Spoilers ahead for the February 18 episode of Law & Order: SVU on NBC, called "Hunt, Trap, Rape, and Release."
Law & Order: SVU returned from a few weeks off with an episode that brought back a familiar face from the Law & Order franchise, although not an SVU vet. Annabella Sciorra reprised her role as Law & Order: Criminal Intent's Detective Carolyn Barek. In "Hunt, Trap, Rape, and Release," Barek was reintroduced to Law & Order as a lieutenant in charge of the Bronx Special Victims Unit, and the entire episode felt an awful lot like a backdoor pilot to me. Law & Order already has a spinoff on the way with Christopher Meloni's upcoming Organized Crime, but could another be developing as well?
As somebody who watches a lot of TV for my job and has seen a lot of backdoor pilots in my day, this episode really struck me as pitching a new series more than a case of the week for Olivia Benson and Co. in Manhattan's SVU. A lot of the focus of the episode was on the Bronx SVU unit, led by Barek and filled out with Ruz and Sergeant Ari Kovacs. The episode ended with the reveal that Ari is a rapist and all-around dirty cop, so I'm pretty confident that no future Law & Order spinoff will center on that character, but it's worth noting that SVU gave very open endings to both Ruz and Barek.
Barek's understandable but unfortunate failure to realize that her sergeant in SVU was an actual rapist resulted in Deputy Chief Garland pulling her off her role in Bronx SVU and transferring her back to Homicide. Meanwhile, Ruz is now holding a grudge against Kat after Kat used Ruz for information on Ari, and she dropped a threat about patrol cops in Ari's pocket not responding to Kat's call before walking out of Manhattan SVU. "Hunt, Trap, Rape, and Release" didn't really close their stories, and in sending Barek back to Homicide (presumably in the Bronx), the episode addressed my biggest hangup that was originally preventing me from really embracing how it felt like a backdoor pilot.
The expansive Law & Order: SVU universe may already feature plenty of law enforcement series (with another on the way courtesy of Christopher Meloni's just over a month away from premiering), but I can't imagine two series focused on sex crimes on the air at the same time, no matter how much the episode reminded me of a backdoor pilot. By sending Barek back to Homicide and Ruz's future uncertain, the stage is set for them to potentially take center stage of their own series.
After all, SVU has sex crimes covered, and Organized Crime will obviously be about organized crime. Another show could focus on homicide. And hey, giving SVU another spinoff would mean all three corners of the Dick Wolf shared universe being comprised of three shows, if the developing FBI spinoff scores a series order over on CBS to join FBI and Most Wanted. One Chicago certainly isn't going anywhere. That said, even the Dick Wolf universe has to have its limits, and I'm not sure I see another SVU spinoff scoring an order when the jury's still out on whether its next spinoff will be a success, and that's with a huge name as headliner.
It would be interesting if a Law & Order: Homicide series starring Annabella Sciorra wound up on Peacock, however. NBC wouldn't have to gamble on the show to give it a valuable primetime slot, and it would be a doozy of an original series for the young streamer. This is all speculation, however, and mostly just based on how many backdoor pilots I've watched over my years of covering television.
At this point, the best course of action is probably to just look forward to Christopher Meloni's Organized Crime series premiere as the second half of a crossover with SVU on April 1, and maybe hope that some of the characters from "Hunt, Trap, Rape, and Release" turn up on either Stabler or Benson's series. While we wait for Organized Crime, you can find new Law & Order: SVU episodes on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.