Spoilers ahead for the two-hour Season 23 premiere of Law & Order: SVU on NBC.
Another season of Law & Order: SVU has begun, but it wasn't back to business as usual for the unit, and not just because Benson sustained a serious injury. Fans knew ahead of Season 23 that both Demore Barnes and Jamie Gray Hyder had been cut from the SVU cast after spending a season as series regulars, and the big question was how the show would write them out when they'd formed such strong ties with the others in Special Victims. The premiere aired to reveal why Garland and Kat are out, and their exits have big implications for the rest of the season.
So, as we look ahead to the future as Law & Order: SVU quickly approaches the milestone 500th episode, let's take a look at how SVU said goodbye to Kat and Garland and what it means for what comes next.
How Law & Order: SVU Handled Kat's Departure
SVU nearly lost Kat in a very permanent way after she took a bullet while the team was trying to find a teenage girl whose life was in danger. It didn't seem that serious at first, but she quickly got worse, and her heart actually stopped in the ambulance before she could be rushed into surgery. Fortunately, she survived, but the experience made her realize that the NYPD isn't where she's supposed to be, and she decided to leave before she's twenty years invested. So, Kat survived, but she made a pretty definitive decision to leave. At least she lived?
As for what it means... well, Special Victims is now short a detective. With Benson laid up with a broken ankle, Fin and Rollins are the only two returning cops in the unit who can do the investigating with boots on the ground. Carisi could be in the mix more, but he's still an ADA. The loss of Kat means that either the unit will be smaller in Season 23, or Season 23 will bring in another detective on a regular basis. The premiere introduced Octavio Pisano as Detective Joe Velasco, who worked well with the team despite getting off to a rocky start, so he could be around more.
How Law & Order: SVU Handled Garland's Departure
SVU at least somewhat set up Garland's departure at the end of Season 22, when it became clear that some of the higher-ups at NYPD put a target on his back. When the case ultimately fell short of getting the biggest of bad guys, Garland decided to quit before he could be fired. He and Benson got a nice final scene together, but his departure from NYPD is pretty definitive too, and SVU seems to have a plot in place for his absence.
Chief McGrath, who was all but openly thrilled at the development of Garland leaving, dropped by Benson's office with some updates that clearly set off some alarm bells for her. McGrath suggested that SVU should focus on "real rapes" moving forward, which is just about the worst thing I can imagine anybody saying to Benson, who made it clear that they investigate all forms of rape.
Then McGrath said that while the NYPD works to fill Garland's former position as Deputy Chief, Benson should report directly to him. And I think it's safe to say that Benson wouldn't have been jumping for joy even if she didn't have an injured ankle at that development. Actor Demore Barnes has said that even he didn't know why he was written out of SVU, and it seems that the show is using Garland's absence to make life a lot harder for Benson.
It's not clear at this point what purpose it serves the story to write out Jamie Gray Hyder, so fans will just have to wait and see. At least there's a story reason that could be argued for Garland's departure, but I personally would have rather kept Demore Barnes as Garland than whatever SVU is doing with McGrath. I'm at least glad that news broke over hiatus that Barnes and Hyder were leaving, because it would have been a very unpleasant way to start Season 23 if it was a surprise.
Find out what happens next with new episodes of Law & Order: SVU on Thursdays on NBC. The next episode will air at 8 p.m. ET on September 30 to let Law & Order: Organized Crime get its own two-hour premiere, and then SVU will return to its 9 p.m. ET time slot the next week with Organized Crime at 10 p.m. ET.
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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).