While Law & Order: Special Victims Unit welcomed Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) back into the picture, the series said goodbye to another pivotal character of the franchise.
McCoy returns in the beginning of Wednesday's episode to attend the funeral of an old Law & Order flagship character, ADA Ben Stone, played by Michael Moriarty. Stone appeared on the original series during seasons 1 through 4 for 88 total episodes.
It is unclear how Stone's character died, but his funeral scene marked a drastic teaser for another major franchise exit to come.
During the funeral, the camera pans between ADA Rafael Barba (Raul Esparza) and Ben's son Peter Stone (Phillip Winchester), an ADA from Chicago Justice. While the scene, during which McCoy delivers a eulogy for Stone, seemed innocent at first, the episode connected Barba and Stone to position the long-time New York ADA's resignation.
When McCoy and Peter talk the following day, he offers the ADA a spot in New York, but he says he’s only in town long enough to get his father’s affairs in order. They chat about how much Ben loved Peter, then the son goes into an empty courtroom and cries.
The plot then shifts to a woman trying to find her son after he was kidnapped by her husband. The situation is resolved rather quickly — with the help of Olivia Benson's (Mariska Hargitay) hostage negotiation skills — but a twist keeps the storyline jolting forward.
The child is virtually braindead, with no vision, hearing or the ability to breath on his own. His life is completely dependent on machines and his mother has been trying to obtain a court order to have him euthanized. The father, who could not follow through with the potential killing of the son, took the child to keep him alive.
Barba is faced with the dilemma of charging the father with kidnapping, but as he talks to the mother and sees the child for himself, he agrees the child should be put to death. Barba, who is also haunted by guilty for selfishly keeping his father on life support rather than end his suffering, turns off the child's life support machines, killing the 10-month-old boy.
He is then tried for murder by attorney Peter Stone, but is found not guilty after lengthy proceedings. After the trail, Barba chooses to resign and move on from his position against McCoy's wishes.
Following the episode, Esparza confirmed that he would be exiting the show after six seasons.