‘Law & Order: SVU’ May Have Damaged One of Benson’s Relationships Forever

by Suzanne Halliburton
Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

The Law & Order: SVU fall finale was so deliciously good, with all those twists and turns and one big mistrial.

But did the episode prove to be a fatal blow for the friendship between Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson and recurring character Rafael Barba (Raul Esparza)? It certainly looks like the relationship is frayed beyond redemption.

If you’re not familiar with the backstory, Barba used to be an NYC assistant district attorney assigned to prosecute cases connected to Benson’s SVU. Esparza joined the Law & Order: SVU cast in 2012, after Christopher Meloni (Eliot Stabler) left it. Esparza has played Barba in 118 episodes and (presumably) counting.

What was the critical blow between Benson and Barba? Well, Barba is a defense attorney now. Richard Wheatley (Dylan McDermott) hired Barba as his defense attorney. McDermott had been delaying his trial by constantly firing his lawyers. As the Law & Order: SVU episode opened Thursday, Wheatley fired his attorney as soon as the judge ordered a trial date. Wheatley told the attorney that she was good at filing motions, but he wanted someone different defending him.

Barba Blew Up Some Bridges on ‘Law & Order: SVU’

Enter Barba. He said in Thursday’s episode “whoever said “crime doesn’t pay” wasn’t a lawyer.” He and Benson chatted about the case and Olivia told her long-time friend that the worse thing he could do was represent Wheatley. Not only did Wheatley probably order the hit on Stabler’s wife, Kathy, he probably also paid someone to run Benson off the road in the season opener.

Wheatley also is super manipulative, which is why he was attracted to Barba. But Benson and Stabler also know how to push emotional triggers.

Wheatley was so impressed with Barba as his attorney, he wanted to hire him as a full-time consigliere. After all, every superb crime boss needs a genius-level lawyer. Barba told Benson he represented Wheatley because he believed the NYPD set him up to take the fall for Kathy Stabler’s death.

Barba and Stabler never crossed paths when Stabler was with Law & Order: SVU. But Stabler wasn’t thrilled, either, about Barba’s new client.  “I am sorry for your loss,” Barba told Stabler.

“Are you?” Stabler asks. “Then why are you defending the man who killed my wife?”

In the trial, Barba had no issues bringing up Stabler’s disciplinary issues. He also peppered Bell with questions about whether cops planted evidence.

Will Wheatley Ever Pay for What He’s Done?

Before the verdict is reached, Barba and Benson meet in a restaurant. And Olivia makes it clear she’s irritated with her long-time friend. “Just so we’re clear: I feel betrayed by you,” she said. “And I don’t know how I’ll ever get over it.”

The Wheatley case ends in a mistrial. Barba then wants no part of Wheatley, telling him he doesn’t want a fool for a client.

And as Law & Order: SVU ended before crossing over into Organized Crime, we find out that Wheatley’s ex-wife Angela is faking her symptoms of her nerve poisoning. She’s very much in control. And her daughter might’ve paid a man to set up Stabler’s son for murder. On top of all that, there won’t be another Wheatley trial.

No one wonder there could be a serious breach in friendship among your favorite Law & Order: SVU characters.