Is Law And Order: SVU's Benson Willing To Fight Dirty To Protect Her Unit?

law and order svu olivia benson mariska hargitay
(Image credit: NBC)

Spoilers ahead for the January 20 episode of Law & Order: SVU Season 23, called “Tommy Baker’s Hardest Fight.”

The cops of Law & Order: SVU had to solve a high-profile case of a popular fighter’s attack while the investigation ran into roadblock after roadblock, but the plot that might come back to pack a punch actually involved Benson and Chief McGrath. The two haven’t exactly been trusted confidantes throughout Season 23, but he dropped some details on her in “Tommy Baker’s Hardest Fight” that he could come to regret… depending on whether or not she’s willing to toe (or cross) the line and use them against him. 

Benson got a lot more than she bargained for in their scene together in his office when an update on the Baker case turned into McGrath venting to her about some trouble at home. And all things considered, she probably wasn’t the person he should have turned to if he wanted her to be sympathetic toward him after more than 20 years in Special Victims. Speaking about one of his teenage daughters, he said:

My wife and I on Thursday waited up til 2:30 in the morning. You know what we see, the animals out there. I was scared to death. … And then she gets home, and she’s drunk. She’s hammered and she starts mouthing off to me. I mean, if I had spoken to my father like that, I’d have been put in traction. … Well, it was just screaming and yelling, and then she locked herself in her room and I shouldered the door open. Now my wife gets pissed off at me. After 32 years of marriage, I guess we’re entitled to a bad night or two, right?

Benson was sympathetic at first when he was talking about the stress of worrying about kids in light of what they see on the job, but not so much when he started talking about her “mouthing off” and shouldering her door in. Seriously, that’s the kind of speech that usually comes out of the mouths of perps on SVU! And as she later found out courtesy of Fin, the situation is even more serious than McGrath let on. 

Fin took a moment to chat one-on-one with Benson when Rollins and Velasco were out of the room (and Carisi nowhere to be seen), and he shared what McGrath didn’t during their conversation in his office. Fin explained what was up with the NYPD “rumors” surrounding the chief:

So you’ve heard the rumors going around about McGrath, right? … A domestic incident in his house in Syosset late Thursday night. Cops were called. He mention that to you? … So he didn’t tell you when the Nassau County cops got there, he told them to report it as unfounded? That’s abuse of the badge, Liv. … Just maybe mention to him that you’ve heard the rumors. And you got his back. Can’t be bad to have a little leverage on that guy.

All things considered, not the worst advice from Odafin Tutuola! Benson didn’t burst into applause and indicate that she planned to get some leverage on McGrath even beyond what he told her himself, but she also didn’t dismiss the idea, and it would be hard to blame her if she tried to take some precautions for her unit. McGrath hasn’t exactly been a staunch ally all season, to the point that I was surprised that he would open up about a domestic situation to Benson of all people.

They had one more encounter before the end of “Tommy Baker’s Hardest Fight,” and it’s a little bit difficult to say for sure whether or not Benson was playing at anything. She did acknowledge the rumors and promise to keep his secrets, but also gave him a sincere speech about anger management and seeking counseling, and I didn’t get the impression that her promise not to out him for counseling if he sought it came from a place of trying to get leverage. 

At the same time, he came out and told her that if it got out that he had decided to get help, then anybody who “can get a rung up by pulling me down” will do so. On the one hand, that could be foreshadowing that Benson at least considers using information on him against him, but it is absolutely a sign that he trusts her. Whether or not that trust is well-placed remains to be seen. 

Although Benson generally plays by the book as much as possible, she was also the partner of Elliot Stabler for more than a decade, and knows that things are rarely black and white in Special Victims. McGrath has crossed lines too, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that she could play a little dirty to protect others. Then again, if anybody could figure out a way to stay on the straight and narrow while still protecting those who need it against people like McGrath, it would be Olivia Benson. 

Law & Order: SVU is unfortunately heading into a break, however, and won’t be back with any new episodes until after the Olympics. That said, NBC is expanding its Law & Order Thursday lineup starting in February when the revival of the original series debuts in the 8 p.m. ET time slot, ahead of SVU at 9 p.m. and Organized Crime at 10 p.m. See the new Law & Order lineup when it launches on Thursday, February 24, and check out our 2022 TV premiere schedule for some viewing options during the Olympics. 

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).