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The Worst Criminal In Law & Order: SVU Season 4

While Seasons 1 through 3 established the structural mechanics and character dynamics of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," Season 4 laid the foundation for its future focus on a number of frequently explored themes. For instance, in what would become one of the series' pet plot devices, several of the season's worst criminals come from a privileged background or elevated echelon of society that allows them to evade, or think they can evade, the law. One can look at Fred Savage's Michael Gardner, Erik von Detten's Drew Lamerly, and the multiple high-powered predators or rich kid offenders who appear throughout Season 4 as examples of this dynamic.

In one of the season's most disturbing episodes, however, the serial perpetrator comes from no such background. On the contrary, this particularly vile criminal is motivated by a deep-seated envy of the wealthy, and of the seemingly perfect worlds they occupy with their seemingly perfect families. Guest-starring Jason Ritter ("Raising Dion"), Ian Somerhalder ("The Vampire Diaries"), and Frank Langella, the episode pits the detectives against a vicious spree killer with a particularly violent and specific M.O. and pathology. 

In Dominance, a gruesome crime scene leads to a meandering investigation

The Season 4 episode "Dominance" opens with the detectives being called to what remains one of the series' most gruesome crime scenes. An entire group of men and women have been forced to violate one another before being massacred at an engagement party. Rather than rob the wealthy victims of their more obvious valuables, the perpetrator takes the one thing that can't be replaced: family photos. Soon after, the detectives stumble across the bodies of two more male victims, whose female counterparts have been abducted rather than killed. The team is confused by the unknown suspect's seemingly contradictory and alternating M.O., a question that's explained when the "killer" is ultimately revealed to be a pair of very different brothers. 

Over the course of their investigation, the team questions the injured, alcoholic, blue collar super of an expensive high rise (Frank Langella) and his two sons, Billy (Jason Ritter) and Charlie (Ian Somerhalder). It soon becomes clear that the insecure and terrified Billy is behind the crimes, and likely knows where the two women are hidden. While in custody, he insists on speaking to his brother Charlie, whom the detectives don't yet suspect has had any part in the crimes. Though they're still unsure of Billy's motivations, he presents less like a cold-blooded killer and more like a victim of abuse.

Dominance's Charlie Baker is the season's most brutal offender

In the end, the team discovers a criminal exponentially more dangerous, violent, manipulative, and filled with rage than the meek and confused Billy. When the bodies of a wealthy couple appear in Greenwich Village while Billy is in custody, the squad turns their attention to his confident and put-together brother Charlie, whom Dr. Huang (BD Wong) explains must be the dominant one in their relationship. 

Their investigation reveals Charlie's ex-girlfriend left him when she discovered he was sexually abusing his brother Billy — a practice he continued for years while his father, whom Charlie consistently beat and threatened, stood by and let happen out of fear for his own life. Eventually, the abused Al tells Dr. Huang everything, and Charlie's sadistic dominance and violent control over his father and brother, as well as his manipulation of the latter and role in the recent killing spree, is revealed. 

Importantly, Charlie himself was never abused. He simply harbored a hatred for the wealthy, happy families he grew up around — traits that were lacking in his own upbringing. The gruesome body count, coupled with Charlie's manipulation and abuse of his brother, makes him one of the most brutal and savage perps in the series' early seasons. Though Billy eventually reveals the location of the two women and puts an end to his brother's spree, it's clear Charlie would have continued in his merciless mission indefinitely had his terrified family not finally turned on him.  

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)