Law & Order: SVU continues to be the best it’s been in a long time, if not better than ever, in its 23rd season. And that’s…Without even starting to get into the case of the week, or the crossover/Elliot Stabler of it all, we really just need to take a moment to reflect on that. Most shows become stagnant after a long time on the air—and as far as primetime drama goes, nothing can touch this series in terms of longevity.
And yet, watching Mariska Hargitay do her thing as Captain Olivia Benson continues to just be a gift. It’s really insane to think about. Truly.
And yet, here we are…trying to find a way to think about it.
Looks like we were right about the Law & Order: SVU season 23 theme…
So, when I gushed in my half-fangirl, half-writer sort of way about the second half of the SVU premiere week double-header, I talked a lot about the idea of truly going there with this idea of power structures. If “I Thought You Were On My Side” is any indication, I’m totally right. I love that for me.
More to the point, I love it for the series—for Mariska “God” Hargitay and everyone else involved—because of just how good that makes the storytelling. This episode’s victim, Tara Riley, was a young Black woman with immense talent. She could sing, she could dance, she could do it all…except get any kind of justice, whatsoever, for what was done to her by a rich, powerful white dude.
“I know that Gabe is connected, and he has a lot of cop friends.”
Interestingly enough, the setup made it look like the Birthday Trash in question, Gabe Navarro, was going to get away with yet another crime because, as Fin put it, “he’s tight with the precinct.” You know, the corrupt and broken system that has, for too long, been propped up by procedurals like this one but now seems to finally be getting put under a real microscope? That one.
Navarro was cocky from the get-go, refusing to go with the SVU squad and challenging Captain Benson herself over and over. He was so sure there were ways he could pay her or someone else off, to “make this go away.” But Liv’s above the “old school” threats and bribery, even if no one else could be counted on to actually fight for justice.
“When this is over? Sweetheart, we’re just getting started.”
(So hot, so true…so loving the utterly condescending use of “sweetheart,” this time from a woman to the man who was busy underestimating her. I’ve heard Hargitay use that tone with the word in interviews I’ve watched, too. Love the reclaiming of what can sometimes be a derogatory term toward us ladies. Keep going off, queen.)
Unfortunately, one woman—no matter how capable—against an entire system is just…not usually going to win. The world is what it is, and often, even our heroes can’t save us from the forces at play.
But whereas Law & Order: SVU set viewers up to believe that it would just be a matter of Navarro having too many buddies in power and too much influence with his big pockets, it turned out to be something that I would argue was even worse. Tara was overlooked, not because nobody wanted to punish this guy. After all, our Blazered Crusader, Olivia Benson, always wants to take out the garbage. No. It wasn’t that nobody believed the victim, or that anyone was willing to cover it up: The attempted rape and the physical attack that sent Tara tumbling down the stairs, sustaining injuries that changed her life forever? It just wasn’t “big” enough of a win to get justice for that—for her.
Navarro walked and was taken right out from ADA Carisi’s nose at the hospital by the U.S. Marshals because he was able to get “more important” members of law enforcement, like the FBI and the Joint Task Force, a “bigger” win. After all, as Agent Clay tried to mansplain to Captain Olivia Benson, there was a “bigger picture” she was supposedly missing.
God forbid the people who are supposed to “protect and serve” us care, whatsoever, about what is done to women’s bodies—even when it’s so incredibly blatant, even when there are plenty of witnesses, or even when there’s a history with even more voiceless victims.
Olivia Benson’s devastation at the result of all of this remains our own. All day, every day, with far too many victims. And that’s the beauty of Law & Order: SVU, especially in season 23. We’re seeing that futility, that pain, of trying to fight against this thing. And as bad as it feels to see the one person we have always counted on to save us fight the grief of still seeing, after all these years, that everything is meaningless? It’s just really, really good TV.
Why? Because it’s true. And, uh. Your star is killing it (us) more each minute.
Working with, yet against, the endgame.
There would have been enough intoxicatingly loud EO content in this episode of Law & Order: SVU even without Stabler becoming involved in the case. Whatever that scene was between Liv and Fin, with Odafin “Parent Trap” Tutuola (totally his legal name) clearly fishing for details about whether or not Olivia had talked to Stabler lately? It would have been enough. We’ve lived on breadcrumbs for over 20 years; it was fine.
But what it did was set the stage for SVU 23×03’s Bensler theme of “let’s give every reason for Olivia to lose faith in Elliot, yet always show her taking his side and defending him.” A relationship is nothing without trust, and everything that has happened between Benson and Stabler should point to a complete lack of faith on Liv’s part. But it’s like she’s not capable of feeling that way. So, Fin could ask if he was “doing this stuff again” in terms of El totally blowing off Liv, but she defended him: “I think that he’s working.”
Olivia Benson is always going to defend her man. It doesn’t matter if she’s not totally sure if he deserves her support, or if she’s angry, heartbroken, or anything else: She is always, always going to have Elliot’s back. She doesn’t know anything else. It’s in every fiber of her being.
So sure, she could bicker like an old married couple with Elliot in the middle of a briefing, to the point where Sergeant Bell had to clear her throat to shut the two of them up.
“You couldn’t tell me you were undercover?”
“I texted you.”
“So I wouldn’t think that you ghosted me? Again?“
(Earth to Captain Benson, you’re supposed to be a professional here, not an El fangirl…said the “professional” writer, raving all over stan Twitter and all over her reviews about how she would actually die for Mariska Hargitay.)
Olivia could call Elliot out on cutting off contact and let him see her worries about whether or not she could trust him in this fight. But she could only show her doubts to him, not anyone else.
Partners for life, after all.
You could talk about how, if anyone bothered to look, some of Liv’s attempt at telling everyone how much she trusted Elliot in this was a way to try to convince herself that she could count on him again. Her snappy “oh, I’m getting that” when Bell told her Stabler wasn’t there could have just as easily been frustration with El for leaving her again after a major loss as it was her trying, desperately, to hold on to hope that he wasn’t involved in the decision to let Navarro escape punishments for what he’d done to Tara.
“He told me to trust him, and I know him. Better than anyone.”
“You used to.”
When her voice was so thick with emotion in that scene with Rollins where she talked about those 10 years without Stabler, Benson’s insecurities were all right out there for anyone to see. But honestly? The only person who could have been able to read that in Olivia, the only person she ever let in enough to know her tells, wasn’t there.
He was, however, out there in the field with her again. And he was right at her back in interrogation, giving her that extra boost of fire. But for so long, when it mattered, he wasn’t there.
So, when Mariska Hargitay says EO has to be earned, wet get it. Law & Order: SVU is showing us, in every little bit of its star’s journey, just how much faith remains in Liv…But we’re also seeing just how much of it has been lost and still needs to be earned back.
The stray SVU 23×03 thoughts…
- “Hey. What’s a party without a few regrets? She’ll be fine.” Y’all are trash. “Regrets” are “I drank too much,” or “did I really write a Law & Order: SVU review at 11-something at night, after watching an EO triple-header? I hope I didn’t beg the star to let me live or say she and her super hot bff were menaces to society at any point on social media…” What happened in that bathroom, and what later happened to Tara in the dressing room? Not mere “regrets.”
- Fin’s out here all, “blahblah, Phoebe wants to set your man up with her sister, blahblah.” And I’m like, “sure, Jan.”
- Sis really lied to her therapist about how Elliot’s return, then way-too-soon disappearance, affected her. No words. None.
- It’s the ice cold “test that theory” moment for me. Mariska, ma’am, that was sizzling. For the record, if I had balls, you could shoot them off any time, and I’d thank you for it. Since I don’t, feel free to shoot me wherever you’d like. (I truly need an Ayanna Bell in my life to shut me up.)
- Same energy with the whole “am I not your friend anymore, Gabe” moment. That was…the flirting, purely for the other guy in the room’s benefit…
- And for the record? Olivia Benson wouldn’t understand someone getting scratched up during consensual sex? Gabe, sweetheart, go ahead and keep an eye out for whenever EO unleash 22+ years of sexual tension and actually do the deed.
- “She’s the Captain. It’s actually her call.” Elliot’s totally turned by that and going to be the submissive one, huh?
- That awkward moment when you’re doing the married bickering thing in front of a room full of people who, aside from Fin, have never witnessed your nonsense…And you just forget anyone else is there at all.
- Liv: I am pissed at you for three months of radio silence. Also Liv: Let me soften absolutely every fiber of my being when I ask how you are.
- …and we can’t blame Sergeant Bell for saying yes to the kids but no to staying in contact with Liv either, given how these two morons behave in public.
- I mean, did you see how breathless she was when Elliot came strutting in, all romantic-hero-archetype-like? The breathless way she always seems to say his name? It’s so loud.
- “It’s kinda nice to not be me for a while.” Yeah, “kinda nice” to not be the man who abandoned the one true love of his life for 10 years, huh?
- “Does anybody at the FBI know their ass from their elbows?” No, Amanda. They do not.
- …and Agent Mansplain really tried to tell Rollins about “chaos,” too, huh?
- “What did Stabler say?” “He told me to trust him.” The sigh? And that little bit of a lift at the end of the statement, like it was almost—but not quite—a question? Therapy bills as the result of Hargitay’s audacity in being about 1000 times better than necessary, still accumulating.
- “So, you want me to make it look like I’m arresting a total scumbag who doesn’t deserve to live? I can do that.” “There goes months of counseling down the drain.”They are married, Your Honor.
- What was the reason for Elliot leaning in so close and for all of that sexual tension in interrogation, though? What is is this, Law & Order: SVU‘s redo of baby EO? Y’all are loud.