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‘SVU’ Episode ‘Lost Traveler’ in the ‘SVU’-o-Matic: 3-Ripped-Headlines Edition

The Set

It's not that "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" is formulaic. It's that...uh...when a show's been on for this long, certain patterns start to emerge? Fine: It's formulaic. But that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. Here are the most basic facts you need to know about last night's episode: Special 3-Ripped-Headlines Edition, because of all the headlines they crammed in last night.

First ripped-from-the headlines plot point: The initial setup: an adorable Romani (sometimes/formerly called Gypsy) boy named Nico disappears on the first day he's allowed to go to school on his own. It could be based on one of the most famous unsolved kidnappings in history, that of Etan Patz in Soho in 1972, but is more likely a reaction to the murder of an Orthodox Jewish boy in Brooklyn last summer on the first day he was allowed to walk to school, allegedly by a member of his own sect.

How was the real story fictionalized?

Instead of being a member of the insular Orthodox Hasidim in Brooklyn, who are often perceived as being distrusting of outsiders, Nico was a member of an insular Romani enclave in Brooklyn, who, in the episode, are distrusting of outsiders.

Second ripped-from-the-headlines plot point: Nico's parents are given hope that he's alive when they notice that the voice mail messages they leave on his cell phone are being erased. The SVU cops do a trace and bust in on the person who was erasing them: a British-born tabloid journalist looking for a story. This is a direct reference, of course, to News Corp's "News of the World" scandal, in which, among other things, journalists are accused of doing exactly that to the cell phone of a missing child.

How was the real story fictionalized?

The journalist was caught immediately instead of many years later, and he worked for "The Ledger" instead of the "News of the World." He was, however, still British. And just for kicks, when he was busted he had his son with him, who was Nico's age and had a mop of curly brown hair just like Nico, even though any viewer could see the News Corp. angle from three scenes back.

Third ripped-from-the-headlines plot point: At his Manhattan private school, Nico is relentlessly bullied for being a Gypsy, and it turns out he was actually murdered not by the mentally handicapped Romani man down the street, but by two rich private school teen girls. Rich teen girls have probably murdered an adorable little boy just for fun before, but I think this one falls under the general daily headline of "child dies because of bullying."

How was the real story fictionalized?

The child was killed by his bully, a psychopathic teen girl who, when asked why she did it, answers chillingly "Why not?" (Cue "Dick Wolf" credit.)

Previously in the "SVU-o-Matic," (a feature usually written by my esteemed colleague Tara Ariano, but she's on vacation today):