Drea de Matteo

A trio of impressive guest stars ushers in new episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which resumes Season 12 with back-to-back cases that, according to executive producer Neal Baer, "really dig into the psyches" of the show's two main characters.

To get things started at 9/8c, Drea de Matteo (Desperate Housewives) and Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck) cross paths with Christopher Meloni's Stabler as he investigates a fight club for teens run by their fathers. "Stabler is shaken by what he sees," says Baer. "It's him in a way we haven't seen in quite a while." The exec producer also gives high praise to de Matteo as a physically abused pregnant mother of a fight-club participant: "It's one of many Emmy-worthy performances we have this season."

Another comes when SVU settles into its new time slot at 10/9c with an episode that finds Mariska Hargitay's Benson looking into a DA's murder with help from an investigator played by 24 alum Shohreh Aghdashloo. "It's a case that has a lot of twists and turns," reveals Baer. "It's like a vortex taking Benson deeper into cover-ups and intrigue." It also finds the detective miserable after losing guardianship of Calvin in December. How much heartbreak can she bear? "There's always hope," teases Baer. But with Meloni's and Hargitay's contracts up, whether there's hope for another season of SVU remains a mystery.

Law & Order: SVU airs tonight at 9/8c and 10/9c on NBC.

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