8:09am PT by Kate Stanhope
'Law & Order: SVU' Exec Producer Defends "Very Difficult" Benson Decision
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Wednesday's episode of Law & Order: SVU, "Chasing Theo."]
Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) is back on the market.
Law & Order: SVU's leading lady split from serious beau Ed Tucker (Robert John Burke) after nearly a year together.
The decision came after Ed told Olivia of his plans to retire from the force in the episode earlier. But while Ed was ready to stop and smell the roses, Olivia found herself more committed to the job than ever after a particularly harrowing case involving a former cop, one in which her own team member, Carisi (Peter Scanavino), was put in danger.
"Maybe we're in different places right now," Benson told Ed after another tough case about a missing 6-year-old. "This job, this is who I am."
Benson also pointed to her young son, Noah, as a reason she had to break things off. "I tried, Ed, and I know you tried too. But if we've both been trying this hard. … I have this little boy who needs me, who needs his mother, and I have to give him all the attention and all the time and all the love that I have."
Tucker agreed: "He has to be your priority now," he said before he walked out the door of her apartment. "Take care of yourself, Olivia Benson."
Behind the scenes, Julie Martin, exec producer and the episode's co-writer, said it was an equally tough storytelling choice to make.
"It was a very difficult decision to break up Benson and Tucker. We all love Bobby Burke so much, and we loved the dynamic between him and Mariska," Martin told The Hollywood Reporter. "Mariska was involved in the discussions, and it was difficult for her as well, because she loves acting with Bobby Burke and loved the storyline."
Although many had predicted their split going into Wednesday's episode given Tucker's decision to turn in his badge, it was still surprising considering the time the writers on the long-running drama had invested in putting the two together. Burke's time on the show dates back to 2002 and was introduced early as an opponent of Olivia's, not a love interest.
"I think for the first dozen years on this show, he was Javert from Les Miz — the relentless, evil prosecutor who couldn't see the good in anyone," then-showrunner Warren Leight told THR last April, when their romance was first unveiled. "The show had a tendency to be a little more black and white, so he was a bad guy."
Because the writers knew Tucker would be a "loaded" choice, they worked hard to lay "enough groundwork" to paint the character in a slightly more favorable light. "Every time these two are in a scene together, I lean in. I said, 'Let's use him more,'" Leight said at the time. "We just tried to show that this was a human being over time."
After initially keeping things under wraps, season 17 ended with Olivia and Ed having gone public with their romance and the two deciding to go on a trip to Paris together. Offscreen, fans also eventually came to embrace the pairing as well, bestowing them with the "Tuckson" monikor. However, Martin says the writers struggled to find moments in the drama's 42-minute episodes to dedicate to their love story.
"When we began breaking stories for this season, trying to incorporate that relationship, we realized there just wasn't enough time to delve deeply, to really explore their relationship issues, to do them justice, like This Is Us does so well, for example," Martin said, pointing to NBC's heavily serialized freshman drama.
Tucker was the third such significant relationship for Olivia in recent years, the others being Harry Connick Jr.'s David Haden in season 13 and Dean Winters' Brian Cassidy in seasons 14 and 15. But David was in her life before she became a mother, and Brian came back into her orbit just as she beginning to contemplate motherhood. When asked about Olivia' romantic future, Martin said she will continue to try and find ways to balance her work and her personal live.
"It's always been a journey for Olivia, to continue to grow and find meaning and happiness, and that journey isn't over yet. Olivia will continue to try and find balance between being a mother and being an SVU lieutenant," Martin said. "She has always been and always will be a tireless advocate for victims, a seeker of truth and justice. Certainly the culture of abuse and sexual violence has improved in a lot of ways over the many seasons of the series, but as this past year has shown us, there's a lot more work to be done for Olivia Benson."
Law & Order: SVU airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.