Spoilers ahead for the Season 23 finale of Law & Order: SVU, called “A Final Call at Forlini’s Bar.”
Another season of Law & Order: SVU has come to an end, and like Law & Order in the hour before, the finale didn’t end on a wild cliffhanger. The whole hour was seemingly setting Benson up to have to make a decision about what kind of relationship she wants with Organized Crime’s Stabler, as she was getting comments – some more thinly veiled than others – about her status with him. Whether she was being encouraged to make things more serious or move on from him really depended on who she was talking to, but it seems like she’s going to have to make a choice about her future. But will anything change?
As somebody who has been watching SVU since I was probably way too young to be watching SVU, I’ve been a fan of the Benson/Stabler dynamic for longer than I care to admit. That’s not to say that I’m with Rollins in thinking that they should just head to a hotel room together, but it does feel like something’s gotta give sooner rather than later. I’m just not convinced that Benson getting comment after comment about Stabler – even coupled with her therapist encouraging her to think about what she deserves rather than wants or needs – that anything will change, for some particular reasons. (At least, not yet!)
Benson Didn't Bend
Despite characters dropping comments that ranged from suggestive to heavy-handed about the nature of her relationship with Stabler, Benson never once bent and indicated that she truly, genuinely, realistically wants to pursue something with her former partner. She more or less admitted that she has a tendency to forgive him because of their 23 years of history and close partnership, and Barba called that out as unconditional love. Still, I didn’t see anything from Benson that made me think she wants to actually try anything with Stabler. Love is one thing; actual romance is something else entirely.
Benson Has Valid Reasons For Not Pursuing Anything With Stabler
Benson listed off reasons why she should be happy in “A Final Call at Forlini’s Bar,” including her son (who only recently met Stabler), her job going well, and her friends, and all of those are fairly valid reasons for not wanting to take her relationship with Stabler in another direction when there's so much emotional risk involved. Plus, pretty much everything that has happened on Organized Crime this season can be taken as proof that spending more time together could be dangerous for the life she built over his ten years away. A whole lot of time has passed without anything explicitly romantic happening, and I have to say that the time still isn’t right just yet.
SVU Is Getting A New Boss
Showrunner Warren Leight announced a few weeks before the Season 23 finale that he was stepping down from his role. At the time, there was no news about who would step up as the new showrunner, but it’s possible that what happened in Leight’s final episode won’t necessarily carry all the way over into the first episode under the next showrunner. Of course, the new era could embrace Benson’s feelings for Stabler even more than what “A Final Call at Forlini’s Bar” did, but fans shouldn’t necessarily count on Season 24 delivering more of what Season 23 did. Other than especially heinous offenses, anyway!
SVU And Organized Crime Are Two Separate Shows
At the end of the day, what I see as the biggest obstacle to L&O truly pursuing a Benson/Stabler relationship at this point is the same after Season 23 as it has been for a while: Mariska Hargitay is the star of Law & Order: SVU and Christopher Meloni is the star of Law & Order: Organized Crime. They occasionally guest star on each other’s shows, but if anything starts between their characters, I have to imagine that it would have to mostly remain off-screen. The L&O shows aren’t quite like the three One Chicago shows that deliver mini crossovers and cameos on a fairly regular basis.
All of this said, SVU may have dropped more hints in the Season 23 finale about Benson’s feelings for Stabler than the rest of the season combined, so we really shouldn’t rule anything out. I just don’t think we should take all the clues in “Last Call at Forlini’s Bar” to be a sign that romance is in the cards for the two TV icons anytime soon. Fortunately, both shows (as well as the original Law & Order) have already been renewed for the 2022-2023 TV season on NBC, and you can revisit earlier episodes streaming with a Peacock subscription. For some viewing options over the summer, check out our 2022 TV premiere schedule.
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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).