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Law & Order: SVU season finale ends with Olivia confessing her feelings

Mariska Hargitay on Law & Order: SVU
Mariska Hargitay as Captain Olivia Benson in Law & Order: SVU (Image credit: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Is there love in the air on Law & Order: SVU? Just maybe. 

In an unexpected yet very welcomed twist, the season finale opens with Olivia (Mariska Hargitay) in the midst of a therapy session with her longtime psychologist Dr. Lindstrom (Bill Irwin). During their conversation, they address two of the biggest elephants in the room for season 23. First, the SVU captain mentions she doesn’t have closure with Rafael Barba (Raúl Esparza). If you’re like us, then you may have been thinking "duh" in response to this revelation. 

Liv has been upset with Rafael since he chose to defend the intelligent yet murderous mob boss Richard Wheatley (Dylan McDermott) in his criminal trial, even though he represented Wheatley in part to help prevent the criminal from turning Olivia into some type of sideshow in open court. Yeah, Wheatley may have been behind Olivia getting run off the road, killed her old partner Elliot Stabler's wife and kidnapped his mother, but Rafael thought he was using his brilliant legal mind to protect his friend. His heart was in the right place. 

Speaking of Stabler (Christopher Meloni), he was the other issue addressed. In a moment that truly deserved a round of applause, Dr. Lindstrom tells Olivia it will be hard for her to be in a relationship romantically with Elliot or anyone else until she and her fellow officer explore if there is more between them. She was further nudged to get some clarity on the matter when Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish) shared the wise words of her mother, "you two should get a hotel room and work it out of your system." It was as if Dick Wolf and the SVU writers had finally listened to fans and were going to open the door to the pairing we’ve been begging for for years.

But before going too far down that Stabler road, back to Barba. Because this is a procedural show, SVU was actually working a case in the season 23 finale. The victim of domestic violence needed a good defense attorney in the case as she blacked out and killed her husband. Liv had no luck using her connections, so Amanda asked her if she reached out to Rafael. Since the squad leader refused to do so, Amanda calls Barba and he takes the case.

Now Olivia isn’t able to avoid Rafael, as she winds up meeting him at the bar twice. Their initial meeting doesn’t go well. Although he tells her he misses her, she pretty much responds by bolting out the door. Things get juicy during their second encounter.

In a more productive discussion, the attorney defends his reasons for representing Wheatley, saying he was trying to help her. The longtime NYPD officer responds that she didn’t need his protection in that way and begged him not to take the case. He retorts she has been so much harder on him than she’s ever been on Stabler. Rafael then presses her about her feelings for her the Organized Crime detective, to which Olivia gets flustered and claims the lawyer doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

As things we’re getting good, Rafael wraps the conversation by stating he gets it. Liv has a different standard for Stabler because she loves him unconditionally. He then states he knows how it feels to love someone in that way, seemingly hinting at his affection for her. It's in the remaining seconds of the show that Olivia tells Rafael three (well four) magic words. 

She says "I miss you too."

It wasn’t the "I love you" we thought we’d hear and she wasn’t speaking with the person we assumed she’d have a heart-to-heart with, but the scene got us thinking. Would Olivia be better paired with Elliot or Rafael? Let’s table that for next season.

Fans react to Law & Order: SVU’s Olivia and her love life

It looks like fans had quite a few things to say about Olivia’s romantic future.  

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You can rewatch some of your favorite Law & Order: SVU moments from the season over on Peacock or Hulu

Terrell Smith has a diverse writing background having penned material for a wide array of clients including the federal government and Bravo television personalities.  When he’s not writing as Terrell, he’s writing under his pseudonym Tavion Scott, creating scripts for his audio drama podcasts. Terrell is a huge fan of great storytelling when it comes to television and film. Some of his favorite shows include The CrownWandaVision, Abbot Elementary and Godfather of HarlemAnd a fun fact is he's completely dialed into the TLC 90 Day Fiancé universe.