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Law & Order: SVU only just returned to NBC not that long ago, and thanks to COVID and production shutdowns, it has already aired its fall finale. New episodes won't be back until 2021, but there are a few surprises waiting for fans in the new year. While audiences may already know about the return of Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler, another series veteran is set to return as well.

While Law & Order: SVU told a tangled quarantine-related tale in primetime on December 3, the show's Instagram posted a photo teasing the return of Raúl Esparza. Check out the photo below of the actor, who will indeed be reprising his role as Barba when the NBC drama returns.

Barba will be back for the first time since his brief appearance in Season 21. Olivia did a video conference with Barba in "Redemption in Her Corner," where it was revealed that he was in Iowa. Barba was looking into voter fraud in Iowa but made plans to go to dinner with her when he returned to New York.

Unfortunately, it's unknown how long or how often we can expect to see Barba on Law & Order: SVU in 2021. The character made his debut in Season 14 and then exited midway through Season 19 when his character was tried for murder after removing a comatose infant from life support. Barba was ultimately cleared of charges, but he ended up leaving his job and was replaced in the series by Peter Stone.

For those curious as to why Raúl Esparza left Law & Order: SVU in the first place, the answer may not be as scandalous as his character's exit. Esparza merely thought he had done all he could with the role and decided to bow out and move on to other things. Since his exit, Esparza has had roles on The Good Fight and The Path, and, of course, had a couple of chances to drop in on the SVU set and reprise his role as Barba.

As previously mentioned, Raúl Esparza isn't the only veteran of Law & Order: SVU returning in 2021. Christopher Meloni will make a return as Elliot Stabler, and will also be starring in a spinoff called Law & Order: Organized Crime. 2021 will also see actor Wentworth Miller return to the franchise in a guest role. 2020 may have been a bit of a downer towards the end for fans of Law & Order: SVU, but based on what's on the way, 2021 should more than make up for it.

Law & Order: SVU will return with new episodes on NBC Thursday, January 7. Continue to stick with CinemaBlend for more on the franchise in the meantime, as well as for the latest news in television and movies.

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