In a surprising departure from the usual formula, May's season finale of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit ended with the shocking cliffhanger of a dead prostitute being found in the bed of Captain Don Cragen (Dann Florek).
Stepping into the show after the highly publicized departure of original star Christopher Meloni last year, new showrunner Warren Leight wanted to shake things up and initiated the dramatic turn of events. As SVU begins its 14th season tonight on NBC, Entertainment Weekly sat down with Leight for a Q&A on what to expect. Here are some highlights.
EW: You've been very conscious that SVU is the last Law & Order show on the air. With a year under your belt and a season underway, how is SVU 2.0 shaping up?
WL: This year, I've made some changes in the writing staff, the producing staff. Everyone understands what the goal is for this year. … So, just in terms of the way we run the show, people are a little more on. I know who my actors are, they know who I am. It's easier to write for people when you knew what their strengths are. I know everyone's strengths, and now what I want to do a bit of this year is make some of the actors feel a little bit uncomfortable, push them out of their comfort zone. Last year I had to learn their comfort zone so this year I can tear them down. [Laughs]
EW: Certainly, the end of last season was a big departure with the Cragen cliffhanger…
WL: I wanted a cliffhanger, and that was definitely not part of the [creator and former showrunner] Dick Wolf culture. It was outside what people expect for the show. A little bit, I want to shake up expectations. There will be more storylines about our lead characters, a little bit more emotion between them. I would like to see more of the interpersonal dynamic between our detectives. There's obviously going to be a big investigation after the dead hooker is found in Cragen's bed, and there's going to be a lot of fallout from that investigation.
EW: You said everyone has secrets. Such as…?
WL: [This season tracks] a tale of corruption through NYPD, through the DA's office, through the upper echelons of government. How our detectives react to that, and who's trusting whom as this investigation goes on is pretty interesting. For example, it's not like Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Amaro (Danny Pino) have been partners for 12 years and know everything about each other, so there's a little room for suspicion. Room for suspicion is a wedge.
EW: And in the midst of this, Dean Winters is back as Cassidy, Olivia's ex/colleague. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
WL: It's a good thing and a bad thing. He's an interesting guy, and he's not the kid he was from those early SVUs that he was in. He wasn't right for this unit, and he wasn't too sharp. He wasn't well-educated. He's obviously survived and been doing dangerous work for three years. But can you trust him completely? Certainly Amaro doesn't.
EW: I can't imagine the time would be right any time soon for Benson to consider motherhood or a serious relationship.
WL: I think it's hard. As the season opens, her new partnership is in trouble — with Amaro. Her captain is in serious trouble. The unit she's worked for is falling apart. She has a new captain she's supposed to somehow deal with. The DAs she's worked with are under a cloud of suspicion — or she's not allowed to talk to them. When it rains, it pours.
For more of this interview, including some news about SVU's take on 50 Shades Of Grey, check out EW.com.
I haven't watched SVU regularly in a long time, but some of Warren Leight's comments are enough to make me want to give it another chance. Do you welcome these changes?