'Law & Order: SVU' Boss Previews Benson's "Hellish Nightmare" and New Relationship

LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT - Mariska Hargitay - H 2015
Courtesy of Michael Parmalee/NBC

Law & Order: SVU returns Wednesday after a nearly two months off the schedule, and the long-running procedural is showing no signs of slowing down.  

In addition to the highly anticipated Chicago P.D.crossover — which sees the return of serial killer Greg Yates (Dallas Roberts) — the second episode of the new year will see Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) held hostage in what showrunner Warren Leight calls "the most disturbing episode" for Benson fans since the heroine was kidnapped and held hostage by William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber) more than two years ago.

"It's pretty rough going all the way through," showrunner Warren Leight tells The Hollywood Reporter.

The episode, called "Townhouse Incident," centers on a home invasion gone bad with Benson stuck right in the middle. "It almost feels like it takes place in real time at gunpoint in the middle of a home invasion so it has a different clock to it," Leight says. "Benson, a little stressed, steps into a hellish nightmare, drops her guard for a nanosecond and there goes, possibly, her life."

Although some of the circumstances may be similar to the 'Surrender Benson' arc, a lot of other things have changed in Benson's life, particularly her decision to adopt baby Noah not long after Lewis escaped prison and was subsequently killed.

"It's different right away for Benson," Leight says. "Is it different to be in this situation when you have a two-year-old at home? One of the things we're toying with is how do you handle the pressures of this job when you're a parent? … You react differently when you're in danger when there's nobody that you're responsible for at home."

Benson's personal turmoil couldn't come at a worse time. When asked about a possible romance for the longtime cop, Leight answers with a definitive 'yes.' "The beginning of 'Townhouse Incident' is the beginning of something for her as well," he says. "Part of what happens will be an answer to that question."

So who could be the new apple of her eye? One possible suspect is Internal Affairs Bureau officer Ed Tucker (returning guest Robert John Burke), who comes in as the negotiator trying to convince Olivia's captor to set her free. "They have a long and complicated history," Leight says. "That’s an interesting dependence that she has on him."

However, trouble for Benson continues even after the hostage situation ends. Not coincidentally, Benson's therapist Dr. Lindstrom (Bill Irwin) returns in the subsequent episode, which Hargitay also directs.

"She's not allowed to go back to work until a therapist signs off on her. But she's not in a mood to do a lot of processing or a lot of work or dealing with it," Leight says. "I think she clearly has PTSD, but the question is how much is she going to deal with it and how much is she going to bury it and does she have time to deal with PTSD? She doesn’t think she has time to deal with her PTSD."

Benson can't waste any time getting back to work after Amaro's (Danny Pino) exit and with Chief Dodds' son, Mike (Andy Karl) still learning the ropes as her No. 2. "They're still dealing with their trust issues about him and that’s going to be coming up more as the season goes on still," Leight says. "Is this where he's going to land or is this a transitional place for him? It's part of what the next half of the season the audience is seeing. We'll be looking at that pretty closely."

Fin (Ice-T) in particular will be waiting to see what happens to Dodds Jr. "That was the job that Benson begged Fin to apply for. I don’t know if it’s a lack of ambition, but Fin chose not to and now here he is having a guy who outranks him, who knows much much less about SVU than he does and how does that sit with him?" Leight says. "Depending on what happens with Dodds, you may see Fin bristle under him or decide that there's nothing that guy's doing that I can't do."

Law & Order: SVU airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.