A number of familiar faces will make their way back to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on Wednesday as the NBC procedural heads toward a heartbreaking season finale.
“Every year, I try to have a theme for the season, so if we’re lost at any point in an episode, I just say, ‘Wait, what’s this season about?’ This season has been about family,” executive producer Warren Leight tells EW. “There are lots of different definitions of families and lots of different ways families can be damaged. The last three episodes after the crossover are all family based, getting down to Olivia [Mariska Hargitay] trying to adopt Noah at the end.”
But before Olivia faces one of her biggest adoption hurdles with the return of Noah’s dangerous birth father in the finale, the focus will be on another family on Wednesday when Orange Is the New Black’s Samira Wiley guest-stars. “Samira plays a young woman whose dad has been imprisoned for 17 years for having raped her when she was 6,” Leight says. “Now that this woman has found sobriety, she’s trying to make amends. Among the amends she needs to make is one to her father, because when she testified against him, she testified that he committed a crime he didn’t commit. She wants to recant. She wants to get him out of prison.”
Unfortunately, it won’t be easy to free her father, which is why she enlists the help of Bayard Ellis (Andre Braugher), the head of Project Innocence. “In a case of a 6-year-old saying her father raped her, how do you prove a crime didn’t occur?” Leight says. “Robert Sean Leonard is the D.A. who originally tried the case in 1998 and still believes in the guy’s guilt, does not want to see the verdict overturned and does not want to be made to look like he made a mistake. It’s an interesting battle between two really good attorneys.”
Because the case comes long before Olivia’s time at SVU, the squad looks to their former captain for help. “Cragen [Dann Florek], having finished his ‘round the world cruise and his winter in Florida, steps into it and helps try to reconstruct what happened. He has the institutional memory that no one else does and he knows the retired detective.”
Check out a sneak peek from the episode:
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.