Raul Esparza previews Barba’s big return on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Rafael Barba (Raul Esparza) returns to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Pic credit: NBC

Raúl Esparza is hoping to bring Rafael Barba into a new direction on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. 

The actor previewed his return to the series in the Season 23 finale and how he hopes it will lead to a reconciliation between Benson and Barba.

But before that happens, Barba must once more clash with Carisi in court in a dramatic turn to add tension to things.

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Barba’s big return to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

For several years, Rafael Barba was SVU’s go-to prosecutor, handling the often complex cases the unit ran into.

Known for his dry sense of humor and willingness to bend the law if he had to, Barba did a great job but finally left in Season 19 after a case involving the death of an infant.

Barba returned in Season 22 to defend a man for killing his daughter’s abuser, which had him clashing with Carisi (Peter Scanavino) in court. 

Barba came back in Season 23, shocking Benson by defending Richard Wheatley (Dylan McDermott) for the murder of Stabler’s (Christopher Meloni) wife. It ended in a mistrial with Benson angry with Barba for defending a murderer.

Barba will now return when a domestic abuse victim kills her abusive husband. While Carisi wants to prosecute her for murder, Rollins (Kelli Giddish) feels it’s self-defense to talk Barba into defending her. 

Speaking to TV Insider, Esparaza discussed what drives Barba to take on this seemingly unwinnable case. 

“Because it’s one of those unprovable cases, one of those situations where people think there’s no way, you can’t get a woman off for having murdered her husband and done it obviously so and just sat there waiting. So one, I think that’s definitely part of what draws Barba to it, because he’s always drawn to cases like that that seem impossible. The first case that we met him on was [one] that everybody said there’s no way you can win it. And the other thing is it just completely circles around about Benson. It’s really about getting back into her circle.”

A key focus in the episode will be if Benson and Barba can get back on the same page after the Wheatley case wrecked their friendship. 

“Personally with Barba, I think, he might have underestimated how much damage it was going to cause, but it was another one of those cases where he felt like this is the law and I have to stand by it and these things are absolute. He’s become a bit of a hard-ass about that stuff. He always was, but she tempered that a bit with him. Benson always gave him a bit more softness and empathy. And in this case, though, I think he bit and he wouldn’t let go. So after the fact, yeah, I think he’s definitely not regretting, but aware of how much damage was caused and looking to see how things can be fixed.

I think they’re stumbling towards reconciliation. I don’t know that they’re actually on the road, but I feel like the episode sets them on a possible path. It ends with a beginning and it’s a season finale that’s all about, what is suspended between them, whatever the next year brings, but there is some possibility in there. I don’t know that it gets easily resolved. They’re too deeply tied into each other in too many ways.”

Would Barba return to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit?

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

The episode will feature another courtroom clash between Carisi, who learned a lot under Barba but realizes Barba still has a few tricks up his sleeve.

“Oh, I think Barba just likes to school Carisi all the time. [Laughs] Carisi comes back with a few where he is like, ‘Oh, I know how to get him. I know how to fight back,’ which is actually a Scanavino thing. ‘It better be time for me to fight back.’ It’s one of my favorite dynamics in the whole series, how much Barba likes to ride Carisi’s ego. He just likes to just take him down and we’ve always found it really funny and fun to play, but there is a kind of mutual admiration and respect between them that’s fun.”

Esparaza admits that Baba’s “moral code” made it trickier for him to handle being a defense attorney but believes the man may return to a prosecutor someday. 

“I think it would take a little bit more time, but I think he could return to prosecution. There’s that pesky baby he seems to have murdered. But other than that, yeah, I actually could see him going back to that. Or maybe on a bigger level, on a federal level. We had a section in there at one point where we talked about him working in politics. It’s another thing I can see him doing, but yeah, I think he still believes in it. He believes in it enough that he would be drawn back into it. It seems to be his life’s blood.”

While a full return to the world of SVU seems unlikely, Barba’s presence in this episode is a reminder of the sharp lawyer he is and will spark this powerful storyline to wrap up the season.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23 finale airs Thursday, May 19 at 9/8c on NBC.

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