Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Season 1 Episode 1


Aired Wednesday 9:00 PM Sep 20, 1999 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
251 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

The grisly murder and castration of a New York cabbie draws the elite Special Victims Unit of the NYPD, including veteran Detective Elliot Stabler and his partner, Olivia Benson, who soon discover that the victim had assumed the identity of another man, mainly because he himself was a wanted man.moreless

Who was the Episode MVP ?

  • Revenge is the start of a series.

    The first episode of SVU begins when Benson and Stabler investigate the murder and castration of a cabbie named Victor Spicer. But, the duo discover that Victor is actually locked up at Rikers Island, where he admitted he sold the phony hack license to the victim for $100. Further investigation revealed that the cabbie was a Serbian soldier who was indicted of ethnic cleansing a few years back, and some of the women he raped are in the city. Benson, who is a product of rape talks to one of the victims who felt she's not sorry that the soldier's dead. An autopsy reveals that two people killed the guy. Benson and Stabler talk to a second victim and she's glad he's gone. With a witness and sloppy work, Stabler instincts believe that both women killed him as an act for revenge. One is arrested and gets help while the other kills herself to avoid arrest.

    It was a good episode. The courtroom scenes were limited because it focuses mainly on the unit and their personal lives. The funny parts are Munch and the guy wiggling his rod in the courtroom. It's a start of a good series. Sometimes what a person did in the past catches up with you.moreless
  • One of the best Series Openers EVER!

    This was definitely one of the best pilots that I've ever seen, even way back when I first saw it. They did a good job firmly establishing Olivia Benson-who is the product of her mother's rape-and Elliot Stabler-a devoted cop and family man-and their back-stories without overburdening us with info. The one thing I would say that they didn't do well enough was make clear how long each had been on the job. It also had just the right about of humor to entertain without being distasteful for the tone of the show. As for the Captain, Munch, Jeffries and Cassidy, they were also very well written characters and served as nice foil for the show leads. As for the opening case, they wasted no time making sure to give us a grisly murder-although it the end it was somewhat justifiable-that was sure to shock and awe without being garish. I thought the killer was much less obvious than usual in shows like this, although once they had interviewed the killer it was clear who it was. That being said, in the end, I was happy with the minimal time that the woman received after having been viciously raped by an obvious psycho. Great Episode! Fell in love with all characters immediately!moreless
  • Great Beginning to a Great Show

    Now I must admit I have not been an avid fan of Law and Order: SVU for a long time. I simply started by watching reruns. However, it is always important to start with the beginning, just to see how the characters have evolved. Most pilots tend to be average if that, but "Payback" is one of the best episodes I have seen of SVU.

    This episode brings in a lot of moral questions. Does a victim stop being a victim because of their past? What about because of their actions in the present? Is it right to take matters into your own hands when the law has failed you? And is the law pliable or should it be? These questions came into my mind as I watched this episode. The story is not complex and it is simple enough to be understood. There are no fancy gimmicks, no crazy crimes. It is the simple story of revenge.

    But as we all know, revenge is never simple. In this episode, we see Olivia and Elliot struggle with what they believe is right and they have to deal with their own personal issues. I felt that in this particular episode, the chemistry was there and it work because the detectives bounced off each other.

    The ending, in my opinion, is sad and quite tragic. Eventually, the search leads to the two killers both which had their lives destroyed by the victim. This leads to another question of punishment: is it right to punish those that have already been tortured in ways unimaginable? The story kept me at the edge of my seat and the ending was the cherry on top. It honestly left me sad, something that TV does not do for me.

    This episode deals with ethical and moral dilemmas. For the first episode, it was brilliantly done. I enjoy it more than the recent episode. It dealt with a difficult question that could be best sum up with what Cragen says: "we don't pick the vic."

  • Powerhouse launch of the series

    For a spinoff of a great show, this is one of the rare dramatic spinoffs that's had more ups than downs (though it's certainly had the latter, but any show lasting 10+ seasons will).

    Rather than a simple and comfortable intro to the characters and milieu, this one starts with a big double bang: a castrated cabbie with a repugnant past, and a major revelation about Det. Benson's heritage. Then we get re-introduced to long MIA Capt. Donald Cragen, who was a noticeable absence from the original L&O after season 2 (with all due respect to Lt. Van Buren). He's still the same hard-bitten veteran cop, but the Costco-sized tub of licorice on his desk and a bit of relevant (and revealing) humor with an unusual prop for detective shows immediately makes viewers feel at home with him once again.

    From there, the four lead detectives investigate and examine their own feelings about the notion of a so-called "public service" murder. And no tiptoeing around what "Special Victims Unit" means – this one screams "viewer discretion advised" for the series to come, making it clear that they'll be dealing with cruel, brutal and sometimes unthinkable sex crimes and crimes against children.

    This series had a lot to live up to as the first spinoff of the longest-lasting and one of the best loved cop shows of the 90s, but from the word "go," Dick Wolf & Co. acquit themselves admirably. "Payback" offers a compelling story, sympathetic characters and a hell of a lot to start thinking about as viewers are plunged into all manner of sex crimes, and some questionable police and legal ethics, in the decade that follows.moreless
  • Good stuff.

    I only recently started watching Law & Order SVU, and when I saw the pilot, I was relieved, because the plot was easy to understand and you were introduced to the main characters right away. It was funny from the beginning, and as I watch the later episodes I've noticed that everyone stays true to their original character, which is nice. Too many shows change people drastically and make them unlikeable, and that's irritating. They combine the seriousness of the situation with the humor the detectives, which results in a great show that can raise real issues while still entertaining its audience. If you haven't seen any SVU episodes, I highly recommend it! :)moreless
Gordana Rashovich

Gordana Rashovich

Anya Rugova

Guest Star

Elizabeth Ashley

Elizabeth Ashley

Serena Benson

Guest Star

Ned Eisenberg

Ned Eisenberg

Jerry Kleinert

Guest Star

Dean Winters

Dean Winters

Det. Brian Cassidy

Recurring Role

Michelle Hurd

Michelle Hurd

Det. Monique Jeffries

Recurring Role

Isabel Gillies

Isabel Gillies

Kathy Stabler

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (5)

    • Don Cragen can be seen eating something in every one of his scenes in this episode.

    • Don Cragen: You just used your 'Get Out of Jail Free' card, Olivia. There's only one in the pack.

      This statement is incorrect. In Monopoly, the game Cragen is almost surely referring to, there are two 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards - one is a 'Chance' card and one is a 'Community Chest' card.

    • Although later episodes reveal that Benson's mother was an alcoholic and verbally abusive to her, Serena Benson is portrayed in this episode as caring and loving. She asks Benson whether or not she would have been better off without her, to which Benson lovingly holds her mother's hand.

    • While Olivia and Serena Benson are enjoying lunch, the waiter pours wine into both their glasses. This is somewhat strange since later episodes state that Serena has a serious drinking problem.

    • Goof: While Benson and Stabler question Spicer at Rikers Island, Benson writes notes using a ballpoint pen. In close shots, it's evident that the pen is not clicked "out", thereby making it impossible to write with it.

  • QUOTES (13)

    • Stabler: I think sex should be one of the best parts of life, not the worst. I do see myself as the father of four children, none of whom I'd like exposed to Mr. Kloster's… shortcomings.
      Kloster: Shortcomings? (laughs) Shortcomings?!
      (He stands up and pulls down his pants, much to the surprise of everyone else in the courtroom.)
      Kloster: "Shortcomings", my ass, you putzhead!

    • Olivia: Do you mean to say you wouldn't have done the same thing if you had a chance?
      Serena Benson: Is that what you wanted me to do?
      Olivia: Yes.
      Serena Benson: How old is this little boy?
      Olivia: Five.
      Serena Benson: Will he be better off with his mother in prison? Would you have been better off with me in prison when you were growing up?
      Olivia: I hate what he did to you.
      Serena Benson: So do I, and if he hadn't, I would never have had you.

    • Olivia Benson: Our dead guy, Victor Spicer, had his hack licence revoked when he got assault and 11 months in Rikers.
      Elliot Stabler: Okay, what's the problem?
      Olivia Benson: He's still in Rikers.
      Don Cragen: You can't trust the computers, they get backed up and don't imput the releases.
      Olivia Benson: That's why I spoke to the watch captain and had him check personally. Spicer's still there.
      Don Cragen: Why is this ours?
      Elliot Stabler: Doer sliced off the vic's unit.
      (Cragen spits out part of the lollipop he just took)

    • Victor Spicer: Hey, you doing anything Saturday night? (blows Stabler a kiss)
      Elliot Stabler: (smiles) Oh, I'd hurt you.

    • Olivia Benson: She said something to you, didn't she?
      Elliot Stabler: I just want to be with my family.

    • Olivia Benson: I'm a good cop, Elliot.
      Elliot Stabler: Yeah, I know.

    • (Cragen chews out Olivia for not arresting a woman who then committed suicide.)
      Don Cragen: You just used your Get Out of Jail Free card, Olivia. There's only one in the pack.

    • (Olivia cries after seeing the woman disfigured in an attack.)
      Elliot Stabler: There's no crying in baseball.

    • (referring to the court case he was just at to testify)
      Olivia Benson: Hey. How'd it go?
      Elliot Stabler: He's in Bellevue.
      Olivia Benson: The jury came back that fast?
      Elliot Stabler: He waved his flag at 'em before they had a chance. Nobody saluted.

    • Olivia Benson: Question. Who'd want to cut your penis off?
      Victor Spicer: Take a number.

    • (Munch is talking to Cragen and Cassidy while they eat and Jeffries walks in.)
      Monique Jeffries: Ooh! Hey, you gonna eat all this? (takes some food)
      John Munch: Suppose we say yes.
      Monique Jeffries: Suppose I'm just being polite.
      John Munch: That would be a first.
      Brian Cassidy: That's cool, John doesn't eat vegetables.
      Monique Jeffries: Yeah? I way I heard that's not the only thing John never gets to uh … eat.

    • Mr. Dupree: (Regarding his wife.) She's in a wheelchair. Why do you think I was in the backseat of a taxi when I got busted by the damn sex police?
      John Munch: Good question -- if it was a female prostitute.

    • Elliot Stabler: Stabbings aren't necessarily sexual. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Is there any specific reason you called us out?
      Frank Bremmer: Whoever did this sliced off his cigar and took it with 'em. Is that specific enough?
      Olivia Benson: Works for me.

  • NOTES (9)


    • John Munch: Not to mention the fact that I lost a wife after less than one night of connubial bliss to someone who was not only a detective but a member of my own squad.

      Munch is referring to the final episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, where his character married Billie Lou Hatfield. Billie Lou left her husband for a former detective on the force, Stuart Gharty. Munch's presence in New York is explained by saying that he retired from the Baltimore police force, and is reaping the benefits associated with collecting a pension in Baltimore and a salary in New York.

    • Elliot Stabler: Have you ever seen that Tom Hanks movie where he manages a baseball team?
      In the film A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks manages a women's baseball team.

    • Kloster's Lawyer: So you see yourself as the 'Ken Starr' of the N.Y.P.D.?

      Ken Starr was a special prosecutor appointed to preside over the Whitewater investigation in the mid-1990s. His role in the investigation into then-president Bill Clinton's involvement has been a topic of controversy for many years.

    • Elliot Stabler: Oh, I'd hurt you.

      Stabler makes this comment in response to being hit on by Spicer at Rikers Island. In the HBO series Oz, Chris Meloni (Stabler) played the character of Chris Keller from 1998 to 2003, who had a nasty habit of killing his male lovers. Meloni is not the only regular from Oz to show up on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit -- Dean Winters, Lance Reddick, B.D. Wong and J.K. Simmons also had regular roles on Oz.