‘Law & Order SVU’s Most Intense Episode Changes Olivia Benson Forever


The Big Picture

  • Law & Order: SVU‘s “Surrender Benson” episode leaves Olivia Benson traumatized and forever changed after being kidnapped and tortured by William Lewis.
  • Benson’s empathetic nature, which sets her apart from her colleagues, is silenced as she gives into rage and contemplates taking justice into her own hands.
  • The pivotal episode explores Benson’s difficult past and the impact that her ordeal has on her character, raising questions about her ability to continue advocating for victims.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU) is American television’s longest-running primetime live-action series. As it enters Season 25, it’s impossible not to think of all the thrilling moments in the franchise’s history. Somehow, the series has managed to tell over 500 unique stories and remain as relevant and fresh as ever. This is primarily thanks to well-defined characters and a simple yet effective central conflict that drives each narrative. The series’ heart is undoubtedly Captain Olivia “Liv” Benson (Mariska Hargitay), who also happens to be the longest-running primetime television character ever. Her steadfast, empathetic nature makes her the ideal person to give a voice to the victims of violent sex crimes. Benson’s empathy and compassion set her apart from her colleagues, particularly Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), Benson’s partner for twelve seasons. However, all of that changes in Season 15, Episode 1, “Surrender Benson,” when William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber) kidnaps and tortures Olivia Benson. From that moment on, Olivia Benson is forever changed by the brutality of Lewis’ sadistic mind games.

Law & Order: SVU

This series follows the Special Victims Unit, a specially trained squad of detectives in the New York City Police Department that investigate sexually related crimes.

Crime Drama


Number of Seasons

Debut Date
September 20, 1999

NBC, Wolf Entertainment

‘SVU’s “Surrender Benson” Starts With a Cliffhanger

SVU Season 14 ends with quite a cliffhanger when William Lewis manages to break into Olivia Benson’s apartment and hold her at gunpoint. For months, audiences were left wondering what Benson’s fate would hold, as William Lewis’ sick and twisted crimes were already well-known among SVU fans. In earlier episodes, he was arrested for indecent exposure and released, only to track down the woman who turned him in and rape and torture her for 18 hours. He was arrested, and when the woman died from a trauma-related heart attack, the prosecution lost their only witness. That, combined with some sneaky legal maneuvering on the part of Lewis’s lawyer, resulted in a mistrial and Lewis’s release.

When SVU Season 15 premiered, audiences couldn’t wait to see what had happened to Olivia Benson. The episode “Surrender Benson” picks up right where the previous season left off: with Olivia being held hostage in her apartment by a twisted serial rapist. Benson is bloody and beaten, bound to a chair, with duct tape covering her mouth. It’s clear she has been drugged, as her response time is severely impaired. When Benson’s phone rings, she remarks that her boyfriend is on his way to her place. Lewis listens to the message and tells her that her boyfriend isn’t coming, then smashes Benson’s face with the butt of his gun, and it’s lights out for Liv.

The Clock Is Ticking as the ‘SVU’ Team Searches for Benson

Rollins standing between an open door and a window in the squad room.
Image via NBC

Back at the precinct, Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) asks Detective Rollins (Kelli Giddish) and Detective Tutuola (Ice-T) to check on Benson. They find her apartment in shambles, and when they discover the smell of burned skin, they realize William Lewis has Benson. From there, the team tracks Lewis to his girlfriend’s parents’ house, where he murdered her father and raped her mother, leaving her hanging by her wrists in a closet. When the police find her and take her to the hospital in an ambulance, she tells Rollins that Lewis forced Benson to watch as he raped her.

With time running out, the SVU team has little to go on besides knowing he wants to go to a beach on Long Island. After stopping at a hardware store, Lewis takes Benson to an out-of-the-way cabin near the beach. He handcuffs her to the iron bed frame and proceeds to taunt her. A woman shows up at the house with her daughter to clean the place, and Lewis grabs them and takes them hostage, too. Benson is somehow able to pry one of the metal bars loose from the bed frame, and she hits Lewis in the head and then repeatedly hits him until he is subdued. She then cuffs him to the bed and tells the woman to take her child and leave.

In ‘SVU’s “Surrender Benson,” Olivia Questions Her Morals

Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson in Law & Order: SVU
Image via NBC

SVU’s Olivia Benson has a difficult past. She is the result of her mother’s rape, and her father, a serial rapist, remained a mystery to her until she was an adult. Her mother had alcoholism and was mentally and physically abusive to Olivia as she was growing up. This is one of the main reasons Benson advocates for victims. She is an abuse survivor and the daughter of a rape survivor. Benson understands what victims are going through, and she always puts them first. She is not prone to acts of rage or violence like her previous partner, Elliot Stabler — but all of that changes when she is tortured and tormented by William Lewis.

After Benson cuffs Lewis to the bed, she talks to him while he is passed out. He is subdued and held captive, and she should call her team and end things the right way. Benson is traumatized and enraged by her ordeal, and she wants to kill Lewis, and the reality is, no one would think less of her if she did. She mentions that her partner would not hesitate to put an end to the evil man and that perhaps she should give him a call because he would know what to do. But Benson can’t do it. Even when Lewis tries to get her to shoot him, she can’t. She knows he could be acquitted yet again because he seems to know how to work the judicial system, but it isn’t in her nature to take justice into her own hands.

In the Aftermath of “Surrender Benson,” Olivia Is Changed Forever

As Lewis tells Benson about his twisted past, Benson is overcome with anger and emotion. He tells her about his father, who raped a young woman in front of him and then took him out for ice cream. She tells him she doesn’t feel sorry for him but is fighting her own nature. She always empathizes with victims, and this man, though he has committed unspeakable acts, is also a victim. Just when it seems she is starting to feel bad for him, he tells her she is missing the point of his story. He tells her he doesn’t feel traumatized by that event. Instead, he feels it was one of the best days of his life, and it led him to his true calling: propagating sexual violence against women. He then taunts her about her past, making comments about her father and mother. He knows nothing of her past trauma, but it’s enough to evoke a response. In a very un-Benson-like moment, Olivia puts down her gun and beats Lewis with the iron rod from the bed frame. In the final scene, Benson’s team from SVU shows up and takes her to safety after telling her that Lewis survived, which surprises her. She thought she had beaten him to death, and now she isn’t sure how to feel.

SVU’s “Surrender Benson” is a pivotal episode in the franchise because, in giving into her rage, Olivia Benson silences the very thing that gives her the strength to stand up for others: her empathy. In the aftermath of her ordeal, she is processing the traumatic events perpetrated against her, including not just her torture and assault, but the rape and torture of another woman that Lewis forced Benson to witness. Benson has her own traumatic past that led her to the Special Victims Unit. She helps victims by bringing their abusers to justice. Her empathy is her most significant asset, and in pushing Benson to the kind of anger she had perhaps never felt before, Lewis changes her character forever.

Law & Order: SVU is available to stream on Hulu in the U.S.



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