Law & Order: SVU Episode 500 Recap: You've Come a Long Way, Benson

Five hundred episodes? Nicely done DUN DUN.

This week’s Law & Order: SVU — which marks that huge milestone for the series — recognizes the accomplishment via an Olivia-centric hour featuring a man from the captain’s distant past.

Other familiar faces from more recent years also show up during the ep, most notably Nick Amaro, Capt. Cragen and medical examiner Melinda Warner. And if you’re only reading this to find out whether Chris Meloni’s Stabler has a presence in the episode, let us help you out: He does, but it’s limited to a flashback from the show’s early seasons.

Now, onto what happens in “The 500th Episode.”

AMARO COMES KNOCKING | On the way to school, Noah asks Olivia about his grandmother, Serena. “Did she like that you were a detective?” he wonders. What a coincidence, kid: We’ve just watched a flashback to the show’s very first episode, in which Serena tells her daughter to get out of police work. At the precinct, Liv tells Fin about Noah’s questions. “You went with short answers?” he says, well-versed in the history of the Benson ladies’ dynamic. (Ha.)

law-and-order-svu-episode-500-recapWhen Benson enters the interrogation room, she’s surprised to see Amaro there with Rollins. After he hugs Liv, we find out why he’s there: He went back to grad school for genetics and forensic science, and now he works for a company called Forum that uses new tech to solve old cases. “We test DNA samples that used to be considered too small or too degraded,” he explains. And at the behest of a true crime writer who’s looking into a SVU case from the 1990s, Amaro is hoping that Liv and her team will reopen the investigation.

The crime: the rape and strangulation of 15-year-old Haley West, who died on prom night. Her then-boyfriend Ian confessed to the killing and has been in jail ever since, but he recanted at his sentencing and has maintained his innocence ever since — going as far as to miss out on parole because he would not show remorse for a death he didn’t orchestrate.

Burton Lowe (Elementary‘s Aidan Quinn, who will always be Benny & Joon‘s Aidan Quinn to me) is the writer in question, and Olivia is taken aback when he walks into her office and tells her she hasn’t changed. “We are… old friends,” she says to the group. “From a lifetime ago,” Burton adds.

law-and-order-svu-episode-500-recapVia helpful flashback to one of Olivia’s Season 6 conversations with Casey (in Episode 19, to be exact), we are reminded that Serena was a college professor and that when Olivia was 16, Liv dated — and later got engaged to — one of Serena’s 21-year-old students. Burton was that student. When they’re alone, Liv tells him that Serena made her end their engagement via letter, adding that her mom said he had a girlfriend at college. He denies it, saying that he was in love with Olivia but disappeared after Serena threatened to have him expelled if he tried to get in touch with her daughter. “She lied to both of us,” Benson says sadly.

A NEW LEAD | Amaro swings by the morgue to pick up the evidence that’s left over from Haley’s case; the M.E. seems proud to hear that he’s working on his doctorate in biophysics. (Side note: Literally no one asked, but I’m proud that Amaro seems to have broken the SVU curse in that he works normal hours, still pursues his passions in service of the greater good, seems to have a good family life and appears to be kinda content overall.)

Meanwhile, Liv and Burton walk Ian through the night of the crime by bringing him back to the high school bleachers where he and Haley were making out when they were attacked. He remembers getting hit over the head and hearing his girlfriend being dragged away, and reliving the incident is so traumatic that the prisoner winds up sobbing.

law-and-order-svu-episode-500-recapHow about a little good news? Via the company Amaro represents, they discern that the seminal fluid on Haley’s underwear doesn’t belong to Ian. But that evidence isn’t enough to exonerate him, so the team starts re-interviewing everyone involved and consulting consumer genetic databases to hone in on who might’ve done it. Along those lines, Liv consults Cragen, who FaceTimes to say that he never seriously considered Haley’s tennis coach, Mr. Murray, as a suspect because he was so close with the family and he seemed credible.

Murray is portrayed by Brian Kerwin (One Life to Live, Broadway’s August: Osage County), and you all know what happens when the show brings in actors of this caliber to play parts of this type, so let’s just shorthand this: He did it. He eventually admits in open court to it the crime, shocking both his wife and Haley’s mother. And that’s when things get REALLY interesting. (And, forewarned is forearmed, a bit icky.)

A NEW LEAD | Let’s back up a moment. While the investigation is underway, Liv and Burton slowly get cozier. He kisses her during an evening walk in Central Park, and when he asks her up to his hotel room, she’s down. (Interesting that this is where the show placed the Stabler clip from Season 1, Episode 5, in which Liv obliquely tells El about her relationship with Burton, no?) Anyway, Liv sleeps with Burton and looks thoroughly pleased with herself for doing so — and Mariska Hargitay, it must be noted, is glowing throughout this entire episode. Five hundred looks good on her!

So things seem good in Liv’s love life… until Trevor Langan (aka Younger’s Peter Hermann, aka Mr. Mariska Hargitay), who is representing Ian, tells Liv to watch herself around Burton; apparently, the writer has a not-great reputation when it comes to ladies. And THEN Olivia is approached by a younger woman in the courthouse lobby after the trial. “Ask him what he did to me back then,” the woman says, angry that Olivia is choosing to associate with Burton. “I was only 20 years old.” Turns out that a decade before, she was an intern for the editor of one of Burton’s books. She says he raped her, and she wants him arrested.

 

WHERE THERE’S ONE… | Burton recalls that he had “a flirtation” with the woman. She recalls that she passed out on his hotel bed after they had dinner and she woke up with him inside her. “I just let him finish,” she says. (Side note: Ugh. This never gets any easier to hear, does it?) The statute of limitations has passed — “It’s a 10-year-old he said/she said,” Fin point sout — and they don’t have enough evidence to arrest Burton. Meanwhile, the writer is panicking, clawing at Liv like “what do we do now?” while she’s like, “There’s no ‘we’ in predator, my dude.” Obviously, she officially recuses herself from the case. Nevertheless, she’s gutted when she realizes that some of the hallmarks of Burton’s grooming of the intern, like making her a mixtape that included “The Girl From Ipanema,” match moves he made with Olivia all those years ago.

With no official investigation forthcoming, the former intern takes to social media to denounce SVU for protecting Burton… and several other women respond that he did the same thing to them. Amaro, meanwhile, is feeling huge amounts of guilt for walking Burton back into Liv’s life, something that the ex-cop now sees as a highly manipulative maneuver. Benson counters that Burton didn’t groom her, because they were in love: “Anything we did, I wanted to do. It was my choice.” But he presses, reminding her how young she was, which puts Liv on the defensive. “I appreciate that you have graduate degrees, but I have been here for a very long time,” she tells him, pure ice in her tone. But AMARO IS A FREE ELF! now, and he doesn’t back down. “Physician, heal thyself,” he counters. “I think we’re done here,” she says, all but shutting her office door in his face.

THE RECKONING | Later, Olivia goes to Burton’s hotel room, where he’s drinking and raging about cancel culture. She lets him know he’s going to escape any chargeable offenses, but that what he did was scummy nonetheless. “These women looked up to you. You abused their trust,” she tells him. But he doesn’t get it; he wants her to stand up publicly for him. Not going to happen! “You slept with me when I was 16, Burton,” she says, starting to cry. “You were 21, and technically, that is sexual assault.” He mocks her (“Oh, are you saying that you’re a victim now?”) and reminds her that they were in love. She says she would’ve done anything to get out from under Serena’s thumb — and now that she thinks of it, maybe her mom was just trying to protect her.

Burton really does himself no favors here, sneering at her and nastily announcing he’s not going to apologize. “I can see that,” Liv says. After she leaves, he hurls his glass at the door she just closed behind her.

We get one more Benson women flashback — the one where Liv says she hates that her mother was raped, and Serena says that she agrees, but Olivia wouldn’t be there otherwise — and then Benson calls Nick to leave an apologetic voicemail. Finally, in the episode’s last moments, she takes Burton’s mixtape and hucks it into a pond in the park.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Grade it via the poll below, then sound off in the comments!