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Law & Order: Special Victims Unit recap: Barba has a huge return in a gripping case

Rafael Barba
Rafael Barba (Raul Esparza) questions Benson (Mariska Hargitay) on Law & Order Special Victims Unit Season 23 finale. Pic credit: NBC

The return of an old friend led to some startling admissions in the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23 finale.

Just after handling a case clashing with some faiths, the SVU team had their own personal beliefs tested.

To defend a woman who struck against her abuser, the team turned to former friend Rafael Barba (Raul Esparza). But the case led to a huge turn for Benson as A Final Call At Forlini’s Bar shifted her romantic future. 

Some therapy leads to more questions

The episode opened with Benson talking to Dr. Lindstrom (Bill Irwin) about being okay with her career but feeling lost in the last year from Garland leaving to no closure with Barba. Lindstrom brought up Stabler, but Benson had no answer.

Irwin brought up how most of the squad was in stable relationships as Benson related she was focused on Noah and her work. She thought Lindstrom was bringing up intimacy issues as he told her she and Stabler had to see if “there was more there” or move on as not knowing for sure was holding her back. 

At a women’s shelter, Delia Hackman (Jordan Spiro) related how her abusive ex, Ty, was still coming after her, but she was handling it. Delia returned home to find Ty (Derek Phillips) waiting for her to threaten her.

Fin was waiting for Phoebe while Velasco and Carisi played some basketball. Carisi revealed he realized he was in love with Rollins when he saw her giving birth. Lindstrom told Olivia she had to stop thinking of what she needed as “you deserve happiness.”

Rollins was walking her dog when she saw Delia smashing a police car with a bat. Rollins managed to talk the cops down as Delia tearfully gave herself up. 

Carisi met Rollins at the hospital as she shared Delia’s history of three marriages, drug use, and abuse by each of her spouses. Rollins realized Delia had hoped to be arrested as jail was safer than being near Ty.

The cops were quick to talk to Ty, who claimed Delia had invited him over. A judge agreed to let him go as Delia called the detectives to ask about modifying the order of protection. The cops realized she was being coerced to call the local cops. 

Ty was at the apartment to be arrested with no problem, but Delia was nervous. Ty once more defended this was all a misunderstanding, with Carisi bringing up Barba’s advice on being careful with these cases. Benson got irate at Barba’s name, with Carisi saying they had to smooth this over. 

A hard turn leads to a big return

Ty pled not guilty to assault and breaking the order and the judge allowed him to go free with supervision. Delia was happy with the police helping as Fin and Velasco dropped Ty at his apartment with him promising to stay away from Delia.

Rollins was concerned about Delia being alone, not wanting to call her older daughter. Benson and Rollins agreed on how helpless these cases made them feel as Benson talked about how well Rollins and Carisi got along. 

Rollins brought up Benson and Stabler working together again and how her mother had once told her with Carisi, “get a hotel room and get it over with.” They were interrupted by a phone call.

Arriving at Ty’s home, they found Ty stabbed in the back and Delia arrested. She seemed strung out as she said she’d come for a phone charger and Ty wouldn’t let her leave so she stabbed him.

Delia talked of Ty threatening her and she simply snapped. However, the fact it took him half an hour to bleed out and she never called 911 looked bad. 

Maxwell was sympathetic to Delia but that they couldn’t make a real case for self-defense as she’d been in an abusive relationship herself for 15 years but didn’t kill the guy. Benson said Delia would need a better lawyer, but Maxwell said no one would take those kinds of cases as “they break your heart.”

The team talked about Delia’s lawyer out of her depth, with Rollins bringing up the “elephant in the room.” At the soon-to-close Forlini’s Bar, Benson found Barba, who’d agreed to represent Delia. He admitted he missed Benson, but she left. 

At trial, Carisi had Abel Truman discuss how Ty was stabbed in the back, and Barba defended Delia, saying she might not have realized the wounds were fatal.

The detective on the scene testified to Delia confessing. Barba brought up Delia being overwhelmed by her actions and not proud of what she’d done.

Benson took the stand with Carisi pressing her on Delia’s words and Barba had Benson expand on Delia perhaps feeling threatened even if Ty wasn’t facing her. Maxwell wasn’t happy about that, and Carisi was upset to hear Rollins had brought this to Barba without talking to him first.

A huge revelation is made

Delia testified on feeling terrified of Ty and snapped to stab him while waiting for her phone to charge to call Rollins. Carisi forced Delia to admit Ty was unarmed and not threatening her with more than a laugh and she could have run away rather than killed him. He then stated Delia could have just stayed home and went to Ty’s to deliberately look for a chance to kill him. 

Delia sobbed as the judge called for a recess, Barba helping a crying Delia off the stand. The next day, Delia had been checked at the hospital while Barba called Dr. Emily Sopher. Maxwell and Carisi were upset he was going for emotional distress, battered woman syndrome, and not guilty due to mental defect. 

Sopher testified to Delia’s constant head blows giving her a condition not unlike CTE, which lowered impulse control, led to memory problems, and might explain her actions. Delia confirmed her abuse and how it made her feel. 

Maxwell and Carisi called Barba for a deal which made Barba realize he was winning. They worked out a plea for misdemeanor assault with jail and fines waived. 

Carisi admitted to Rollins he was actually relieved he lost this one as they made up. 

At Forlini’s, Benson met Barba to talk about Delia getting help from her women’s group and even some money from an accident settlement from Ty. Barba knew Benson was still angry about his defending Wheatley with him once more saying it was just doing his job. 

Barba asked why Benson was angrier at him than ever at Stabler. Benson said he knew nothing of her and Stabler and felt betrayed by Barba. He fired back she would always defend Stabler and “that’s what you do when you love someone unconditionally.”

When Benson said he didn’t know that, he explained he did as “I know just how it feels to love someone unconditionally,” and gave her a meaningful look. He headed out with Benson admitting she missed him too.

Thus, the season ends with a big turn on Benson and a shift for Barba that might lead to drama for Season 23.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23 airs Thursdays on NBC this fall.

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