Marry Me, Mariska

An Ode to the Most Trustworthy Person on Television

I have to come clean that I slipped up in my long-term relationship and had an emotional affair. It was just… it happened before I knew it, you see, and I never intended it to be so. Every day I was counting down the moments until nighttime when I could be alone with her, gain consolation and reassurance while (I’m ashamed to say) my partner was asleep in the next room. Guiltily, I would turn on my Hulu account and there she would be, just waiting at the top of the queue. Keep watching? Why yes, Mariska, I will always keep watching you.

There is more than one reason why this is embarrassing: I pride myself on being a connoisseur of ‘high art’ as entertainment. Some of my favorite films are obscure, but that’s not why I love them, I just appreciate a less mainstream story (Butterfly Kiss, Female Perversions, Fun, anyone?) not to mention the fact that I knew about Amanda Plumber, Alicia Witt, and Tilda Swinton before you did. I wouldn’t even see Titanic until years later (though Kate Winslet was already amazing in Heavenly Creatures) because I inherently distrust things that are popular.

Law and Order SVU storylines, on the other hand, are formulaic in the way mac and cheese is formulaic but put those banal ingredients together and you get something perfectly comforting that doesn’t require much discernment to digest. Even though the shows have the collective intelligence of elbow noodles, they afford a quiet reassurance—Mariska is always on her purpose catching the pervy perp, which cannot be underestimated.

I recently embarked on 90s SVUs, mainly because they remind me of living in NYC in the late 90s. Back then, I would see them filming NYPD Blue on my block on 2nd Avenue; the crew once even let me pull up an apple box and watch Dennis Franz in action (ah, to be young, hot, and aspiring is not to be denied). At the time, I also tuned in occasionally to the original Law and Order, not half because the first person I met on the street in NYC was Jerry Orbach’s son and he was a nice man (random). To be fair, I also met and hung out with Joe Mantegna, but that made me no more likely to check out Criminal Minds years later. Then there was the Benjamin-Bratt-era L&O obsession when I was pregnant that had to be accompanied by a specific brand of pickled herring. But I digress…

Guys, SVU was crazy in the 90s. First of all, the lack of political correctness is cringey af (new drinking game; take a sip every time any character says “dead hooker,” two sips if it’s Ice-T) but then there’s Mariska, not prescient exactly, but certainly always on the side of Good, which is the side of Women and Children and even Sluts. In one episode, she literally slaps a perp upside the head (this isn’t going to be so well-researched a piece that I go back and find the episode) but what? A female cop roughing up a sex offender with no consequences? Sign. Me. Up. #notallcops

Ever since I was pregnant, 16 years ago as of this writing, I lost my previous taste for violence. I, who once loved some nasty rough stuff (Fight Club, Falling Down and actual MMA) could no longer witness anyone getting hurt, not to mention touching a hair on a child’s head. Nevertheless, I found myself lulled to sleep nightly, even as the SVU storylines became increasingly more violent by the season as producers understood they needed to up the ante to jolt an ever more numbed-out audience.

I believe I can stomach the artfully arranged corpses not only because of the cheesy and predictable plots where tortured, raped, or killed women becomes ho-hum, but also because Mariska has evolved in gravitas to anchor the horror with her exceptional integrity. And beauty, let’s not forget beauty. I’m not saying it was worth all the dead sluts to get to see Mariska, but I’m not not saying that. What I’m really saying is if we counted up all the victims on SVU, I’m sure the vast majority of them were “females,” but Mariska balances the misogyny simply with her Mariska-ness.

We cannot go on without mentioning the various versions of my girl Mar’s hair over the course of 23 seasons. When she dared go short in the late 90s and early aughts, contravening the forced femme of the time, it was with cheekbones afforded her by the genetic perfection of her parents, Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay. In an era when women action stars were and often still are expected to perform the same death-defying feats in 6-inch spikes, she boldly wore boots with stacked heels. No doubt various iterations of her shoulder-length perfection were clutched by women in the mid-aughts and presented to hairdressers worldwide to butcher. Nothing against hairdressers, just that there’s only one Mariska, and just like the Rachel, anyone who attempted to replicate the original was doomed to failure. (It’s worth mentioning that Mar has done more with her platform to advocate for victims, while Aniston is still shilling water, bless her.)

My favorite Mariska is 2012 Mariska, the season before Elliot Stabler left the show, but after he convincingly played an imprisoned psycho with a heart of gold on HBO’s Oz along with pre-Oscar J.K.Simmons and the guy in the State Farm commercials. Season 12 SVU was the only one I watched in its entirety, other than that, I cherry picked eps with good titles, great guest stars (Bebe Neuwirth!), and nothing demonizing kink because I find it personally offensive that serial killers on these shows always have weird fetishes and also banging collages in their lairs. I mean, who has the time to make art, between all that stabbing and sodomizing? I also watched the 500th episode (because it was there to be watched) and I love the long, gray-streaked thing Captain Olivia Benson is doing now, thank you very much.

Sadly, this is where my love story must end, because I started dreading my nightly one-sided affair with bad television—it was you Mariska, it was always about you—even though I was only watching a few eps, it started to feel like a colossal waste of time. While there is probably a fair bit of SVU erotic fan fiction on the internet, I will not be perusing it, because I’ve already imagined it all. When I think about Mariska, I want her to be my wife, along with my other secret wives Amy Ryan, Amandla Stenberg, Patricia Clarkson and Rosamund Pike, but I still couldn’t get through the latter’s mean-spirited Netflix movie, no matter how many Golden Globes it got. These loves of mine are personal and not only about the sex part (not only, but also).

So, I deactivated my Hulu account because everyone knows once you sign out you can never sign back in. And then I had a dream. I was on SVU (as a detective? Bloomingdales counter girl? Sotheby’s auctioneer?) and in the dream Mariska was not my wife but my roommate in the old 2nd Ave apartment; I didn’t want to tell her I was on the show because I didn’t want her to make it weird. I saw her later in the dream, and she totally made it weird. Oh well, my Mariska. It was great while it lasted.