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Law & Order SVU Duggar episode recap: Patrimonial Burden

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Michael Parmelee/NBC

Much was made this summer about how Law & Order: SVU would take on the case of Josh Duggar, the 19 Kids & Counting star who admitted last spring to molesting five underage girls when he was a teenager, including two of his sisters. And the episode finally aired on Wednesday night, but with a Law & Order twist. 

“Patrimonial Burden” followed the Baker family, stars of fictional hit reality show 13aker’s Dozen, as they visited New York City from nearby (and also fictional) Allanville. The episode opens with a ceremony in which 13-year-old Lane (Victoria Leigh) pledges to her father, Frank (Christopher Sieber), that she will remain “virtuous” and “abstain from all sexual activity until the day you give me to my husband.” At the “virtue ball” that follows, Lane faints, and when she is rushed to the hospital, it’s discovered that she is three months pregnant.

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Law & Order began the episode with a title card that read, “The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event,” but there were some similarities between the Duggars and Bakers. Oldest brother Graham, who is suspected of being the father to Lane’s child after, previously had been sent away to an evangelical reform camp for touching his sisters inappropriately. (Josh Duggar touched his sisters over their clothes, but there was no intercourse involved.) Like Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, it’s Pam (Geneva Carr) and Frank Baker’s first instinct to seek counsel from their church and inner circle. On SVU, it’s a judge who advises that their son be sent away in lieu of placing charges; in real life, personal friend and Arkansas state trooper Joseph Hutchens, currently serving jail time for possession of sexually explicit material involving a child, gave Josh Duggar a “very stern talk” after he spent three months away, as advised by church elders. No charges were filed at the time.

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The women in the Baker family are depicted as subservient to the Baker men, and deferential to their leadership at all times. As for the Duggars, their “publicly held beliefs mirror that of the conservative patriarchal movement, a catch-all term that encompasses several fundamentalist Christian sects — including the best known, Quiverfull,” People reported back in August.

However, fiction diverges from fact entirely when Pastor Greg Eldon (Ryan Devlin) enters the SVU mix. Pastor Eldon acts as both the Baker family’s spiritual leader as well as their lawyer, and is quick to steer Olivia (Mariska Hargitay) off course.

Thanks to avid 13aker’s Dozen binge-watcher Amanda (Kelly Giddish), Olivia figures out that one of the Baker children is not the biological offspring of Pam and Frank, but of their 15-year-old daughter Summer and a mystery man, also suspected to have been Graham. Since it would seem to defy the rules of Law & Order, however, the guilty party is not the first suspect, Graham, but rather Pastor Eldon. He leads Frank and Pam into believing Graham was the father of both Summer and Lane’s children. Once they know the truth, he tries to cow Pam into submission by reminding her of the fans they’d lose if they knew of the scandal, but Pam says she doesn’t care about the “damn” (blasphemy!) show: “We want him put away.”

Following the break of the real-life scandal, the Duggars, too, said they didn’t care about the potential cancellation of 19 Kids & Counting so much as they cared about restoring family order. “Life goes on, really,” Jessa (Duggar) Seewald told Megyn Kelly back in June. “We’re not a TV family, we’re a family who just happened to be on TV.” As fictional fan Amanda notes while the SVU team is investigating the Bakers, “Look what happened with the Duggars. Word gets out that one of those virgin Baker daughters is knocked up, there goes the TV show, the book deal.”

That may be the case for the fictional Bakers, but not the Duggars. Even though 19 Kids has been canceled, the Duggars’ television roots continue, with Jessa and sister Jill Dillard set to appear on a TLC special called Counting On in December.