Law and Order: SVU: Same Old Show, Brand-New Killer Guest Stars

I don’t know what it says about me that I love Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. This show is relentlessly dark, and Wednesday night’s double-hitter started the season off on an especially bleak note.

Both episodes were standard SVU fare, if not a bit more over-the-top than previous iterations. But that’s how Law & Order works—the longer the show is on the air, the wackier it gets. More stunt casting, more surprise endings, more suspects careening their cars into trucks and exploding before they can even go to trial. The first episode focused on a mother searching for her lost daughter, all while trying to cope with the kidnapping of her other daughter, which occurred 10 years prior. The second tackled the notion of vigilante justice after a concerned citizens’ group went after a child rapist.

But hey: Been there, done that. I enjoyed the episodes, both of which kept me guessing all the way through. (Although, big-name guest star revealed to be the perp in the climactic final scene? We might need to rework that formula.) For me, SVU has become more about the performances. I tune in because that main cast is so strong—and because SVU gets some, ahem, killer guest stars. So rather than reflect on the episodes themselves, let’s see how those much-hyped guests did.

Joan Cusack

As the mother of two kidnapped girls, Cusack had to do her fair share of histrionics. But she was ready and able. Because she’s better known for her comedic work, it was especially gripping to see her in such a raw and vulnerable state. Cusack also managed to convey just the right level of creepy for those scenes in which it looked like she might be less victim, more perp.

Bailee Madison

You might not recognize the name yet, but trust me—you will. Madison is an inspiring young actor. She was the best thing about last year’s mediocre Brothers—and in a film that starred Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Natalie Portman, that’s saying something. Playing the rebellious Mackenzie, Madison was the perfect blend of innocence and rage. She’s a captivating presence. Is it so wrong that I wanted Olivia to adopt her?

Henry Ian Cusick

A familiar face to Lost fans, Cusick is best known for his role as everyone’s favorite castaway Desmond Hume. He also pulled double-duty on SVU, playing advocate Erik Weber in both episodes. He got to do more than any of the other guest stars—and not just because he got more screen time. Cusick played a grieving brother, a charming seducer, a fierce vigilante, and finally, a real creep. While the “surprise, I’m evil!” twist was predictable, Cusick sold it well.

Stephen Tobolowsky

I have a soft spot for Tobolowsky, in part because his last name is clunky and tough to pronounce. But he’s also a welcome presence whenever he shows up: You might remember him from Heroes or Glee. And OK, here he was less pleasant to watch, playing a convicted sex offender accused of raping two young girls. I thought Tobolowsky was good, though I would have liked to see him do more. Before, you know, blowing himself up.

Who was your favorite guest star of the night? Are you looking forward to Jennifer Love Hewitt’s appearance next week?

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