Every iteration of the Law & Order franchise features at least one memorable serial killer, and SVU is no exception. "Scavenger," from Season 6, follows Detective Benson and her team as they chase down a violent killer who calls himself "RDK." The episode has some satisfying parallels with the real-life "BTK" story and ratchets up the suspense from beginning to end. Just like in the real "BTK" story, "RDK" is a killer who went decades without being caught, raising the stakes even more.
"Bodies" stands out as one of the best examples of Law & Order giving its criminals gritty, complex personalities. The serial killer featured in this episode refuses to divulge where he has hidden the bodies of multiple victims and puts his own lawyer in the midst of a moral dilemma: uphold attorney-client privilege or give the grieving families some much-needed answers. The episode features one of the most realistic, uncomfortable prison interviews of the early seasons, with the serial killer making the missing bodies into a joke and leering at the A.D.A. Across the board, "Bodies" is a Law & Order classic.
"Untethered" is an example of Detective Robert Goren at his best. This episode occurs at the mid-point of Law & Order: Criminal Intent Season 7 and features Detective Goren subverting the prison system. He learns that he has a nephew in an upstate New York prison and takes it upon himself to put a stop to conditions that might put him in danger. He intentionally commits a petty crime, assumes a false identity, and convinces a prison psychologist that he is schizophrenic. He is subjected to torture in the psych ward of the prison, and his experiences lead to an investigation of the warden and her guards. Of course, Detective Goren is also subject to discipline for his insubordination. This episode gave viewers something to think about: what truly defines insanity?
This classic from Law & Order: SVU shows viewers the best of Detective Olivia Benson. She answers a 911 call from a frightened little girl who claims she has been abducted. Detective Benson eventually realizes that she recognizes this girl from a previous sex trafficking case, and a collaboration with the FBI is needed to take down her captors.
"911" has plenty of twists and turns to keep viewers on the edge of their seats, and the surprise ending is highly satisfying. The episode was so well-written that it even won Mariska Hargitay a Prime Time Emmy for Best Leading Actress in a Drama.
This episode pushes the envelope and gives viewers a very deep look at Detective Goren's personal life, which is a rarity in this genre of television. "Endgame" shows Detective Goren visiting his terminally ill, schizophrenic mother and dealing with the psychological fallout of their complicated relationship. At the same time, Goren finds himself in a battle of wits with a demented serial killer who treats his interviews with Goren like a game. The killer reveals that he has hidden scrapbooks containing photos of his victims and enjoys toying with Goren about the contents of the scrapbooks. All seems pointless until one of the photos triggers a memory for Goren, which helps him make a break in the case. "Endgame" is deeply psychological in nature and puts Goren at odds with both the killer and himself.