Every now and then, an SVU episode is so awful that I don’t want to waste any time recapping or reviewing it. “Spellbound” is one of those episodes. I still took the time to recap and review it…and disliked the episode even more the second time around.
This was the sloppiest handling of a special victims prosecution so far this season. Proving that Abby was hypnotized was a tough task, but it would have had some chance had Barba put some effort into that angle, such as bringing in an expert to explain how Abby could have been hypnotized. He did nothing of the sort. Adding insult to injury, when a recording of Abby consenting to the sex was revealed, Barba made no attempt to validate the recording or to argue that it could have been taken out of context. Why wouldn’t Barba ask for everything Declan said leading up to the few sentences of recording that Declan gave to Rita Calhoun? It would be easy to argue to the jury that Declan only presented as evidence those sentences that were beneficial to his defense. Barba allowed the recording to be put into evidence “as is” and didn’t raise the issue that the hypnosis could have occurred before the time that Declan had recorded.
Then, after the recording surfaced, Benson suggests to Barba that they “flip the script” and lean into this evidence and keep digging. Barba then reminds her the jury will hear the recording of Abby saying yes, and Benson says all they need to do is prove that Declan hypnotized Abby and that "yes" will mean nothing. Talk about stating the obvious! I thought that proving Abby was hypnotized, and therefore could not consent, was first and foremost on the prosecution’s case, but Benson made it sound like Barba was an idiot who never thought of this angle.
Barba mentioned in his closing statement that Declan used a neuro-linguistic technique to disorient and incapacitate, and that Declan confessed this to Jack Roe. Although we did see this encounter while Jack was wired, putting Jack on the stand would have demonstrated that Barba made an attempt to prove Declan used hypnosis, using Declan's own words against him. Instead, Barba has to resort to hoping that Declan will testify in his own defense and then hope to discredit him.
Benson made a confusing statement to Abby after Abby was asked to read, in court, from her application to attend the retreat. When Abby falls apart on the stand and needs a recess, Benson says she knows this threw Abby off guard but reminds her they went through all of this during the prep. If they went through this during prep, how exactly did this throw Abby off guard when it came up at trial?
Frankly, I am shocked that Declan was found guilty as I didn’t think Barba presented any proof that Abby was hypnotized.
We got one tidbit about Carisi’s girlfriend – she’s gotten him into raw foods. And, as Rollins questions when are they going to meet her, we now know that Rollins isn’t his secret girlfriend as some may have suspected.
Here is the recap:
Mariska Hargitay - Lieutenant Olivia Benson
Ice-T - Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola
Kelli Giddish - Detective Amanda Rollins
Raúl Esparza - ADA Rafael Barba
Peter Scanavino - Detective Dominick “Sonny” Carisi, Jr.
Elizabeth Marvel - Counselor Rita Calhoun
Kristen Hager - Abby Clark
John Ellison Conlee – Jack Roe
Ami Brabson - Judge Karyn Blake
Steven Hauck - Professor
Stuart Townsend - Declan Trask
Sam Edgerly – Steven
Lisa Gorlitsky – Christa Goss
Regina Schneider – Valerie Pratt
Paul Deo, Jr. – Brian Gillis
Kate Grimes – Attorney Janet Delgado
Akintola Jiboyewa – Richard Hill
Whitney Bashor – Rachel Sykes
Scott Lehman – Jury Foreperson
Abby Clark and her boyfriend Steven discuss what they want to do that evening. He wants to hang out at home buy Abby thinks he doesn’t get it. She needs to “do this” for her, and everyone says it is it is amazing. He tells her to do what she has to do, but if she changes her mind, he will happily make room for her on the couch. She leaves.
At the apartment of Declan Trask at 139 West 92nd Street on Monday, April 10, Abby arrives at an “spiritual retreat” with a group of others. Declan Trask introduces himself. They all sit down and prepare to drink a drug made into a tea, Declan saying it will be an amazing journey which will connect to themselves and to others, and it will change their life. But Abby passes on drinking the drug.
But the next day, a reluctant Abby is at SVU with Steven, who says they are doing this. She waits in the lobby as Steven explains to Benson that his girlfriend thinks she was raped at a spiritual retreat. They catch Abby as she is walking out. Benson introduces herself and Abby voices her regrets for going last night. She says Declan Trask did this, and he is a healer who was supposed to change her life.
In Benson’s office with Rollins, Abby says she was at an Ayahuasca retreat, explaining it is a drug from Peru. Rollins comments it is a hallucinogen that is supposed to give insights to life. Abby explains she was trying to figure some stuff out. Rollins asks if she was on Ayahuasca when she was assaulted, and Abby replies she didn’t take it, she got scared. Benson asks when was the assault, and Abby states it was around 12:30. Rollins asks what is the meditation room, and Abby states it is just a white bedroom with yoga mats. When everyone was tripping, she went in there to be alone and that is where Declan found her. Benson asks that Declan Trask runs the retreats, and Abby confirms yes, he is supposed to be the best at guiding people while they take the drug. He gave her a cup of water and she felt really strange after drinking it. She was dizzy and couldn’t thinks straight and her limbs went heavy. Benson asks if she thinks he put Ayahuasca in the water, and Abby explains she would have seen it or tasted it, it is a thick, brown sludge. Rollins speculates he put another drug in there, and Abby thinks he must have; it was like she was in another place or realm. He just kept talking and talking and the next think she knew he had her pants down and he was inside her. Benson asks that she did not consent to any of this, and Abby says no, she was so disoriented. It was like she wanted to scream and tell him to get off of her but she couldn’t, like she was paralyzed. It was awful feeling so powerless. Benson comments she is so sorry. She told everyone she was going, that it was going to be this amazing, life-altering experience. Rollins comments she couldn’t have known this was all going to happen. Benson suggests to Abby that they get her to the hospital to do a rape kit and a tox screen. Abby nods in agreement.
Later, Benson watches a video of Declan at a large seminar in San Francisco in 2016. He explains his own personal journey and how others should reflect on their lives. Carisi comments why does he think the guys shoes cost more than his rent, and Fin replies because they do – Declan comes from real money, his father is hedge fun guy Tate Trask. Benson reads off a newspaper article about Declan’s $5,000 weekends, saying people think that Declan can change their lives. Rollins says there is a sucker born every minute, but Fin says everybody needs something, quipping his ex made him go on a Reiki retreat to clear his energy. Benson smiles and asks how that worked for him, and Fin replies it made him realize it was time for them to break up. They all laugh. Benson admits she’s never done anything like that, adding that anyone who claims they can change their life in a weekend, can’t. Benson tells Rollins and Carisi to talk to Declan to get his side of the story.
At the apartment of Declan Trask at 129 West 92nd Street on Tuesday, April 11, Declan tells Rollins and Carisi he is licensed to distribute the Ayahuasca as part of a religious ceremony, the Church of Brazil. Carisi states they are not there about the drugs, and Rollins shows him a photo of Abby. He says that is Abby Clark, she came to one of his retreats, and he asks if she is okay. Rollins explains Abby was sexually assaulted, and he looks surprised and says that is awful and asks when did that happen. Carisi explains it was the night of the retreat, and that it happened right there. Rollins asks if he knows anything about that, and he says no, hoping she is not suggesting what they did together… Carisi interrupts and asks what did they do together. Declan explains they had sex, and doesn’t know how she thinks it was rape, adding there has to be some misunderstanding. Rollins asks him to help clear it up, pressing him to explain what happened in his words. He states Abby did not want to take the Ayahuasca, it can be intimidating for beginners and he understands that. He just sat with her for a while and the meditated and talked. Rollins questions about having sex. Declan says yes, but would like to think it was more meaningful than that. Rollins asks if he is saying “true love” and he is saying that he liked her and she liked him, and they connected. He is truly baffled, he doesn’t know if she had any change of heart or of she feels guilty but in that moment, there is no doubt they had really positive, consensual sex, and she said yes. Carisi comments that doesn’t really mean a whole lot when she was incapacitated. Declan asks what Carisi is talking about, and Rollins informs him that Abby thinks she was drugged. He thinks that is ridiculous. Carisi sarcastically asks really, to think that a man who gives out drugs for a living might actually drug somebody. Declan insists he would never drug someone without their knowledge, ever. Rollins asks, just to be clear, he didn’t put anything into Abby’s water, and Declan replies no. Carisi counters that Abby said she was drugged in the meditation room, asking if he can show them that and take them around. Declan says not a problem and guides them along. He comments that they had a moment of passion and spiritual connectivity, and Rollins comments that’s not what Abby felt about it. Carisi asks for a sample of his DNA, and Declan agrees. Rollins asks for all the names of the people at the retreat, and Declan refuses, saying he can’t betray his clients’ confidentiality. Carisi says they will get a warrant.
At the apartment of Christa Goss at 31 Worth Street on Tuesday, April 11, she explains to Fin how fantastic the retreat was. He asks about Abby and Christa says Declan was obsessed with her; he kept talking with her and asking her questions. But she doesn’t recall much else, going into an account of her own experience. Fin gets a look on his face that her account sounds flaky, saying “Okay. I’m happy for you.”
Meanwhile, Carisi speaks with a guy from the retreat who says the drug made him ill but also that Declan gave all this attention to Abby. Declan mentioned to him he was disappointed Abby did not take the Ayahuasca and that he wanted to make sure she got her money’s worth. Next think he knew, Declan was going into the meditation room with a glass of water. He thinks Declan could have put something in the water, calling him a con artist. He was too busy throwing up in the bathroom to see anything else. He asks if he is going to get busted for using the drug, and Carisi says no, it sounds like he already paid the piper on that.
At Body Food by Valerie at 72 Crosby Street on Tuesday, April 11, Rollins and Carisi talk about the food and Carisi comments he ate there last week, having the raw Portobello fries. She asks since when did he become a raw food guy, and Carisi comments he is trying new things. Rollins asks if he is ever going to bring her around, and he doesn’t say. Valerie approaches and introduces herself and they ask about the retreat. She thinks she recalls Declan leaving the area and seeing Abby sitting alone in the room, crying. She assumed they were cathartic tears; half of them were crying from the drug, saying it provided a beautiful, joyous pain. She then saw Abby 20 minutes later, and she was leaving. Abby seemed upset and angry. Rollins comments she guesses her pain wasn’t so joyous.
Carisi and Rollins arrive back at SVU and explain to Benson that the witnesses said Trask had his eye on Abby all night and was hell-bent on getting her to take the drug. Benson thinks he tried to get a vulnerable woman to trust him, drugs her than assaults her. Fin advises the rape kit and tox screen is in and the semen is a match to Trask but there are no drugs or alcohol in her system. Benson comments that Abby’s story doesn’t add up, asking what are they missing.
At a later time, in Benson’s office, Benson explains the tox screen results. Carisi and Rollins observe through the window. Abby is shocked. Benson explains it is possible, saying it could be tonic immobility, a way the body reacts to trauma. The brain can send a message to shut down and it is beyond conscious control. But Abby states she felt that way BEFORE he assaulted her. She recounts what happened, giving her a glass of water, telling her to relax. He said he wanted to take her to the sixth plane of enlightenment and he kept saying that when she looked at him, she may find herself enveloped with a warm feeling. The next things she knew she felt so weird, like the was there but she wasn’t. He just kept whispering that she looked like a beautiful rag doll. That is how she felt, powerless with no control over her body. She has never felt that way before.
Later, in the squad room, Benson and Rollins speak with Barba about this latest information. Barba asks if Abby was on any medication or if there is any sign of mental illness. Benson says it doesn’t appear that way, she seems like a high functioning young woman. Barba wonders if Abby has another agenda as Trask is rich, but Benson doesn’t see that either. Benson adds she is a successful publicist and her boyfriend is a partner in a law firm. Barba says he needs more evidence, and Carisi approaches, suggesting a previous victim. He found a civil case against Trask filed in 2014 by Rachel Sykes, who accused him of rape in Paramus, NJ. The case was dropped, and it is unclear if Rachel is willing to talk, they can’t find her. Benson tells him to talk to the lawyer and see what they can find out.
At the law offices of Janet Delgado at 31 North Fairview Avenue in New Jersey on Wednesday, April 12, Janet explains to Rollins and Carisi that Rachel had a solid case. But she was adamant that Declan roofied her but her tox screen was normal. Rachel got tired of fighting Trask, she got depressed, quit her job and moved back to Ohio and then got pancreatic cancer and died. Janet assumes that Trask did it again, and then plays a video of Rachel explaining what happened. It is virtually identical to what Abby has said.
Back at SVU, Rollins and Carisi show this video to Benson, Fin, and Barba, Benson realizing they have heard this before. Carisi says Rachel was also tested clean of drug. Fin wonders if Trask put something in the water but Barba thinks Trask slipped something undetectable in his words – neuro-linguisitic programming. Benson asks if he is suggesting Abby was hypnotized, and Barba says exactly.
Benson says the elements of both women’s stories are all there. They discuss hypnosis and Barba says in Brooklyn he had a hypnosis case, one of his first sexual assault trials, he lost, breaking the record for fastest felony acquittal. The judge never bought into the case. Barba thinks Trask used common hypnotherapy methods on both those women. He asks how they prove it, and Carisi says they can’t use Rachel’s case as the criminal case was never filed and the civil suit was dismissed. Barba adds no way a judge allows that in. Benson suggests they get into the case another way, and Barba explains first they have to prove Trask knowingly used hypnosis to rape Abby. Rollins says they need evidence Trask knows how to hypnotize. Carisi says he must have learned how to use it somewhere, and Benson tells him to start digging.
At Regent’s College at 500 South Orange in New Jersey on Thursday, April 13, Rollins and Carisi speak with a professor to get Declan’s transcripts but find Declan did not graduate. He was kicked out his junior year. As Rollins and Carisi press the professor, he admits that Declan had a serious drug problem and the expelled him. Declan went to an addiction facility in the Hamptons called The Springs.
At The Springs, Carisi and Rollins speaks with Jack Roe who says he spoke with Declan two weeks ago, they’ve stayed in touch as the bonds that form there are strong. They used hypnosis to help Declan kick his habit. They were together for 60 days and after that, If Declan even thought of heroin he would get ill. They explain that Declan may be using hypnosis to sexually assault women, and Jack says that what Declan is doing now is just being another dealer peddling drugs. It never sat well with him. He did teach Declan how to use hypnosis as Declan wanted to pay it forward. Carisi asks if he is willing to help them now. Rollins comments they know Declan is his friend but Declan is a sexual predator who needs to be stopped.
Later, Jack is speaking with Declan at a restaurant and he is wired, Rollins and Fin listening in the surveillance van. He tries to use a fake scenario to get Declan to admit what he did but after tipping his hand a bit, Declan suddenly gets suspicious and cuts their talk short. As he walks off, Fin stops him and flashes his badge, announcing he is NYPD. Declan asks what is going on, and Rollins tells him to look deep into her eyes, he is under arrest. Fin cuffs him and they take him out of the restaurant.
At SVU, Benson and Fin take Declan into the interrogation room, and he says they got this wrong. He says he is a healer and his work is work is intimate by nature and it sometimes leads to consensual sex. He doesn’t know why Abby said he raped her. She wonders if she had a change of heart or her boyfriend found out. He denies hypnotizing her. Fin brings up what he said to Jack, Benson reminding what he said on tape, that hypnosis can lead to sex, that it is not a big deal and he is helping a woman to get what she really wants. He says he was not speaking of himself personally, only to reassure a friend. Benson brings up Rachel Sykes and Declan lawyers up. Fin says if he does that this is going to trial, and Declan thinks a jury will not believe he hypnotized Abby to have sex with her. Benson says what he did was not sex – it’s called rape - and yes, she thinks the jury will believe it. She tells Fin to escort Declan to Rikers.
In Supreme Court part 28 on Monday, May 1, Barba presents his opening argument that Abby was hypnotized and raped. But Declan’s attorney, Rita Calhoun, says the allegations are absurd, and that his words can’t force someone to do something they don’t want to do. She tells them to use common sense and find Declan not guilty.
Later, Abby testifies about the retreat and the assault. Hey boyfriend watches in the gallery, looking dejected. Under cross examination, Rita brings up that Abby went to the retreat to have sex with someone else, and Abby says that is not true. Rita enters into evidence Abby’s application to submit attend the retreat, and when Rita asks her to read it, Abby balks. Barba asks for a recess saying Abby needs a moment, but Rita says Abby doesn’t get a moment during her cross examination. Barba urges the judge and the judge gives Abby 15 a minute recess but says Barba cannot talk to her during that time.
Outside the courtroom, Abby tries to calm herself and her boyfriend walks over to help. Abby says it is really hard, and Rollins asks him to come with her as Benson speaks with Abby. As Benson and Abby walk off, Abby moans about Trask wanting to publicly humiliate her, saying it is not fair. Benson says she knows this threw her off guard but they went through all of this during the prep. She tells Abby to trust the prep and asks if she gave Steven a heads up. Abby said she tried 3 times and she can’t get back up on that stand and read that letter aloud as it will destroy him – and them. She says she loves him and he stood by her through all this, she just wants to be done. Benson knows she does and understands this is a difficult, painful process but if she doesn’t get on the stand, Declan Trask will walk free. Abby says Steven will never forgive her, and Benson asks if Abby will forgive herself if she gives up now. Benson says they are shaming her into giving up, she didn’t do anything wrong. Abby cries.
In Supreme Court part 28 on Tuesday, May 2, Abby reads back what she wrote to Trask which stated that her relationship with Steven is holding her back. As Steven sits in the gallery with a stunned look, she goes on to read about the issues in their relationship and that she wants to explore, rather than being lovers or roommates and she feels trapped. She says she is not sure they connect anymore intellectually, spiritually, and sexually. She admits she wrote these words when she was confused and they were fighting and she was having doubts and she wanted to explore. She admitted she was in a rut and Rita brings up that Abby had sex with another man at the retreat, and Barba objects. The judge sustains the objection and Steven quickly exits the courtroom. Abby calls out to him but he doesn’t stop. Rita ends her questioning and the judge adjourns for the day, until the next day at 9AM. Rita asks to meet the judge in chambers, adding a new piece of evidence has come to light. Barba looks surprised.
In chambers, Rita enters as evidence a cell phone audio recording of the encounter between Abby and Declan. She explains Declan records intimate encounters to protect himself from this type of fraudulent accusation. Barba questions that she just discovered it, claiming she is sandbagging him. The judge tells him to settle down and asks to hear the recording. Rita plays it back, and Declan says he is going to lay down next to Abby, asking if she is good with that. Abby replies yes. Declan says when he lays down, she will go to the sixth plane with her, and she says she will. He says he is going to do it now, asking if she wants him to have sex with her. Abby replies yes she does. Rita turns off the recording, and Barba says a hypnotized woman says yes to having sex means nothing. Rita says to him, but the jury – she is not so sure. Barba looks concerned.
Afterwards, as they walk in the hallway, Rita tells Barba just because the judge ruled in her favor doesn’t mean she is averse to a deal for sexual misconduct. Barba counters that is a misdemeanor and this is a class D felony. He wants sexual abuse, first degree, plus Declan admits to it and he goes on the registry. Rita counters assault 2, no registry. Barba thinks about it.
Later, Barba is sitting outside the courtroom and Benson approaches, asking that he is considering an offer. Barba states the facts in this case are less than ideal. Benson asks if she can’t be serious about not being on the registry. Barba says he can be pragmatic. Benson asks if he spoke to Abby and Barba explains she wants to let the jury decide. When Benson says “there you go” Barba counters that it is not up to Abby. Benson comments that based on what she’s been through, she disagrees. Barba does not want her to lose, and Benson suggests they flip the script and lean into this and keep digging. Barba reminds her the jury will hear the recording of Abby saying yes, and Benson says all they need to do is prove that Trask hypnotized Abby and that "yes" will mean nothing.
In Supreme Court part 26 on Wednesday, May 3, the recording is played while Abby is on the stand. Abby admits it was her voice and when Abby says she doesn’t remember saying that, Rita counters she is not asking her to remember, only if that was her voice on that tape saying yes to sex. As the jury looks on, Abby reluctantly says she supposes it was. Rita ends her questioning.
Later, Benson and Barba are at a bar and Barba moans that was brutal, adding so much for flipping the script. When he asks if they have anything else on Trask, Benson says they are still digging. Carisi enters and says he found something 18 years ago in Philly but had nothing to do with rape, but it goes to Trask’s credibility. Benson reads the file and says it proves Trask is a selfish coward. Barba asks if the arresting officer is on board and Carisi replies he is ready and willing. Benson asks if Barba can get this in, and Barba says if Trask takes the stand he will find a way. Benson thinks he will, Trask thinks he can hypnotize the jury.
At Supreme Court part 28 on Thursday, May 4, Trask is on the stand and he explains the purpose of the retreats. He says Abby was tense and he tried to relax her using simple mediation techniques and it led to sex. He said he asks for her consent and she said yes, and Rita reminds them it was on the tape. He did not hypnotize her. Barba cross examines and brings up that Trask gives some of this money to a foundation which provides safe drinking water to the poor and impoverished. Barba asks if he has ever been arrested, and Trask says no. Barba ends questioning but then calls for a rebuttal witness, Philadelphia Lt. Richard Hill. Rita objects and asks to approach. Barba explains to the judge that Hill arrested Trask 22 years ago. When Rita asks what that has to do with this case, Barba says it proves Trask is a liar and that he has no regard for anyone but himself.
Later, with Lt. Hill on the stand, he outlines how Trask was arrested after a car accident and they found pills and a gram of heroin in the glove compartment. When Rita objects, saying the arrest was expunged, Barba says he is introducing the arrest for impeachment purposes only. The judge allows the question. Hill says he did arrest Trask and he was at that address shooting heroin with a friend. The kid overdosed in the house, alone in an upstairs bedroom. He died in Hill’s arms. Barba asks if Trask ran away while his friend was dying, and Hill states yes. The jury gives a look of disgust at Trask.
In closing arguments, Barba says the case comes down to one thing – credibility – and is Trask someone that can be trusted. Barba states he can’t be, bringing up Lt. Hill’s testimony. Barba states it is clear Trask used hypnosis to rape Abby and he didn’t use charm. He used a neuro-linguistic technique to disorient and incapacitate and he confessed this to his friend and drug counselor Jack Roe. Barba says hypnotizing a woman is no different than giving her a date rape drug, it renders the victim helpless and it makes her LEGALLY incapable of consenting to sex. Rita shakes her head as Barba continues that the audio recording is meaningless and as such they have a legal and moral obligation to find Trask guilty. Sitting in the gallery with the detectives, Benson nods.
Later, the jury reached a verdict – guilty of rape in the first degree. Trask says nothing but Abby begins to cry and Benson consoles her, saying they did it, congratulations. Trask is led away in cuffs.
Afterward, Abby sits in the hallway alone as Benson and Barba approach. Barba asks if she is okay and she replies she doesn’t know. Benson says she did a brave thing, and Abby thanks for believing in her, she could not have done it without them. Benson says it was all her. Barba says Trask is going away for a long time and Abby says good. She has not heard from Steven in three days and he is not returning her calls. Benson wonders if he needs a little time, and Abby says she was looking so hard for this amazing life. Benson reminds her she did nothing wrong, she was honest about everything – her life, her relationship, about Steven. Benson suggest if she wants him back to fight for him but if he doesn’t get it, it is not worth the fight. Abby gets up to leave and thanks them again. Barba wishes her the best of luck, and as Abby walks off, Benson tells her to take care. As they watch her walk off alone, Barba comments “Who knows, maybe it will all work out.” He looks at Benson and she says, “Yeah, I hope so.” As they walk off, we fade to black.
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