Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: the biggest moments of Season 23

Law & Order SVU
Daniel Velasco (Octavio Pisano) joins Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in Season 23. Pic credit: NBC

After years as the only Law & Order series on TV, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit became the linchpin of a new night this past season.

Already paired with Law & Order: Organized Crime, the SVU team was also joined by the revival of the original Law & Order mothership to bridge an exciting night of dama. And they brought a lot of excitement this year.

This season saw the SVU team tackle cases of abuse, trafficking, serial killers, and the always troublesome Hudson University.

There was also some major personnel upheaval with two cops leaving, another joining and a problematic new boss coming on. Despite that, the SVU team never wavered in their quest for justice. 

While there were a lot of huge moments, this countdown of the top 10 most important parts of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23 made it one of the best yet for the iconic show. 

10. Benson’s injury

Olivia Benson
Mariska Hargitay returns as Olivia Benson in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23. Pic credit: NBC

This was a daring way to start the season, which was needed for real-life reasons.

In the Season 23 premiere, Benson was overseeing the arrest of a woman tied to a major trafficking ring. On her way home, she was run off the road and injured.

Stabler was on hand to help Benson as she had to spend some time on a broken leg. While both suspected this was the work of Richard Wheatley, it was never proven. 

This had Benson facing up to her age with a doctor warning her it might be time to consider retirement rather than continue to push herself like this. 

This was to explain Mariska Hargitay’s off-camera broken leg, and it was a dramatic way to kick off the season and put Benson in major danger to show the stakes for the year.

9.Kat and Garland’s departures

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Jamie Gray Hyder and Demore Barnes are both leaving Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in Season 23. Pic credit: NBC

In a stunning turn, Season 23 kicked off with the loss of two key members of the SVU team.

First, while raiding the house of a kidnapped woman, Kat took a bullet. She thankfully pulled through despite the close call.

But Kat came to see Benson later, admitting she couldn’t devote her life to a job like this, so she quit the team. Benson understood even while sad to let Kat go.

Then, after further conflicts with his superiors, Garland resigned from the NYPD. He told Benson he couldn’t keep working for a police force refusing to change.

Garland later returned, now deputy mayor, and enlisted the SVU team to help solve an old murder case from his past. 

It was sad to see both of these officers unable to handle the darkness of SVU, but at least Garland seems in a better spot to make changes. 

8. McGrath takes over

Law & Order
Chief McGrath (Terry Serpico) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) talk about a case on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Pic credit: NBC

When Garland stepped down, the SVU team had hoped someone just as good would take over. They appeared dashed by their new boss Chief McGrath.

From the start, McGrath and Benson got on the wrong foot, with McGrath wanting the team to only go after cases with solid evidence and not “he said/she said” stories. He also was clearly caring about his political career more than justice.

Yet as the season went on, McGrath seemed to soften. He was just as horrified as anyone at a gruesome serial killer and told Benson to do what it took to get him. 

McGrath also revealed he had anger issues stemming from problems at home. Rather than use that against him, Benson encouraged McGrath to face up to his problems.

While he may not be a full ally, McGrath doesn’t seem as big an enemy but helping the SVU team find justice. 

7. Velasco joins up

Octavio Pisano
Octavio Pisano as Joe Velasco on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Pic credit: NBC

It’s always something when a new cop joins SVU, but few are as intriguing as Joe Velasco.

In the Season 23 premiere, the team was tracking a corrupt Congressman who was at a wild party with an influencer. They busted it up to arrest them all.

Suddenly, the “influencer” began talking about gathering evidence. He was Joe Velasco, a cop hired by McGrath for the unit.

While Fin was suspicious of him as a mole, Velasco proved himself as a detective. He shared his tale of growing up amid the gangs of Mexico and barely escaping that life. 

Velasco was good at handling anything from a date turning him onto a difficult case to rescuing some girls kidnapped from his hometown.

While it was an uphill climb, by the end of the season, Velasco was accepted as a member of SVU and eager to continue that life. 

6. Benson’s romantic woes

Law & Order SVU 500
Aidan Quinn and Danny Pino (with Kelli Giddish) guest-star on the 500th episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Pic credit: NBC

Benson has had her romantic dalliances in the past, but she was in for a rough one his year.

In the landmark 500th episode, former cop Nick Amaro returned to get the team’s aid in proving an innocent man was in prison. He was helped by true crime author Burton Lowe (Aidan Quinn).

Lowe was the man Benson had been in love with back in her college days to the point they were briefly engaged. The pair sparked their romance and seemed ready for fun.

But then Lowe was accused of assault of women in the past, leading to a breakup with Benson. He later came back asking for her forgiveness.

In the end, Lowe owned up to his actions and accepted the consequences. He also told Benson he didn’t need her forgiveness and wished her luck. 

It was a heartbreaker for Benson, yet also important to close out a chapter of her past and look for the future. 

5. The trial of Richard Wheatley

Law & Order crossover
Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Carisi (Peter Scanavino) clash on a difficult case in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Pic credit: NBC

While there were a few crossovers between Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Organized Crime, this was the biggest.

Richard Wheatley was put on trial for the murder of Kathy Stabler, with Carisi prosecuting. To Benson’s shock, Wheatley’s attorney was none other than Rafael Barba.

Benson could not get over Barba defending this monster, with Barba saying everyone deserved counsel. He and Carisi had a wicked battle in court that brought up some dark issues.

The jury couldn’t find a verdict, leading to a mistrial. Benson was then distracted helping Stabler clear his son’s name in a murder set up by Wheatley. 

It was a powerful story to link the shows together while also creating a huge wedge between Benson and Barba that would play into the rest of the season. 

4. Rollins and Carisi take a big step

Carisi and Rollins
Carisi (Peter Scanavino) and Rollins (Kelli Giddish) bond on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Pic credit: NBC

Picking up from the Season 22 finale, after years of banter and flirting, Carisi and Rollins finally took the plunge as a couple. 

It was tricky for the pair to balance a working relationship with their private one and they kept it quiet even as most of the squad figured it out fast.

It was brought up how they might get in trouble with their superiors if this came to light and Rollins became more worried about the effect on their careers. 

In the end, the pair came clean and were able to handle the romance well. There have been issues like Carisi going after a witness or Rollins on a dangerous undercover job.

Yet it’s great to see a fine romantic couple on the series to bring some warmth to the often dark storylines of the show. 

3. The Hate Crimes squad

Law & Order SVU
Declan Murphy (Donal Logue with Mariska Hargitay) returns to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Pic credit: NBC

While the planned spin-off revolving around a Hate Crimes squad never took off, they did get a showcase this season.

When a series of hate crimes broke out on Christmas Eve, the team worked with the Hate Crimes squad, led by Rollins’ former flame Declan Murphy (Donal Logue).

As they worked the case, Rollins and Murphy cleared the air on their relationship, with Murphy regretting not being there for their child. 

The team was able to stop a deadly bombing in the works and handled the fallout well.

They later got help from cops Hasim Khaldun and Andy Parlato-Goldstein on other cases as the Hate Crimes squad showed another unit of the NYPD trying to keep order on the streets.

2. Noah’s growing up

Law & Order SVU
Stabler (Christopher Meloni) meets Noah (Ryan Buggle) with Benson (Mariska Hargitay) on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Pic credit: NBC

While dedicated to her job, Benson has come around to being a good mother to her adoptive son Noah. 

Noah has helped his mom out facing some of her issues regarding her own mother and her troubled past. He also had problems being bullied by a classmate. 

Noah told Benson he could handle it and was sticking up for another bullied classmate. He also revealed he was comfortable with his own sexuality, a pretty big moment for a boy as he grew.

There was also the long-awaited meeting of Noah and Stabler, who was happy for his partner blossoming as a mother and the two got along well. 

As much as she’d love to spend more time at home with her son, Benson has been proud of how Noah is growing up and a ray of light to the darkness of her job.

1. Barba’s big confession

Rafael Barba
Rafael Barba (Raul Esparza) questions Benson (Mariska Hargitay) on Law & Order Special Victims Unit Season 23 finale. Pic credit: NBC

The Season 23 finale was an emotional roller-coaster for everyone but especially Benson. 

When a woman killed her abusive husband, Rollins wanted to help her argue it was self-defense. That led to hiring Barba to defend him. 

It was a tricky case with Benson still not happy about Barba defending Wheatley. The tension between them was great and came out in the trial.

After Barba worked out a deal for the woman to escape jail, he and Benson finally had it out with Barba saying he knew about Benson’s feelings for Stabler.

He then added he understood as “I know what it’s like to love someone unconditionally.” This apparent confession of his feelings for her floored Benson.

This was a wild way to end Season 23 and close out another dramatic year for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23 is streaming on Hulu and Peacock. 

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