Love may be in the air for Olivia Benson after all these years!
Ever since Stabler's return, it's seemed like she may be harboring feelings for him. And after Barba's declaration of love during the last few minutes of Law & Order: SVU Season 23 Episode 22, Benson now has her choice of men.
Barba's declaration could have been platonic, but we're not taking it that way, and neither are most fans. People are either Team Barba or Team Stabler on this one.
But while Barba and Benson might have been a solid match in the past, right now, it doesn't seem like it would work.
For one thing, Barba isn't in New York most of the time. He's a defense attorney who comes to town occasionally to try a big case. Unless Raul Esparza is able to return to SVU on a full-time basis, any Barba/Benson relationship is likely doomed to failure.
Leaving the logistics aside, there are good storyline-related reasons for Benson not to go there.
Benson feels betrayed by Barba because he defended Wheatley.
He may have seen it as ensuring that every defendant, no matter how despicable, gets the fair trial he's entitled to. But Wheatley's crimes weren't just against Stabler or humanity in general. He put out a hit on Benson.
It'll be tough for Benson to get past the fact that her one-time colleague and supposedly good friend defended the man who tried to murder her, doubly so because Barba claimed he did it to protect her.
Barba insists that another defense attorney would have gone even harder against Benson on the stand. But Benson has been an SVU detective for 23 years and has seen all sorts of horrors.
She knows how to handle herself in the witness chair and is not a fragile flower that needs protection.
Ironically, she got on Stabler's case about that too back in the day. When a perp was stalking her and Stabler showed up at her house to check on her, she didn't want his protection either. And she certainly didn't want or need anybody's on the witness stand!
When Barba was a district attorney, he and Benson had great chemistry, but he's become a thousand times more arrogant since switching sides.
While that may provide contrast with Benson's big-hearted personality, it's to the point that it's grating, and it makes him less of a good match for her than he otherwise would be.
Barba defending people that Benson wants to be put away makes for powerful drama, but do they need to be romantically involved for that to happen? Barba could continue popping in to defend the worst of humanity and be a worthy adversary for both Benson and Carisi without being anything more.
There's also the question of whether he truly wants to be with Benson romantically or whether he's simply jealous of Stabler.
Barba complained that Benson forgave Stabler more quickly than she has forgiven him, but that's not a fair comparison.
After ghosting her for ten years, Stabler's been back for two, and it's taken most of that time for Benson to redevelop a friendship with him. Barba has been gone several months since he chose to defend Wheatley, and this is the first time he's tried to gain Benson's forgiveness.
Barba's rivalry with Stabler seems to be mostly in his mind. After all, he wasn't there to witness Benson telling Stabler how hurt she was by his disappearance or how important it was to her to protect Noah from getting attached to someone who might leave again.
Stabler should be a non-factor in Barba's decisions about pursuing Benson, romantically or otherwise. These are two different relationships, and both men have been there for Benson in different ways.
Stabler had her back for a decade, while Barba helped her protect Noah from the gang member that had fathered him. At one point, Benson trusted and loved (platonically) both of these men, and they ended up disappointing her differently.
That doesn't mean Benson and Stabler should rush into anything other than a solid friendship either, though. There are a TON of problems there, starting with the fact that Stabler's wife died less than two years ago.
In the first ten seasons of Law & Order: SVU, Benson tried to make it clear to Kathy Stabler that she was no threat to her marriage. She even encouraged Stabler to work things out with Kathy when they were separated, and shortly before the Stablers left the series, Benson helped Kathy deliver Eli.
For Stabler and Benson to get together so soon after Kathy's death feels like it would cheapen those memories.
That's not an insurmountable obstacle. Other shows have made it work (This Is Us' Rebecca marrying Jack's best friend after Jack's death comes to mind!). But it would have to be handled carefully.
In addition, Stabler's work with the Organized Crime Unit often drives him undercover, and even when he's not, he has to associate with amoral, violent people on a regular basis.
The secrets, lies, and connections to bad people make it difficult for Stabler to have a relationship with anyone. At least when he was with SVU, he could come home to his family at night and try to decompress from the horrors he'd seen!
But as it is now, his work could easily take him away from Benson and Noah for long periods, and the mob could put targets on both of their b backs.
If Benson loves Stabler, she shouldn't let the mob interfere with that. But she does have to consider the safety of her pre-teen son, who has already had a difficult life, as well as what all the secrets and lies would do to her relationship if she were involved with Stabler.
Besides, he seems to end up in bed with the mob boss' wife more often than not, and that would be a problem if he were in a committed relationship.
No one knows Benson better than Stabler, and after all these years, it's understandable that they have a level of intimacy that's often only seen in long-married partners.
And there are more than enough fans who can't get enough of a shirtless Chris Meloni that a Benson/Stabler hookup would draw huge ratings.
But Stabler is so closed off because of his PSTD on top of all the logistical problems with this relationship. It wouldn't work as more than a quick fling, and Benson deserves better than that.
There's also a third option, and that's for Benson to forget both of these guys.
Some fans would prefer a romance-less show in which the cops focus solely on solving cases and turning them over to the DA's office for prosecution.
SVU wouldn't be completely devoid of romance if Benson didn't choose to get involved with either of the men who appeared interested in her. Rollins and Carisi make a cute couple, and Fin is still seeing Phoebe.
If Benson chose to stay single, that would buck the trope of women not being "complete" without a partner. As she told her therapist, she's got a full life with her work and raising Noah.
But if anyone deserves happiness after all these years, it's Benson, and Mariska Hargitay has said many times that when the series eventually ends, she'd like the wrap-up to include Benson finding love.
Benson's had lots of mismatched partners over the years, including former IAB agent Ed Tucker and a relationship with fellow officer Brian Cassidy that went nowhere.
What say you, Law & Order: SVU fanatics? Are you team Stabler or Team Barba for Benson? Do you want her to meet someone new entirely? Or would you rather SVU forget the romantic subplots and focus on getting justice for survivors?
Hit the big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know! And while you're waiting for the new season, don't forget that you can 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 be returning for its 24th season in the fall of 2022.