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NBC Insider Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Why William Lewis Is the Worst Villain in Law & Order: SVU History

Benson has faced hundreds of horrific criminals, but William Lewis is easily the most terrifying. 

By Jessica White

While many Law & Order: Special Victims Unit criminals appear in one, maybe two episodes before they're put behind bars, some of them linger. An example of this is easily one of the worst SVU villains ever, William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber), who appears in a whopping seven episodes of the show. 

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Mariska Hargitay (Benson) has filmed over 500 episodes of SVU and says Lewis is one of the show's most bone-chilling antagonists. "The William Lewis arc was the most taxing [for me to film]. It was gut-wrenching to shoot, but it was a treat to work with Pablo Schreiber," Hargitay told TV Insider in 2018. "I trusted him, so I was able to go there."

It's been a decade since Lewis first reared his evil head. Read his character history, below. 

Trigger warning: This piece contains descriptions of sexual assault and suicide 

Who is William Lewis on Law & Order: SVU?

Lewis is a demented sociopath and criminal who gave SVU a literal run for their money after he kidnapped and tortured Benson throughout Season 15 of the show.

Lewis was introduced in the Season 14 finale, which opened with him burning his fingerprints off. He's picked up on a public indecency charge and based on how he skirted around revealing his identity, the squad quickly deduced he's bad news.

Lewis quickly took a liking to Benson, which was worrisome as the squad learned he had a sick and twisted roster of indiscretions. Lewis was tied to the assault and murder of many women over the span of 15 years. Even worse, Lewis had managed to evade any consequences by getting off on technicalities during each of his three previous trials. Lewis's ability to find the loopholes in the legal system made him a terrifying adversary, and despite the squad's tenacious efforts, their worst fears actualized when Lewis got off on a technicality again

As soon as Lewis became a free man, SVU flipped the script in a nail-biting way we'd never seen before: Lewis kidnapped Benson, throwing the SVU detective into a nightmarish experience. In the Season 15 premiere, the squad realized Lewis captured their finest detective after finding Benson's apartment in disarray, kicking off the "Save Benson" saga of episodes

Meanwhile, Lewis went on a rampage, forcing Benson to watch as he assaulted and killed several women while transporting her to a remote cabin. There, he tortured Benson, taunting her about her former SVU partner, Stabler (Chris Meloni), and was seconds away from assaulting her before she managed to incapacitate him. After her traumatizing ordeal, Benson struggled to maintain her composure and was close to killing Lewis for his actions. 

"My old partner, he'd know what to do," Benson told Lewis, referring to Stabler. "He wouldn't question himself after what you've done. He would kick your teeth in, break your legs, break your arms, break your back, break your face. Maybe I should call him."

Pablo Schreiber As William Lewis

After Lewis continued to display a lack of humanity, Benson beat him up within an inch of his life out of frustration and terror over what happened. The squad found a shell-shocked Benson shortly afterward, and she learned she fortunately didn't kill Lewis. Benson usually operates more by the book, but considering her circumstances, viewers agreed she was well within her rights to rough Lewis up. 

"It was, without a doubt, the most difficult episode I ever shot in 15 years, and it was unlike anything I've ever done," Hargitay revealed to TODAY when the episode aired in 2013. "I have to tell you, after 15 years, to be nervous and scared and excited to go to work — it's a pretty great thing."

Lewis attended his trial for the attempted murder, kidnapping, rape, and assault of Benson. As soon as Benson saw him again, she recognized his desire for revenge. Lewis decided to represent himself during the trial, allowing him to torture Benson all over again as she took the stand as a victim for the first time in SVU history

Amid the subsequent courtroom chaos, Lewis managed to manipulate Benson's testimony to convince the jury to get acquitted of the attempted rape and murder. Luckily, Lewis was still convicted for the kidnapping and assault of a police officer. At this point, many SVU fans were delighted to watch Lewis go behind bars, but his reign of terror wasn't over yet. 

What happened to William Lewis on Law & Order: SVU?

While in prison, Lewis faked a seizure, leading him to escape incarceration. After his prison break, he went on a revenge rampage against Benson, kidnapping a young girl named Amelia to goad Benson out of hiding to see her face to face again.

Lewis was obsessed with seeing Benson suffer for the justice she enforced. As soon as she met up with Lewis to save the girl, Benson was whisked away to a remote factory where she was again tied up and at the mercy of Lewis. Lewis gave Benson the horrific option of selecting which woman should be assaulted: Amelia or Benson herself, at which point Benson protected the girl.

Benson went into this altercation mentally prepared, so despite Lewis' attempts to terrify her, she gives him nothing and keeps a clear head. Fed up with Benson's lack of reaction and fueled by his victim's helplessness, Lewis decided to up the ante by forcing Benson to play a game of Russian Roulette.

Relying on his freakish history of good luck, viewers were on the edge of their seats as they watched Benson and Lewis take turns shooting the gun up until the final turn. Just as Benson thought Lewis would end her life, he turned the gun on himself. 

"Game over," Lewis told her before pulling the trigger and dying by suicide. Lewis's final psychological torture was framing Benson for his death, but luckily, she and the SVU managed to foil his efforts. After a season of twists and traumatic turns, Lewis was dead, and his brutal crusade finally ended. But make no mistake: Benson was forever changed by the monstrous events, taking years to recover from Lewis's attack.