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Out Of All The Plot Twists On Law & Order: SVU, This One Stands Above The Rest

Over the course of its 23 seasons (and counting) run, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" has indulged in more than a few memorable and surprising plot twists. There was, as fans will recall, the time Stephanie March's ADA Alexandra Cabot faked her own death, then returned to the series with entirely different motivations. There was also the time the NYPD's own M.E. (Carl Rudnick, played by Jefferson Mays) turned out to be a killer. And, of course, the time a special agent tasked with hunting down a serial killer (Erika Christensen's Agent Lauren Cooper) turned out to be a killer herself, in an episode titled "Signature." 

But among these twists, there's one that stands out above the rest — not only because audiences truly couldn't have seen it coming — but because it wrote a recurring character off the show, undermined that character's previous engagements and plot lines in the series, and angered a number of fans, all in one fell swoop. 

That twist came in Season 14, episode 14, titled "Secrets Exhumed." In the episode, fan-favorite Marcia Gay Harden reprises her role as FBI Agent Dana Lewis, but her integrity is called into question when she inserts herself in a cold case with a number of loose threads. 

FBI Agent Dana Lewis harbored a dark secret for decades

By Season 14, Agent Dana Lewis had worked with the SVU team on a number of cases/episodes, including one wherein she attempted to infiltrate a domestic terrorist organization ("Raw"), and one wherein she was investigating her own rape ("Penetration"). Over time, Lewis developed a friendship built on mutual respect with Mariska Hargitay's Detective Olivia Benson, and proved a worthy foil to the overly self-assured and impulsive Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni). 

However, when she returned to the show in "Secrets Exhumed," her sterling reputation was tarnished — and her FBI career and time on the show brought to a dramatic halt — when it was revealed that Lewis murdered her ex-lover's pregnant girlfriend early-on in her law enforcement career, then used her crime scene skills to make it look as though said girlfriend had been the victim of a serial rapist and murderer.

The episode was one of many "ripped from the headlines" storylines, and posited Agent Lewis as the fictional version of real-life killer and detective Stephanie Lazarus. In 2012, Lazarus received 27-years-to-life in prison for murdering her ex-boyfriend's wife, Sherri Rasmussen, back in February of 1986 (via Vanity Fair). In "Secrets Exhumed," Lewis attempts to coax a confession out of serial killer Brian Traymor (Harold Perrineau), but Detective Amaro (Danny Pino) becomes suspicious of her involvement when Lewis doesn't immediately reveal that she was once in a relationship with the cold case victim's boyfriend, Noah Bunning (Jay Karnes). Benson doesn't initially believe Lewis could have been involved (and neither does the audience), but as the evidence against her begins to pile up, she has no choice but to interrogate her long-time friend. In the end, Lewis confesses to murdering her rival in a fit of rage and jealousy, and is arrested. 

Fans were flabbergasted by the twist in Secrets Exhumed

Though Lewis' dramatic turn was by no means the first time "SVU" revealed one of its own to be the perpetrator "all along," it was the first time the series took a beloved recurring character and turned their place in the show's universe upside-down. Suffice it to say, many fans were not impressed. On the series' subreddit, user Str8_OuttaThemyscira expressed disappointment, saying "I just watched Secrets Exhumed and that was NOT okay to ruin Dana Lewis that way. She was a great character and I always enjoyed her stints on the show." Other fans, like user theunderworldqueen, were quick to agree, saying Lewis "had been the only female character that (it) felt like Olivia could confide in," and that "the way they presented Dana's character didn't set any of this up, by any stretch." Another wrote that it was "really trash how her character was ruined," (via Reddit) while others wondered what happened to Lewis' husband (whom she called her "rock") and children.

Though Dana Lewis only popped up in a total of four episodes, her time on the show had left an impression, and one that many fans didn't believe made any sense with the turn her character took in the twist-driven episode. As one fan wrote, "You really think that woman would kill over jealousy and then become an FBI agent for years putting away murderers. Like the hell?" (via Reddit). Others reminded the thread that the story was based on true events, so it's not that unbelievable, considering it actually happened. Ultimately — whether audiences were upset by the twist or not ("what they did to Dana is dirty," wrote one fan) — it remains one of the most surprising in the series' long (and long talked about) history.