As if she hasn’t been through enough over the last 18 seasons, things will quickly take a dark turn for Benson (Mariska Hargitay) on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit this year.
“I told Mariska when we started the season that she’s a broken woman and I’m going to break her more,” new showrunner Michael Chernunchin tells EW. “We’re squeezing her between work and family to see if she can survive. Both professionally and personally, she’s going to have a hard time.”
For the latter, that involves a seemingly innocuous arc with her adopted son Noah that swiftly takes a turn, while the former continues the ripped-from-the-headlines tradition that will challenge the audience this year, including takes on Charlottesville and the current administration. “What I want is, at the end of a show, for half the people to stand up and cheer and the other half to throw their shoes at the TV,” Chernuchin adds. “I want controversy.” Check out our full interview below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You actually wrote for the original Law & Order, so will you bring that same feel back to SVU this season?
MICHAEL CHERNUCHIN: It would be a blend of the two. Law & Order had a strict paradigm — first two acts cops, the second two lawyers. This is going to be if you took a deck of cards and mixed it up and shuffled it. So there’s no strict formula. I want each episode to be different.
What do you have in store for Benson this season?
I told Mariska when we started the season that she’s a broken woman and I’m going to break her more, I’m going to drag her through the woods and she’ll come out at the other end a better person for it. Both professionally and personally she’s going to have a hard time. A lot of it’s going to have to do with Noah, her son. It gets kicked off in the first episode and it blows up into something very big. It looks like it’s very simple.
We know Brooke Shields is coming in as someone who shakes up Benson’s world. Does that have to do with that Noah story line?
Yes, it does.
I’m not going to tell you.
What’s next for Benson’s No. 2, Fin?
Fin is Fin. He’s passed the sergeants exam, but he’s not going to be functioning as a sergeant because he wants to stay in SVU. Fin sets the season going, actually. We see something about Fin where he is willing to actually break the law, or at least think he’s breaking the law to do the right thing. It ultimately turns out he didn’t break the law, but he would’ve been willing to do it in order to get a rapist. Basically, Fin tells everybody he’s going on vacation, but what he’s really doing is he goes to Havana to track down a fugitive and he catches him in Havana, and that basically sets off a whole international incident. We start big, and that’s what we wanted to do. It’s a big episode, the first one.
Where are we picking up for Rollins?
Rollins is a single mother and she will get closer and closer to Benson. They will establish a close female friendship. Not just mentor/mentee, but also as the girls-running-the-show-type of relationship.
That’s new for them since it seemed like there was mistrust for several seasons between them.
There was, with her gambling and drinking and things, Benson didn’t exactly trust her, but they will get to a point where they can confide in each other and they’re the only people that each one can confide in.
Is the Rollins-Carisi relationship moving forward at all this season?
I see them as buddy cops. If you were doing a buddy cop movie, that’s what they’ll be. I mean, they’ll get closer too, but romantically, I don’t think so.
Is Carisi still a cop this season or has he moved over to the DA’s office?
No, he’s a detective and he’s going to use his law and question what Barba’s doing a lot of the times, but he is a detective, and we’ll learn why he wants to stay that way.
Speaking of Barba, there seemed to be a question of how he truly feels about Benson last season.
I think he and Benson are really close. What we’re doing with Barba this year is we’re giving him a bigger fight. He’s going to be up against a lot more legal challenges than he had been in the past. So he will wrestle with moral issues, which I don’t think he had to in the past. You brought up the Law & Order OG, that’s what I’m going to bring to this. The courtroom part of the show is a drama of ideas, as opposed to just reiterating the facts of the case. So each time we go to court, it will be about something that will make the audience think.
What brings Chicago Justice‘s Peter Stone to NYC and what does that mean for Barba?
Well, there is more than one ADA in New York. They will be antagonists. Phillip will come in and he won’t be the nicest person our characters ever met. What he’s going to be doing too is basically bringing all of the franchises into one. He’s connecting Law & Order to Chicago franchises, and now SVU, so it’s kind of cool.
SVU‘s Trump-themed episode never made it to air, but when you were planning for this season, was there a wealth of ideas coming out of this administration? Will you be ripping from those headlines?
Well, we do rip from current headlines, so if the headlines have to do with politics, we’ll do it. With what just happened in Charlottesville, you can bet your bottom dollar that we’ll do that. I mean, we like to do that, we don’t want to take a stand on any political point of view, but we like to present the issues. What I want is at the end of a show half the people to stand up and cheer and the other half to throw their shoes at the television. I want controversy.
Any other ripped-from-the-headlines stories you want to tease that you guys have been working on?
We’ve got one gentleman rapist who was in the newspaper last year or the year before. Yes, we are ripping from the headlines, like all these people getting pulled off airplanes, we’re doing a story that has something to do with that.
Any big crossovers planned with the Chicago shows this year?
There are none planned right now, but you never know what’ll happen in 22 episodes.
Do you have any plans to reunite Benson and Stabler?
No. His name is tossed around but we have no plans.
Anything for Benson’s love life this year?
To be determined. Remember, I told you I’m going to drag her through the woods? We’re squeezing her this season between work and family to see if she can survive with both. That’s basically the theme of these 22 episodes. So when she looks left to take care of her family, something’s going wrong on the right side, and vice versa.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit returns Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.