How Law And Order: SVU Explained Mariska Hargitay's Injury In The Season 23 Premiere

law and order svu benson mariska hargitay season 23 premiere nbc
(Image credit: NBC)

Spoilers ahead for the first half of the two-hour Season 23 premiere of Law & Order: SVU, called "And The Empire Strikes Back."

Law & Order: SVU returned to NBC to pick up where it left off on the sex-for-housing case that involved some high-profile players back in Season 22, but there was one not-so-small problem with SVU needing to continue the story without a time jump: Mariska Hargitay's broken ankle. The actress suffered a serious injury over the hiatus that wasn't fully healed by the time SVU needed to start production again, and it was confirmed that the show would address her injury in the premiere. And as it turns out, SVU drew on Christopher Meloni's Law & Order: Organized Crime to pull it off, although it was a little convoluted at times.

So let's break it down. "And The Empire Strikes Back" picked up so soon after the Season 22 finale that the characters were all still in the clothes they wore to Fin's not-wedding, and Carisi had lipstick on his collar from finally getting cozy with Rollins. The painful twist for Benson came when she was driving to the DA's office from the wedding venue, with Stabler on the phone and the former partners agreeing that it was nice to get a break after, to quote Stabler, "everything that's been going on." Then Benson realized that there was a car getting too close for comfort behind her. Stabler was alarmed as he told her to "let him pass," and she tried, but the car drove her off the road.

And what with this being the Law & Order universe, it probably wasn't a coincidence that she was driven off the road. The good news (other than SVU coming up with a logical way for the character to be injured and let Hargitay stay off her feet to heal) is that airbags prevented the worst from happening to Benson, although she got her bell rung hard enough that she had a few moments of hallucinating that the EMT who saved her was actually Stabler. (My theory is that Stabler couldn't appear in the flesh because Christopher Meloni is sporting some time jump facial hair over on Organized Crime, based on the previews.)

Benson later explained to her unit that Stabler and the OC were looking into the incident, going through her car, and looking at traffic cameras, but the working theory was that it was a drunk driver hit-and-run. Fin wasn't buying it, though, and a subsequent scene revealed that Benson wasn't either. When chatting with IAB about the shoot at the end of OC Season 1, Benson revealed that the text she thought came from Stabler actually came from the vengeful Richard Wheatley because he wanted to kill her as a woman close to Stabler. The IAB officer, who honestly looked like she was ready to join the Benson/Stabler ship, seemed surprised at the idea of Wheatley wanting to kill Benson, to which Benson said:

I was run off the road a week before.

Now, does the timeline 100% make sense here if Organized Crime's Wheatley is responsible for Benson's injury, as SVU suggested? Maybe not, but I for one am glad that SVU went further in explaining Benson's injury than just saying that it was a random drunk driver. The setup was there thanks to Wheatley taking special notice of Benson and pretty clearly referring to her as "the love of [Stabler's] life" in Season 1.

Sure, Benson being driven off the road didn't come up at the end of SVU Season 22 or Organized Crime Season 1, and the amount of time that's supposed to have passed is a little screwy, but SVU using Organized Crime as the reason for Benson's car crash provided another tie between the two shows. And that has to be a good thing.

Plus, as somebody who was kind of underwhelmed at how Wheatley tried to strike at Benson in the OC Season 1 finale (although happy that Benson wasn't hurt), it actually makes more sense to me that he also tried something more direct as part of his vendetta against Stabler. I'll take a little bit of retcon and hand-wave the continuity to embrace this as the reason for the broken ankle. If poor Mariska Hargitay had to be injured, then I'm at least glad that SVU found a way to incorporate it that made sense, tied to Organized Crime, and didn't put her through the strain of acting while pretending not to be injured.

Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Organized Crime are the last of the Dick Wolf shows to premiere in the 2021-2022 TV season, after the FBIs premiered on Tuesday night with a massive crossover event that will be followed by more shared universe crossovers. Then, on Wednesday night, Chicago Med returned to give one character a proper sendoff, Chicago Fire to reveal the cliffhanger aftermath, and Chicago P.D. to deliver a big twist on the Upstead proposal.

The action will continue, with Law & Order: SVU returning next Thursday at 8 p.m. ET, followed by two hours of Organized Crime on NBC in the fall TV schedule.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).