Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23 finally began on Thursday night, but there was plenty of behind-the-scenes drama before filming even began. In May, star Mariska Hargitay broke her right ankle and suffered other leg injuries after taking a nasty fall. Since there's no SVU without Capt. Olivia Benson, the writers included Hargitay's injury in the show.
The episode started right after Season 22 ended, with Benson heading home from Fin and Baker's non-wedding reception. Benson got into a car accident. When she was picked up, she hallucinated that Stabler was there. He wasn't really there though.
SVU flashed forward a bit, following the events of Law & Order: Organized Crime's Season 1 finale. In her office, Benson told her squad she was doing much better, but she believed Richard Wheatley (Dylan McDermott) was somehow involved. She later told internal affairs that any woman connected to Wheatley was in danger. Later, Benson's team tried to convince her to take it easy, but she refused.
Before the two-hour season premiere episodes "And The Empire Strikes Back" and "Never Turn Your Back on Them" aired, Hargitay and Christopher Meloni stopped by the Today Show, where Hargitay was in good spirits. "It's so funny because I'd love to say, 'Oh, you should see the other guy,' but the truth of the matter is I tripped in the rain walking across the street," she said. "I'm feeling great. I'm feeling bionic now." Hargitay had two plates and 13 pins inserted during surgery.
The writers on both SVU and Law & Order: Organized Crime gave themselves plenty of ways to write in an injury for Benson. Towards the end of Organized Crime Season 1, they established that Stabler's nemesis Richard Wheatley (Dylan McDermott) now knows about Stabler's past with Benson. In the penultimate Season 1 episode, Wheatley referenced the "one true love" of Stabler's life. Wheatley suggested that Stabler's now-deceased wife Kathy wasn't really the woman who fit that description, instead suggesting Benson without saying her name. That's why Benson believes her leg injuries could come from an attack plotted by Wheatley.
Back in August, TVLine confirmed Hargitay's injury would be addressed in SVU Season 23, but a representative said her crutches will not show up on the screen. Some of the photos from the set also showed Hargitay wearing the same dress Benson wore at Fin (Ice-T) and Baker's (Jennifer Esposito) wedding reception, which ended with the two deciding they didn't need to get married. As expected, this meant the season picked up after the events at the non-wedding.