[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Law & Order: SVU Season 23 finale “A Final Call at Forlini’s Bar.”]
Law & Order: SVU bookends its Season 23 finale with conversations that directly address Captain Olivia Benson’s (Mariska Hargitay) personal life, specifically her relationship with her former partner, Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) — and something that is very unresolved with Rafael Barba (Raúl Esparza).
The episode began with Benson in a session with her therapist, Dr. Lindstrom (Bill Irwin), who brought up her coworkers’ stable relationships and her lack of one. “I think you and Elliot either need to see whether there’s more there or move on,” he told her. “This idealized relationship is hanging over you, prevents you from true intimacy, Olivia, either with him or with anyone else.”
And while there have been hints that Benson and Stabler could cross that line over the years and especially since he reappeared in her life with the introduction of Organized Crime, nothing has happened… yet?
Meanwhile, Benson’s still feeling betrayed by Barba defending Richard Wheatley (Dylan McDermott) when he was on trial for murdering Stabler’s wife, and so to say things were tense between the two when he takes on a client for the squad would be putting it mildly.
When she thanked him for doing so, in the middle of the case, she wouldn’t stay for a drink, even in silence. When she joined him at Forlini’s, for its last call, at the end of the episode, Barba remarked, “What I don’t get is why you feel more anger at me than you ever let yourself feel towards Stabler.”
Benson argued, “You don’t know anything about my feelings for Elliot and you don’t know him… I’ve known him for 23 years, and he’s always had my back.” But based on the glimpse the lawyer got and the “prism” through which he sees him by growing up bullied, he has a pretty good idea. She returned to what she saw as the issue at hand: Barba’s betrayal. But he put a stop to that.
“We’re going around in circles. You’re denying, you’re deflecting. You defend him. It’s alright, I get it. It’s what you do when you love somebody unconditionally,” he said. While she didn’t want him to tell her how she felt, “in this case I can because I do know what it means to love someone unconditionally. And when you’re ready to stop feeling betrayed by me, I’ll be here,” he explained. She did tell him she missed him — returning the sentiment he’d expressed earlier in the episode — as he walked away.
But there is a question of what Barba meant by “love” in that sentence, and Esparza remained coy when TV Insider pressed him. “I think everything is possible. I think that the scene is so beautifully written. It suggests any number of options and I think it would be wrong of us as actors to land on any one definition,” he said. “That was the thing we kept trying to wrestle with was how to convey a couple of meetings without hitting anything too hard because it is a fragile story between them and a moment of real tenderness, which exists often between them, but now coming out of a lot of heartache.”
But where do you fall? Do you want to see Benson and Stabler finally go there after 23 years? Or are you interested in seeing what could happen between Benson and Barba? Let us know in the poll below.
Law & Order: SVU, Season 24, TBA, NBC