[Spoiler alert: The following contains information from the Law & Order: SVU season finale. Read at your own risk!]
Just as the Law & Order: SVU family is growing with the official adoption of baby Noah, the squad is losing a member with the exit of Detective Nick Amaro.
Wednesday's finale saw the culmination of a nearly two-season long story when Benson (Mariska Hargitay) was granted custody to Noah. But the hour wasn't without drama as the trial of Noah's birth father, sex trafficker Johnny D, ended in gunfire, with Detective Amaro (Danny Pino) not only shooting Johnny D, but taking a few gunshots. In the end, Amaro, who joined the squad in Season 13, decided it was time to move West to be with this family.
"It's a bittersweet ending," executive producer Warren Leight tells TVGuide.com. "Noah Porter Benson is now part of Olivia's family and Amaro is going to go West to be closer to his two kids and to start fresh, and he goes out a hero."
Read on for a more in-depth look into why it was time for Pino to exit the series, how it affects the squad moving forward and get a tease for what's to come in Season 17.
Why was now the right time for Pino to leave the show?
Warren Leight: It's hard because I'm a hoarder and I adore Danny. But we explored a lot of facets about him and the reality is that the anger he's occasionally been unable to control has put him in a bad place at the NYPD. [Benson] is looking for a No. 2 and he wants it — Finn doesn't want it, Rollins doesn't — and he got shot down very quickly. These days, there is so much attention to police abuse of power that a guy like Amaro, who has crossed a line a few times, is basically dead-ended. The best that could happen to a detective like him right now is that they let him play out the string with no possibility of advancement and that didn't seem like something his character would want. His marriage has also fallen apart, but his daughter has moved out West, this other son of his from a prior relationship has moved out West, so there's not much keeping him [in New York]. It seemed to be, in a strange way, right for Amaro to start fresh somewhere else. It's not to say any of us enjoys it, but it seems like that's where the story was going and I think all of the actors felt like the exit was honored.
Will his exit be addressed in the premiere next season?
Leight: It's noticed, but as is usually the case, the first episode of the season has such a pace to it that you don't have a lot of time to dwell on it. The season starts with a pretty dark episode, a two-parter, in pursuit for a bad guy with a lot of resources. But there are moments when you feel his absence.
Will we learn who is replacing Benson as sergeant right away?
Leight: Not in the first couple of episodes, but then it will come more into focus and play out. While we're hunting [the premiere's bad guy], we're not worried about succession, but I think we'll see [Benson] stepping up to lieutenant as the season goes on.
Now that she's adopted Noah, will he remain a big part of the show?
Leight: The drama of will she be able to keep him is put to rest but ... I'm sure we'll see him. Parenting is a journey and a great journey for Benson to go on because it's one thing to be a foster mother of an infant, but now he's a toddler. Parenting never gets easier as the kids get older.
Will Johnny D come up again?
Leight: There will be repercussions because what's going to happen when your kid starts asking about who his biological parent is? That's a grim story that has to be told to him at some point. It weighs on Olivia.
What can you tease for the rest of the team?
Leight: Rollins (Kelli Giddish) will go through a lot of changes. Barba (Raul Esparza) is so much a part of the team now, so I think we can get more invested in his personal life. Carisi (Peter Scanavino) secretly would like to be sergeant, but it would be unseemly since he's been there only for a short while. It'll be interesting too what happens when he graduates from law school. Does he pass the bar? Does he stay as a cop for awhile? He's adjusting to life at SVU pretty well, but he's still a work in progress. The theme of this season has been family and next year, we're looking at transitions or passages. It should be a year where wherever everyone starts at the beginning of the [season] is not where they end.
Law & Order: SVU returns to NBC in the fall.
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