[Spoiler] Returns to 'Law & Order: SVU' — What Might This Mean for Olivia's Future?

Law Order SVU Season 21 Olivia Barba Return
Spoiler Alert
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 21, Episode 13 of Law & Order: SVU, "Redemption in Her Corner."]

Welcome back, Barba (Raúl Esparza)!

Law & Order: SVU viewers received quite the treat at the beginning of Thursday's episode: the return of the fan favorite via a video chat.

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In the opening of "Redemption in Her Corner," Olivia (Mariska Hargitay) caught up with a now-bearded Barba — he was "trying to blend in" in Iowa — and he asked how she was doing after Tucker's (Robert John Burke) death.

"It's been rough," she admitted. "A lot of loss lately. Time is just flying by."

Fortunately Barba will be back in town after the primary, and the two have already made plans to get dinner. Before he ended the call, he wished her a happy birthday and sent his regards to the squad and Noah.

Could SVU be gearing up for a much-lengthier return from Barba (with or without the beard)? And might he be the key to Olivia finally finding some happiness in her love life? They did plan that dinner after all, and she wasn't happy that he wasn't in New York ("Why are you there?" she asked). Plus, at times there certainly seemed like the possibility of something between them before he left in Season 19.

Given everything Olivia's been through (and not just lately), she could use someone in her corner off-the-job — and Barba may be the perfect person to fill that role.

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Law & Order: SVU, Thursdays, 10/9c, NBC