Spoiler alert: This story contains details from the October 21 episode of “Law & Order: SVU.”
Olivia Benson Reported on duty 500 times. This time he has to think a lot about himself.
NBC “Law & Order: SVU,” TV’s longest-running drama aired its 500th episode on Thursday, a huge milestone for the crime series in its 23rd season. The show marked the occasion with an episode focused on the star Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson, forcing him to think about a disturbing part of his past.
“The Five Hundred Episodes” finds Benson and the rest of the SVU team looking for a cold case after being brought to their attention by former detective Nick Amaro (Danny Pino). He is now working for a company that specializes in analyzing cold-case DNA with new techniques.
Nick was approached by a journalist and podcaster investigating the sexual assault and strangulation of a teenage girl in 1996. Her boyfriend confesses to the crime and is convicted, but he later backs down, and Nick and his partner believe she is honest.
When Nick brings his partner to meet the team, Benson is left speechless. She calls the man an old friend, Burton Lowe (Aidan Quinn), but through a series of flashbacks the audience learns that he was much more than that: he was her boyfriend as a teenager. She was 16, he was 21. He asked her to marry him, he said yes, but he eventually ended things at his mother’s insistence. It is disturbing to see him after all these years, forcing him to relive painful memories with his mother and contemplate his first relationship. While working on the case, she and Burton become romantically reunited.
Benson remembers the case: it was one of Kragen’s (Dan Florek) in 1996, and he agrees to see Nick, Burton, and the squad in it. Kragen offers his insights, appearing via video chat to bring a touch of nostalgia to the 500th episode.
Thanks to a small DNA sample that Dr. Melinda Warner (Tamara Tunney, also making a return appearance) finds on old evidence, Nick’s company proves that the boyfriend was wrongfully convicted. The real killer – a teacher at the girl’s school – is soon discovered, and he confesses to a long-held crime.
But just when you think the mystery is solved, a woman confronts Benson and Burton outside the courtroom where the new killer has confessed, asking the captain of SVU why she would work with a hunter.
The woman comes to the station and tells her story: A decade ago, he worked with Burton and he groomed her and raped her one night when she was too drunk to consent. From fancy dinners to send-offs to musicals like “The Girl from Ipanema,” her story shook Benson’s memory. In her house she searches through an old box of cassette tapes and finds one Burton made for her when she was a teenager with the same song.
After posting their experience accusing Burton on social media, other women have come forward. They describe a violent pattern in Burton’s behavior, sexual harassment and manipulation of women. None of their charges rise to the level of a chargeable criminal offense, so SVU is forced to simply move on. But Benson can’t: She heads back to Burton’s hotel room, where she was a happy guest the night before, and confronts him about their relationship. She was too young to agree to have sex with him as a teenager, she tells him, and their relationship was inappropriate. She wants Burton to admit her mistake, but she refuses.
The episode ends with Benson walking away from Burton’s hotel room, but stopping to throw away the old mixtape and dump it in a pond.
The return of Nick, Melinda, and Kragen was a delight for viewers, who have stuck to the show since its debut in 1999, but other than Burton’s hotel room number, the episode featured little in the way of fan service or nostalgia. There was nothing. (500). It was a dark, grim outing for an already dark, serious show, reminding audiences that even in 500 episodes, the writers and actors aren’t slowing down or getting lazy in telling a shocking and dramatic story. Huh.
“SVU” Will Have Another Cousin On TV When NBC brings back the original “Law & Order” Next year. But if that revival works, there probably won’t be someone like Olivia Benson as a grounding character.