Last month, Law & Order: SVU showrunner Warren Leight had to face the dilemma so many TV writers deal with when the flowers start blooming and upfronts near: write a season finale that leaves stories unresolved or write a season finale that can also serve as a series finale if the show is not renewed.
"I didn't want to make it too easy for the network," Leight tells TVGuide.com of his decision to go the former route. "I wasn't looking to drive to the edge of another abyss and dare them, but I also didn't want to sort of wrap everything up neatly with a bow so that people could end the show without any thought about it."
Mission accomplished. NBC renewed SVU for its 16th season on May 7, which also marked the last day of shooting on the current season. "That's a much less bitter, drunken wrap party than it otherwise might have been," Leight says with a laugh.
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Instead of the jaw-dropping cliff-hangers of seasons past, such as when Cragen (Dann Florek) woke up with a dead hooker in his bed or when Benson (Mariska Hargitay) was taken hostage by a serial rapist, Leight says the Season 15 finale will give some closure to this season's ongoing story lines. "There were a lot of balls in play, a lot of plates spinning," he says. "So I felt that part of this year's finale was sticking the landing and making sure that a lot of the things we had going on came to at least a temporary and logical stopping point."
In order to achieve that, SVU moved up the cliff-hanger intended for the last episode — in which Amaro (Danny Pino) is arrested after assaulting an acquitted sex offender — to the final moments of last week's episode. "All the anger he has towards his wife, all the anger he has towards guys who have gotten away with crimes, it all gets projected onto [Josh Malina's character] and he just snapped," Leight says. "We had little moments in this season where you saw these different guys under pressure. Three years into his job, he hasn't figured out how to deal with the stresses of SVU."
Subsequently, Wednesday's season finale (9/8c, NBC) will pick up with Amaro behind bars and on the verge of losing his job. "What's hard for him is that there's not much he can do to save his job. He snapped, he beat somebody up," Leight says. "He broke the law and he's dispirited and imprisoned when we see him. He's not fighting to save himself the way he has in the past. At some point, Rollins visits him in prison and she says, 'People are trying to help you, but you got to take their hand.' Both Rollins and Munch do what they can to defend him because he's not really defending himself."
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Although the episode will feature the celebrated return of veteran squad member Munch (Richard Belzer), who served as Amaro's mentor before retiring earlier this season, most eyes will probably be on the scenes between Amaro and Rollins (Kelli Giddish) after the reveal two weeks ago that the two are — or should we say were? — sleeping together. "We didn't linger on it, but these things happen," Leight says of the surprise pairing.
Leight defended the "Rollaro" pairing despite the negative reaction by some fans who were, as he says, "personally offended" by the story line after years of longing glances (and nothing more) between Benson and Stabler (Christopher Meloni). "I think they're both having a hard year and sometimes, there's a port in the storm, somebody else is having a bad year and you work together," he says. "Is it partners with benefits? Is it just blowing off steam? Do they care for each other more than we want to admit? We don't know too much of it."
But obviously Amaro has much bigger problems to deal with at the moment. "If he gets a speeding ticket, he's off the force. He's basically as close to losing his job as you can possibly be," Leight says. "So if he survives it, it's not going to be any sort of a picnic for him."
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While Amaro waits to find out whether he needs to clean out his desk, Benson will also be dealing with a possible life change — becoming a mother — when baby boy Doe becomes in need (again) of a proper home. "It's a huge commitment and if you couple that with being a sergeant with unpredictable work hours and obviously, it's a riskier job than most jobs," Leight says. "In her heart, she wants to do it and she's worried about, 'Can I be a mother and continue in my job? ... Is there a way to find balance in your life? Can I be there for a child or a baby and what happens if I take this on and something happens to me?' Those are all very big questions that she'll be grappling with as next season goes on as well."
This isn't the first brush Benson has had with motherhood. In Season 9, she revealed that she was turned down to adopt because she would be a single mother, and in Season 12, she was a foster mother to Vivian's son, Calvin, before Vivian sent him away. "She's been burned a couple of times and that's in the back of her mind too," Leight says. "There's always the self doubt. We all think she'd be a great mom, but you never know what you're in for until you get in there. There's nothing easy about parenting. Then being a single mom on top of that is extremely difficult."
But despite going back and forth on the matter several times before, "in this episode she's forced to answer that question," Leight says.
Although this season finale may not be as shocking as years past, with the questions surrounding Amaro's professional life and Benson's personal life, Leight teases that the last two scenes are not to be missed. "The audience will freak out in a way that they did at the end of last season," he says. "It's a different emotional response, but it's a big change coming."
Law & Order: SVU airs Wednesday at 9/8c on NBC. Catch up on episodes here.