Law And Order: SVU's Latest Brutal Case Just Reminded Me Why Mariska Hargitay's Benson Is The Heart Of The Franchise

Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson in Law & Order: SVU Season 24
(Image credit: NBC)

Spoilers ahead for Episode 4 of Law & Order: SVU Season 24, called “The Steps We Cannot Take.”

Law & Order: SVU has already run for more than 500 episodes, and Mariska Hargitay has been the driving force keeping the series going strong and hitting home with viewers for 24 seasons so far. I was reminded of this more than ever when watching “The Steps We Cannot Take,” which showed an Olivia Benson who is as deeply invested in finding justice for victims as she was back in the pilot. It really showcased why Hargitay is the emotional anchor that makes her the heart of the entire L&O franchise. 

What Happened In The Latest Case

The case that started out as a home invasion that barely seemed like it qualified for the Special Victims squad took a horrifying twist when the detectives learned that a teenage girl had been kidnapped, leading to the discovery of two women who had been kept captive and repeatedly raped for years. Their captor had fathered children to both of them, with one little girl having grown up in captivity. 

The case then took a twist when they discovered the bodies of both the captor and an infant boy on the grounds of where the women had been kept. The baby had been strangled, and the man murdered via gunshot wound to the back of the head. The detectives learned from the angle that the only one who could have killed him was the little girl, and they faced the prospect of putting the women and the girl through a whole new kind of hell if they pursued the murder charge. 

Benson had a loaded conversation with Trial Division Chief Lorraine Maxwell (played by Betty Buckley), in which they implicitly agreed the leave the murder case open and unsolved rather than prosecute one of the women or the girl for the crime. Maxwell took some convincing, but Benson kept her focus on the victims of the especially heinous crimes of “The Steps We Cannot Take.” The women were free to move on as best they could; nobody was mourning the man who died. She made the call with her heart as an advocate for the victims. 

Why Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson Is The Heart Of The Franchise

Mariska Hargitay has starred in far more episodes of the Law & Order franchise than any other actor, even if we include Christopher Meloni’s stint on SVU before going on to lead Law & Order: Organized Crime and Sam Waterston’s time on the original L&O and the revival. But SVU hits an emotional note that L&O and OC don’t because Benson approaches just about every case with as much compassion and humanity as if it was her first. 

Benson used her position to cover up the truth in “The Steps We Cannot Take,” and Hargitay’s performance conveyed that it wasn’t an easy decision, but one that the captain made because she cares about the victims above all. This has been true of Benson for 24 seasons and counting, through her highs and lows as a character. Her heartbreak hits home in a way that makes the very procedural SVU feel emotionally serialized. Even more so than Organized Crime, and OC actually is serialized! 

Of course, the decision may come back to haunt her, as Maxwell not-so-subtly hinted that she wouldn’t stick up for her if anybody found out that she’d agreed to let Benson ignore the evidence about the killer. On the whole, this episode reminded me that Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson is the face of the franchise for a reason, and it’s hard to imagine SVU still packing a punch 500 episodes in with somebody else at the forefront. (You can revisit those 500+ episodes streaming with a Peacock subscription.)

See more of Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson in new episodes of Law & Order: SVU on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC. The long-running drama will sadly lose Kelli Giddish as Amanda Rollins before the end of the year, but not before she makes an appearance over on Law & Order: Organized Crime. Hargitay appears more often on OC (which recently found a fun way to reference the Benson/Stabler relationship), so she may show up on the spinoff before the end of the year as well. 

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.