Law & Order: Special Victims Unit brings back an old face for Season 23 finale

Rafael Barba
Raul Esparaza returns as Rafael Barba on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23. Pic credit: NBC

Rafael Barba is coming back to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. 

Raul Esparaza will reprise his role as the former ADA in the Season 23 finale. However, it appears that the SVU squad’s former ally will be on their side for a change. 

Rafael Barba and his history with SVU

Introduced in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 14, Rafael Baraba was the ADA who handled the SVU team’s cases. Known for a slick style and dry sense of humor, Barba was often pushed into handling some bizarre cases. 

Willing to push against his bosses and bend the rules to get a conviction, Barba handled the cases until mid-way through Season 19. He left after a difficult case reminded Baraba of how he’d turned off the life support for his father. 

Barba returned in Season 21 to chat with Benson on his new job aiding voting rights groups. In Season 22’s Sightless in a Savage Land, Benson asked Baraba to aid a military veteran who’d killed his daughter’s rapist.

Instead, Barba defended the man, putting him against Carisi (Peter Scanavino) in court. Barba lost the case but found a new drive as a defense attorney.

Barba most recently appeared in a crossover with Law & Order: Organized Crime where, to the shock of Benson, he defended mobster Richard Wheatley (Dylan McDermott) for the murder of Stabler’s wife. 

It ended in a mistrial, with Wheatley then released from prison. Baraba turned down Wheatley’s offer to work for him as he only cared about justice for all, not defending criminal clients.

It appears the character will once again be defending someone but this time as a favor for the team.

Why is Barba returning to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit?

Raul Esparaza
Raul Esparza as Barba on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Pic credit: NBC

The Season 23 finale (the title is yet to be revealed), airing May 19, has a domestic violence victim (guest star Jordana Spiro) being arrested. According to TV Insider, Rollins (Kelli Giddish) feels a connection to the woman and asks Barba to defend her. 

Barba isn’t the first past Law & Order: Special Victims Unit face to make a return this year. Dann Florek reprised his role as former Captain Donald Cragen in the landmark 500th episode. He also made a cameo in Law & Order: Organized Crime.

This coming week will see Demore Barnes returning as former Deputy Chief Garland, seeking the SVU team’s help on an old case. 

A major question is how Baraba and Benson will be getting along. Benson was quite upset when Barba defended Wheatley on the idea everyone deserved a good defense, and it seemed to break their friendship.

When asked by a fan if this meant a happy reunion, executive producer Julie Martin tweeted, “Getting there. End of the day, they do love each other.”

While fans are hopeful Barba and Benson can mend their friendship, his appearance should make the Season 23 finale one to remember.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23 airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.

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