'Law & Order: SVU' Fans Taken Aback by Shocking Brothel Twist

This week's episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit changed the way viewers saw one character after the team discovered he was the man behind a "pop-up" brothel operation.

In "Brothel," the SVU team investigated the death of a prostitute, and discovered she was trying to escape a "pop-up" brothel. The team later identified the victim, Tori, because she was in the system. She was a drug addict who tried to go through a rehab program, but officials lost track of her once she relapsed.

There was very little evidence left behind at the brothel, but the team found a shoe and matched it to the last man Tori was with, and the man was arrested.

Detective Odafin Tutola (Ice-T) brought in Sgt. Phoebe Baker (guest star Jennifer Esposito) to help track down the man running the operation.

During the investigation, Judge Kofax (John Rothman), a judge well-known to SVU fans as the man who presided over the William Lewis case in Season 15 and has been involved in two other episodes earlier this season, was signing off warrant after warrant to help the detectives. However, he was actually working as a mole for the man running the brothel so by the time the squad went to the locations they had warrants for, the brothel moved on to another location.

At first, the squad thought Baker was the one leaking the information, but it turned out to be the judge, who no one suspected. Kofax said he did it because his daughter recently died and he believed he was helping the women.

During the investigation, Rollins (Kelli Giddish) and Benson (Mariska Hargitay) interviewed a woman found at one of the pop-up locations. She confirmed Baker was not the "female cop" warning the people running the brothel. The woman also confirmed that Tori was pushed off a building to her death.

Later, Carisi and Ice-T later followed Ramirez, one of the cops in Baker's squad. Ramirez met a mysterious man at a park - and the man turned out to be Kofax.

Fans at home were stunned by the shocking twist.

Even Benson could not believe a sitting judge could do this. However, she let Fin and Carisi follow through with their suspicions. Judge Barth (Jenna Stern) helped take him down.

Kofax was convinced he was treating the girls like his own daughters. He was convinced he was helping them by trafficking them, keeping them from overdosing. He thought this was how he could keep these girls from meeting the same fate as his daughter, who died from an overdose.

In the end, Kofax reached a plea deal and will spend 25 years in prison.

At the end of the episode, Fin asked Kofax if they wanted to try again at having a relationship. However, she is dating someone else.

Notably, "Brothel" was the first episode to feature former Blue Bloods actress Jennifer Esposito in almost 20 years. She made her first appearance on the show as the same character back in the Season 1 episode "Remorse," which aired in May 2000, before Ice-T joined the series.

Next week's episode, "Facing Demons," will be the show's landmark 450th episode and also has another major return.

Dean Winters will be back for the first time this season, playing Brian Cassidy once again. This is the first time Cassidy has been on the show since Season 19's "Chasing Demons," which aired in February 2018. In that episode, Cassidy finally gave the in-universe explanation for leaving partway through Season 1 — he was molested as a boy and could no longer handle being a member of the SVU.

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New episodes of Law & Order: SVU air on Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

Photo credit: Virginia Sherwood/NBC