Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: ‘Return of the Prodigal Son’ Recap & Review

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, better known as SVU, came back Thursday night where Detective Stabler (played by Christopher Meloni) comes back. And it’s a crossover episode with Meloni’s new Law & Order show, Law & Order: Organized Crime. This past year, I binge-watched all 21 seasons of the show and obviously loved it. This season with COVID, the show incorporated the virus into the story. Essentially, it means that we got to see the cast wear face masks in some scenes, as well as background actors. After a month-long hiatus, the show comes back with an emotional episode. In it, Stabler comes back to the NYPD. However, it’s for an unfortunate reason as his wife, Kathy, becomes the victim in the case.

Full Recap

Elliot Stabler (played by Christopher Meloni) and Liv Benson (played by Mariska Hargitay) reunite after ten years

The episode starts with Liv driving to a crime scene. Once she gets there, she’s devastated to see Kathy Stabler (AKA Elliot Stabler’s wife) getting wheeled into an ambulance. Then, we finally hear Elliot’s voice saying that they tried to kill her. In the beginning, all we know is that Kathy got caught in some kind of car bomb. Unfortunately, there’s been a string of car bombs targeting cops recently so that’s where the SVU’s investigation leads. Later, we learn that Elliot and Kathy have been living in Rome for the last few years as Elliot works for an anti-terrorism task force so the car’s actually a rental car.

So, they’re both back in New York because Elliot’s asked to testify at a trial and had some additional training to do. But it’s Kathy’s idea to stop by for Liv’s award ceremony (for winning an NYPD Woman in Law Enforcement award). And the two of them were about to leave to go to that ceremony. However, Elliot got a call so he gave Kathy the keys, hence why Elliot walks away unscathed. Then, Liv asks Chief Garland if they can take the lead on this investigation (because this wasn’t an SVU case) and he agrees. Eventually, they bring in their first suspect, Jacob Peters, and he’s definitely an interesting one.

The Interrogation

Detective Stabler (played by Christopher Meloni) sitting in the interrogation room

From the get-go, It’s clear that Peters is an odd suspect. He’s a conspiracy theorist believer that’s very against the government (as his past arrests show) and claims there’s a war going on. Plus, he believes COVID’s a hoax and that the election was rigged. So, one of those people. Plus, right before Elliot asks to step in, he reveals he was actually half a mile away when the bomb went off. After they’ve started the interrogation, Elliot comes in to see who they’ve brought in. He then says he wants in; he wants to “talk” (i.e. interrogate) the suspect, but of course, they all think it’s a bad idea. But it’s not long until he convinces Liv to give in. When Elliot goes to interrogate Peters, he just plays dumb. But then he starts to taunt Elliot by saying that he heard Kathy moaning when the bomb went off.

Quickly, Peters discovers she’s Elliot’s wife. The worst part of all of this is that Peters’ baiting works, but Liv sees it coming from a mile away. She tries to get Elliot to back off but he brushes her off, insisting that he’s got it handled. But then Peters gets on his last nerve when he calls Kathy “just another casualty” in this so-called war. And that’s when Elliot goes off. Thankfully, Liv’s there to stop him before he does any real damage. But the footage of Elliot almost assaulting him probably doesn’t make SVU look good. So, ADA Carisi states the obvious: Stabler shouldn’t be anywhere near this case. Later on, Carisi discovers that it’s very unlikely that Peters’ the culprit. While Peters’ past arrests consisted of car bombs, they were all Molotov cocktails. Kathy’s car bomb, however, was different.

The Stabler and Benson Relationship

Elliot (played by Christopher Meloni) and Liv (played by Mariska Hargitay) in the hospital waiting room

After Elliot cools off, his two oldest kids tell them that Kathy’s now awake and conscious. So, Liv and Elliot visit her at the hospital to see if she remembers anything about what happened. Unfortunately, she doesn’t really remember anything useful. But she’s as surprised as we all are that they’ve gone ten years without talking. But seeing them working together again does make her happy. Then, they let Kathy rest, and in the waiting room, Liv and Elliot finally get a chance to talk. That is, talk about things other than just work. First, Elliot apologizes for his behavior at the station. Then, he apologizes for leaving the way he did and says he would’ve never been able to leave if he heard her voice.

Later, Chief Garland asks Liv why he left and she can’t exactly answer the question because she doesn’t really know the answer. Mostly because he left without telling her. But she does reminisce about their last case together which was admittingly intense. Chief Garland, however, isn’t happy about Stabler’s history. As SVU fans know, this isn’t the first time Stabler’s lashed out at a suspect and he’s discharged his weapon on multiple occasions. But even though Liv knows Stabler shouldn’t have been able to interrogate the suspect, she defends him for his behavior. Though it sounds bad on paper, Liv knows that he only lashed out (with this suspect as well as others in the past) because he cares so much. Additionally, Lieutenant Tutuola catches up with Stabler as well. He briefly goes over how Liv’s been in a few relationships since and she now has a son (Noah).

A DNA Breakthrough

Sacha Lenski (played by Jess Barbagallo) in the interrogation room

Back at the hospital, Liv gets word that they found DNA on the cell phone they found at the scene. But then, a bunch of doctors and nurses rush in to help Kathy. It turns out she had a cardiac arrest, but the doctors don’t yet know what caused it. As they wait, Liv asks Elliot for his past case files and that’s when we find out what else Elliot’s been up to for the past ten years. He’s worked on an anti-terrorism task force (which is what he’s doing in Rome), international sex trafficking cases, and organized crime (which he’ll go back to, hence his new show). Detective Rollins talks to Liv about Stabler and how she doesn’t really know much about him. But she does know they had a complicated relationship. But as complicated as it was, Liv recounts that Stabler always looked out for her.

Then, Kat finally comes in with the news that the DNA found a familial match. It eventually leads them to a prisoner named Yuri Lenski. Carisi and Tutuola try to get his help but he refuses to turn on family. Even if it reduced his sentence. But they look into his visitor log and find his nephew, Sacha Lenski, who works at an auto repair shop. When they find him, he tries to run but doesn’t get far because Kat tackles and arrests him. It’s not long until they find out that Sacha doesn’t have any strong ties to any specific radical group. Rather, he’s a low-level earner that does small odd jobs for a few different groups.

A Tragic and Unresolved Ending

Elliot (played by Christopher Meloni) looking at an empty bed at the hospital

Then, Kat also finds out that Sacha’s so low-level that he’s actually more of a wannabe. So, she suggests the theory that he got paid for a job but didn’t know exactly what the job was. Then, Carisi suspects that the auto repair shop may have set Sacha up and made him think it was just an insurance fraud job. Skip to the initial trial where Sacha admits he didn’t know it was a cop’s car. Unfortunately, however, he doesn’t offer up any other evidence because a new lawyer steps in to defend Sacha. Suspiciously, not only does Sacha have no idea about the switch but the team realizes that there’s no way he or his family could’ve afforded this new lawyer. Then, Liv gets a phone call that changes everything.

Liv gets to the hospital to find Stabler standing in front of what used to be Kathy’s hospital room, which is now empty. It’s unclear how but Kathy, unfortunately, passed away, presumingly due to complications from her injuries. Liv offers to call his oldest son, Dickie, but Elliot says it’s best if he gave the kids the news. We also find out that Eli, his youngest son, is still in Rome so that’ll be one hard phone call. As for the investigation, Kat and Tutuola go to visit Sacha in jail but find he’s dead via an injection. But they know someone just made it look like a suicide. So, Carisi and Tutuola go back to Yuri to give him the bad news and ask again if he’ll help figure out who’s responsible. But not long after, Chief Garland informs Liv that they’re now off the case.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this was quite an emotional episode. It makes sense that the thing that brings Stabler and Liv back together is Kathy. And I’m constantly reminded of how long it’s been, especially after seeing their kids, who are adults now. However, I am a little sad that they killed Kathy off because hasn’t this woman been through enough? In the earlier seasons of SVU, Elliot and Kathy went through their share of marital struggles. Kathy even leaves him in season six and Elliot signs the divorce papers, but thankfully, they get back together in season eight. If that wasn’t already enough, she and Liv get hit by a drunk driver after Liv offers to take her to an appointment. And she was pregnant with their fifth kid at the time too.

As for this episode, it ends up setting up the plot for Meloni’s new show, Law & Order: Organized Crime, nicely. It always bothered me that Stabler left the way that he did (and I’m sure many fans felt the same way) and it finally feels like there’s closure there. And that apology scene between Liv and Elliot was everything I wanted and more. Plus, Meloni’s new show might mean that the two can crossover again in the future, which is just a win in my book. Part of what drew me into the show was Liv and Stabler’s partnership and losing that so suddenly was bittersweet. I can’t wait to see how SVU continues to change and evolve in the future and hopefully Meloni’s new show does well.

One thought on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: ‘Return of the Prodigal Son’ Recap & Review

Leave a Reply