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‘Law & Order: SVU’ Boss Warren Leight Previews Barba’s Guest Spot, More ‘Surprise Returnees’ and More — Plus, Watch a Sneak Peek (Exclusive)

Barba is back! Raúl Esparza, who exited Law & Order: SVU after six seasons in 2018, returns during the Thursday, January 7, episode — and it doesn’t take long for him to get back into trouble.

In Us Weekly’s exclusive sneak peek of the winter return, Barba reunites with Carisi (Peter Scanavino), who immediately assumed that he returned to “taunt” him. In the clip, Barba asks Carisi about the case he’s landed, which he sees as a slam dunk.

Related: Can't Stay Away! TV Stars Who Left Shows and Came Back

However, Counselor Barba doesn’t see it the same. “I think the guy’s got a Purple Heart, titanium leg and PTS,” he tells Carisi, before noting that his charges are “negotiable.” With that, Carisi asks if Barba is representing the criminal. “I guess I am now,” he responds.

“We’d written earlier that Barba had been involved in political work last year, now that the election is (we hope) over, it was time for him to find a new purpose,” showrunner Warren Leight told Us exclusively about Barba’s return. “Many lawyers sell out and join a major firm, others go straight-up pro bono (say, working for the Innocence Project), but Barba I think both misses the action and likes the attention that this particular case brings.”

Law and Order SVU Boss Previews Rafael Barba Guest Spot and More Surprise Guests
Raúl Esparza as Counselor Rafael Barba on ‘Law & Order: SVU’ NBC

The producer added that his exit wasn’t a normal one. “His departure was complicated,” Leight said. “Underneath his return there is I think a need for closure.”

Plus, bringing back Esparza, 50, was an easy task.

Related: Stars Who Left ‘Law & Order: SVU’: Where Are They Now?

“Executive Producer Julie Martin and I ran into Raul on West 23rd Street, as we were leaving the stages,” the writer noted. “We asked him if he’d consider coming back. He said yes.”

It was one of the simpler tasks of the season, in fact, even though most of it has been “unbelievable complex,” he added, noting that the pandemic has affected the writing, prepping, casting, scouting, shooting and editing process. “We’ve all had to completely change every aspect of the way we work, often in mid-episode. We’re very fortunate to have an experienced team that’s been working on the show for as long as we all have. Every time a brick comes through the window (which on some days happens every ten minutes), the nearest person grabs a broom, sweeps up the glass, someone else replaces the pane, and we just keep going.”

Related: Everything We Know About Christopher Meloni's 'Law & Order' Spinoff

Leight also added that there was a plan for Rick Fox to come back this season but “every time we make a plan, the COVID Gods laugh,” he told Us. “We still hope to see him back on our stage. In the meantime, fans will have to make do with Raul, Chris Meloni, Elizabeth Marvel, John Waters, Tamara Tunie, Wentworth Miller and a few other surprise returnees.”

Law & Order: SVU returns on NBC Thursday, January 7, at 10 p.m. ET.

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