Law & Order: SVU left Olivia Benson's personal life hanging.
On Law & Order: SVU Season 23 Episode 22, Benson's therapist encouraged her to be open to romance, and Barba told her he loved her.
Our TV Fanatics Laura, Jack, Jasmine, and Whitney, got together to discuss the potential love triangle, whether SVU is handling this romance right, and where we hope things go from here.
Everyone's buzzing about that final scene with Barba and Benson. Do you think that when Barba said he loves Benson unconditionally, he meant it romantically or platonically?
Whitney: I interpreted it as romantic. I felt the line delivery and the tension in that scene lent itself to a romantic confession. But I can see how the actual words could be interpreted either way.
Laura: While I 'ship them, I think it could be taken either way. I believe he's always loved her unconditionally as best friends, but since his last episode in Season 19, there have been hints of more.
Jack: I vote for romantic, too, because if he loves her the way she loves Stabler -- and there has been a lot of romantic-type tension between her and Stabler IMO -- then to me, that implies romance. But that could just be me.
I read Raul Esparza's comments where he said that he and Mariska Hargitay have always played it with a brother/sister vibe until now.
Jasmine: I have a very unorthodox way of viewing such relationships in that I feel some relationships can be all-encompassing and maybe transcendent and indefinable. Just a bit of everything.
I think it can genuinely be viewed as both, but it's not his first time saying something that felt so distinctly romantic; his original parting speech had shades of that. It felt romantic to me.
Jack: Ooh, I love the idea of transcendent relationships, Jasmine! I feel like some relationships can definitely blur the line.
Jasmine: I was BAFFLED when Raul Esparza said he played them as sibling-like. He must be unaware of his appeal because I am in a puddle with some of his moments, and there is nothing sibling-like about it. Tell that to your face, voice, and inflection, sir!
Jack: LOL, I was, too, because I 'shipped them when he was on the series full time and never saw them as brother/sister.
Whitney: I sometimes remove myself as a critical viewer and sometimes try to think what I would think if I were flipping through the channels and watching a scene. And I think without context, it felt like a major love declaration. His face was screaming love!
Laura: Agreed, Jasmine. He may try, but many of his moments have been filled with sexual tension. I swooned with his speech in the finale.
Jasmine: He just looks so thirsty and sounds so heartachingly gone for her. Siblings, my arse!
Jack: To me too, and it felt like one of those things where it just slipped out... like he's been holding all this emotion back for years, and now he sees her gravitating toward Stabler, and it just... happened.
Whitney: Agreed, Jack. It was building and building, and then he just had to say it.
Jasmine: The very comparison to Stabler implied there was more to it because he's well aware of her complex feelings for HIM. There was a buildup and emotional resonance with that.
Will this work since Raul Esparza is currently not on SVU full-time?
Laura: I hope the new showrunner still wants to bring him back, so the storyline isn't just left hanging.
Whitney: Unless he comes back full time, I struggle to see how anything develops with them that would be satisfying for the audience.
Jack: I agree, Whitney. That's my biggest concern. Even this declaration leaves Benson in limbo somewhat if Barba doesn't stay on the series.
Laura: I'd be happy if he returned on a more steady basis and worked with Sonny in the DA's office. I so miss Barba.
Jasmine: I don't need him there all the time. I'd love it, but I think they could just make enough references for it to still hit the right notes as long as he guest stars sometimes. I'm not willing to just give up on this, dammit.
Laura: Me too, Jasmine. I'd be happy if he guest stars more regularly or has a recurring arc.
What does Benson want?
Whitney: Does she want Barba? Haha
Jasmine: She has two hands, Whitney!
Whitney: But just one heart!
Jack: That's a good question. Mariska Hargitay has said that Benson has always been in love with Stabler.
But right now, it seems like she's rebuilding friendships with both men.
Whitney: Mariska, my girl! In a perfect world, there is a very obvious choice here. But this is FAR from a perfect world.
Jasmine: As someone who is fond of both relationships, I find them compelling enough that I'm content with whichever direction. It does seem like Benson is guarding her heart with both men, though. I think she needs to be open to any love first, and that's where the journey is, which I appreciate.
Jack: I think so too. I loved that therapy scene at the beginning of the finale where she was trying to say that her life is complete without a relationship, and her therapist encouraged her to be open to it.
Laura: That therapy scene was long overdue.
Jasmine: I truly adore how they can continue exploring all these layers for her all these years later, and they have the space to do that organically.
I loved that therapy scene.
Whitney: Oh, for sure. I think she is rightly taking her time and figuring out what she wants. And I can appreciate that.
Have you guys enjoyed how they integrated Stabler into her life?
Jasmine: I have enjoyed how they integrated Stabler back into her life. But sometimes, I wish they were more consistent with it.
I know there aren't any answers yet, but sometimes it's just this empty space for episodes at a time when there's just nothing, and I wish I knew where things were with them more.
Jack: I was skeptical of how this would work before Stabler's return was announced. He did sort of evaporate into thin air for ten years!
I like how he's an occasional part of SVU, and she's occasionally on OC. I do agree that sometimes there are long stretches of nothingness, though.
This is somewhat beside the point, but the SVU/OC universe needs to be integrated better, period. Like when Wheatley caused a blackout throughout NYC... except the NYC of SVU. A lot of fans were annoyed by that, and I didn't blame them.
Laura: I also appreciate how they crossover on each other's shows.
So far, it seems organic. However, they still have so much to cover with what they missed in one another's lives.
Whitney: I have enjoyed it while also feeling like they sometimes miss opportunities. But I understand they can't be in every episode of each other's shows every week, but I wish they would use the times they have them together and make them count.
Jack: I like how there are these side conversations sometimes when they're not together, like Fin asking Benson if she's heard from Stabler recently.
I'd also like more of Stabler's now-adult children (and Eli, too, of course) reacting to Benson's presence in his life.
Jasmine: Precisely. Like truly. That first moment when they saw each other, the hospital scene, things like that were so wrought with tension and emotions, and then afterward, it has been inconsistent.
But yes, they do well with the side conversations and references. It makes up for the other moments Jack referenced.
Whitney: I knew Benson wasn't coming to Stabler's house that one time (was it for Christmas?). But my soul needed it.
Laura: Kathleen is my favorite of Stabler's adult children. I want more of her and her reaction.
Jack: Kathleen has been my favorite since she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager on SVU! I want to see her reaction too.
And they kind of left us hanging with Christmas too. I mean, I knew she wouldn't come to Stabler's, but she STILL could have shown up after the credits rolled.
Jasmine: Given that all the kids knew Stabler had this complicated relationship with Benson, I want to see more of that explored, too!
How does Kathy's death figure into any potential Benson/Stabler pairing? If the episodes follow real-time, it's been about two years. Is it too soon for Benson and Stabler to consider anything other than friendship?
Jack: It is fascinating that in Stabler's original run, Kathy was jealous of Benson, and Benson was pushing Stabler to work things out with Kathy.
I forget which season it was, but I remember an episode where the Stablers had separated, and Benson told Stabler not to throw away the best thing that had ever happened to him.
Jasmine: As harsh as it sounds, Kathy's death was just this catalyst for bringing him back into the fold, and while avenging her was Stabler's focus, things felt far removed from Kathy and the notion of her.
I don't think it's too soon for him to move on and progress things with Benson. Hell, he was already there before Kathy's body was cold. And I don't mean that in a bad way, but just that his and Benson's bond and chemistry are too strong and can't be downplayed.
Whitney: I don't think it's too soon at all. I think Benson is still trying to parcel through her wants and desires and what she's ready for, but I don't think Kathy's death should be something that stops them from exploring things.
Jack: They could make it work. It's a slow burn anyway -- it's not like Benson and Stabler are going to jump into it tomorrow. And if it's written well, it could work no matter how soon it happens.
I mean, This Is Us made Rebecca marrying Jack's best friend work, so why not Benson and Stabler several years after Kathy's death?
Laura: I've never been one that needed a Benson and Stabler romance. I enjoyed them as friends. I love his family. I'm still not sold on the romance, but I don't think it's too soon.
Whitney: I don't need it, but I want it.
Jack: I never 'shipped them during the original run and wouldn't say that I 'ship them per se, but I don't NOT 'ship them either. I'm primarily on team Benson finding happiness, whatever that looks like.
Jasmine: What keeps you from being sold on it, Laura?
Laura: Part of me thought it was tacky to kill Kathy only for EO romance. I wasn't a huge Kathy fan, but it bothered me.
Jasmine: I don't NOT 'ship them either. I'm totally just here for the chemistry and hotness. Somehow it does hit differently now than before, which fascinates me.
Whitney: There is just so much history, and in my opinion, their chemistry is unmatched. It makes me want to see what full-fledged romance between them looks like.
Like is it too much passion and butting of heads? Or is it sweet moments and hotness all the time? Or both?
Jasmine: All of the above.
Jack: Yeah, it is fascinating to see, will this work or not?
I thought the moment during Season 1 during the intervention when Stabler let slip that he loved Benson was powerful. That was the first time I thought, wow, this COULD work.
Laura: It is fascinating to see. That was a powerful moment.
Jasmine: I LOVED that scene and how he tried to cover it but couldn't. That's so rich and layered and only works well with characters with this type of history.
I think that's also the appeal of this second chance at love type of slow burn. Network romances love to reserve romance and sex and yearning for younger characters, but there's something so much more appealing and intriguing when it's these characters over 40.
Whitney: Yes, Jasmine. You're pushing my EO agenda beautifully.
Jack: It is, and the fact they have so much history could work either way. Will they decide they're better off as really good friends, or will they want more?
I'm a sucker for second-chance romance (though I don't like it when the people have tried over and over and are trying AGAIN., But that's a different conversation!)
Will a new showrunner help fans get an EO romance?
Whitney: I think that if they go there, they will be there, and that's it. I find it hard to believe the show would give us the romance and then take it back. But that doesn't mean it can't be a rollercoaster.
Jasmine: Oh, no way you pair El and Liv together for good and think it won't still be an emotional rollercoaster. They could have seasons worth of drama just with them navigating a relationship in this new phase.
Jack: The new showrunner is such a question mark! I read he's new to the Law & Order franchise, so it'll be interesting to see what he does with everything, including EO.
EO is one of those things where the characters can play what-if as easily as we can. If Stabler had met Olivia before he met Kathy, which obviously couldn't have happened since he and Kathy were high school sweethearts, but that's not the point; what might have happened?
Were they always meant to be together, or did they grow into being soulmates? That sort of thing.
I don't get it when fans say the series is over if they put them together because it'll be boring. No way! There'd be so much to explore
'm also here for Mama Stabler putting her two cents in!
Jasmine: Boring? Benson and Stabler? They could never be!
I love Mama Stabler and her and El's relationship. I want to see more of her with Olivia. LOL!
Whitney: Yes, there are so many possibilities. It wouldn't be boring because there would be SO many avenues to explore with them. They have mountains and mountains of history.
Laura: I don't think that, but I also don't think they're the be-all or end-all of the series. There was SVU before they thought of pairing them, and there will be whether they're paired or not.
Whitney: I want to see Olivia with all the Stablers.
Jack: Oh yeah, it's not a soap opera. The romance is only half the story. There'll still be cases no matter what.
Laura: I enjoy seeing them, but I get tired of seeing fans posting they only watch for EO now.
Jasmine: I let the fans have that because it was such an epic comeback no one could've envisioned. LOL
Jack: But it does lead to an interesting dynamic. They're no longer partners on the force, and Stabler often crosses lines that Benson wouldn't want him crossing.
Whitney: I never begrudge a 'shipper! You can watch a show for whatever reason you like, but you have to be realistic about what the show you're watching is. These aren't romantic dramas.
Laura: That's a good theory, Whitney. These are crime dramas, not soaps.
Jack: Yeah, I don't begrudge anyone their feelings about EO, but this IS SVU/OC, not a romantic drama.
Jasmine: Sometimes Dick Wolf series don't get the memo.
Jack: LOL, that's true. Half my reviews of Chicago Med start with "I thought I was watching a medical drama, not a soap opera."
Whitney: This is heavily off-topic, but I typically like my shows with a nice mixture.
Jasmine: I appreciate how the SVU/OC universe can pull off romance without turning into something else. It doesn't consume the series, so I don't feel it will here. Amanda and Sonny are an example. They're there but not taking over.
Laura: I love Rollisi.
Jack: Yes! SVU has always done well integrating personal stories within the crime drama. There was always something going on in the early seasons with Stabler's family.
I've 'shipped Rollisi for a long time and am so thrilled they're handling it as well as they are!
Whitney: Agreed! I was going to say I don't think Law and Order, in general, has ever made me think there was too much romance.
Jasmine: I don't mind 'ships, but I also don't want them forced down my throat. And like some of them are just ridiculous!! Chicago Med is bad with it, and Chicago PD with Upstead might be my villain origin story.
I don't have any strong feelings about Rollisi, but they don't bother me.
Jack: Yes, I could go on such a rant about Chicago Med, but I'll save it for a different article.
I enjoyed that brief scene where Rollins was at Carisi's Sunday dinner for a few minutes.
Whitney: I'm a 'shipper at heart. But it depends on the writing and how they incorporate a 'ship into the main stories. Especially as it relates to procedurals or crime dramas. It should never be the sole focus.
Jack: Yeah, I don't like it when it gets too off-track and it's like, are there any cases here that might be interesting?
Laura: All Rise has some good 'ships, but it's a procedural, so it doesn't take over.
Whitney: Yes, and it all comes back to balance. If they go there with EO, we don't need to see them every single episode with a problem or them being happy 24/7.
Jasmine: L&O franchise balances the personal with professional well enough, so I have faith they'll do the same with Liv's love life.
Laura: I'd prefer they give them the balance they give Rollisi, sometimes on a case, sometimes a domestic scene. Not everything needs to be intense.
Jack: I agree. We don't need to see EO 24/7
Do you think Noah picked up on any vibes when he met Stabler?
Whitney: I didn't think so? But now I feel like I need to rewatch that scene.
Laura: I wondered that. He's a smart kid. I wonder how much Noah knows about Elliot.
Jasmine: I don't think Noah did. He seems intuitive, but we don't see enough of him where I could read that from him.
Jack: There had been a scene a couple of weeks before where Benson had told Stabler she wanted to take it slow because of Noah, so I thought it was an interesting follow-up.
Jasmine: Yeah. We need more Noah and the Stabler kids.
Jack: Definitely more Noah! I'm also peeved that there was no follow-up to that kid that was bullying Noah on the playdate. I was sure Benson would intuit that something was wrong in the family and look into it further.
Any last thoughts before we wrap up?
Whitney: I would love to see Benson and Stabler give it go eventually. I'm firmly on that 'ship, and as I mentioned before, the possibilities for that romance are endless.
There's a lot of material to mine, and there should be no reason for them to write that relationship in a way that could be perceived as boring. I like Barba, but it's Stabler all day, every day for me.
Jasmine: I really want Olivia to open herself up romantically to someone and find genuine happiness. Preferably to a guy I'll have some interest in.
While there is value in showing that she's more than just someone for romance, we've seen it all with her in 20-something seasons, and there's a beauty in showing her loved and loving too. She's one of the most well-rounded and well-written characters in TV history, so I'm just invested in her growth and well-being.
And if that means Barba or Stabler, then so be it, and also, yum.
Pushing both agendas hard here. She can't lose.
Laura: Good point, Jasmine. This could be a fun triangle where neither man is hated.
Jack: OMG, yes. I'm here for Benson finding happiness, whatever form that takes. I even liked her with Stone before he ran away because of his feelings for her. But I could go either way with the current triangle too.
Over to you, SVU fanatics! Hit that big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know your thoughts about the love triangle, what's missing from SVU/OC, and whether you like romance with your crime dramas.
Summer hiatus has begun, but you can still watch Law & Order: SVU online right here on TV Fanatic.
Law & Order: SVU airs on NBC on Thursdays at 9 PM EST / PST. It will return for Season 24 sometime in the fall of 2022.