instead choosing the one that reinforced stereotypical assumptions. They might as well have left the subject to their sister show, which has spent its entire run on episodes with this subject matter and (mostly) handled them with more realistic, sensitive treatment whenever the writers weren’t preaching. It certainly marks the point where the show started going downhill ahead of cancellation and if this is how any further CSA episodes were written then the show won’t be missed.