‘Law & Order: SVU’ Breaks with Procedure in Season 14 Premiere

"Law & Order: SVU": Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson, Dann Florek as Captain Donald Cragen, Danny Pino as Detective Nick Amaro -- (Photo by: David Giesbrecht/NBC)

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” may be an oldie, but its last season finale proved it is still a goody. The NBC procedural drama, which usually deals with one case a week, instead ended its final episode of Season 13 with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger.

DVR the Premiere of “SVU”

In a scene reminiscent of the “The Godfather,” Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) woke up in bed with blood on his hands. Instead of a thoroughbred horse’s head in his bed, though, he discovered a dead hooker [Pippa Black as Carissa] whose throat had been slashed.

“It could be a complete set-up, but I suspect if Cragen had it all to do over again, he would do a few things differently, and we’ll learn what those are as the [Season 14] episodes unfold,” showrunner and executive producer Warren Leight tells XfinityTV.com in an exclusive interview.”

When it returns to NBC on Sept. 26, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” will air back-to-back episodes, so the story, which began last May, will actually wind up being a three-part investigation into the vicious power struggle between New York City’s top two escort businesses. It is a case that is in jeopardy of bringing down the SVU squad — and sending Cragen to jail for murder.

Rewatch the “SVU” Season 13 Finale:

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Leight wouldn’t reveal if Cragen was set up or not, or even if he would be returning as Captain of the SVU squad if he is cleared of the murder, but here are some choice tidbits of what fans of the series can look forward to seeing:

How is Season 14 going to start?
We’re going to do something different for “Law & Order.” We’re going to follow up. So the season ended with a an escort dead in Cragen’s bed, and it seems like he has no idea how she got there. Where we got lucky was, quite by chance, NBC called and said they wanted two episodes for our first night back. They didn’t necessarily mean a two-parter, they just meant two separate episodes. Now we more or less had permission do a three-episode story, which is unheard of in the “Law & Order” world. So basically by the end of the day, we’ve essentially made a movie, a three-act movie.

So is Carissa going to be like the horse’s head that showed up in “The Godfather,” or did Cragen actually invite her over?
One of the themes of this three-parter and of this new season is secrets. There’s a line… we brought Padget Brewster into these two episodes as the District Attorney in charge of the public integrity unit, so she catches this case. And she says at some point in the episode to Olivia (Mariska Hargitay), “Everybody has secrets. You do, I do, your captain does. If a hooker ends up in your bed, whether or not he put her there, it probably means you did something wrong.”

Also, if you were paying attention to the finale, the last person to see Clarissa alive was Amaro (Danny Pino). So he’s going to be in the hot-seat as well.

Might Amaro have made some bad choices, too?
If you think about it, he’s got a lot of stressors going on right now. His marriage is not in great shape, his partnership with Olivia is definitely going through some tests at the moment, and he’s a very sensitive character. I think he feels like he did everything he could and Olivia hasn’t always had his back when he felt like she should have. We’re going to see Cragen in an orange jumpsuit at Rikers, and we’re going to see Amaro being interrogated by the D.A. There’s a lot of things in motion in these episodes.

Is Dean Winters back as Detective Brian Cassidy just for these episodes, or might he be back throughout the season?
I that the answer is he could possibly be back. Cassidy has a little history with Olivia. Obviously, Cassidy and Olivia had a little fling in Season 1. You can think that’s a long time ago so it doesn’t matter, but I think there’s a little bit of unfinished business there. It’s interesting to watch their relationship over the course of these two episodes.

Olivia is kind of vulnerable anyway because she just had to break up with Harry Connick’s character because he took the investigative job.

Yes. Once you start investigating corruption, a lot of people get dragged through the mud. She’s watching her captain and David Haden [Connick] get dragged through the mud, she’s seeing her partnership with Amaro get tested — and then there’s Brian Cassidy sitting there with that smile of his. And his character’s not exactly above reproach in all of this either. He’s undercover working for a pimp and sometimes it’s hard to tow that line. The question is: Has he gotten too close to Bart Ganzel, the pimp character Peter Jacobson plays?

So Mariska [Hargitay] is going to be on every episode this season, right?

But might there be a partner switch? When Christopher Meloni was there, the two of them were almost always together, but last season the partners mixed it up a little bit more.
It was fluid last year. We call it in the writers’ room, “Okay, now we need to doe-see-doe the partners a little bit.” Given the tension between Amaro and Benson, we may see a few other combinations early on in the season. We have a temporary captain coming in, Adam Baldwin, and he’s replacing Cragen because Cragen is not fit for duty at the moment. And Adam’s character is the guy who likes to come into a place… he’s a fixer . He likes to come in and move the pieces around the board and he may try. On the other hand, moving Olivia and Amaro, these are not pieces that like to be moved so it’s not an easy job stepping into that squad room and telling people what to do, but he’s going to try. So, you’ll see different combinations at work early on in the season.

Adam is there for three episodes. Does that mean by the end of the third episode, we’ll know the status of Cragen?
Possibly. One of the things we’re doing this year — I started this a bit last year — things will continue to reverberate. The mission statement of “Law & Order” is every episode is free standing and Dick Wolf has done very well by that. I think that means each main story should stand on its own, but what we’ve been trying to do is have a little more continuity, let things carry over, so if things have been going on in people’s personal lives, or if something that happens on a case, maybe the next week we see how it affects the partnership a little bit more. You’ll still be able to watch it and know what’s going on, but we’re arcing our main characters’ stories a bit through this season and that’s newish, I’d say, for the franchise. It used to be no matter what happened, the next week it was a full reset.

So you mentioned Padget Brewster and you mentioned Dean Winters and Adam Baldwin. Are there any other guest stars that you can talk about?
After the first two episodes, we’re off the air for something or other, and then we’re back on Oct. 10th for what I call our second premiere. And that episode has Anna Chlumsky playing the author of a bestselling book called Twenty-Five Acts, about a woman who gets caught up in the bondage and domination lifestyle. (laughs) I don’t know where we got that idea from. Anyway, she goes on a TV talk show, goes out with the host after the show and then everything after that is grey, I suppose I’d say.

We also have a new D.A. in that episode, Raúl Esparza comes in, and he’s terrific — both defending her and putting her through the paces. Roger Bart plays the TV talk show host.

The fourth episode has Kathryn Erbe coming to us as Alexandra Eames from “Criminal Intent.” Her character is now on a joint terrorism task force. Katie will be back later in the year at some point for sure and, I suspect, there’s room for another Dean Winters episode later on. He was pretty dynamic.

“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” premieres its 14th season on Wednesday, Sept. 26, at 9/8c on NBC.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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