The Wednesday (Oct. 16) episode, “Wonderland Story,” opens with a collection of characters bidding farewell to Munch at a roast in his honor. All NYPD detectives have to retire by their 63rd birthday. (Belzer, who has played Munch in a record 10 different shows over 20 years, is 69.)
Though the detectives always wear jackets and shirts with collars and ties, they are spiffier in this episode as they gather to roast their friend. Munch is the spiffiest of all, entering in a white dinner jacket and black bow tie. He looks as if he’s in Vegas, not Brooklyn, where the scene was shot.
“I have to admit I did underestimate you at first,” Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) says. “And I have to admit Detective Munch is not just a brilliant detective but a very, very soulful man.”
The camera pans to show Munch’s brother, played by David Steinberg, and two of his three ex-wives, played by Carol Kane and Ellen McElduff.
“We ran his butt out of Baltimore,” says Detective Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnson), Munch’s colleague from “Homicide: Life on the Street,” where the character began his life.
The man with whom Munch was partners the longest, Fin (Ice-T), presents him with a shadow box containing shields from the Baltimore and New York police departments.
Just as everyone should be ribbing Munch, the detectives get a call. A woman (Sofia Vassilieva) who had been raped two years earlier wakes up disoriented and bloodied, though she does not remember what happened the night before.
She is certain the same man raped her again, and she has seen him around her Brooklyn neighborhood. But there is no evidence that he did, and he happens to work near her apartment.
It becomes clear that she was raped, and the detectives go into their usual full-on mode to figure out who did it. The culprit is Cameron, an Internet millionaire (Finn Wittrock) who parties and preys on women in the Hamptons and after-hours raves in the city, including one inside a rooftop water tower.
Cameron slips drugs into women’s drinks, then pretends to help them from the parties. Once he gets them home, he rapes them, and his M.O. is to rip out one of their earrings while forcing himself upon them.
The detectives track him down and convince one of his victims to wear a wire. He is the best friend of her fiancé, but she does it and the cops nab him.
Continuing to use — but not overuse — Benson’s ordeal when she was kidnapped, assaulted, beaten and drugged, the detective tries consoling the woman who was raped twice.
They sit on a bench on the promenade fronting the East River and Benson tells the woman how she carries a gun and she has been assaulted — twice. Benson tells the younger woman to not beat herself up, to do little things she enjoys.
“It’s a process,” Benson says. “Little steps.”
That would be enough of an emotional punch, and an excellent harkening back to how this season began. But the episode brings viewers back to the detectives’ room, where Munch sits alone, lost in thought.
He flashes back to his first days on the job — in Baltimore. In a perfect blend to black and white, with Belzer’s hair still black, he sits at a desk much like this one, responding to crimes on “Homicide.”
The phone rings to break his reverie. He says, “Homicide,” catches himself, corrects it to SVU, and tells the person he will get a detective to help him.
And with that one of the smartest characters on television picks up his cardboard box, his collection of work items over two decades, and walks out the door.
What did you think of Belzer’s final episode? Will you miss Munch on “SVU”?