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The winter of discontent continues on 'SVU' with 'Amaro's One-Eighty'

Danny Pino stars as Detective Nick Amaro on "Law & Order: SVU."
Danny Pino stars as Detective Nick Amaro on "Law & Order: SVU."
Michael Parmalee/NBC.

For much of this season on ‘SVU’ the focus has been on Detective Benson as she, along with her co-workers, struggle to recover from her kidnapping and assault. Now, another squad member will find himself in the middle of an extremely volatile situation.

On Wednesday, ‘SVU’ delves into every cop’s worst nightmare – the shooting of a seemingly unharmed fourteen-year-old child.

As Executive Producer Warren Leight explains, “Detective Amaro’s leaving a party at Olivia’s place and he sees a cop chasing a kid. When he goes to back up the officer, there's chaos and a shooting takes place in a crowded hallway, the other cop has been shot and the kid Amaro was chasing is down with a gaping chest wound….and no one can find a gun on or near the kid. It’s a situation where a cop has to ask himself, ‘What happens when you do everything right and the results are horrible? ‘And, unfortunately, this kind of thing does happen; incidents of cops shooting the wrong person, no gun found.”

Leight goes on to reveal that, “I like putting Amaro in these situations, because both Amaro and [his portrayer] Danny [Pino] are the ‘A’ student. People call Danny the quiet one because he’s so contemplative. There’s never a wrinkle in his shirt, he’s not clumsy, the guy never spills anything, he’s just so put together all the time that, well, I really wanted to mess with him and push him to places that I know he can go. Both Danny and his character like control so what happens when you’re in position in which you have no control? This is very much watching Amaro deal with the worst week of his life.”

Putting the character through this turmoil was well thought out, adds Leight. “Last year we did a story about him having a kid that he didn’t know about who was conceived when he was undercover. That kind of shook him up, but this character is the kind of guy who keeps up this strong veneer, trying hard to show that things are going well. So in light of that, I said, ‘well I’m out to crack that front.’”

Pino says that while he didn’t know this exact storyline was coming, he knew that something was brewing. “The truth is that whenever we’re around the writers, we’re hunting. They’ll give us cryptic revelations about what may or may not be happening down the road but it’s hard to get anything concrete, and that’s really okay by me. Some actors might feel that they want to know what’s on the horizon, but personally, with a desire not to prematurely play anything, I think to remain innocent to what’s in store is actually a gift.”

When he first read the finished script, Pino felt a range of emotions, “I was both nervous and excited at the same time,” he admits. “It’s the kind of story that I feel really defines a character. In moments of great struggle, of great adversity, we all tend to show who we really are. We all tend to whittle ourselves down to our least common denominator. In this, Amaro is faced with intensive scrutiny and adversity and he has to face who he is and what he stands for to try to overcome it.”

Leight, looking beyond the fictional character to Pino, relates that, “This is the kind of script that creates a lot of anxiety for an actor. You’re asking him to go to some very tough places.”

But Pino didn’t hesitate to jump in, knowing that this script was special. “On this show, my character is mostly dealing with the adversity that other people are experiencing and much of the time I’m essentially a conduit to closure for them. I knew this was special because in this case Amaro wasn’t just the catalyst for change for someone else; he's in fact the one changing. he's on the hot seat and he has to really face who he is and the decisions he’s made.”

Now in his third year as ‘SVU’s’ showrunner, Leight reveals that shaking up the characters is a very conscious way to keep the show moving forward. “The title of this episode really says a lot because let’s remember that when he started with the ‘SVU’ team, Amaro was a happily married man, a family man and that’s all fallen apart on him. He’s also a cop, that’s all he’s ever wanted to be and now, in light of this incident, he has to decide whether or not that’s worth fighting for. All of this turmoil is intentional because what can happen in a long running show is that people can start to fall into a routine and I’m just trying to keep it fresh for everyone – the crew, the cast, the writers – and if we successfully do that, we’re keeping it fresh for the audience as well.”

Speaking specifically about this episode, Leight says, “There’s a lot of action and a fair amount of danger but there are also a lot of really hard, hot confrontations. Danny does more in this episode than we’ve asked him to do in two and half years. We pushed him to a really disturbing place and he really knocks it out.”

This episode marks the second of five that will air prior to the start of the Olympics and Leight knew that he wanted to ramp up the action in this second trimester of the three that will make up season 15.

“What we wanted to start off this mini-season out of the box with two bang-bang episodes, to keep pushing it,” says Leight. “And I think we’ve done that with ‘Psycho/Therapist’ and now with ‘Amaro’s One-Eighty.’”

For his part Pino, after all of the work that went into the episode, is ready for it to appear on screen. “I’m so thrilled that this is finally going to air. We shot it a couple of months ago so I’ve had time to live with it, but I’m really ready to share it with the fans. I feel lucky to be a part of a team that’s so creative and so intent on pushing this show and evolving the show. I think we’re hitting a very good stride.”

This week's hashtag = #FreeAmaro

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