Sara Snoddy//Contributing writer
With the return of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Wednesday nights are back to normal—that is, if your evening usually includes two-hours of dismembered bodies.
High off of Detective Nick Amaro’s (Danny Perino) exit in last season’s finale, SVU opens season 17’s supersized premiere, “Devil’s Dissections/Criminal Pathology,” at a familiar sandy beach in New York City. It’s the local spot that serial killer Gregory Yates (Dallas Roberts) used as a dumping ground in last season’s SVU/Chicago P.D. crossover episode, where they found nine bodies that sent Yates to Rikers Island.
But when the dismembered body of Rachel Groves, a redheaded ROTC cadet, washes up with signs of Yate’s involvement, Sgt. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), patron saint of SVU, says there are only two options: either they missed a body, or there is a copycat killer.
When Manhattan’s Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, Carl Rudnick, finds traces of green nail polish on the victim, a part of Yates MO, Det. Amanda Rollins (Kelly Giddish) takes a trip to visit the former physician, who claims that not only is it barbaric to cut someone up but that “gingers are an anathema to (him).”
Upon her return, Det. Fin Tutuola (Ice-T) eventually questions how she’s been fairing since Amaro’s departure, knowing that the two were former flames. Rollins, noticeably tense, reminds him that she’s had to pull double-duty lately, and Fin warns her to not let her guard down around killers.
Yates jerks the squads chain a while before giving Rollins a tip that leads to a Harlem apartment and the uncovering of a suitcase inside a wall which contained a mummified corpse. The body of the Swiss native and redhead, Lena Grenwald, was autopsied by Rudnick, who gave an inconclusive report prompting the squad to question Yates, whose only request was a conjugal visit with his fiancé, Susie.
Afterward, both incriminate M.E. Carl Rudnick as Grenwald’s fiancée and her killer.
The green Det. Carisi (Peter Scanavino) proves his worth to the squad by checking into it and discovers that Grenwald disappeared in 2002 and that the couple were friends with Yates and Susie, who tells the detectives that she has a picture Lena sent her from Switzerland after her disappearance.
But when a secret room filled with wigs and dress is found in Rudnick’s home, this supposed picture of Lena is revealed to be a shot of the M.E. in drag, and ADA Rafael Barba (Raúl Esparza) orders his arrest. Rudnick is able to post bond long enough to murder Susie, dismember and dump her body, which was found by Carisi and a nauseous Rollins, and flee to Syracuse in drag where he is caught shoplifting.
After a harrowing case of two psychopaths pinning crimes on one another, Rudnick is finally brought to justice when a taped interrogation reveals that, while he was talking to himself alone, he admitted to murdering Rachel and Lena, and he expressed his desire to kill Susie before she could show anyone the incriminating picture.
Despite its gruesome nature, one hopeful part of the darkness is the revelation of Amanda’s pregnancy, although not with Amaro—which we first learn when Yates creepily tells her that he “smelled it on her.” With her future career headed to desk duty, Rollins begs Benson to let her work a few more cases, claiming that her mother might come to New York to help her.
After losing one of its main stars last season, SVU’s strong premiere proves that it can still roll with the punches as it always has.
Law & Order: SVU airs on Wednesday nights at 9/8c on NBC.
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