'Law & Order: SVU' Packs in Surprise Returns in Heartbreaking 500th Episode

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit made history Thursday night with its 500th episode, and it was not a disappointment. The show was packed in plenty of surprise returns, while someone from Olivia's past finally made his first appearance. In "The Five-Hundredth Episode," Benson and her team helped solve a cold case but opened some of her own wounds in the process.

The episode began with Noah (Ryan Buggle) adorably asking Capt. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) questions about her mother out of nowhere. When she arrived at the station, Fin (Ice-T) told her she needed to speak with a criminal in the interrogation room. Surprise! It was really Nick Amaro (Danny Pino). He now works for a DNA company and has teamed up with author and podcaster Burton Lowe (Aidan Quinn) to help prove Ian Ridley (Kyle Cameron) has been spending 25 years in prison for the rape and murder of his high school sweetheart even though he didn't commit the crime.

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(Photo: Will Hart/NBC)

During their investigation, the team checks in with retired Capt. Donald Cragen (Dann Florek) and medical examiner Melinda Warner (Tamara Tunie). They eventually discover that the girl's coach, Roger Murray (Brian Kerwin) was the real killer. Benson helped Ian get a lawyer, Trevor Langan (Hargitay's real-life husband Peter Hermann). During a dramatic court hearing, Roger confessed. Amazingly, this was only halfway through the episode, so you know something is coming.

Way back in Season 6, which aired 15 years ago, Benson told Casey Novak (Diane Neal) that she had an affair with a 21-year-old student of her mother's when she was 16. It turns out that man was Burton. At first, Benson was excited to work with Burton, even spending the night at his hotel. The celebration later continued after Murray's confession. But the bliss was short-lived. Outside the courtroom, a woman accused Bruton of raping her 10 years ago.

After the woman publicized her story, more women came forward to accuse Burton of grooming and taking advantage of them. Although no criminal charges could be filed against Burton, he felt betrayed as he saw his professional life fall apart. The most tragic part came when Benson realized she too was the victim of Burton's predatory behavior when one of the women said Burton gave her a tape with the song "The Girl from Ipanema." Burton gave Benson a tape with the same song. After confronting Burton and realizing he wasn't going to admit to his wrongdoing, Benson threw the tape in the river to close that chapter in her life.

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This episode was the first time we heard from Cragen since the 2015 episode "Perverted Justice." It was also Amaro's first appearance since Pino left the show in 2015. Hermann's Langan has made several appearances in the show, with his previous coming in the 2019 episode "The Burden of Our Choices." Warner has been making about one appearance per season lately, as she was last seen in "Trick-Rolled at the Moulin" last season. Surprisingly, Christopher Meloni's Elliot Stabler didn't make an appearance, but he has been busy trying to stop the cocaine trade in Law & Order: Organized Crime, so he has an excuse. SVU airs at 9 p.m. ET Thursdays on NBC.