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Law & Order: Special Victims Unit recap: The past comes haunting in two cases

Law & Order SVU
Garland (Demore Barnes) returns to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Pic credit: NBC

An old friend returned to finish some older business. 

After handling a case involving a cross-country rapist, the SVU team welcomed back former Deputy Chief Garland (Demore Barnes), who had to solve a case left behind on New York’s darkest day.

Also, a past victim found herself in hot water, which led to Benson clashing with other cops.

That led the cops to a twisted search for the truth in Tangled Webs of Justice.

Two dark cases emerge from the past

The episode opened with a flashback to the morning of September 11, 2001. A pack of cops in Central Park was hunting for Aretha Green, a missing 13-year-old. Among them was a rookie patrolman named Christian Garland.

Just as the search was getting underway, their radios buzzed on the first plane striking the World Trade Center. That meant the search was cut off as Garland looked at the pond. 

In the present day, some kids found the remains of a child in the pond. Across town, a woman named Kendall was robbing the house of the man she’d been sleeping with, him naturally irate to wake up and find his stuff gone. 

Detective Nadia Szabo (Orfeh) was dubious of the man’s claims his “date” was a student he was supporting, although intrigued by her claims she’d been abused. At his home, Garland was thrown by the news of the discovery of the body. 

“Kendall” was actually Libby Blandon (Gabrielle Carrubba), who was swiftly arrested. Benson met Garland at a diner as he believed the body was Aretha Green. 

Garland explained how, obviously, the search for Aretha took a backseat to 9/11 and wanted to use his new position as deputy mayor for the new administration to try and finally solve this case.

At a retirement home, Garland’s former commander, Carl Mannox (Jeb Kreager), admitted feeling guilty about how many crimes went ignored in the wake of 9/11. He did hope they could finish this off and tell Aretha’s mother he was sorry for not helping before. 

Carisi met with public defender Dara Miglani (Mouzam Makkar) to relate that Libby was one of the victims of Henry Messner, the twisted killer in Season 22’s Post-Graduate Psychopath. Benson felt for Libby being broken by the assault and wanted to help.

Medical Examiner Abel Truman (Frank Wood) told Rollins and Velasco that the body could be Aretha’s and evidence indicating the girl had been pregnant. 

Reaching out to the victims

Aretha’s grandfather, Coleman (Ron Canada), still blamed himself for letting Aretha go with her mother, Cora (Nicki Micheaux), identifying some of the items on the body as matching Aretha’s. She still kept Aretha’s baby teeth for a DNA test. 

Libby admitted she was shaken by the entire incident with Henry and just wanted to escape. However, they were confused as to how her DNA could have gotten into the system for the cops to discover as she only gave a sample for her rape kit.

Benson confronted Szabo on how she found Libby, the two quickly clashing, with Szabo seeming to hide something. Benson wondered if Szabo could have gotten into the DNA kits with Carisi worried about the implications.

Truman positively identified the body as Aretha’s, and the child’s father was black, although not a family member. Cora was obviously heartbroken to have her fears confirmed but shaken more to learn her daughter had been pregnant. 

Benson went to OCME to learn Major Crimes had requested Libby’s DNA sample on the loophole of it being part of a past open case. The supervisor was appalled that one of her people had violated a victim’s privacy like this. Worse, it sounded like it wasn’t the first time this tech had made such a mistake. 

Neither Cora nor Coleman could explain how Aretha had gotten pregnant as they knew of no boyfriends, although they let Cora’s boyfriend of the time, Red, watch the kids. Cora tried to ignore it but was forced to admit it could be true.

Maxwell was outraged to learn six past assault victims had their profiles accessed by the cops, and at least two of them were facing charges because of those searches. They were all done by the same tech and all for Szabo (who he was dating), who was using this to boost her arrest numbers. 

Benson wanted to dismiss the DNA part of Libby’s case, but Carisi pointed out they still had other evidence. Yet making sure this didn’t happen again was important.

Red (Ron Scott) talked of liking Aretha and feeling sorry for what happened. He was wary when they asked for his DNA while bringing up Nina, the other Green child that Cora had never mentioned.

Szabo stormed into the squad room to confront Benson, with the two squaring off on Szabo using a victim’s past against them. It got heated with Benson ordering Szabo out before they could come to blows. 

The darkest truths come out

Cora explained Nina never got over Aretha’s vanishing, falling into drugs, and hadn’t been seen in a decade. The woman was an addict and prostitute, last seen at a halfway house until Coleman visited that very day, and she vanished.

Libby wanted to plead guilty rather than “play the system,” with Benson warning that using a victim’s DNA against them like this was a dangerous precedent. She pled not guilty while Maxwell told Szabo that all her past arrests were going to be investigated by the D.A.’s office.

Maxwell and the judge were old friends, which led to Maxwell getting a talk with Queens D.A. Cassandra Drakos (Orlagh Cassidy) on dropping the charges against Libby. Drakos refused to let a victim’s past be a “get out of jail free card” and ignored Benson and Maxwell’s push on this being “political quicksand.”

A dealer pointed Rollins and Velasco to Nina (Renee Harrison), trying to score drugs. She admitted she’d known Aretha was pregnant, and Coleman knew as well…as he was the father. Coleman related he’d never truly believed he was Cora’s birth father but still married her mother. 

He confessed to the affair with Aretha, and their fight over her baby led to him killing her in a rage than dumping the body. He actually thought it wasn’t a sin since they weren’t really related, leaving Garland and Carisi flabbergasted.

Coleman would plead guilty to die in prison while the judge would find Libby not guilty. Also, Maxwell’s judge friend revealed Drakos had been using some fake search warrants to keep an eye on her husband. 

With this blackmail material, Maxwell was able to have Drakos call a press conference to make it sound like Szabo had discovered this “flaw in the system” and called on other D.A.s to help correct the very problem they created. 

While Benson was stunned at this chutzpah, Maxwell brushed off that “the best way to get anything done is to let other people take the credit.”

Cora was rocked at the truth of her “father” but now understood why Nina ran off. She was happy that at least she had one daughter back. Garland admitted that “cases like this are why I don’t miss being a cop” as they went their separate ways. 

It was a dark hour to show how crimes of long ago can still carry a huge impact today.

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

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