[Spoiler alert: The following contains information from the Law & Order: SVU season finale. Read at your own risk!]
Just as the Law & Order: SVU family is growing with the official adoption of baby Noah, the squad is losing a member with the exit of Detective Nick Amaro.
Wednesday’s finale saw the culmination of a nearly two-season long story when Benson (Mariska Hargitay) was granted custody to Noah. But the hour wasn’t without drama as the trial of Noah’s birth father, sex trafficker Johnny D, ended in gunfire, with Detective Amaro (Danny Pino) not only shooting Johnny D, but taking a few gunshots. In the end, Amaro, who joined the squad in Season 13, decided it was time to move West to be with this family.
“It’s a bittersweet ending,” executive producer Warren Leight tells TVGuide.com. “Noah Porter Benson is now part of Olivia’s family and Amaro is going to go West to be closer to his two kids and to start fresh, and he goes out a hero.”
Read on for a more in-depth look into why it was time for Pino to exit the series, how it affects the squad moving forward and get a tease for what’s to come in Season 17.
Why was now the right time for Pino to leave the show?
Warren Leight: it’s hard because I’m a hoarder and I adore Danny. But we explored a lot of facets about him and the reality is that the anger he’s occasionally been unable to control has put him in a bad place at the NYPD. [Benson] is looking for a No. 2 and he wants it — Finn doesn’t want it, Rollins doesn’t — and he got shot down very quickly. These days, there is so much attention to police abuse of power that a guy like Amaro, who has crossed a line a few times, is basically dead-ended. The best that could happen to a detective like him right now is that they let him play out the string with no possibility of advancement and that didn’t seem like something his character would want. His marriage has also fallen apart, but his daughter has moved out West, this other son of his from a prior relationship has moved out West, so there’s not much keeping him [in New York]. It seemed to be, in a strange way, right for Amaro to start fresh somewhere else. It’s not to say any of us enjoys it, but it seems like that’s where the story was going and I think all of the actors felt like the exit was honored.
Will his exit be addressed in the premiere next season?
Leight: It’s noticed, but as is usually the case, the first episode of the season has such a pace to it that you don’t have a lot of time to dwell on it. The season starts with a pretty dark episode, a two-parter, in pursuit for a bad guy with a lot of resources. But there are moments when you feel his absence.
Will we learn who is replacing Benson as sergeant right away?
Leight: Not in the first couple of episodes, but then it will come more into focus and play out. While we’re hunting [the premiere’s bad guy], we’re not worried about succession, but I think we’ll see [Benson] stepping up to lieutenant as the season goes on.
Now that she’s adopted Noah, will he remain a big part of the show?
Leight: The drama of will she be able to keep him is put to rest but … I’m sure we’ll see him. Parenting is a journey and a great journey for Benson to go on because it’s one thing to be a foster mother of an infant, but now he’s a toddler. Parenting never gets easier as the kids get older.
Will Johnny D come up again?
Leight: There will be repercussions because what’s going to happen when your kid starts asking about who his biological parent is? That’s a grim story that has to be told to him at some point. It weighs on Olivia.
What can you tease for the rest of the team?
Leight: Rollins (Kelli Giddish) will go through a lot of changes. Barba (Raul Esparza) is so much a part of the team now, so I think we can get more invested in his personal life. Carisi (Peter Scanavino) secretly would like to be sergeant, but it would be unseemly since he’s been there only for a short while. It’ll be interesting too what happens when he graduates from law school. Does he pass the bar? Does he stay as a cop for awhile? He’s adjusting to life at SVU pretty well, but he’s still a work in progress. The theme of this season has been family and next year, we’re looking at transitions or passages. It should be a year where wherever everyone starts at the beginning of the [season] is not where they end.
Law & Order: SVU returns to NBC in the fall.
“People will be ready for a break by the time it ends,” EP Warren Leight tells THR.
For the season 16 finale of Law & Order: SVU, showrunner Warren Leight brought in the big guns. Or more precisely the big names.
“It’s the biggest episode of the year that we’ve done in a lot of ways,” Leight tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Michael Slovis is directing, who did the Game of Thrones season premiere. We don’t have 150 people on horseback in a medieval world but … we bring back a lot of people we’ve met during the season.”
Wednesday’s season finale brings back several familiar faces during the season (returning guest stars Lili Taylor and Peter Hermann) for a story that the entire 23-episode season has been building to: Will Olivia (Mariska Hargitay) officially and formally adopt baby Noah?
“If you’re just watching this one alone, it’s a great ride. If you’ve been watching the whole season, a lot of things will pay off,” says Leight. “Some of our greatest hits during the season will be replayed.”
Although it may seem like a straightforward answer for anyone who’s watched the former workaholic transform into a doting mother, Olivia’s personal journey will be complicated by her discovery earlier this season that sex trafficker Johnny D. (Charles Halford), the man behind a prostitution ring, is Noah’s father. “Now the question is as she’s moving to adopt: Does she tell the truth on the form about does she have knowledge about who the baby’s biological father is? And if she does, what will that mean for baby Noah’s future?” says Leight. “It’s the trial of Johnny D. and the tribulation of Olivia and Noah.”
It doesn’t take long for Johnny D. to find out about his son. “When he finds out the truth about that baby, he has to use it,” says Leight. “He’s not really good father material but he develops an interest in that baby very early on in that episode.”
Olivia’s struggles with Noah comes just as she faces change in her precinct as well. In the most recent episode, Tucker (Robert John Burke) urged her to take the Lieutenant’s exam to prevent an outside from coming in and usurping her power. However, the question then turned to who on the team would step up and become her No. 2. Fin (Ice-T) is the most veteran, but isn’t interested. Amaro (Danny Pino) does seem interested, but will his record, which includes shooting an unarmed teenager boy and assaulting an acquitted sex offender, be a problem?
“It will certainly be explored. Tucker also comes back with his thoughts on who the No. 2 should be,” says Leight. “He has his ear to the internal politics of 1 Police Plaza and he’s trying to give Benson the heads up on how things might go.”
Combined with a courtroom shooting teased in the season finale promo, it makes for what Leight calls “an emotional rollercoaster ride” of a season finale. “It doesn’t end on a cliff, but I think people will be ready for a break by the time it ends,” says the executive producer. “There are a couple of big surprises in the finale that will have to resonate in the new year.”
Law & Order: SVU airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
If you’ve seen the promo for the season finale of Law & Order: SVU, you already know that someone is going to die in the episode. But even though the packed courtroom offers up plenty of potential non-series-regular fatalities, we can promise you that one of the squad members will be injured in the crossfire.
“We call it the ‘red verdict’ episode,” executive producer Warren Leight tells TVGuide.com, a spin on Game of Thrones’ deadly Red Wedding episode.
Because the deadly shootout takes place during the trial of Johnny D. (Charles Halford), it could also impact whether Benson (Mariska Hargitay) finally gets to adopt the sex trafficker’s son, Noah. You should expect everything to be more difficult than she thought. “We’re playing with the reality of how difficult it is to convict these guys,” Leight says. “They so brutalize the girls they trafficked and it’s very hard to speak up against guys like this in open court. If this guy gets off, what does that mean for her and Noah? If a parent comes forward who didn’t [previously] know about the existence of that child, he immediately throws a wrench into the works.”
Whatever happens, you should probably have the Kleenex handy. “We screened the finale here with Mariska and she cried, I’d say, four times,” Leight says. “Then she said, ‘OK that’s the best finale we’ve ever done here.'”
Can Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson ever be happy on Law and Order: SVU? She’s been pretty darn close this season while caring for little Noah, the foster child she’s planning to adopt in the Law and Order: SVU season 16 finale. But this is Law and Order: SVU. Things never go as planned. Noah’s birth father, Johnny Drake (Charles Halford), returns and tries to reclaim his parental rights in “Surrendering Noah.” Yes, the same Johnny D. who was involved in a sex trafficking ring and is being charged with rape, kidnapping and assault. As if that weren’t enough to stress out viewers, we know this: Not everybody makes it out of the finale alive.
“Juicier than that? That’s already insanely juicy!” Mariska told us when asked for a finale tease aside from the deadly ending. “What will be very compelling going into next season is how the shooting and those deaths (yes, there’s more than one) change the course of every life involved.”
Did you ever imagine, 17 years later, you’d still be doing this with millions tuning in?
To be honest, never. In hindsight, now that I know how much the show has resonated with people and how true many of the stories ring, it makes sense. But I can’t tell you how grateful and proud I am. I think it’s actually like a long relationship: sometimes you wake up and you’re like, wow, this is so nice, everything feels so familiar, this is so nice. And then some days you’re like, wow, there’s so much new stuff to explore, and I barely even know you yet, and there’s so much more to come, and other days you’re like SEVENTEEN YEARS, we’ve been together for SEVENTEEN YEARS? OH MY GOD. HOW IN THE WORLD DID WE POSSIBLY MANAGE TO STAY TOGETHER FOR SEVENTEEN YEARS?! But I think all those things average out to feeling really grateful.
The penultimate episode teased Lt. Benson, is that the route you want to see the character go?
It’s great that Warren [Leight] and the writers have given Olivia so many opportunities for growth—changing partners, becoming a sergeant, and the one that tops them all, becoming a mother. That’s what this is for me: another chance to grow and stretch. I really like how the character has become so much more thoughtful, more empathic and nuanced, and I can’t wait to see where I get to take her next. And life is about embracing change, isn’t it?
So who would make the best second in command?
Fin [Ice T] has the most experience but is happy where he is. Amaro [Danny Pino] wants it, but he’s not popular with the brass. Olivia would much prefer someone in the squad step up, but who? Actually, I think sometimes the best person is the one you least expect. That always makes the most interesting dynamic. Or maybe it’s just the person who wants it the most, that’s who ends up stepping up to the plate. Then there’s always the possibility that it’s the person who wants it the least. The person who says, “Wait, what? Me? Absolutely not.” And then they come through and shine in the position. Which is my extended way of saying, “Your guess is as good as mine.”
I’ve heard you have deemed this the best finale ever—What makes it the best finale, in your opinion?
Is it wrong that I say that every year? But I’ll be honest, I put my producer’s hat on and sat down to watch this episode and give notes, and forty-two minutes later, I was trying to peel myself off the floor after gasping and crying my way through the episode. So many threads from the last four years get woven together, so you have these big, thoroughly earned payoffs. There’s Olivia’s journey as a survivor who can relate to young girls; her journey as a mother who won’t let Ellie Porter’s last wish for her son Noah go unanswered; her journey as this kind of warrior who won’t let Ellie’s rapist, Johnny D, get anywhere near her son—even if he is the biological father. And the relationships are all there, with her partner Amaro, with Barba and their mutual respect, the long hard relationship with Tucker, and with Trevor Langan [Mariska’s real-life husband Peter Hermann]—there isn’t a loose thread anywhere. My hat is off (as it always is) to Warren and the writers. All those small moments that call back to things we shot two or three seasons ago, characters that came in for one scene so many episodes ago who now play a major part in the story, all of it, that’s just not easy to do. I watched it and felt all the emotions of so many years come together in this one brilliant piece.
How would you describe the finale in emojis?
Link to Answer.
What’s ahead for Benson? Will she come out on the other side of the finale with a positive outlook, or…
This season has been all about family, and these complex dynamics in the stories resonate more with Benson now that she has a child to care for. The growth she has gained from that, and the backstory she continues to carry, mean that there’s always going to be a give and take to her outlook. The parent-child dynamic is multi-layered for her, relationships and her devotion to the job are multi-layered for her…The writers have crafted these small, very human moments that hint at her growth. So it’s never going to be as simple as a positive or negative outlook, but it’s always going to be human. That’s the kind of finely tuned writing that keeps me coming for more.
Have you created a bond with the young actor who plays baby Noah? It certainly seems you have. What’s it like? He’s a very different costar than you previously play off of.
Sometimes I wish I was as uncomplicated as he is: Having a bad day? Here’s some milk! All better! He’s such a good kid. And it’s funny, here’s Olivia having these life-changing moments, and there’s Noah, just going along, the way kids do, looking at all the cool things around him, taking in the world. It’s an innocence we haven’t had much of previously on the show. He happens to be a big fan of the boom mic, which has made for some funny moments.
How has Benson changed since Noah entered her life?
In so many ways. The child proofing alone… I think kids can bring out new dimensions in us, and it’s the same for her. She also sees more dimensions in others now. Everyone is someone’s child, mother, father, brother, sister—a loved one. I think somehow Sergeant Olivia Benson has more empathy than Detective Benson did. And I think that more nuanced empathy is a gift from Noah. It also makes her a better cop, better mother, friend, Sergeant, Lieutenant…whatever.
Law and Order: SVU wraps season 16 on Wednesday, May 20 at 9 p.m. on NBC. Season 17 will debut this fall.
05/20/2015 (09:00PM – 10:00PM) (Wednesday) : IN THE SEASON FINALE, A DANGEROUS CAREER CRIMINAL RETURNS TO TEST THE LIMITS OF THE LAW
Sgt. Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and ADA Barba (Raúl Esparza) take Johnny D (guest star Charles Halford) to trial for sex trafficking, rape, assault and kidnapping. But when Baby Noah’s adoption becomes entangled in the case, Benson fears for Noah’s future and his safety. In an intense courtroom showdown, the SVU will face a threat that could change the squad forever. Also starring Danny Pino (Det. Nick Amaro), Ice T (Det. Odafin Tutuola), Kelli Giddish (Det. Amanda Rollins) and Peter Scanavino (Det. Sonny Carisi). Also guest starring Michael Kostroff (Counselor Evan Braun), Danika Yarosh (Ariel Thornhill), Robert John Tucker (Lt. Ed Tucker), Jefferson Mays (M.E. Rudnick), Laura Gomez (Selena Cruz) and Peter Hermann (Counselor Trevor Langan).
“The two police departments could not be more different in their procedures,” showrunner Warren Leight tells THR.
Chicago Fire, Chicago PD and Law & Order: SVU already pulled off a successful three-show crossover in November. So when the drums began beating for a second two-night, SVU showrunner Warren Leight knew he had to up the ante.
“I felt like if we were going to do it again, I wanted the stories and the plotting to be more integrated,” he tells THR. “It’s really a unified two-hour crossover. I don’t know how they’re going to list it on TV Guide but it really flows all as one piece.”
Kicking off on Tuesday’s new episode of Chicago Fire, the latest crossover centers on a charismatic doctor (The Walking Dead’s Dallas Roberts) suspected of serial rape and murder in Chicago. Originally planned as a two-part episode of Law & Order: SVU, one of the biggest tricks was figuring out a way to bring NYPD to Chicago and vice-versa. “You have to figure out a reason why you’re crossing state lines,” says Leight. “Its fun when the Justice League of America gets together but we have to know why.”
SVU factors in when Benson (Mariska Hargitay) realizes a victim first discovered by the Firehouse 51 team is frighteningly similar to one she had investigated a decade earlier with then-partner Stabler (Christopher Meloni) in New York. “It was based a little bit on Ted Bundy, who’s a very charming serial killer in America’s past,” says Leight. “It took a long time before people realized it was the same guy and that there was a pattern. It was an interesting idea so we said maybe he had been active and then he went to another city.”
Adds Chicago PD star Jason Beghe: “It’s not just, let’s find this guy. Being the Ted Bundy nature of it, he’s very smart and we don’t really have him enough to prosecute him so we’re playing a cat and mouse [game].”
Once they’re in the same city, blending these two teams together will be difficult in and of itself. “The two police departments could not be more different in their procedures,” says Leight. “We get to court in New York in this story as well and that’s clearly different from what went down in the past with these things.”
That’s because, unlike SVU and the many other iterations of Law & Order, there is no district attorney on Chicago PD. As Leight says, the Intelligence Unit at PD is more focused on a “biblical sense of justice” than a legal one. “As far as I can tell, they don’t have a legal system,”says Leight with a laugh. “Sometimes Voight goes a little rogue and [Benson] basically tells him, ‘Watch yourself. I don’t want this case blown because of police misconduct.’ So we wrote to the fact that one department plays more loosely than the other when it comes to constitutional protections. Our guys get a little tense about that; a little more protective of the system.”
That even extends to Benson and Voight, who shared a friendly drink the last time she was in the Windy City. “There was a lot of warmth, maybe even could be construed as flirtation,” says Beghe. “Things get so serious and rough by the time we’re back in New York that we don’t have a lot of time for the lighter enjoyment of things. It’s a very distressing and personally wrenching experience particularly for the characters in Chicago.”
Behind the scenes, the process of crafting the crossover was not without it’s bumps either. “You learn a lot from the first one,” says Leight. “If we do another one some time, I’ll have learned a lot from this one. Its trickier than doing episode 90 for me of a show that I’ve been on because its episode two of the crossover and its learning what their team can do, what our team can do.”
But now the question stands of how long it will be before a possible four-show crossover comes to fruition if Chicago Med is picked up to series. “Yes, and the [rumored] resurrection of Law & Order the mothership, and I suppose there’s a way to do a five-show crossover,” says Leight, “but I think that will be my final act. (Laughs)”
Chicago Fire airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m., Chicago PD airs on Wednesday at 9 p.m. and Law & Order: SVU airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. on NBC.