Jack is back! Amazingly enough, for Wednesday’s episode, this wasn’t the biggest news. It was a beautifully done episode that left fans reeling. SVU had advertised in advance that we’d be seeing the return of longtime L&O DA Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston). We also knew going in that they’d be introducing Peter Stone (Philip Winchester), a character brought over from Chicago Justice. What we didn’t know were how that would happen, and how Stone’s introduction would affect long time series favorite, ADA Rafael Barba (Raul Esparza).
We open with Jack McCoy giving a eulogy for Ben Stone (another old Law and Order DA and Peter Stone’s father). It was incredibly stirring, Sam Waterston hasn’t lost a beat of his character that’s for. He sets off the tone for the rest of the episode with the line, “A man should not do what he can, he should do what he must.” This becomes the central theme for the rest of the episode, and we’ll see both Peter Stone and Rafael Barba following exactly those words.
After the funeral, we’re introduced to Maggie Householder (Abigail Hawk) whose 2-month-old baby has been kidnapped by his father. She’s frantic, the boy needs a respirator and other medical equipment to survive so the team needs to get to work fast. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hartigay) and her team are able to track Aaron Householder (Joe Tapper) quickly. Benson arrives at his house to find the police in a full standoff, Aaron brandishing what appears to be a machine gun. Against what must be police procedure, Benson goes into the house unarmed to try to talk Aaron down. Aaron is extremely distraught, he tells Benson that his wife wants to have his boy killed, and he’s desperate for that not to happen. Benson works her magic and is able to bring him in and return the baby to its mother. She shrugs off going in unarmed, explaining that she could tell the gun was a paintball gun from outside. I don’t believe that for a minute.
Back at the station Barba is obviously ripped up emotionally, listening to both parents talk about their baby. He clearly sympathizes with each of them – Maggie telling him that her baby, “should get the peace we all deserve” and Aaron tearfully countering, “you saw him, you can’t tell me he’s nothing!” The parents hug once they’re together again, no-one can truly be angry – this is a terrible situation to be in, your baby so sick and only will ever get worse. At this point, he has no brain function, just pain.
When Barba and Benson speak outside of the interrogation room, he makes it clear that he wants nothing to do with this case, and asks her to do some due diligence so that he can clear this case. Whether that means prosecuting the father for kidnapping or not, he wants to be done.
We get a break from this heartbreak, only to be introduced to a different kind. Peter Stone and Jack McCoy meet up in the court rotunda to speak about Peter’s father. When McCoy chides Stone for not speaking at his father’s funeral Stone tells him, “not all great men were good men.” On Chicago Justice we had learned that the Stones had a bad relationship, Ben Stone was not affectionate or particularly kind to Peter, and it’s clear that Peter still resents that. McCoy counters, telling Peter of all the things he saw Ben doing – watching Peter play baseball, having the Chicago Law Review delivered to his desk to keep up with his son. He wants Peter to know that his dad was proud of him. I have to say – this just doesn’t fly with me. Being proud in private means nothing to your kid, it doesn’t let Ben off the hook.
Meanwhile, Barba goes to visit Maggie and her baby in the hospital. This was shot so dark, the baby was literally the only lighting on the set, which really came through emotionally. This tiny innocent being, surrounded by people mired down in darkness. After listening to Maggie cry, Barba does something that truly shocked me, he encourages her to pull the respirator plug, not to wait until she has permission from a court. When she breaks down and is unable…Barba does it himself! I was beside myself! When he stood over the baby’s crib and blessed it, the light finally reached his face. This was him not “doing what he could, but doing what he must.”
Of course, for an ADA to do this there will clearly be consequences. McCoy decides that he has to prosecute Barba, over Benson’s objections and his own hope that the jury will let him off. In my opinion, he’s clearly right, even if Barba felt like he was doing the right thing, he couldn’t just walk away from this decision. McCoy appoints Peter Stone as special counsel to prosecute the case. When he introduces Stone to Benson, Benson literally looks at Stone’s hand, says “I hope you suck” and walks away. I really felt bad for Stone’s character, here’s a guy just doing his job and already the people hate him.
Benson confronts Stone again outside the courtroom, begging him to meet with Barba and let him off the hook. When she asks him, why he could sympathize with Barba and still go through with prosecuting him, Stone just replies, “Because the law says I must.” And let me say, that’s Peter Stone in a nutshell, from Chicago Justice to here, he sees the law in black and white. This will make things interesting for the future as he learns to work with Benson, and vice versa. (side note, when we tweeted that this described Stone, actor Philip Winchester agreed, lol, so…vindicated!) Another example of a man doing what he must.
In the courtroom there are lots of tears, Barba explaining why he couldn’t just let that baby suffer, that he wasn’t technically alive (with no brain activity) and so it shouldn’t be considered murder. Stone pushes hard, relentless that whether you thought you were doing right or not – it’s not your decision to make. Thankfully, at the end of the day Barba is found not guilty, you can see the relief on everyone’s face – including McCoy and Stone. But. After all that, Barba decides it’s time to move on. We get a too short farewell with him and Benson, and with that Raul Esparza is finished with SVU. I really wish we’d seen a scene with him and Carisi (Peter Scanavino) the two had grown close while Carisi was studying to become a lawyer. But cramming in a goodbye, a welcome to new series regular Philip Winchester and a returning guest star in Sam Waterston is a lot to ask.
The addition of Philip Winchester is going to be great here, I loved Raul Esparza, but the tension that Stone will have with the team is going to make things interesting. I think it will rejuvenate the series, after 6 years with Barba maybe it’s time for that.
SVU will return after the Winter Olympics Feb. 28 at 9/8c.