Law And Order: SVU's Gruesome Case Was Tough For Benson, But Mariska Hargitay Crushed It

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

Spoilers ahead for the seventh episode of Law & Order: SVU Season 23, called “They’d Already Disappeared.”

After 22 full seasons and more than 500 episodes, Law & Order: SVU is still finding new ways to tackle especially heinous offenses and vicious felonies in new ways. Given the nature of the show, those new ways are generally pretty unsettling, and the case in “They’d Already Disappeared” was somehow even more gruesome than usual. It was a tough case for Olivia Benson despite her more than two decades of work in Special Victims, but Mariska Hargitay absolutely crushed it from start to finish. How many actresses could say that they’ve only gotten better after 500+ episodes as the same character?

“They’d Already Disappeared” saw the case of a disappeared teenage sex worker take a dark twist beyond what any of the cops of Special Victims had encountered before, even Benson and Fin. One young woman who was brutally attacked and killed turned into many young women who suffered the same fate, but that tragically wasn’t the end of their stories. The killer mummified them and staged them in a gruesome scene in a house, more than earning his nickname of “vampire.” 

Benson and SVU eventually caught the bad guy, and he’ll almost certainly be going behind bars for the rest of his life unless a murder in a state other than New York sends him to death row. The case is closed, but that doesn’t mean this was a standard SVU case of the week. Benson openly told Velasco that this was a kind of case she’d never seen before, and that she still isn’t used to seeing the terrible things she sees as a Special Victims cop. Mariska Hargitay was great throughout the episode, to the point that my big impression afterward was that SVU should deliver more episodes with character focus to let her flex those acting muscles more often. 

That said, there were two scenes in particular that really showed off what she can do and why she has been the anchor of the Dick Wolf universe all the way through to 2021: in the morgue when the medical examiner took an unconventional and caring approach to showing a young woman the body of her sister, and later when Benson goaded the killer to go from denying every accusation to gloatingly confessing to everything he did. She worked him up by playing on his weaknesses until he didn’t even know that he was cracking. In fact, that latter scene was Mariska Hargitay delivering a masterful performance of Olivia Benson delivering a masterful performance. 

And it’s not like SVU doesn’t showcase Mariska Hargitay on a weekly basis – she’s undeniably the star of the show, but SVU has traditionally followed a case-of-the-week format with the focus more on the case than on character. Focus on the performances in past seasons tended to only happen in very special episodes. It wasn’t a surprise that the 500th episode did so much to delve into Benson’s history because it was such a milestone; it is a little surprising that Episode 7 showcased her performance like this. Not a bad surprise!

I’ve actually felt that SVU would benefit from focusing on characters and relationships more after seeing how Law & Order: Organized Crime can successfully pull it off, so I’d be perfectly happy to see SVU make a trend of this. It would also be nice to get another Fin-centric episode, and maybe see some Rollisi beyond a few moments in some episodes of the season. The show is already somewhat more serialized this season with McGrath set up as an ongoing antagonist; let’s see more of what SVU can do with trying new things.

See what happens next with new episodes of Law & Order: SVU on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET, following The Blacklist (which just featured a fun storyline for Aram) at 8 p.m. ET and Law & Order: Organized Crime at 10 p.m. ET, all on NBC. Even as shows are approaching their midseason finales as the year winds down, our fall TV premiere schedule still features some important dates for the rest of 2021.

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, but will sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation.