To Protect and Serve: Best Episodes Of The Law & Order Franchise

By Caroline Ryan and Anthony Murray

The Law & Order franchise has delivered some unforgettable episodes over the past 20-something years that has graced our television screens. With an almost combined total of 1,125 episodes to sort through, here are just some of the best episodes that Law & Order has served.

Denis O’Hare as mentally ill defense attorney James Stephen Smith on Law & Order. (Photo source: YouTube)

Law & Order

Airing its entire run on NBC, Law & Order premiered on Sept. 13, 1990 and completed its 20th and final season on May 24, 2010. Law & Order was NBC’s longest running crime drama, which tied for the longest running prime time scripted drama with Gunsmoke, airing 456 episodes.

“Bad Faith” (S5E20)

This episode was ripped from the headlines, an investigation into a police officers death uncovers 30-year old accusations of molestation by a Catholic priest. Detective Mike Logan takes special interest in the case because of his close relationships with the police officers and the church.

“Pro Se” (S6E21)

A schizophrenic attorney refuses to take medication and ultimately decided to defend himself after he is accused of committing murder. This episode really channels the idea of mental health and the discussion on whether we should be forcing medication to those who are mentally ill.

“Heart of Darkness” (S16E13)

A journalist’s suicide becomes an investigation after detectives Green and Fontana find evidence that it may not have been a suicide at all. This episode toys with the idea of assisted suicide, a topic that has been largely discussed throughout the years.

Olivia d’Abo as serial killer Elizabeth Hitchens in Law & Order: Criminal Intent (Photo by NBC)

Law & Order: Criminal Intent

Law & Order: Criminal Intent premiered on Sept. 30, 2001 on NBC for six seasons. Seven seven through 10 premiered on USA Network and ended its run on June 26, 2011. Law & Order: Criminal Intent aired 195 episodes during its run.

“A Person of Interest” (S2E23)

In the season two finale, detectives Robert Goren and Alexandra Eames investigate the murder of a former nurse when they discover a possible anthrax terrorist plot. The case takes a turn for the worse when Goren is blamed for driving a suspect to commit suicide. Now disgraced, Goren learns that a cunning adversary from his past former rival Elizabeth Hitchens, may be involved.

“The Third Horseman” (S1E11)

When a anti-abortion loner stalks and shoots a doctor, detectives Goren and Eames begin tracking him through his contacts. When the detectives find a second gun they reach a chilling conclusion that their suspect has not acquired his final target. While prosecuting attorney Ron Carver worries about turning a murder case into a litmus test on abortion before a jury, Goren tries to find out the real reason for the gunman’s rage.

From left: Peter Scanavino as Sonny Carisi, Annie Baltic as Lindsay Parker, Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson and Travis Mitchell as Sgt. Carl Matthews (Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Law & Order: SVU

The longest running spin-off of the Law & Order franchise, Law & Order: SVU premiered on Sept. 20, 1999. In February 2020, the series was renewed for its 22nd, 23rd and 24th seasons proving that Law & Order: SVU is here to stay for quite awhile.

“Behave” (S12E3)

Jennifer Love Hewitt plays Vicki Sayers, a woman who is stalked, beaten and raped for years, each time by the same attacker. Detective Oliva Benson convinces Sayers to do a rape kit and gives her the confidence to confront her attacker. This episode was inspired by the backlog of untested rape kits that exist in the United States, and the story of Helena Lazaro, a rape victim whose evidence wasn’t processed for years after her attack.

“Undercover” (S15E9)

In one of the most gruesome episodes in the series, Detective Benson comes close to being sexually assaulted by a prison guard while she’s undercover on an assignment. Locked in with the corrections officer in the basement of the prison, Detective Tutola is able to rescue her, but not before she is badly beaten. Foreshadowing real events, this traumatic experience causes Benson to have PTSD and also shines a light on how women inmates are often mistreated by the guards in prison.

Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) pieces together two separate cases who are eerily similar years apart in SVU. (Photo source: YouTube)

“Manhattan Vigil” (S14E5)

The 300th episode in Law & Order: SVU tells the story of past and present missing child cases. Wyatt, a seven year old boy goes missing while traveling with his father to a baseball game, mirroring a similar case from many years ago about a young boy in the same neighborhood who disappeared walking home from school. The episode was based on the short story Going, Going Gone and served as the inspiration for the storyline. References to the SVU’s pilot episode was also mentioned throughout the episode.

“End Game” (S20E24)

When a teenage girl is found dead in the Hudson River, Lieutenant Benson suspects Rob Miller—a lawyer turned rapist, murderer and stalker—is behind the mysterious death, but can’t prove it. As the detectives investigate Miller, he starts stalking and threatening Benson hoping to stop her investigation. Despite having only circumstantial evidence, ADA Peter Stone takes the case to court before Miller can destroy more lives.


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