How did Jack McCoy leave Law & Order?

It was the end of an era as Sam Waterston exited Law & Order. Just how did the series write out Jack McCoy?

LAW & ORDER -- "Last Dance" Episode 23005 -- Pictured: Sam Waterston as DA Jack McCoy -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)
LAW & ORDER -- "Last Dance" Episode 23005 -- Pictured: Sam Waterston as DA Jack McCoy -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC) /

It was the end of an era as this past Law & Order was the final episode for Sam Waterston! How did Jack McCoy exit the series? 

Caution: This article contains spoilers for Law & Order Season 23, Episode 5

"Last Dance" had the detectives investigating the murder of Veronica Knight, who was found strangled in Central Park. There were the usual red herrings before the cops centered on Scott Kelton (Rob Benedict), a tech mogul and Veronica's former boss. It seemed he'd attacked Veronica in the past and when she wanted to come clean about it, he killed her. 

Felton's arrest was a big deal, with McCoy accused of targeting the man funding McCoy's likely opponent in the DA race. New York Mayor Robert Payne (Bruce Altman) backed McCoy publicly but in private warned him of the consequences of prosecuting such a noted figure. 

In a private meeting, Kelton confessed to the crime, claiming it was self-defense, but Nolan couldn't use it in court. Things took a turn when Price and Maroun discovered that Payne's son had been present at the party where the original rape took place. Payne warned Price that if his son was subpoenaed on this, Payne would ensure McCoy wasn't re-elected and Price was fired. 

Rather than back down, McCoy took charge of the case himself, calling the younger Payne to the stand to testify on Kelton's attack and giving a blistering summation to the jury that was like the pitbull of old. It paid off as Kelton was found guilty. 

What was Jack's final decision in Law & Order?

After the trial, McCoy dropped the bomb that he was resigning as DA as it was the best way to ensure Payne didn't punish Price. He told Nolan he didn't regret what he did as "it's been a hell of a ride." The final scene had Jack standing outside the courthouse steps, taking a last look before walking off. 

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Sam Waterston admitted he had ideas on how McCoy might exit, only for showrunner Rick Eid to come up with something better. 

""I had ideas, which Rick listened to and entertained, and then he delivered a much more graceful and heroic exit than anything I had ever suggested. At first I thought, 'Well, why isn't he loving my idea?' Then I thought, 'Oh, thank you very much.'""

Waterston addressed his exit and how he simply felt it was time for McCoy to finally step down and bid farewell. 

"I think I always knew there was a time stamp, a use-by date, on the return. I didn't want to turn on the TV and not see myself on the show when it came back, but at the same time, I knew I didn't want to be there again for the long term. It's kind of been that way from the beginning. And then before this season, it became apparent to both Law & Order and to me that this would be a really good time to leave. Then Rick Eid wrote this really graceful exit."

Law & Order will have one more new episode on Thursday, Feb. 29 before taking a brief break so as not to go up against the opening rounds of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. It returns on Thursday, March 14 with Tony Goldwyn making his debut as new DA Nicholas Baxter. 

It was a true milestone as seeing Law & Order without Sam Waterston will be tough but at least Jack McCoy went out a winner.

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Law & Order Season 23 airs Thursdays at 8/7c on NBC and streams the following day on Peacock.