Mariska Hargitay, Danny Pino
[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from the Season 15 finale of Law & Order: SVU. Read at your own risk!]
Law & Order: SVU gave Benson (Mariska Hargitay) a much-deserved happy ending, but Amaro (Danny Pino) will have to wait a little longer to see if he'll get one of his own.
Wednesday's season finale picked up right before Amaro was handcuffed and taken away for assaulting suspected (but acquitted) sex offender Simon Wilkes (Josh Malina). In a complete role reversal, Amaro had his fingerprints taken, posed for his mug shot and even donned an orange jumpsuit as he sat behind bars waiting to learn his fate.
Although the situation originally looked really bad — as bad as a possible Murder 2 charge — Amaro's luck started to change for the better. First, Munch (Richard Belzer) bailed him out of jail, and then Rollins (Kelli Giddish) was able to strong-arm Wilkes' wife to convince her husband not to press charges against Amaro.
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But while Benson started a new chapter in her life by agreeing to become a foster mom to Baby Boy Doe, aka Noah, Amaro won't be able to enjoy a fresh start quite so fast. "Season 16 does not start him off on the SVU squad," showrunner Warren Leight tells TVGuide.com about Amaro's fate. "He's been sent to the bowels of Queens to do traffic stops."
Following Amaro's tough season on SVU, which also included him shooting an unarmed 14-year-old boy and punching an undercover cop, Leight says the writers researched what the real-life ramifications would be of a similar assault. "Basically, you get tunnel duty or traffic duties or Staten Island court duty. It's a little bit what happened to Dean Winters' character," Leight says of Cassidy's demotion from detective to working nights at the Bronx courthouse back in Season 13 after his undercover operation went bust. "The department has ways of making your life miserable. They call it diesel therapy — they make you drive as far as possible to your job."
Although Cassidy was eventually bumped back up to detective and earned a spot working in Internal Affairs, it's unclear how Amaro will handle his new job description. "He's a proud guy. He has a certain amount of ego so these things don't bounce off him," Leight says. "His character is thin-skinned, I'd say, and that's not helpful."
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Season 16 will not only bring changes for Amaro, but also changes for the squad in his absence. Because the team was already short-staffed following the exits of Munch and Cragen, a new addition will be brought in to temporarily fill Amaro's spot. "We'll probably see somebody in the first three episodes who's going to come in and shake things up," says Leight, who suggests that the character may come from another part of New York City. "You'll see a guy who has a little less polish. Manhattan detectives have a certain swag and polish and the outer borough detectives are a little rougher around the edges. We'll see a glimpse of a guy who maybe needs a little bit of refining."
However, no one should start packing up Amaro's desk at SVU anytime soon. Leight stresses that this new character will not be a permanent new addition to the series, at least not at this time. "15 years in, I thought we were certainly able to attract great actors to come by for a little while so we may be experimenting more with these little mini-arcs throughout the season," Leight says. "I'm finding these little arcs easier for us to pull off as opposed to, 'OK, now we're going to replace a detective.'"
This plan strays from the original Law & Order playbook, which dictated that departing characters be replaced immediately and permanently, but is similar to how ADA Barba (Raul Esparza) and Lt. Declan Murphy (Donal Logue) were introduced to SVU in the past two seasons. "It's a lot less pressure on the actor and a lot less pressure on the writing. Declan, we knew when we had him in the first episode with Rollins, I just wanted as many [episodes] as I could have with Donal and I thought it would be cool to have him come in and play captain," Leight says. "If we had introduced him at the beginning of the season as the new captain, it would have set us up very differently and we wouldn't have taken as many chances. ... Sometimes the relationships evolve better over time than in an arranged marriage."
Law & Order: SVU returns in the fall for Season 16. Catch up on episodes here and weigh in on the season finale below!