7:00pm PT by Kate Stanhope
Inside That 'Law & Order: SVU' Season Premiere Twist
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Wednesday's season 19 premiere of NBC's Law & Order: SVU, "Gone Fishin'."]
It looks like Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) has a rough season ahead of her.
New Law & Order: SVU showrunner Michael Chernuchin kicked off season 19 of with a shocking ending in which Benson found out she's being investigated for child abuse.
The revelation that one of TV's most beloved female characters — and one who has spent the better part of 20 years investigating claims of physical and sexual abuse for more than 18 years — is sure to upset at least some of the show's loyal viewers, but Chernuchin isn't worried.
"Let them be pissed off for her," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. That's good, because she has the rooting interest then."
The beginning of an ongoing storyline, the investigation stems from an incident at the beginning of the season premiere in which her son Noah started to walk into a busy New York street just as a car was coming at full speed and just as Benson took a work call. She got off the phone just in time to see what was about to happen and suddenly pulled Noah back onto the sidewalk in the nick of time. However, unbeknownst to her, her desperate attempt to keep him out of harm's way left him with a black-and-blue mark on his arm. When Noah told his teacher the bruise was from his mother, Benson was forced to sit down with his teacher, at which point she denied any responsibility (because she didn't realize that she had bruised him).
"I just thought how many parents do get accused because people don't think rationally a lot of times when they make these accusations against parents," Chernuchin says about the story's origins. "She was saving Noah's life and she may end up losing him because of it. It was an interesting conundrum."
The investigation was part of the former Law & Order showrunner's plans to put Benson through the wringer this season, as he pitched to Hargitay earlier this year when he was up for the SVU showrunner job. "I told her that I was going to take her character, which was already established as a broken woman, and I was going to drag her through the woods throughout the whole season and she was going to come out stronger on the other end," Chernuchin recalled to THR earlier this month.
Just as shocking as the news itself was the person who delivered it: her old colleague and boyfriend Cassidy (Dean Winters). "I just thought it would be more interesting for the 19 years of fans to have somebody they know bring the bad news which leads to a really interesting scene in episode two," Chernuchin says.
Indeed, Cassidy will return now that he's back from Florida and working for the District Attorney's office. The arc marks Winters' first SVU appearance since season 15, when Cassidy and Benson dated in the wake of her abduction at the hands of William Lewis. They broke up shortly before Benson adopted Noah.
"It's not going to be romantic," Chernuchin says of Cassidy's return. "They're going to go mano a mano, so to speak, in episode two. She's going to bring the hammer down on him."
For now, Winters is only confirmed for the first two episodes of the seasons. But "depending on his availability, we'll see if he comes back," says the showrunner.
However, the Law & Order veteran is hesitant when asked about the return of any other former series regulars like B.D. Wong, Richard Belzer and Dann Florek — all of whom have reappeared since leaving the permanent cast.
"I like to look at this as a new show now," he says. "I think we're doing new and different things, like we started out big in the first episode — I still call it a pilot — with an international case so we're trying to re-energize the story. Bringing back people makes you always look at the past. If there's something appropriate, then we'll do it. We won't do it just to bring somebody back."
Watch the promo for next week's episode below:
Law & Order: SVU airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.