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Law & Order: SVU season 17 premiere recap: 'Devil’s Dissections' / 'Criminal Pathology'

A returning perp might be connected to a new victim, but this case cuts much deeper than that.

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Michael Parmelee/NBC

In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit — whom we also love to watch on TV. SVU is back, guys!

The two-hour premiere opens on a beach scene — but of course, because this is SVU, it’s got a woman’s dismembered body being carried out of the water. It’s another victim found at the burial ground used by last season’s SVU/Chicago Fire/Chicago P.D. crossover serial killer Dr. Gregory Yates (Dallas Roberts).

Team SVU isn’t sure if this could be another Yates victim they somehow missed — they had checked the whole island and found nine victims already there, all of them Yates’ handiwork. Could this be a 10th? Sgt. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), Patron Saint of SVU and the Taylor Swift Squad, lays it out succinctly: “We have two options, one is bad, the other one is worse. Either we missed one, or Yates has a copycat.”

The medical examiner can’t say definitively if Yates killed this latest vic, but traces of green nail polish (another Yates signature) were found under two fingernails. This calls for a visit to Yates himself by a rogue Rollins (Kelli Giddish); Yates looks at photos of the body and sighs like the creepiest creep, “that poor, poor girl” and then claims it’s a copycat. Benson doesn’t buy his claim. She’s also mad at Rollins for going without permission, so when the ID comes in (Brooke Groves, 28 years old, an ROTC cadet at SUNY Plattsburgh who became a prostitute), she tells Rollins to stay behind.

At a clandestine meeting by the precinct vending machines, Fin (Ice-T) asks Rollins how she’s feeling and we get our first reference to Amaro/Danny Pino’s exit — she says she’s tired and has been taking too many shifts since he left, but she’s talked to him and he seems happy. She’s mad about being “grounded,” since Yates was her case and she knows more about him than Carisi (Peter Scanavino), who is helping out Liv. Fin says Liv’s just looking out for her and gives a foreshadowy warning: “You’re good at getting inside these guys’ heads. Don’t let him get inside yours.”

Meanwhile, Benson and Carisi find a very not-dead Brooke Groves. Or, it was. She’s Brooke Norwalk now. Turns out, she had a twin sister, Rachel, who went down a rough path after their mother died and whom she hasn’t spoken to in a while. Which means that Rachel leaving a homeless shelter with her “mother” is highly suspicious.

While TARU works its tech magic on security footage of Rachel and the mysterious woman, Rollins (with Fin in tow) goes back to the prison. They learn that Yates had nothing to do with that case, but he has info: He claims the autopsy photos reminded him of an incident that happened when he was a senior resident back in 2002. He’d gotten a call from an attending who needed stitches but didn’t want to go to the hospital because he was embarrassed because he had bruising, cuts, and what appeared to be human bite marks on his inner thigh and nether regions. The man claimed it happened during a sex game gone wrong, but that his sexual partner didn’t need medical attention and had already left. Yates says he could sense that woman was still in that house — and adds that he saw a clump of red hair on the floor and that (brace yourself for willies) he could smell her. Specifically, he could smell her fear. Rollins asks for the name of the attending, which he sidesteps, but he does share the location of the home in question.

The Harlem townhouse has since been renovated, but its current non-serial-killer owners agree to let SVU do a non-invasive search, which quickly becomes an invasive search when they pull a woman out of the wall. The ME looks at our second victim and is very little help, so they go back to Yates. He says he knows the victim, and who killed her, but before he’ll talk he wants a conjugal visit with his fiancée, Susie Frain. ADA Barba (Raúl Esparza) agrees as long as they can question them after.

Post, erm, conjucating, Susie tells Fin and Barba she knew Lena — that’s Lena Grenwald, the “girl in the wall.” Susie says she thought she went home to Switzerland, but apparently she never left Harlem (clearly). Yates fills in the rest of her story: Lena was here from Switzerland for her doctorate and met her fiancé at Columbia. That fiancé, he tells them, was named Dr. Carl Rudnick, and the mood in the room changes fast. Benson walks off and Rollins threatens to send him so far upstate he’ll freeze, because the man he named is the Manhattan deputy chief medical examiner. As in, the guy who autopsied both those bodies. Rudnick conveniently never mentioned any personal connections to the townhouse the body was found in — even though it was owned by his aunt and he lived there at the time of Lena’s death.

When trusty ole’ Warner (Tamara Tunie) comes to review both autopsies, she immediately finds errors, which is enough for Barba to bring Rudnick in for questioning… under the pretense of discussing Yates. It doesn’t take long for him to figure out what’s really going on, stop the conversation, and call his lawyer, one Rita Calhoun (Elizabeth Marvel). Calhoun can’t do much before Liv, fresh with evidence from their raid on Rudnick’s home, arrests him.

And finally, nearly halfway through this double-feature episode, creepster Dr. Rudnick goes to court, where he pleads not guilty, must surrender his passport, and has bail set at $2 million (which, thanks to family money, he posts easily). A free Rudnick is not good for Susie. Yates raises the alarm, but unfortunately not in time. Rudnick is in the wind, and by the time the SVU team tracks him to “Precinct, Syracuse, New York,” it’s too late for Susie. And definitely too late for Rudnick. The team apprehends him and hauls him back to NYC. However, along the way they stop at a dinner where Rudnick has to use the restroom. And in this week’s “ripped from the headlines” moment, Carisi overhears a Robert Durst-in-The-Jinx monologue​: “This is unfortunate. I think I killed that woman and cut her up,” he says to himself. “I don’t understand why. Because I do understand, but it’s still offensive. So are they. Quiet, doctor, quiet. Good man.”

The team has to tell Yates that not only is Susie dead, but she was also pregnant. And you know who else is pregnant? Rollins. You know who alerts her to the fact that a human is growing inside her? Yucky Yates.

While Rollins is asking him for more dirt on Rudnick, Yates says Susie hadn’t told her she was pregnant — he just knew. He could tell because she had a slightly different scent. “Like you do,” he tells Rollins. “How far along are you, detective?”

Later, at the precinct, Carisi chats her up at the SVU Vending Machine Area For Secrets and asks if she’s told anyone yet. So he’s figured it out, too. She tells him no, not that it’s any of his business, and that it’s not Nick’s baby. He says she should speak to Liv, which she later does. (They agree to wait until later to tell the higher-ups, and Liv gives Rollins encouragement and support.)

At arraignment, Rudnick is charged with the murder of Susie Frain. Before he can plead, returning lawyer John Buchanan (Delaney Williams) comes in and joins Rudnick and Rita at the defense table. The state doubled down, the doctor argues, so he’s doing the same with his lawyers. This time, he gets remanded to Rikers. There’s a moment where it seems Rudnick will get off, but his Durst-ian murmurs get him again. A recording of his privately uttered admission of guilt leads to another win for our SVU team.

After the trial, Rollins visits Yates again, where they discuss Lena’s murder. Strangulation was the cause of death, he tells her plainly, and her skull was fractured post-mortem.

“You sound pretty sure about that,” Rollins tells him.

“I’m just piecing it together, but if I had to guess, Lena was his first time. Carl screwed up, and he had to call someone with more experience to help him finish,” he replies. I bet we know just the guy.

Yates says he’s telling Rollins this because he feels a connection to her — she’s bringing life into the world just as he lost his fiancée and unborn child. She goes to leave, but warns her, “You’ll be back. And I will be here.” And the episodes ends with Rudnick sitting down with his pal and murder buddy in the prison mess hall. They certainly have a lot to catch up on. And I have a feeling they’re not out of the SVU-verse for long.

What did you guys think of the double-header premiere? Does anyone want to go on a road trip with Carisi and Rollins?

Law & Order: SVU airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC. 

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