It's not that "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" is formulaic. It's that...uh...when a show's been on for this long, certain patterns start to emerge? Fine: It's formulaic. But that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. Here are the most basic facts you need to know about last night's episode.
Initial Crime: A young woman gets chased down by what are clearly Russian Mob enforcers; she is found murdered and horrendously disfigured.
Real Crime: When the woman is identified, from her tattoos, as a Russian bride-to-be named Lena, the cops track down her fiancé, Daniel Carter (Timothy Busfield). He'd been told that if he paid a ransom, she'd be returned to him. But when he later discovers a girl on a DIFFERENT Russian "dating site" who looks exactly like her and is wearing the necklace he gave Lena at their engagement party, the cops set up a sting and learn that Lena's supposed stalker ex, Liev, is blackmailing Lena into pulling this scam on gullible, lonely men, by keeping her daughter Anna from her.
REAL Real Crime: The daughter's been dead for years; she was kidnapped and killed, and then Liev had her captors killed. Lena and Liev had been partners in their scheme since then.
Famous Guest Star Who Obviously Did It: Lena is played by "Coyote Ugly" star Izabella Miko, who has previously played a scheming Slavic prostitute on "Deadwood."
It's 10 PM, Y'All! How exactly was the initial victim disfigured? "Sanded off her face, sawed off her fingertips."
Egregious Breach of Procedure: Letting Cragen (Dann Florek) play the mark in a sting on Liev and Lena even though he's a million years old and was last undercover sometime during the first Reagan administration.
Revelations about the Continuing Characters' Personal Lives That We Should Remember Going Forward: Amaro (Danny Pino) tells Benson (Mariska Hargitay) that his father "liked to bounce [Amaro's] mom off the walls," and that when he left the family, it was "one of the happiest moments of [his] life." While on his fake date with Lena, Cragen accidentally tells her the truth about his late wife's miscarriage and how they tried to adopt, but that he was too busy to follow through: "It's my biggest regret." At the end of the episode, he starts to tell Benson, "About that stuff I said on the wire...." but she lets him know that it's forgotten.