NBC went all out advertising the season premiere of “Law and Order SVU” as one of the most harrowing episodes of the series. The hashtag #savebenson was all over Twitter and led to the gif “Keep calm and Surrender Benson.” Warren Leight, the show runner of SVU, praised both series star Mariska Hargitay and guest star Pablo Schrieber for their performances and their willingness to go where no one thought that they would. So where exactly did they go? The actors went as far as they could go given the material, but the writers of the show didn’t go far enough…
Backtrack to last season. The SVU team was tracking a rapist named Billy Lewis aka “The Beast.” One of the show’s most notorious villains who manages to catch every legal break he can although he has raped, tortured and killed several people. After getting off for the rape and torture of a 60 year old woman that ultimately died, Lewis kidnaps Olivia Benson in her home and then the screen goes black.
Fans of SVU were left wondering about Benson’s fate during the summer especially since there was no word if Mariska Hargitay’s contract would extend into the 15th season. Once Hargitay’s one year contract renewal was announced, there was a sigh of relief that Benson would at least survive the attack but how bad would her attack be? The answer, not as bad as one may have thought.
The episode opened with Lewis in Benson’s apartment. No one has seen or talked to her in 2 days which isn’t a huge shock considering Captain Cragen gave her the time off after Lewis was let go. Benson tries to get Lewis to leave the apartment and New York saying they can pretend that nothing ever happened. Lewis instead taunts Benson with the voice message left by her boyfriend saying he wouldn’t be coming by that night and let’s her know that he plans to keep her for a lot longer. Although the extent of her injuries are unclear, Benson seems to at least have been burned and beaten during the 2 days in the apartment.
Once the team is on the scene they quickly determine that Lewis has Benson and are horrified to find burnt keys on the stove and her bedding missing. As the team searches frantically we learn that Lewis has raped his attorney girlfriend’s mom and killed her father. In addition, he made Benson watch the assault and she eventually passed out. Lewis goes on to kill a cop that pulled him over while Benson is tied up in the backseat. They ultimately end up at a house that no one is living in full time and he handcuffs her to an iron bed. After forcing Benson to admit that she will do anything to live, he begins to unbutton her pants but they are interrupted by a housekeeper and her daughter. Lewis forces them inside and is about to rape them both until Benson begins to taunt him about the fact that he has been with her for four days and has yet to rape her. As he is about to attack her, she breaks off a piece of the iron bed, hits him with it and ultimately pistol whips and handcuffs him to the bed.
During the next scene, Benson assesses her injuries and Lewis opens up about why he is a psychopath. After Lewis taunts her about her relationship with Stabler, Benson beats Lewis repeatedly with the iron bar and is shown being led out of the house by Amaro. Fin informs her that Lewis is still alive despite her beating. Benson is given time off to recover from her injuries and ends up being away from the squad for two months. During her therapy sessions, she reiterates to her therapist that she was assaulted and not raped…and thus begins my biggest problem with the credibility of this episode.
The writers went overboard showing what a sexual sadist that Lewis was and going into gory detail about his past crimes that included him raping women of all ages and backgrounds. It’s hard to believe that someone like Lewis would hold Benson, someone who he clearly hates and wants to humiliate, for four days and not sexually assault her. He did keep himself busy by raping the mother of his girlfriend but even at the house he did not seem in any rush to do anything but taunt Benson about her daddy issues and her old partner. I understand that Benson is a beloved character and no one wants to see her go through anymore than she already has. After all losing Stabler so suddenly was bad enough. However, the whole “Benson almost gets raped” storyline was done in the Season 8 episode “Undercover”.
The biggest difference between “Undercover” and this episode is obviously that she was burned and brutalized a bit more but it seemed like the writers were afraid to have Benson pay the ultimate price. It would have been a brave place to go considering the nature of Benson’s job and have her try to console rape victims after she had suffered from the same crime.
Despite this one big flaw with the episode, Hargitay has cemented herself as a front runner for an Emmy nomination next year with her performance. Her portrayal was gritty, emotional and she played well off Schrieber who also gave a disturbingly good performance.
“Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” airs on Wednesday nights on Cox Cable channel 3.