Law & Order: SVU is back for season 23 on September 23, and for at least this viewer, the first part of the premiere did not disappoint. The central case, continued over from last season’s finale, was compelling and ended in a place that would be downright mean if the second half wasn’t set to air immediately after. We’ll get a little bit of the personal, too. If you want to know how much and for which characters, though, you’ll have to tune in.
Watching 23×01 several times, with an almost embarrassing number of views of the opening segment in particular, the only dissatisfaction I’m left with is simply wanting more. That is not actually a bad thing, though. It’s exactly what you would ask for from a series that has seemingly done it all on its road to making history.
At least part of this desire for more comes from the season premiere’s ending, which seriously had Yours Truly yelling, “wait! That’s it?!” to an empty room. Believe it or not, that reaction is good news since nobody wants viewers to be glad the episode they poured so much hard work into is over, especially when it has an immediate follow-up coming. (No, I don’t know what happens there. Yes, I’m actually as stressed about it as literally every other SVU fan on the planet, if not moreso.)
Or, well. Let’s back that statement up a bit. The ending is kind of bad news for our beloved Captain Benson and her squad…Getting justice for their victims might seem impossible in those closing moments. But this is the Olivia Benson we’re talking about here, so it’ll probably be fine. She’s our superhero, after all.
But, as a season premiere, it’s great in setting up this feeling of having filled up on a really delicious appetizer, only to be left hungrier than ever when you think about what might be around the corner for dinner and dessert. That’s what matters most.
“And the Empire Strikes Back” isn’t just strong because of the way its ending leaves you demanding more, though. The Law & Order: SVU season 23 premiere does exactly what a season premiere—or, as Executive Producer Norberto Barba called it on Twitter, “Finale disguised as premiere”—should do: It takes us on a journey that reminds us where we’ve been, gives us a hint at where we’re going (which, for at least one character, isn’t anywhere good), and reminds us why we missed our favorite characters so much while the series was on hiatus.
Of course, some of the biggest questions following SVU’s 22nd season finale involved the likes of Bensler and Rollisi. If you’re looking for specific spoilers, I’ll never be your girl. But here’s what I can say.
For me, personally, I’m satisfied. That doesn’t mean everybody will be, and if we start trying to compare apples to oranges in terms of what one ship gets versus another…That’s not a good road to go down. But what is on the screen is entirely appropriate for where everyone stands.
(But look: If you want to scream “EO WHEN” at the other ship’s scenes, you won’t be alone.)
I mean, the satisfaction is in that appetizer kind of way, especially with Benson and Stabler? But that’s perfectly OK and exactly where I’d expect to be at this point in the journey. Besides, when has so much as the thought of the our favorite partners for life sharing the screen not caused a substantial amount of flailing? Liv and El literally stood opposite each other and breathed without saying any words when Elliot first came back, and that was enough to stop hearts.
(Anyone else both hate and love that Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni have that power?)
There is a surprisingly beautiful work-life balance present in this premiere, and I say that because, well…You’ll recall I didn’t exactly take kindly to some comments about a “telenovela” with respect to EO this summer. I’m not taking anything back…But I’m just saying, even in spite of that whole fiasco, I liked what I saw.
See also: Executive Producer Julie Martin’s comment about not missing the first five minutes? Not only should you not miss it—whether you’re here for Rollisi, Bensler, or both—but if you’re anything like your friendly neighborhood reviewer, you’ll have a ton of thoughts about how even the tiniest things can have the biggest meanings.
The “personal” side of the story isn’t all about the romance, though. (Not that anyone here is saying they’d be against a 43-minute EO supercut episode, though.) As far as a certain longtime friendship goes, that, too, was a great dynamic to watch—in ways that were both hilarious and touching. There’s also at least one moment between Benson and Carisi that may or may not cause some rather undignified snorting. Take from that what you will.
Don’t discount the central investigation, though. This is a procedural, after all. And the case is a big one. Without spoiling the whole story…Let’s just say it’s a lot, and nearly 500 episodes in, it’s nice to still be able to be surprised.
For a final thought: This probably goes without saying, but let’s take every opportunity possible to shout it anyway: Mariska Hargitay remains the center of the SVU universe—or, really, probably ought to just be considered the center of the universe. It’s her creation, and we’re all just lucky to be able to witness it. No matter how many moving parts there are around her, or how compelling the surrounding drama, it’s Hargitay’s utter audacity in always finding just the right way to end you that continues to make Olivia Benson that one fictional character even the most jaded among us would like to think is real. And we’re never, ever going to get enough of her.
What, Benson can’t be on the force forever? That’s cool. Law & Order: Retired Domestic Life sounds pretty compelling to me.