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Reviewed by Will Harris
ne doesn’t expect a series that’s in its eighth year on the air to shake up the status quo of its main characters, but it’s fair to say that “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” did just that. Admittedly, some of these changes came about more out of necessity than a burning desire to really shake things up, but whatever the reason, by season’s end, you certainly couldn’t say that the show had spent the year just sitting still.
If you were wondering about the comment in the above paragraph, here’s some clarification: Season Eight began with Mariska Hargitay very pregnant, but her character, Olivia Benson, very much not. This was taken care of in the season premiere, “Informed,” which saw the return of FBI Agent Dana Lewis (Marcia Gay Harden). Agent Lewis was on a search for a missing informant, Benson was trying to find a rape victim who was refusing to finger her attacker, and by episode’s end, Lewis had managed to draw Benson into joining an undercover investigation, one which required her to leave without saying goodbye to her partner, Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni). This provided Stabler with the opportunity to team up with Det. Dani Beck (Connie Nielsen), whose inexperience with the intimacy of SVU crimes combined with her decidedly fervent investigation techniques led to a short stay in the department, but provided a good excuse to bring Benson back a few episodes later.
In addition to enduring a partner switch-up (one which leads to disgruntlement between he and Benson, due to the abrupt nature of her departure), Stabler manages to get a couple of major wounds this season, including taking a pen to the chest, getting blown into the air by dynamite, and being hurled through a plate glass window by a hopped-up suspect nicknamed Cupid. This doesn’t really excuse his actions later in the season, when he comes close to killing a different suspect, but you know Elliot: the guy’s always had a bit of a problem with anger management. He also spends a fair amount of time during the season dealing with problems at home, but after all the time he and his wife, Kathy, have spent apart (she initiated divorce proceedings last season), they finally manage to reconcile by season’s end.
Guest stars are a common occurrence on “SVU,” but the show’s really loaded with them in Season Eight. As for the one who turns in the best performance, the high-profile pick is clearly Jerry Lewis, who plays Munch’s uncle (he starts out on the street and ends up in a sanitarium). But taking the win is Brian Dennehy, whose role as a cancer patient who committed a crime 47 years ago which has haunted him all the way to his deathbed makes for one of the best episodes in “SVU” history. Also turning up during the course of the set are Elle Fanning, Catherine Bell, Bob Saget, Bernadette Peters, Chris Sarandon, Paget Brewster, Carey Elwes, Tim Daly, Kim Delaney, Ashley Williams, and Ludacris.
Season finales don’t come much more appropriately titled than “Screwed,” an episode in which one piece of good news – Kathy Stabler is pregnant – is surrounded by a shitstorm of bad news. By episode’s end, Cap’n Kragen has been reassigned, Asst. D.A. Casey Novak may be out of a job, Benson’s been busted for wiring money to her fugitive brother, and Elliot’s daughter, Kathleen, is finally being taken to task for the DUI that her dad tried to keep off her record. People might dig “Law & Order” because it’s easy to predict, but the amount of changes that keep happening on “SVU” continue to keep it the real star of the “L&O” franchise.
Special Features: None. You know, you’d really think they’d just draw straws and have each cast member do a token commentary for each set, just so they’re offering the fans a gesture of bonus material. With all of the reruns on the USA Network, shouldn’t they be offering something unique to actually make these sets worth buying?