Law & Order

10 Darkest Plot Twists in Law & Order: SVU

Split Images of Law and Order SVU

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is one of the most popular procedural dramas that deals with some of the most disturbing and heinous crimes. Some of the episodes of SVU have left audiences shocked and upset, either due to the nature of the crime or because of the outcome of the trial. The disturbing nature of the crimes the detectives in SVU work on also means the episodes can be quite dark and gruesome. Yet, in other cases, viewers have been left stunned not by the storyline itself but by some of the darkest plot twists in Special Victims Unit.

Most of the episodes in Law & Order: SVU follow a similar pattern audiences are used to. However, a few episodes have shaken the formula and turned cases upside down after a shocking reveal midway through the episode. In other cases, some of the darkest plot twists in SVU have come right at the end of the episode, leaving audiences troubled and appalled, either because there’s no closure for the case or because a final reveal makes audiences question everything they’ve seen. But no matter the case, these dark plot twists make the SVU episodes even more memorable.

10An Unscrupulous Doctor Made Two Mothers Fight Over a Little Girl in “Birthright”

Season 6, Episode 1

Written by Jonathan Greene
Directed by Arthur W. Forney
Air Date September 21, 2004
IMDb Score 8.5

“Birthright” is a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode that starts with an attempted child abduction. Michelle Osborne is a woman who has hired two private detectives to take a little girl, Patty Branson because Michelle believes Patty is her real daughter. However, Patty has two loving parents, and Mrs. Branson actually gave birth to Patty. Olivia and Elliot’s investigation eventually unearths a dark revelation: Mrs. Osborne and Mrs. Branson both had in-vitro fertilization, and the doctor implanted Michelle’s embryos into Mrs. Branson without Michelle’s knowledge or consent. This makes Patty Michelle’s biological daughter.

“Birthright” then follows the hardest dilemma of all: who should have custody of Patty. Eventually, Michelle Osborne decides to plead guilty to kidnapping and drop her pursuit of custody for Patty, after realizing Patty doesn’t want to be with her and only wants to be with Mr. and Mrs. Branson. And even though the storyline in this episode seems resolved, Law & Order: SVU drops one more dark plot twist minutes before “Birthright” ends: The fertility doctor implanted ten of Michelle’s embryos into other, unsuspecting women, and Michelle has two more biological daughters and a son out there.

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9“Design” Introduced a Criminal Posing As a Victim

Season 7, Episode 2

Close up of April Troost in Law & Order: SVU's episode Design
Written by Lisa Marie Petersen
Directed by David Platt
Air Date September 27, 2005
IMDb Score 8.6

April Troost might be one of the most disturbing and cold-blooded criminals introduced in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She first appeared in the episode “Design” as a victim of sexual assault who was trying to end her own life. Olivia Benson helped April face her abuser, who turned out to be a millionaire who paid April half a million dollars for a settlement. But things take a turn when April is apparently killed, and the SVU detectives believe her abuser killed her.

The evidence in “Design” all seems to point to the millionaire as the killer, but in a dark plot twist, detectives find more evidence that turns the case upside-down: April not only lied about the abuse, she drugged men to get their sperm and then tried to sell her baby to several unsuspecting couples. April also faked her own death and pretended to be at odds with her mother. However, both April and her mother were working together to trick and scam these men and couples. “Design” is a crossover episode with Law & Order and continues in Law & Order’s episode “Flaw.”

8“Collateral Damages” Puts the Deputy Commissioner at the Center of the Investigation

Season 17, Episode 15

Written by Samantha Corbin-Miller
Directed by Rosemary Rodriguez
Air Date February 17, 2016
IMDb Score 8.6

Amanda Rollins goes undercover to bust a retired boxing champion in “Collateral Damages,” and as a way to stay out of jail, the boxer gives the SVU detectives information about a child pornography ring. Olivia Benson and the rest of the squad then begin to trace everyone involved in this ring, making arrests left and right. But one last trace takes the detectives to one of the least expected places: the home of Deputy Commissioner Hank Abraham.

This twist sets a much darker tone for the rest of the episode, as Hank Abraham is a recurring SVU character who appeared in a few episodes during Season 15, Season 16, and Season 17. Hank is also married to Pippa Cox, another recurring character who is a defense attorney and who mostly works in cases involving kids and teenagers. This dark SVU twist in “Collateral Damages” turns Pippa’s life upside down, and it’s hard to see two recurring characters involved in such heinous crimes, even if Hank wasn’t as liked within the SVU squad.

7A Narcissist Man Manipulates Women Into Having His Babies in “Bang”

Season 12, Episode 22

Written by Speed Weed
Directed by Peter Leto
Air Date May 4, 2011
IMDb Score 7.9

While some Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episodes are disturbing due to the gruesome nature of the crimes, others are just as shocking without showing any gory or violent scenes. This is the case of “Bang,” an SVU episode that starts with a woman finding a baby in an alley, but as detectives Benson and Stabler investigate, the case leads them to Ken Turner, a man who is in a relationship with the baby’s adoptive mother, Dede, but is also sleeping with the baby’s nanny.

“Bang” takes a bigger turn when a dark twist is revealed: Ken is a reproductive abuser who pokes holes in his condoms without the women knowing and then manipulates them into having his babies. Not only that, Ken is the biological father of Dede’s adoptive son, who was found in the alley. The detectives talk to several women and find out Ken’s fathered over twenty children in New York. But in an even darker twist, Ken reveals he’s fathered over forty children all over the world and feels no guilt or remorse, as he doesn’t see anything wrong with what he’s doing.

6Two Twin Brothers Separated at Birth Complicate the Investigation in “Double Strands”

Season 13, Episode 4

Amanda Rollins questions Brian Smith (T.R. Knight) in the SVU episode Double Strands
Written by John P. Roche
Directed by Fred Berner
Air Date October 12, 2011
IMDb Score 8.3

Much like any other SVU case, this episode starts when the detectives investigate a series of sexual assaults in “Double Strands,” and Detective Amanda Rollins quickly connects the case with several unsolved crimes in Atlanta that she worked on when she was a detective there. The evidence points to Gabriel Thomas, who claims his innocence and is willing to cooperate with the investigation. However, his DNA matches the one found at several crime scenes, and a shocked Gabriel is arrested for the crimes.

Nick Amaro has a hard time accepting that Gabriel is the criminal they are after since Gabriel seems like a good husband and father, and honestly, he upset and shocked that the evidence and DNA point to him. And upon further investigation, Nick finds out that, for one of the crimes, Gabriel has a solid alibi. The darkest twist in “Double Strands” comes quickly after that: Gabriel has an identical twin he doesn’t know about, called Brian. And even though Gabriel didn’t know about him, Brian knows about Gabriel and has been following Gabriel through multiple cities, attacking women close to where Gabriel was, knowing that if Brian was ever caught, having an identical twin could be enough for reasonable doubt.

5“Brothel” Revealed a Judge’s Darkest Secret

Season 20, Episode 15

Phoebe (Jennifer Esposito) and Tutuola (Ice T) working together in the SVU episode Brothel
Written by Julie Martin & Ryan Causey
Directed by Michael Pressman
Air Date February 14, 2019
IMDb Score 8.0

Law & Order: SVU has several recurring characters, including several judges who’ve presided over different SVU trials. And Judge Kofax, who most memorably presided over the case against William Lewis, returns in the episode “Brothel” after a woman is found dead and apparently escaping from a sex trafficking ring and brothel called “The Dollhouse.” The investigation soon points to a dirty cop working for the brothel, and Fin Tutuola and Dominic Carisi follow a police officer they suspect of being part of the sex trafficking ring. However, this eventually leads to the darkest plot twist in the episode.

Carisi and Tutuola witness the police officer talking to Judge Kofax, who turns out to be the leader of the sex trafficking ring. Kofax is not only the leader, but he also used his power as a judge to take women he met when presiding over drug treatment court for his brothel. This is not only a dark revelation but also an SVU twist that might disturb more than one viewer, as it puts into question the integrity of the justice system.

4A Mother’s Lie Turned Her Son Into a Killer in “Motherly Love”

Season 18, Episode 10

Written by Rick Eid & Julie Martin
Directed by Mariska Hargitay
Air Date February 1, 2017
IMDb Score 8.5

“Motherly Love” begins with a fifteen-year-old boy named Luke, who arrives at his home at night and hears strange noises. Scared, he grabs a rifle and looks around until he finds his mom in the kitchen with another boy. Luke’s mom, Nicole, screams for help and says the boy is assaulting her, and Luke shoots the boy with his rifle. The boy attacking Luke’s mother turns out to be Trey, Luke’s best friend, who is also fifteen.

The investigation proceeds as the detectives try to prove Nicole’s story. However, things take a dark turn when the SVU detectives find evidence that suggests Luke’s mother lied and that she was the one abusing Trey, as well as other underage boys. Luke’s mother lied to protect herself, but her lie turned her own son into a killer, a killer who shot his best friend. “Motherly Love” is filled with dark plot twists, and after this revelation, things only turn worse after Nicole changes her statement and accuses her own son of killing Trey on purpose.

3“Assaulting Reality” Shows How Far Producers Will Go For Ratings

Season 17, Episode 21

Larisa Oleynik as reality TV producer Lizzie Bauer in the SVU episode Assaulting Reality
Written by Julie Martin & Warren Leight and Brianna Yellen & Robert Brooks Cohen
Directed by Alex Chapple
Air Date May 11, 2016
IMDb Score 7.6

“Assaulting Reality” takes a look at reality television after a contestant on a dating show reveals on live TV that she was sexually assaulted. The SVU detectives have a hard time deciding what’s real and what’s set up for the cameras, and their investigation gets side tracked more than once, both by the contestants and the producers of the show. However, there’s enough evidence to prove a crime has been committed, and everyone agrees the victim is telling the truth.

What follows in this Special Victims Unit episode is a dark revelation that shows just how far producers can go to secure ratings for their shows. The biggest and darkest twist comes when the detectives realize the two main executive producers of the dating show already knew of the assault and had the footage that proved it but kept it and tried to spin the story to suit the narrative of the show. And when that didn’t work, the producers pretended to investigate and framed another innocent producer, accusing her of hiding the evidence.

2“Send In the Clowns” Is a Dark Look at How Family Secrets Can Hurt a Child

Season 19, Episode 17

Mallory Bechtel as Haley Sadler, next to Benson and Rollins in the SVU episode Send in the Clowns
Written by Julie Martin & Brianna Yellen
Directed by Alex Chapple
Air Date March 21, 2018
IMDb Score 8.3

What appears to be a student gone missing on a school trip turns into a much darker story in SVU’s “Send in the Clowns.” Haley is a sixteen-year-old girl who seems to have been kidnapped after a night out with another friend during a school trip to New York City. However, the investigation soon reveals that Haley wasn’t kidnapped, and instead, she planned to fake her own death and run away with her boyfriend, who is her school’s music teacher, James Turner. But this isn’t the darkest twist in this episode.

“Send in the Clowns” takes things one step further with one of the darkest SVU plot twists, revealing Haley’s boyfriend and music teacher is also her biological father. Haley’s mother had a relationship with James Turner when they were younger and got pregnant but decided not to reveal Haley’s real parentage. This revelation makes things even more disturbing, as James wasn’t only having a relationship with an underage girl, he was dating his own daughter.

Season 8, Episode 22

Written by Judith McCreary
Directed by Arthur W. Forney
Air Date May 22, 2007
IMDb Score 8.8

An earlier episode of Special Victims Unit Season 7, titled “Venom,” starts with Fin Tutuola’s son, Ken, being arrested after police officers find him digging on a vacant lot. Ken says he was at a club with his cousin Darius when he heard someone talking about killing a woman and burying her in a vacant lot, so he went to try to dig up the body. However, the investigation begins to unearth an unsolved crime, and all the evidence points to Fin’s son, Ken, so Ken volunteers a DNA sample to clear his name. And it’s this DNA sample that begins to unravel one of the darkest twists in Special Victims Unit.

The DNA reveals the killer has to be Ken’s brother, but Ken is an only child. Fin’s ex-wife, Teresa, reveals that Ken’s cousin Darius isn’t Ken’s cousin after all; he’s Ken’s half-brother. Darius’ trial takes place in the Season 8 episode “Screwed,” where one of the darkest twists comes to light: Teresa was abused by her own father, and from that incestuous relationship, Darius was born. This is why Teresa never claimed Darius as hers, as she was still too traumatized by the abuse she suffered, and Darius was a reminder of that time and of Teresa’s father.


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