Law And Order: SVU's Mariska Hargitay Directed The Latest Episode, And It Was A Winner For Old School Fans

Spoilers ahead for Episode 15 of Law & Order: SVU Season 24, called "King of the Moon."

After 23 full seasons and more than 500 episodes, Law & Order: SVU has already done just about everything that can be done on a network television crime drama. While that obviously works for those of us who have been tuning in weekly for years (and/or watching the rerun marathons that are never hard to find), the latest Season 24 episode called back to the earlier years in some fun ways. Directed by star Mariska Hargitay, "King of the Moon" wasn't packed with Easter eggs to days gone by, but it delivered some of what made the show work so well for old school fans. 

On the heels of an episode that shone the spotlight on Fin (Ice-T) and delivered an update on former partner John Munch shortly before the news that actor Richard Belzer had passed away, Mariska Hargitay directed "King of the Moon" and played a huge role as Olivia Benson. The case of the week was a flip of the usual formula, as instead of trying to prove the guilt of a perpetrator and get a confession, Benson teamed up with Carisi (Peter Scanavino) to prove a man innocent after he falsely confessed. 

The West Wing alum Bradley Whitford guest-starred as Pence, a brilliant doctor whose life changed dramatically when he developed dementia. Flashbacks showed just how deeply he and his wife Winifred (Nancy Travis) loved each other, making it all the more tragic that he believed he'd raped and murdered her. While he was ultimately cleared, he still had to go home to an empty apartment, and had a touching moment with Benson, believing her to be his wife. 

It was a heart-wrenching episode on the whole, but also one that I'll probably be rewatching with my Peacock subscription. So, as a longtime SVU fan with nostalgia for the old days, here are some reasons why this was such a winner for me!

Bradley Whitford as Pence in Law and Order SVU

(Image credit: NBC)

There Was A Big Guest Star

With SVU's cast currently reduced to just five series regulars in the opening credits (and Velasco's future far from guaranteed) not too long after losing Kelli Giddish as Amanda Rollins, it can be easy to forget that the show has been known to attract huge guest stars. Ranging from Henry Winkler in Season 3 to Martin Short in Season 6 to Robin Williams in the milestone 200th episode in Season 9 – which is to name just a few of many – existing stars have been known to drop by Special Victims.

 In fact, some guest stars have even received awards recognition for their roles on the show, including Emmy wins by Cynthia Nixon, Ellen Burstyn, and Ann-Margaret, among others. So I for one was thrilled to see Bradley Whitford – himself an Emmy winner for his work in The West Wing, Transparent, and The Handmaid's Tale – playing Pence on SVU. Plus, this was a relatively rare example of a TV actor with star power coming to SVU and not playing the bad guy or a sexual assault victim. The show doesn't get the Emmy love that it once did, but Whitford deserves some recognition, just like the guest stars of old.

Benson walking away from Velasco on Law and Order SVU

(Image credit: NBC)

The Longtime Stars Were Central

Law & Order: SVU has been on long enough that "old school fans" can be those who have been watching since 1999 or since 2009 or since 2015, but the last couple of seasons have spent a lot of time focusing on the newcomers while saying goodbye to more familiar faces. In Season 24 alone, Velasco, Muncy, Duarte, Bruno, and even Churlish to a certain degree have gotten a lot of attention. And yes, Fin's latest subplot technically was centered on Velasco and featured Churlish, but "King of the Moon" showcased him both as Benson's friend and her sergeant in Special Victims. He was very much in charge of Velasco's interrogation, which meant screentime!

Plus, seeing Benson and Carisi in action together was just delightful, even if the case itself was pretty heartbreaking. He may not be quite as "old school" as Fin or Stabler or Munch, but after Fin and Benson, Carisi has the longest tenure on SVU of the current cast. Their banter while more or less breaking into Pence's desk at his apartment was one of the highlights of the hour for me, and not something that we get all that often nowadays.

Even though the newer cops help the show to evolve and I'm on board to see more of Bruno in particular, watching the longtime stars get more spotlight was a treat in a show that's about as dark as imaginable for network television.

Benson looking at the water in Law and Order SVU

(Image credit: NBC)

Benson Got To Be Proactive

While Olivia Benson has more than earned her position as Special Victims captain, she has had to be very reactive in Season 24. Whether because she was wrangling the younger cops or supporting Rollins after her shooting or going on the warpath after she and Noah were targeted, Benson has had to roll with the punches a lot recently. In "King of the Moon," she was fully in charge as soon as Carisi brought her into Pence's case, and the episode demonstrated her at her most empathetic as well as her most savvy as an NYPD captain. 

Plus, it showed off Mariska Hargitay's range, and I'm definitely impressed that she delivered the kind of standout performance that she did while also directing. Benson's sense of empathy has been consistent for 24 seasons now, even though she commented to Carisi about not having many heartstrings left to pluck. (Who can blame her, after all her Special Victims case on top of the complicated Stabler situation?) I can believe that she handled Pence's case with as much empathy in Season 24 as she would have decades ago, and that's a credit to the character and the actress.

It's also likely that SVU will have some continuity with this episode instead of it being treated as a standalone, thanks to Benson's ultimatum to Velasco at the end. He's still on her unit for now, but that may not stick if he doesn't do his penance for keeping silent about his friend's double murder back in Texas years ago. I'd also love to see Bradley Whitford again on the show, even though "King of the Moon" didn't really leave Pence's story open-ended. Maybe Pence has a long-lost twin brother? 

In all seriousness, fans are in for a wait before seeing what's next for Benson and Co. Law & Order: SVU won't return with a new episode until Thursday, March 23. In the meantime, you can revisit past seasons streaming via Peacock or a Hulu subscription, and find more viewing options on our 2023 TV premiere schedule.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).