February 2007; TV Guidei's hunky but hotheaded Elliot Stabler, and Emmy-winner Mariska Hargitays empathetic Olivia Benson. Although the cases they work are still the series' hook, their soap-opera-like personal sagas — Stabler's unstable home life, Benson's background as the child of rape, their undeniable sexual attraction — have been stealing the focus of late. And why not? Most viewers admit that Stabler and Benson and their tumultuous partnership are the reason they tune in (and why fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when the stars recently renewed their contracts through 2009), and SVU consistently earns the highest ratings out of all the L&Os.
As for whether this shift will lead to romance, Hargitay laughs. "I get asked that a lot," she says. "[Benson and Stabler's] relationship is very complex. Sometimes it's like brother-sister, and sometimes there's a lot of sexual chemistry. I think their passion for the same job is what makes them so close. The average lifespan of an SVU detective is four years, and here are two cops who have been in it so long that they're basically isolated from the rest of the world. It's just so loaded and layered. I know a lot of people want to see them together." So, back to the original question: "I think sometimes even Olivia wants that," says her portrayer. "But I don't think that will ever happen."
Of course, the fate of "Ellivia" is really in the hands of the writers. Although Baer says that "right now their relationship is still evolving," he allows, "You never can say never." There certainly are no plans for them to get together anytime soon, particularly since Stabler is trying to reconcile with Kathy, his estranged wife. One other impediment to romance is gone, however — Stabler's temporary partner/love interest, Dani Beck (played by Connie Nielsen in a six-episode arc earlier this season). "Beck won't be back," Baer says. "The whole intent [with her character] was to bring on someone who had never done Special Victims and to show that it's not a job for everyone."