Law & Order: SVU is back in a big way on Wednesday night.
In a shocking turn of events, Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) was ousted at SVU amid an investigation into a sex ring within a Catholic church that involved a number of public officials, possibly including Liv’s secret love interest Ed Tucker (Robert John Burke).
When SVU finally returns for the second half of this two-parter, Liv will work to get back to her precinct, but it won’t be easy considering she’s been transferred to Community Affairs. EW turned to executive producer Warren Leight to get the scoop on what’s next:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How will Olivia deal with not being part of her squad?
WARREN LEIGHT: It’s disorienting. It’s the first time in 17 years that she doesn’t have that office to go to. The other guy who also doesn’t have his job at the moment is Tucker, so the two of them are officially sidelined, and unofficially they’re going to try and figure out what’s going on. How powerful is this ring? Or is Tucker involved? We had a lot of plates spinning at the end of that episode. In a weird way, this could’ve been the season finale, but a bunch of things conspired, and we were ready to do this now. Also, we had this mini-hiatus. I always hate going off the air for two weeks. In the event that the network doesn’t have time to promote us when we return two weeks later, I thought we’d make sure there’s reasons people remember to come back to the season.
How will Olivia feel about being relegated to Community Affairs?
On our stages, we have these horrible offices that nobody has painted or renovated in 17 years, because every year we’ve been on the show, you don’t put a dime into the crew offices. We still have this out-of-date phone system and these terrible offices with carpet that you wouldn’t put in a V.D. clinic. So we’ve turned the location department’s offices, and that’s where we shot the scenes of her new assignment. She’s at Community Affairs, and she just has a terrifically overeager assistant, who brings her a new shirt, because Community Affairs officers get a polo shirt. There are posters on the wall, “Policemen are your friends.” It’s not what she’s accustomed to. This is what they do. In truth, she would be a great Community Affairs officer, but you make that move when you’re ready to. They can’t fire her, so they threw her into an empty desk. And yes, we kind of stole it from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. They stole their whole cold opening from us, so I think we’re even.
Is she actually fighting for her job, or has she resigned herself to stay at Community Affairs?
She knows there’s nothing she can do right now. The police department doesn’t ask you your opinion of where your next assignment is. She’s either pissed off some powerful people, or there’s a clear conflict of interest because Tucker has been named in the case, and her squad is investigating. It’s like the Army. What I like is that her character has evolved enough over time where it’s not like she can storm the commissioners’ office and say, “Give me my job back.” There’s no Norma Rae moment for her here. I hope she enjoys Community Affairs for a little while. You’ll see the frustration of it takes its toll on her in the second episode.
With both Tucker and Benson being pulled off their jobs, is it a question of how deep this corruption goes?
Yeah. These episodes, as disturbing as they are, are based unfortunately on real rings that operated for a long time, not necessarily in New York. Just recently, 50 priests were arrested for rape in Pennsylvania and the Bishops had been covering that up for 40 years. Officially the church has changed, the Pope has been starting to say, “Keep the lid off the pot, shine light on it,” but the truth is that this stuff still goes on or still gets covered up. There are a couple specific stories this is based on, and it was amazing how deep the hooks were that this ring had. If you can procure girls and traffic them to councilmen, assemblymen, judges, and D.A.s, you’re in pretty good shape if somebody starts investigating.
We know that Dodds Sr. (Peter Gallagher) wanted his son elevated, but Dodds Jr. (Andy Karl) was determined to stay at SVU, and now has been elevated there because Liv is gone. Should we be worried that the elder Dodds has played a role in that?
It’s interesting to me. I think Chief Dodds, that’s the way we distinguish it, is a political survivor more than anything else. His reputation is questioned as the next episode goes on. The question is: Is he a survivor, or is he complicit? Quoting from one of the real cases this is based on, a detective was basically pulled off a murder investigation, and his bosses said, and this is something Chief Dodds will say to baby Dodds in the episode, “Just stop. It’s a career killer.” You might not be part of the ring, but you might understand that you go after them, they’ll take you down. That’s, I suppose, the question about are you complicit, or are you looking the other way? In either case, you’re not doing your job. I suppose there’s different circles of hell for you. Sin of commission or sin of omission, if we want to keep it in the context of the church.
Will the squad be determined to take this ring down, if only to help Olivia? What danger does that put them in?
One thing we know about our squad is they have each other’s backs. One of the questions for the squad is: Can they trust baby Dodds? (I shouldn’t call him baby Dodds; the guy played Rocky on Broadway! He’s a big guy.) Can they trust him? Is he going to try and bring the ring down? Or has he been installed to make sure the investigation stops? This is what I like about the episode: You have no way of knowing who to trust. We all know Olivia is above reproach, but if you’re not paranoid, you’re not thinking clearly in this episode — I only wish we had Munch for it. [Editor’s Note: Munch will be back soon!] When you get into worlds like this, it’s treacherous. The counter balance to that is Carisi (Peter Scanavino) is very much a man of faith. He trusts his faith. He puts his faith in God and the good people of the church. That will be tested here in this episode. That’s one of the really interesting parts of this episode. He’s a believer. He’s a good Catholic. He’s said a couple times that priests saved his live. There’s a lot to watch in the next episode. Episode 2 makes episode 1 seem like a Sunday picnic. You’re watching what happens to Tucker and Benson, or Tuckson, you’re watching what happens to the squad, you’re watching what happens to Barba (Raul Esparza); there’s a lot of people whose necks are on the line. The interesting guy to watch for reasons of the soul is Carisi.
Let’s talk about Tuckson.
They’re having sex. Yes, I can confirm. [Laughs.]
What I’m actually curious about is what the fight for the relationship looks like now?
We’ll find out what it does. It’s a test. Did you ever start going out with somebody, and their life is thrown into a crisis? You could leave, you’re within your rights to walk away at that point because you just started going out, or you could decide to stay. It’s a test. They’re both under scrutiny. He’s been very clear, “Don’t even think you should fight for me, because they’ll just say it’s because we’re involved.” It’s an interesting thing to begin a relationship and suddenly both of your lives are convulsed. You get to know each other better in times of crisis. It’s pretty easy when things are going well. It would be nice if it was a nice, easy, long, plain start to the relationship, but that’s not what they got here. We’ll see where that goes.
Liv also left on a bad note with Rollins (Kelli Giddish).
Yeah, we haven’t been able to get to it. It’s very frustrating. Imagine how those two characters feel. Rollins doesn’t know that Dodds came to her defense. Benson feels lousy for yelling at her. Before we can even deal with it, we’re busting a prostitution ring, 90 percent of which is below the surface. They haven’t had a chance to deal with it, but what we know on our show is when you don’t deal with things, they don’t go away. At some point, Benson has to drop the rock with her. She wanted to, and that tested her faith, and then she was wrong. Their relationship still has interesting growing pains.
Barba was especially angry upon learning about Tuckson.
There was a choice Raul made there that was a combination of anger, jealousy, and hurt in that scene. A lot of that was in their eyes, too. What you saw, and this is Raul’s perception of his character as much as anything else, is that he was hurt to find out. First it was betrayal she hadn’t told him, but on some other level, he was hurt, not necessarily because he wants to go out with her, but you can still have feelings for someone. It was very layered to me, and I liked it. After he susses out that she’s dating Tucker, he has to let people at One-PP know that, and she’s transferred moments later. There’s a lot of unresolved issues there.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit returns Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.