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'Law & Order: SVU' - It's The Last Dance with The Beast

Mariska Hargitay and Pablo Schreiber in 'Law & Order: SVU.'
Mariska Hargitay and Pablo Schreiber in 'Law & Order: SVU.'
Michael Parmalee/NBC.

It began so long ago, and now it’s The Last Dance.'

The good news is, ‘SVU’ has done it again. The scary news is, ‘SVU’ has done it again.

The return of William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber), whose goal is to inflict pain on anyone in his path, the path that will lead him to his intended target, Sergeant Benson (Mariska Hargitay), is truly everything it’s been hyped up to be.

In “Beast’s Obsession,” Lewis escapes from prison, takes a young girl hostage, using her as bait to lure Benson into a confrontation.

This latest chapter in the Lewis/Benson saga, the fourth, follows “Her Negotiation,” “Surrender Benson,” and “Psycho/Therapist.”

“Beast’s Obsession,” didn’t come together without some careful calculations both in and out of the writers' room, according to Executive Producer Warren Leight. “Of course we consciously ended “Psycho/Therapist” with that opened tease to leave the door ajar for Lewis’ return, but we didn’t know what exactly we’d do or where we’d go if we brought him back.”

Aside from plot issues, there was the matter of the availability of Pablo Schreiber, an understandably much in demand actor. “Because we didn’t know if and when we could get him back, we didn’t even start thinking about anything right away,” explained Leight, “But, then we found out that we had a little window to grab him so we knew we needed to take advantage of that. That’s when I started considering how we could move the story to another level.”

Leight went on to say that Schreiber wasn’t keen to reprising the role just for the sake of on-camera time. “What I like about Pablo and what really makes what he does work as an actor is that he wouldn’t just come back if it was just to string the character along. There had to be an extremely good reason, because he’s motivated by a good story and the challenge to inhabit the character again.”

Schreiber’s commitment to the role led the writers to push themselves to really craft the next steps of Lewis’ character meticulously not only to meet the actor’s standards but also so as to appease the ever demanding audience. “No one wants to see the character diluted so that puts the pressure on the writers. With a recurring bad guy like this you can go to the well too many times because there really is a point of diminishing returns and we certainly didn’t want that to happen,” says Leight.

When Leight finally sorted out how to proceed with the Lewis/Benson narrative he pitched it to Schreiber who gladly came onboard. “He liked the progression of the ‘relationship’ between Lewis and Benson, and that’s a strange word to use here but it’s pretty accurate to say that these two do have a relationship right now; they have a past, they’re still in each other’s lives and they’ll always be connected, so it is a relationship.”

Leight revealed that his inspiration for this episode stems from the finale of the ‘70s television drama, “The Fugitive,” in which Dr. Richard Kimble, wrongly accused of murdering his wife, spends several years chasing the real killer, a one-armed man. “Something like 70 million people tuned in to see what would happen between Kimble and the one-armed man. In that show, that final confrontation took place in an abandoned amusement park and I wanted this confrontation between Lewis and Benson in that kind of setting. I wanted a location where no one will hear you can hear you scream, or rather William Lewis wanted a location where no one will hear you scream.”

To achieve that, Leight and his crew found an abandoned granary on the outskirts of New York City. Leight described it, saying, “It’s 12 stories tall with 90 grain silos inside of a brick building. It’s not exactly a hidden location as it’s huge. It was horrible just to shoot there. The wind was whipping up and there was 50 years of dust and debris swirling around all the time.”

The original production plan called for less time at the site, but Leight felt shooting amid the decrepit, bleak property was a necessity. “When we originally scouted it, there was talk that we’d just shoot the exteriors there and then build the interiors on a stage to match, but I took one look around and said, ‘We’re doing this here.’ It’s just too disturbing a place to not take advantage of that. We had to shoot this in that location because we could never truly recreate that. The degree of scariness of that place informs he scenes that take place there. It’s a horrifying place for final showdown.”

The grimness of the location was essential given the events that transpire between the Sergeant and the escaped convict. Leight elaborates, saying, “Benson has to walk into that and it’s upsetting to watch her as she knows going into this empty shell of a building how this really has to go down. She knows that it’s up to her to take Lewis down. It can’t continue with him. She knows better than anyone what he’s capable of. She was his hostage for four days and she knows too well the kind of harm he can inflict. To me, what she does this time out is very heroic. The first time out it wasn’t intentional to be heroic, she was kidnapped and she was made his victim and she had to struggle to survive, but this time it’s her choice to take him on.”

Just to scare fans a bit more, Leight adds, “I think what we see for the first time is that she knows that going back in with him could mean her death. She understands the risks and she’s accepting of them.”

Even Leight, the man in charge, was a bit anxious about this latest installment, revealing, “I’m mostly nervous about how can we match the level of the first batch of episodes. Every time we strep up to the plate, we measure it by the proceeding episodes in this arc. It’s really challenging to maintain the drama to the level that’s now expected of us by everyone who’s invested in this. In light of that, we really do work hard to keep upping the intensity as best we can.”

He goes on to give credit to the actors, saying, “This is really one of those things where in the beginning we hoped it would work between Pablo and Mariska and then it worked so well that we wanted to keep it going for as long as we could. They both know that they’ve created something that’s hard to define given their roles in this, but it’s never-the-less thrilling to watch. This dance takes on something that while you can’t really put your finger on what it is you know that every time these two actors get together they add layers to their work. It’s interesting to watch them pick up where they left off. They know each others moves and quirks to the point where what they give gets deeper and more disturbing each time out.”

Disturbing is definitely an accurate description of what transpires between the characters. Given this material, it would have been easy for both principles to over dramatize this showdown, but Schreiber and Hargitay show their true knowledge of the craft by giving just the right amount; Schreiber portraying Lewis as a true all-or-nothing villain while still making all of his actions incredibly believable, Hargitay showing Benson trying diligently to maintain her steely facade in the face of extreme danger while at the same time conveying the underlying fact that Olivia is still a fragile human being who could easily crumble under the weight of this impossible situation at any moment. In the hands of lesser accomplished actors, these scenes would not carry near the amount of significance they do here.

While Lewis and Benson fight it out, it seems like the discord in the squad room has been set aside in favor of a more cohesive front, something that’s certainly nice to see given everything that’s transpired lately in the 16th precinct.

This season nearly every episode has been a game-changer in that at the conclusion of each installment nothing is the same as it was before. We’ve seen Amaro stumble and Rollins fall while Benson’s struggles have been well documented since her first encounter with Lewis. This episode is no different. In fact, so much happens that while in the past it might have seemed that things could possibly revert back to some sort of normalcy, they is no such hope at the conclusion of “Beast’s Obsession.”

“There’s no way around it, Benson will be forever changed,” reveals Leight. “This could very well get the best of her.”

He goes on to divulge that this really is 'The Last Dance.' "This had to come to a conclusion and we knew how it had to end but even to us it’s still I think by far the most shocking ending we’ve ever done,” says Leight empathically. “It’s visually amazing and the last act is incredibly tense. I don’t know how else to say it, it really is shocking. It just had to end this way.”

And end it does, with an image that no matter what happens moments, days, months or years afterward, will remain forever haunting.

Two hashtags this week: #LastDance and #RenewSVU

Quick reminder: “Psycho/Therapist” airs just prior to “Beast’s Obsession” beginning at 8/7c. For more about "Psycho/Therapist" please click here.

“Law & Order: SVU” airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on NBC.

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