'Law & Order: SVU' Featured a Surprisingly 'Meaningful' Crossover with 'Law & Order'

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit returned from its winter break with a shocking story arc that took Benson and her team in the Bronx to uncover a case backlog and put away a dangerous gang. While the story's climax featured Benson and Stabler getting very close to kissing in the Jan. 26 episode, it all began with another Law & Order universe character visiting the SVU squad. During the Jan. 5 episode "Jumped In," Camyn Manheim's Lieutenant Kate Dixon offered her assistance.

Capt. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and her Manhattan SVU team started their work in the Bronx by solving the brutal rapes of deaf students. The Bronx SVU thought they caught the perpetrator but after another deaf student is raped, Benson's team realizes the case was never solved because the detectives on the cases never interviewed the survivors with a sign language interpreter. That's where Dixon steps in.

"It is meaningful to have been a part of (the episode) because I am fluent in sign language and have been an advocate for disabilities for a long time," Manheim told Today.com after the episode aired. "One thing that's come up recently is how much the public learns from shows like L&O and... The Practice; (and) just how important it is for our producers and showrunners to get the procedure right."

This was not the first time Manheim used her knowledge of American Sign Language in Law & Order. Back in 1993, she appeared in the episode "Benevolence." She used ASL for the first time as Dixon in the Oct. 6 episode "Camouflage," in which she questioned a 12-year-old girl who is deaf. Manheim is not deaf or hard of hearing, but she studied sign language in college.

Manheim's appearance in "Jumped In" came after she had dinner with Maria Bello and Mariska Hargitay. When Hargitay mentioned that they were doing an episode with deaf characters, Manheim reminded her that she is fluent in ASL. The writers then added Dixon to the episode, but Manheim had some requests. She wanted the writers to make a point of showing how difficult it would be for the SVU team to get someone who knew ASL immediately.

"We wanted to show that it's not OK to pull a detective from another precinct and get them to interpret," Manheim explained to Today.com. "I made it clear to the writers, and they were fantastic about incorporating that ... (Dixon) I told all the deaf victims that an interpreter will come and review their statements to make sure it's accurate and also that they were recording the interview in case I missed something, so we'd have it on tape. I wanted to get that across that we were doing all the right things to protect deaf people."

"Jumped In" also gave Manheim an opportunity to hang out more with Hargitay, whom she called the "mayor of New York" and of the Law & Order franchise. Hargitay has played Benson since SVU began in 1999 and is now an executive producer on the series.

"She's the most welcoming, she's hilarious. She is a jokester," Manheim said of Hargitay. "She knows that show like the back of her hand, and it's inspiring to watch her move in and out of being an actor, a producer, a director. On the show I was on, Mariska has, like, 85 percent of the dialogue. I'm like, 'How do you do it? You have three children!' But it's really become the fabric of her soul."

Thursday is Law & Order night at NBC. Law & Order airs at 8 p.m. ET, with SVU following at 9 p.m. ET and Law & Order: Organized Crime at 10 p.m. ET. All three shows are available to stream on Peacock