Law and Order: Special Victims Unit is one of the most captivating crime drama television shows, spanning an impressive 24 seasons. Long-time viewers have a deep love for Detectives Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler and enjoy watching the victims of horrific crimes get justice while exposing their perpetrators. These perpetrators often have narcissistic or psychopathic traits. Here is a list of some of the show’s best episodes that provide the most compelling portrayals of narcissists and psychopaths. This article contains heavy spoilers and sensitive content that may be disturbing for some readers.
William Lewis in Surrender Benson and Beast’s Obsession
This time we won’t save the “best” (or in this case, worst) for last. William Lewis is one of the most destructive psychopaths in Law and Order: SVU history. He fits the profile of the sadistic psychopath who lives his life harming others for pleasure. He tortures, brutalizes, and assaults countless women for several episodes and takes Detective Olivia Benson hostage two times. He has no limit to his cruelty as he targets the elderly, children, and even the mothers of his girlfriends. As he tells Olivia, “Nothing to be ashamed of, Olivia. All my girls go through it. I am an agent of change. I alter the trajectory of people’s lives. They may have hopes and dreams, but then they run into me and life as they know it is gone.” This is a powerful testimony about how psychopaths wreak havoc on the lives of their victims and it also provides insight into how these predators work: they are obsessed with the impact and significance they leave on others and feel most powerful when surveying the damage that they can do. He is able to use his psychopathic charisma and charm to gain sympathy from others who even help him get free from prison. Pablo Schreiber offers a fantastic and disturbing performance portraying a ruthless psychopath who taunts and provokes his victims and manages to escape time and time again until he finally takes his own life in a grisly attempt to frame Olivia for his murder – the very definition of a psychopath trying to “win” and get the last word even at his own expense.
Henry Mesner in Born Psychopath and Post-Graduate Psychopath
Henry Mesner is a chillingly accurate example of a callous budding psychopath. Ten-year-old Henry goes to juvenile detention after physically abusing and mentally torturing his younger sister Ruby who calls him “the monster.” Initially, he convinces detectives that he witnessed Irina, their babysitter, pushing Ruby down the stairs. He later admits he pushed Ruby down the stairs just to see what would happen, and it is clear from his facial expressions when recalling the incident that he takes sadistic pleasure in the assault. SVU psychiatrist Dr. George Huang evaluates Henry and reveals that he exhibits no real emotion and no empathy for others. In a sequel episode, “Post-Graduate Psychopath,” Henry convinces the court that he is remorseful for his crimes and presents his “best self” in therapy, pretending to have changed so he can be released from prison. He speaks of the empathy he now has and depicts himself as a “lonely and frightened boy who just wanted love and to be loved.” His psychiatrist even attests to him evolving and changing. After his release, he goes on yet another crime spree and rapes his psychiatrist’s daughter – proving that any mercy and compassion you show a psychopath will only be returned with further violence. Mesner is a perfect illustration of how psychopaths become even more conniving and manipulative in therapeutic settings, mimicking empathy and remorse to get away with their crimes. These two powerful episodes also highlight how psychopathic traits can start young in the form of bullying to younger siblings and peers, brutality toward animals, and a propensity toward pathological lying and violence.
Conned, Season 11, Episode 19
Andrew is a troubled teen believed to be schizophrenic. He is suspected of murdering his friend who he met during hospitalization. However, as the SVU detectives investigate further, they find out that it is actually his female therapist, Dr. Stanton, who has been medicating and misdiagnosing him so she can rape him. Andrew is discovered not to be schizophrenic but rather a mislabeled abuse victim. Dr. Stanton abuses her power as a psychiatrist to prescribe him medication that will keep him compliant and under her influence. She even interferes in the age-appropriate relationship Andrew has with his girlfriend so she can monopolize his life and isolate him. The most shocking part of all? Dr. Stanton has been raping Andrew since he was thirteen and now has a child with him. Dr. Stanton’s character is a horrifying example of a narcissistic personality who abuses her power to prey on the most vulnerable.
Accredo, Season 20, Episode 5
This episode follows a “women’s empowerment” cult that is actually spearheaded by a charismatic narcissistic predator Arlo Beck. Alro preys on vulnerable women who have left dangerous situations such as abuse and sexually exploits and even brands them, love bombing them into serving him in his cult so he can feel powerful. Arlo’s leadership is enabled by the loyal women of the group who will do everything to defend him, including murdering the vulnerable women who dare to try to leave the cult. In one of the most powerful speeches in Law and Order: SVU history, Olivia Benson confronts Arlo and calls him the “worst type of predator there is.”
“You know what the worst thing is? What really pisses me off is not that you conned women out of their own money. It’s not that you convince women that it’s in their best interest to sleep with you. It’s not that you demean women or humiliate women. What really disgusts me is that you make women feel good about themselves. Empowered. Addicted to feeling invincible. You know, I can see that you’re intelligent. Empathetic. So, you make women feel safe. They feel heard. And because they trust you, they share their deepest insecurities, their weaknesses, with you. And then you use those vulnerabilities to destroy them. You, Mr. Beck, are the worst kind of predator there is.” – Olivia Benson
Starved, Season 7, Episode 8
Dr. Mike Jergens is a surgeon and serial rapist who uses a speed dating service to find his victims. He is a narcissist with a need for control. “Obey me or die,” is his signature phrase when he rapes his victims. When Detective Olivia Benson goes undercover at the speed dating service to investigate him, Jergens turns on the charm, telling her, “I can’t remember the last time I met a woman with brains, beauty, and a successful career.” His date with Olivia is a typical date with a narcissist. He shares a sob story about his ex-girlfriend, calling her “too clingy, insecure,” trademark phrases of a gaslighter trying to depict his ex as the “crazy one.” He continues to reveal his abusive side as he insists on choosing Olivia’s drink for her (a vodka martini, even though she doesn’t drink vodka) at the restaurant and later follows her to her apartment when she flees shortly after. It is later discovered he has a stay-at-home girlfriend, Cora Kennison, who, like many victims of narcissists, is none the wiser to her charming boyfriend’s double life and deceit. The episode not only illustrates the ways narcissists operate in the dating world, it speaks to the power of trauma bonding, as his girlfriend still marries him even after learning of his crimes and later attempts suicide. While this episode takes an interesting detour to a different plot twist altogether, Jergens’ character stands out as a charismatic and controlling narcissist who love bombs and manipulates his victims, eventually driving them over the edge.
Behave, Season 12, Episode 3
Vicki Sayers (played by Jennifer Love Hewitt) has been raped multiple times over the past decade by the same predator. When she is found curled up on a bus after her most recent attack, SVU detectives investigate. Vicki has been living a life of isolation as a “hermit” since her rapist stalks her cross-country and follows her from city to city – he tells her is always watching and even attacks her a week before her wedding, causing her to break off the engagement. Each time he assaults her, he warns her to “behave herself” or she will die. She has had her entire life controlled by this predator and with the help of SVU, identifies the culprit: William or “Bill” Harris, a traveling salesman for a medical supply company. Harris turns out to be a serial rapist who has assaulted ten other women over two decades. Harris exploits his position to prey on nurses, doctors, and even patients. He first preyed on Vicki when she was a candy striper working at a hospital in New York. Although the court initially exonerates him on the rapes, he is finally sent to prison for kidnapping Vicki when DNA from other evidence is found. Vicki tells her rapist, “Behave yourself,” mirroring his words as he is locked up, a powerful send-away as the tables finally turn and she regains control over her life again. “Behave” is a poignant episode of the impact predators can leave on your life. In Vicki’s case, her rapist was a malignant narcissist with a need for control over his victims. Like many narcissists and psychopaths, he used his position and authority to infiltrate himself into the lives of his victims. His ruthless persistence and stalking of Vicki to continually monitor and victimize her will resonate with many survivors of such conscienceless criminals.
Devil’s Dissections/Criminal Pathology Season 17, Episode 1
Perhaps there is no more gruesome “partners in crime” scenario of two psychopaths working together than that of Dr. Greg Yates and Dr. Carl Rudnick. Except this partnership has a clear “dominant” psychopath who leads the more “submissive” predatory partner in the end. Dr. Carl Rudnick is the deputy chief medical examiner of Manhattan (boss of the legendary Melinda Warner) and a serial killer – an extreme example of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” hiding in plain sight. He uses his surgical precision to murder and dissect his victims in an excessively gory way, and he relive his crimes when he performs autopsies of his own victims. Dr. Greg Yates is a surgeon who kidnaps, rapes and murders multiple women and paints his victim’s nails green after killing them. Both Yates and Rudnick attended medical school together and later “team up” to escape from prison. Even the most resilient viewer will feel faint of heart once they learn of the nature of either predator’s crimes. Fun fact: the same pick-me prison employee Bronwyn Freed who helped William Lewis escape from prison also helps Rudnick escape as well. Bronwyn is a perfect example of how enablers can assist in the brutal crimes of the predators they support (not unlike the support Ted Bundy received in prison from the women who sent him love letters).
Bang, Season 12, Episode 22
The handsome and charming Ken Turner, played by John Stamos, is a narcissistic “reproductive abuser” who has fathered over forty-seven children in the United States and Europe and impregnates women without their consent. When his baby is found abandoned in an alley, Benson and Stabler investigate and find his adoptive mother, Dede Aston who happens to be engaged to Ken Turner. It turns out that Ken is the true biological father of the baby and had Dede unwittingly adopt him so he could gain “ownership.” He is also sleeping with Dede’s nanny, Imelda. In classic narcissistic fashion, when confronted by Dede, Ken claims Imelda came onto him. Ken’s explanations are filled with the nonchalant arrogance and gaslighting of an abuser who feels entitled to deceive others for his own gain. Psychiatrist Dr. Audrey Shelton provides the insight that Ken is a reproductive abuser who deliberately pokes holes in condoms to impregnate the women he seduces. This gives him power and control and allows him to fulfill the narcissistic fantasy of fathering many children and carrying on his “legacy.”
Motherly Love, Season 18, Episode 10
Speaking of yet another unethical professional who uses their authority to prey on the vulnerable, Dr. Nicole Keller on SVU is a psychiatrist who does not deserve such a title. It is fitting that narcissism is the topic of SVU’s 400th episode. Called a “malignant narcissist” by her ex-husband (and rightfully so), Keller commits several acts of statutory rape when she preys on her son’s underage friends and classmates. When her son discovers her having sex with one of his best friends, Trey, she cries out that she is being assaulted. Luke shoots Trey and kills him by accident as a result of her claim. However, later, she admits the relationship was consensual and begins making up heinous lies about her own son fantasizing about her, claiming that he was “jealous” to depict him as responsible for the murder. Dr. Keller is an example of how narcissistic women can weaponize the “damsel in distress” trope to perpetrate horrific crimes and escape accountability.
Design, Season 7, Episode 2
We first meet April Troost during a staged suicide attempt where Detective Benson talks her out of jumping off the rooftop of a high-rise building in Manhattan. She depicts herself as a pregnant victim of a rape when, in reality, she is actually a serial rapist – quite the psychopathic pity ploy. We later find out that April is a calculating sociopath who has assaulted and retrieved, ahem, “genetic samples” from 34 powerful and wealthy men in New York using the method of electroejaculation (ouch!). She gives most of the samples to her father who provides the DNA to women seeking genetically gifted children and even uses one of these samples to impregnate herself so she can gain access to the resources of a wealthy and well-known scientist. April has been taught by her mother to scam and con others to gain resources. As she tells Dr. Huang, “Mother always told me, if you’re too stupid to see the wool being pulled over your eyes, you deserve what you get.” This reflects a common belief psychopaths and sociopaths hold about their victims. April is a vivid example of how a parasitic psychopath cons others and leeches off of vulnerable victims for resources, blaming them for their own victimization.
Caretaker, Season 20, Episode 7
One of the most shocking female villains in Law and Order: SVU is Anna Mill, a career-driven lawyer who commits the brutal murder of her small children and husband. Anna first stages ignorance of the crime and pretends to learn the news from detectives, after calmly going to a work meeting shortly after the murder. It is later revealed that she killed her family because she was involved in a lucrative scam where she embezzled millions of dollars from her clients using a ghost company that does not exist. While her motives are muddled and she claims insanity, it is clear from her calculating actions and premeditated behavior that Anna is a rare female “family annihilator” whose narcissism causes her to believe that her family would not – and should not – be able to survive without her.
Season 17, Intersecting Lives and Heartfelt Passages Episodes 21-22
Officer Gary Munson is a corrupt corrections officer who sexually assaulted the female prisoners at Rikers. He uses his power and authority to exploit women, tracking them and coercing them into sexual favors even after they are released from prison. When he kidnaps and rapes one of the former prisoners walking on the street, he tells her no one will believe her. He specifically targets people who he thinks will not be “credible” victims – such as prostitutes, drug addicts and former criminals. At home, it’s no different: he’s a narcissistic domestic abuser who controls and micromanages his wife and holds her hostage when she tries to leave with her children. Munson is a belligerent predator who also murders decorated sergeant Mike Dodds, the hero who steps in to protect Munson’s wife during a hostage takeover. With a certain percentage of law enforcement being guilty of domestic violence, this episode is a particularly powerful illustration of what happens when a malignant narcissist uses the law to bend victims to his will.