It’s unbelievable how long Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has been on the air. And now, they’ve embarked on a huge milestone: 500 episodes. I originally binge-watched the show back when quarantine first started and it’s been quite the journey. On Thursday night, they aired their 500th episode and it was a nostalgic one at that.
Through the episode, we get to see a few old friends come back to the show. Namely, Nick Amaro, Captain Cragen, and ME Melinda Warner. Nick comes back to SVU for help reopening an old case that Cragen was a part of. With them comes another old face, one that we don’t recognize but Olivia definitely does: Burton Lowe. Burton’s a crime writer and Olivia’s ex-boyfriend. Burton actually initiates this whole case because the convicted man’s mother writes him asking for help. The case in question is from the 90s and involves the murder of a high school girl, Haley West. Her boyfriend at the time, Ian Ridley, confessed to the murder. But he also had a pretty major head injury when questioned so he recanted 48 hours later. By then, however, it was too late.
It also didn’t help that the only DNA they found that they could process was his saliva on Haley’s clothes. But that’s where Nick comes in. Apparently, he went back to school after leaving SVU and got a degree in genetics and forensic science. Then, he started a company and created a new DNA and genetics technology. With it, the police are able to test DNA samples that were previously deemed as too small or degraded. So, they want to take a closer look at the evidence, which is fortunately still salvaged in the evidence locker. And according to Melinda, it’s a miracle considering it’s technically a closed case. But the new evidence doesn’t get a hit off of CODIS. But thanks to all the genealogy companies out there now, they can look for familial matches. Eventually, it leads them to Haley’s old tennis coach, Roger Murray.
Working the Case
Regardless, they all continue to work the case. Olivia and Burton get Ian to walk them through the night of the crime. It’s quite traumatic but he clearly still cares about Haley, even after 20+ years. And both Olivia and Burton can tell that there’s no way Ian murdered her. But Ian mentions that Haley was dead when he came to and her corsage was yards away on the football field. Meanwhile, Amanda and Fin visit Haley’s mom, Joyce, who isn’t happy they’re reopening the case. When they ask about Roger, she gets defensive. And that’s when we learn a little more about the mysterious tennis coach. It turns out that Roger sends a card every year on Haley’s death anniversary. What this really tells us is that Roger does genuinely care about Haley. Even if he was the one who killed her.
Additionally, Nick and Carisi meet with Roger. He, too, isn’t happy about the case reopening. But then, Roger’s wife convinces him to do whatever they ask. Back at the station, they interview him and that’s when things get interesting. Rollins and Fin tell him about the new DNA tech they’re using and trick him into telling them what happened. When mentioning the DNA tech, they ask if he touched her in any way to stop Ian. Because if he did, his DNA would show up on her clothes or on the corsage. But Rollins and Fin convince him that they’re just asking so they know to exclude him. After mentioning the corsage, Roger’s clearly flustered.
A Guilty Conscience
So Ian tries a different defense. Ian previously talked about being in love with Haley. However, Roger paints him out as a villain. He describes Ian as a horny teenager about to take advantage of a 15-year-old girl. So, of course, he had to step in. After he admits that, Roger realizes he’s in trouble. So he reiterates that he doesn’t really remember and asks for a lawyer. After that, Roger fights the DNA evidence so they all have to go to court. But they also realize that Ian could use a defense attorney. And a good one this time. So Olivia suggests none other than Trevor Langan (played by Peter Hermann, Mariska Hargitay’s real-life husband). Over the years, he’s proved to be a great lawyer. For both Olivia (during Noah’s adoption hearings) and for other victims.
However, when Burton goes to address the press, Trevor warns Liv about Burton. Apparently, Burton has a reputation of sorts according to some of Trevor’s past clients in publishing. Before the hearing starts, Cragen calls Liv again and advises her to invite Haley’s mother. Apparently, Roger’s always felt guilty about letting her down. While Roger’s lawyer argues against the new DNA technology, Roger sees Joyce in the audience. When seeing her, he’s overwhelmed with guilt and asks to change his plea. It’s right then and there where he admits he killed Haley. So it turns out Cragen was right after all. Roger probably wouldn’t have admitted it if Joyce wasn’t there. At least not at that moment. But if the case had gone to trial, I think the jurors would’ve figured it out.
Burton and Olivia
Throughout the episode, we get flashbacks from season six of SVU. Specifically, we see Olivia talking to former ADA, Casey Novak. She talks to her about her mother, Serena, and an old boyfriend. We know Olivia’s a child of rape and her relationship with her mother was complicated. Then, we’re reminded that Olivia was engaged to an older guy when she was 17. And that happens to be Burton. Before the hearing, they take a nightly stroll to finally catch up. Not long afterward, they end up in bed together. But then, things take a turn. After the hearing, a woman comes up to them and accuses Burton of rape. After Liv talks to her alone, Rollins and Fin take her back to the station. But Liv recuses herself because of her history with Burton.
After an initial investigation, it doesn’t go anywhere with that woman because the incident happened too long ago. Then, that woman posts about what happened on social media, and it snowballs. From that post, a bunch of other women reply saying the same thing happened to them. Burton doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong. Instead, he just wants it all to go away. Luckily for him, all the women’s stories are from too long ago so he can’t be prosecuted. But it still ruins Burton’s reputation and causes Liv to reexamine their relationship. Nick specifically points out that Burton groomed her as a teenager and at first, Liv doesn’t believe it. But after an accuser mentions a song Burton played for her, Liv looks through her things. There, she finds a tape of the same song Burton used to play for her. And that’s when Liv realizes Nick’s right.
This episode was somehow a trip down memory lane while still staying current. But that’s what SVU has always done best. But I will say it’s weird to know Nick went in a completely different direction after he left the squad. I certainly never expected that Nick would go back to school, let alone try to go for his doctorate. As for the rest of the story, I’m glad it circled back to things about Liv’s mom and old boyfriend. If I’m being honest, I completely forgot that Liv mentioned being engaged as a teenager. So bringing it back around and finishing up that story was smart. So overall, this episode was a success in my book.