The Elephant In The Room With Law & Order: SVU

Photo: NBC/Getty Images.
Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson in "Law & Order: SVU," Season 1.
In the premiere episode of Law & Order SVU's 18th season, Detective Olivia Benson is watching her adopted son Noah toddle around the playground in Central Park. It's an idyllic scene — and, frankly, one that's a little out of character for Olivia, who is less likely to be found outside enjoying a sunny day than in the midst of some serious emotional turmoil back at the office. She looks happy — maybe even a little carefree — like any parent watching their beloved kiddo climb the jungle gym.

But this is SVU, so it goes without saying that the breezy scene is short-lived. Moments later, Olivia gets a call about a kid who has been left alone at the park in a sandbox. She scoops Noah up and goes to investigate: When she finds the child, he looks innocent enough — but then he pulls a loaded gun out of his backpack.

Olivia pushes Noah out of the potential line of fire and quickly swipes the weapon from the child's hand. But for a second there, I was panicked that things were about to take a dramatic, cruel turn. It's not an unfounded concern: SVU has put Olivia Benson through a lot over the nearly two decades she's been on air.

Since the show premiered in 1999, she's dealt with more hard blows than possible to recount here, beginning with the fact that — as a product of rape (her mother was sexually assaulted by her father) — she is constantly reliving her past by engaging with special victims and sexual assailants. Her personal connection to the mission is what makes her a preternaturally good investigator. It's also a motivational knife in her side that's always with her, episode in and out.

Her personal connection to the mission is what makes her a preternaturally good investigator.

Then there's her personal life, which hasn't really found any sort of even keel until last season: For years, Olivia played the devoted work wife to Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni, who abruptly walked away from SVU at the end of season 12), despite the fact that there was clearly something more between them. (There are volumes upon volumes of fanfic devoted to this, by the way. If you've always been left wanting a little more, I'm sure series creator Dick Wolf wouldn't mind if you indulged.) Apart from that, she's engaged in a string of mostly unsuccessful relationships, generally maintaining an "it's complicated" status, since, at the end of the day, her real commitment is to the job.

Hearteningly, a lot of that shifted when Noah entered the picture. Olivia had to fight to become his mother, but she finally wound up with something she's been seeking since the first day she showed up on the small screen: a family. But while it's good to see a character we've grown so fond of over the years at long last achieve something that gives her true fulfillment, it also opens up another door: Detective Benson has more to lose than she ever has before.

And so here we are: on the cusp of a new season, our heroine returning for another year — this time with a kid of her own, a stable romantic partner, and a rocky relationship with her boss that she'll have to surmount or sidestep. In the show, as in the real world, crime has been forever reshaped by the internet and the war on terror.

While I would never advocate that a woman quit a job she loves if she doesn't want to simply because she's become a parent, I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried about what's next for Olivia. She's been tied to the whipping post on SVU for so long that I'm having a hard time envisioning a season during which — in even just a single aspect of her life — she's allowed to be happy and safe. I hope that the writers prove me wrong, and this character gets to enjoy this new phase of life. But if not, I truly hope that she'll decide to move on and maybe retire. There's only so much heartache any one person can take. Olivia Benson has already undergone far more than her fair share.

More from TV

The C.U.R.E. Institution Hospital is slimier, deadlier, and sexier than last week. And the closer we get to Halloween, we can surely expect things to ...
Between 2008 and 2012, all four Twilight books were made into movies. The last in the saga was even painfully stretched out into two films just so we ...
If you ask me, pretty much any role on American Horror Story is the creepiest role on American Horror Story. The show has made a name for itself having ...
The 2016 Emmy Awards were off to a great start when a surprising announcement came over the loudspeaker. A voiceover announced the next presenter: none ...
Winter is still a long ways' off, but we have some Game of Thrones selfies to keep us warm. Tormund Giantsbane and Lyanna Mormont, two of anyone's favorite...
In my mind, there is no denying it — the 2000s were the halcyon days of the Disney Channel. As a kid — especially one with younger siblings — it was always...
The American Horror Story cast isn't holding out on us when it comes to mysteries of the current Roanoke season. The actors' reticence to answering ...
Kimmy Schmidt lives in her own world. It's a cross between middle school, the year 1999, and present-day New York. Mix in the fact that she was held ...
Ryan Murphy is known for bringing stories about compelling gay characters to the small screen, from Kurt and Blaine on Glee to Ned Weeks in Murphy's ...
Mandy Moore's been out of the spotlight for a little while, but even she should know better than to share spoilers on social media. Luckily for her, no ...
Game of Thrones fans are going to be anxiously awaiting season 7 until it premieres next summer. In the meantime, we'll be hanging on to every scrap of ...
Is there any television debate more contentious than this one? It's the ultimate question for Gilmore Girls fans: Who should Rory Gilmore end up with in ...
Danielle Brooks is having an okay year. Between the hit Broadway show, the Tony nomination, the fashion campaign, and of course, Orange Is The New Black...
Modern Family will break new ground when it comes to transgender representation. The show will feature eight-year-old actor Jackson Millarker in a one-off ...