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'Law & Order: SVU': Season 15 continues down a precarious path

'Law & Order; SVU' airs on NBC at 9/8c.
'Law & Order; SVU' airs on NBC at 9/8c. Michael Parmalee/NBC.

According to many social media posts, regular viewers of 'SVU' are jazzed about Wednesday night’s episode as it will feature the official ceremony marking Detective Olivia Benson's (Mariska Hargitay) ascension to the rank of Sergeant and the beginning of her role as the leader in the Special Victims Unit, a promotion many feel is long overdue given Benson's tenure in the unit.

But, unfortunately, the celebration is cut short as a fresh assault case and the pursuit of justice for the victim takes precedence over something that’s simply ceremonious. In fact, the urgency is apparent as Benson immediately jumps into working on the case while still in her official police issue attire, apparently having not a spare moment to change into her regular work clothes.

The synopsis for the episode, "Betrayal's Climax," indicates that the SVU detectives take on a kidnapping with ties to a dangerous gang.

While this may seem like a 'non-event' episode, given the extremely high drama quotient of the most recent episodes, "Psycho/Therapist" and "Amaro's One-Eighty," what makes this mid-season installment progressive is precisely the precarious path that these previous chapters have laid out for each and every person in that unit.

Hesitating to use the phrase 'regular' crime as every 'SVU' case is about a truly heinous event, what does makes this case different is that it isn’t something that is happening directly to a member of the 16th precinct, but, what has happened recently to both Benson and Amaro will certainly affect how they each approach this, and all future, cases.

"Right now, given what everyone in that squad room had been through, what each of them is bringing to their job is completely different than it was before," explains Executive Producer Warren Leight. "This is what I really feel has to happen. I had to shake it all up. We're not trying to write these big plot twists. I want to write using these complicated characters and watch what happens to them when they find themselves in unfamiliar positions. So the show maybe used to be more outside in, dependent on big twists and the like, and that’s a fun ride but it doesn’t lend itself to creating the kind of character portraiture that we want to do now. There’s an evolution of character here that I think is important. It has to happen, whether it’s welcomed by these individuals or not."

Working within the framework of a procedural, Leight admits that it's quite a challenge to integrate the personal stories that have been arced out this season into the criminal action element of the show. "We have our main story in each episode and we're not trying to add a 'B' story or a subplot, what we're trying to do is to add another layer to the main storyline," he clarifies. "The problem is that once the crime has started our guys are all in. They're relentless in their pursuit and it just doesn’t work to try to cut back to a personal moment, unless it has to do with the case. So, we work really hard to have individual personalities, opinions and actions come out within that main story."

While it's a challenge, the sprinkling of bits of individuality are necessary to understand how the characters react to certain situations, according to Danny Pino ("Nick Amaro"), who says, "Seeing who these people are not only in the squad room but outside of those confines is important. We’re in constant search of who they are and why they believe what they believe and why they do what they do. When the balance shifts more toward character, that sheds light on how these individuals conduct themselves on the job; in an interrogation, during an investigation and so on. By knowing who they are outside the squad room, we see that, just as in real life, their personal lives inform their professional lives and vice-versa."

Foremost on the minds of many viewers is the health of the relationship between Benson and Detective Cassidy (Dean Winters). Cryptic as ever, Leight will only say that, "Those two are going to go through some things. They're like any couple, with plenty ups and downs, even more so because of what's she's been through and because both of them have highly stressful jobs, especially her with her promotion. These are the kinds of things that can take either take a toll on a relationship or they can strengthen it. Everyone will have to wait and see about these two."

Sadly, other than these few statements, he wouldn't give up any more specifics about the couple. But I can tell you that in "Wednesday's Child," which will air next week, Benson slowly begins to express how she really feels about her present personal situation.

Sorry, but to reveal anymore would really ruin some truly surprising moments for ardent fans. (Believe me, even writing that short paragraph so as to not give too much away was difficult!)

And, as promised in last week's post, when asked directly about the probability of a re-appearance by William Lewis, Leight did have this to say, "Seeing Lewis again is a possibility, but at this point I don't know how we would do it." He goes on to say that much of the decision lies with Lewis' portrayer, Pablo Schreiber. "I know Pablo well enough to know that he'd want to know a lot about it before he’d commit to it because he's very, very proud of the work that he's done so far. He's proud of this part and what he and Mariska have achieved in those episodes. He's not motivated by a payday; he's motivated by the work. We've certainly, intentionally left the door ajar for a return. But, having said that, and I've said this before, you can't go to the well too many times. We have to use that character judicially or he loses his impact, and that's absolutely the thing we don't want to happen at this point given the enormous amount of impact he's had so far."

With this episode, ‘SVU’ has just passed the halfway mark of the 15th season and after next week’s episode will take a two week break during the Olympics. The final ‘third act’ of the season will begin on February 19th.

If that last third is anything like the first two, it’s sure to be a bumpy ride, one that is expected and will undoubtedly be gladly accepted.

This week's hashtag = #BossBenson

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