Although the behind-the-scenes drama on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Tuesdays on NBC, 10 pm/ET) is settled — the show has been renewed for two more seasons and all of the regular cast members, including Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni, will be back next year — the on-camera action intensifies as Season 8 wraps up with a quartet of guest star-studded episodes. Family is at the root of much of the drama, as tonight Det. Benson's on-the-run half brother Simon Marsden (creepily played by Michael Weston) resurfaces, sending her on an emotional journey to face her tumultuous past and paternity. Then next week, Det. Stabler's unstable personal life takes center stage as he ponders his ambiguous marital status while investigating the slaughter of a Staten Island family.
Finally, on the explosive May 22 season finale, rapper-turned-actor Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges reprises his role as Darius Parker, the homicidal stepson of Det. Fin Tutuola (played by fellow hip-hop star Ice-T). SVU executive producer Neal Baer promises that Darius will shake up the tight-knit unit so fiercely, by the end no one will be the same. "Last year, we did an episode called 'Venom' [in which] Ludacris' character was on trial for murder and stirred the pot," Baer says. "Now he's back because there were procedural problems in his case: Evidence was obtained illegally."
Darius lands a doozy of a lawyer: Studio 60's Steven Weber, playing an ex-cop who's an expert on digging up dirt. "He makes sure to turn up every stone," says Baer. As a result, "Every character — Benson, Stabler, Tutuola, Cragen, even Novak — they all have issues that are brought up during the court case. It causes calamity for everyone."
As if those weren't enough fireworks for one episode, in addition to Benson's sibling being back, so is Vincent Spano's FBI Agent Porter, Benson's contact from when she worked undercover on the West Coast earlier in the season. Although Baer won't say whether Marsden is a rapist like his and Olivia's father, he does warn that the long-lost bro isn't as innocent as he maintains. "He is trouble," Baer says. "And we love troublemakers on SVU."
Two real-life troublemakers — Court TV divas Nancy Grace and Star Jones Reynolds — also appear as themselves in the outing, giving commentary on the Darius fiasco. A nagging question is also answered during the finale: For weeks, scoopsters (led by TVGuide.com's own Michael Ausiello) have been teasing an SVU pregnancy. Although Stabler has been outed as the father, the mother is still unknown. But astute viewers won't need to wait until the end of the month to figure out the identity of the lucky lady. The May 8 episode all but gives it away.
Despite being relatively new to acting, Ludacris already boasts an impressive résumé, including turns in the critically acclaimed Hustle & Flow and the Oscar-winning Crash. But appearing on SVU has been a long-held dream. "It's one of my favorite shows," the recording artist enthuses. "It's something that I kind of went out for." Baer was thrilled at the prospect of getting him. "We have never brought a character back a year later to continue a story," he says. "But we were so impressed by his work that we specifically crafted an episode to get him back on the show."
Although Ludacris laughs when asked if he and Ice-T "battled" as rappers on set, Baer says that the duo went head-to-head as actors. "I've never seen any other character fight with Fin like this before," Baer says. "If you want to see a battle, you'll definitely be satisfied."
Tutuola is particularly hard-hit by his stepson's accusations. "He causes Ice-T's character major, major problems, stuff that goes back many years," says Baer. The department is so shaken up that a new man is brought on to help: Adam Beach's Brooklyn SVU Det. Chester Lake, who was introduced in the January episode "Outsider." Although Lake will partner with Tutuola next season, Baer maintains that Richard Belzer's Det. John Munch isn't being dropped from the show. "You'll see what happens in the fall," he teases.
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