Michael Learned Was the Anti-Olivia Walton in ‘Law & Order: SVU’ Episode

by Suzanne Halliburton

Olivia Walton was a beloved mother of seven in the family drama The Waltons. But decades later, her turn as a wealthy grandmother on Law & Order: SVU was oh-so-chilling.

Let’s toss it back to Law & Order: SVU season four, circa 2003. Mariska Hargitay was there as Olivia Benson, so was Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler. Other popular characters were in this episode, including Munch (Richard Belzer) and Donald Cragen (Dann Florek). And Ice-T was as cool as ever as Fin, but back in 2003, he pulled his then longish hair back in a ponytail.

Here’s a photo of Benson and Stabler from back in the day to get your memory in the mood for this episode recall.

Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay right before the two started filing for season four of Law & Order: SVU. (Manny Ceneta/Getty Images)

Learned Guest-Starred in Law & Order: SVU Episode Called ‘Privilege’

This episode with its Waltons flavor was called “Privilege” and it ran Feb. 21, 2003. Michael Learned was six years removed from her final appearance as Olivia Walton. Learned last revived the character in A Walton Easter in 1997. Let’s just say Candace Lamerly, the matriarch of a rich New York family, was the anti-thesis of Olivia, who raised seven kids during the Great Depression.

As fans know, Law & Order: SVU does at least one case a week. They’re usually of the sensational variety. This one qualified. As the episode opened, a woman found a body in a tree. It was assumed the woman was a maid who worked for the Lamerlys. She’d committed suicide by jumping from the balcony of their penthouse. Conveniently, the Lamerlys were at their country home for the weekend. Because of the fall, her face was unrecognizable. But she was wearing a maid’s uniform. Candace and her son, Doug, were quite concerned about their maid but had no idea why she would kill herself.

Yes, There’s at Least One Plot Swerve in this Episode

Then, there was a typical Law & Order: SVU twist. The dead woman was wearing expensive, high-heeled shoes and lingerie. And it turns out, she wasn’t a maid but a film student named Carmen And Drew, Candace’s grandson, dated her, although they’d broken up. So was this still a suicide? Benson and Stabler discovered a lawyer who was representing Carmen in a case against the Lamerlys. She alleged that Drew assaulted her.

There was more. Drew wasn’t able to graduate from his private high school. The principal said it was because he’d brought a sex worker as his date for the prom. And, Drew was caught on campus with alcohol. The prostitute alleged that Drew raped her, but the cops never followed through on the case. It’s probably because the cop started working security for the Lamerlys. The woman now is happily married and doesn’t want her husband to know about her past.

So getting back to Candace. After her grandson is arrested for murder, she talks the lawyer into saying Drew is not guilty for a kind of insanity reason. The dad beat Drew, Candace said. He even took the son to a brothel so that he could learn how to have sex, as well as having his way with women. Could you imagine Olivia Walton saying this about any of her sons? Look at this sweet family photo from the land of classic TV:

Waltons family photo from 1974. (CBS via Getty Images

Just Wow. Olivia Walton Would Never Do This to John Boy

Remember the sex worker/prom date? She stepped forward to testify. The person who brought Drew to the brothel actually was his grandmother, she said. His grandmother taught him all these horrible “winning traits.” The Law & Order: SVU ADA was Alex Cabot (Stephanie March). Drew became so enraged that the witness was talking about his grandmother that he attacked Alex. Candace became so upset that she collapsed.

Flash forward a few days, Benson and Stabler make another trip to the Lamerlys. But this time, they’re there to arrest Candace. It’s a perfect, stunning ending to Law & Order: SVU. But we know Olivia Walton would never raise John Boy to do this.