Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23 kicked off with a dramatic two hours that ended with two cast members leaving the squad room. As NBC announced earlier this month, both Jamie Gray Hyder and Demore Barnes have left the show. The episodes "And The Empire Strikes Back" and "Never Turn Your Back On Them" explained how their characters Junior Det. Katriona "Kat" Tamin and Dep. Chief Christian Garland would be pushed out. Both stars had a surprisingly short tenure on the show, as they were introduced in Season 21.
In "And The Empire Strikes Back," Chief Tommy McGrath (Terry Serpico) jumped onto the Rep. Matt Gaetz-inspired case of Congressman Howard (Ben Rappaport), who was accused of having sex with underage girls. Howard was a rising political star, so Garland (Barnes) and Capt. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) wanted to make sure they had all their cards in order before arresting the politician.
McGrath had no interest in taking things slow, so he rushed to make an arrest. He also used Barnes' slow speed as an excuse to push him out of the picture. He didn't even invite Barnes to a press conference announcing Howard's arrest. McGrath and other members of the NYPD brass have been upset with Garland since he endorsed plans to reform the NYPD last season. Howard was arrested, but when higher powers decided against using information for Howard's attorney to fry bigger fish, it was clear that Garland was not succeeding as he hoped. He resigned, which means Benson now has to report to McGrath.
As for Tamin, she expressed disappointment with having to pressure traumatized witnesses to take the stand. Although it might seem Kat would leave because of this, her decision came after she was shot in the stomach during a raid. She wore a bulletproof vest, but the bullet still hit her. After she woke up at the hospital, Kat told Fin (Ice-T) she was thinking that maybe being at SVU wasn't where she was meant to be. During a one-on-one meeting with Benson, Kat said she did not think she had 20 years of working at SVU in her. Benson tried to convince her to stay, but Kat was not persuaded.
Although their characters chose to leave the SVU, Hyder and Barnes revealed on social media that they wished to stay with the show. "The decision was made above my pay grade and wouldn't have been my choice. But hey, that's showbiz for ya," Hyder tweeted on Sept. 4. "To anyone who felt represented by any part of Kat's being or mission, please know that you will always have representation in me."
Barnes said he was surprised by his exit, but he was grateful for the experience of working on the longest-running primetime drama in U.S. television history. "What I know is that it is almost every actor's desired right of passage to appear on one episode of SVU, and yet here I am. I've not only gone on to do more than one episode, but I know I've done it with style," Barnes said in a message to fans on Instagram. "I also know, now on the other side of our having made it through this past season of filming in the minefield of COVID with fear and without fallen colleagues, that I am honored and proud to have helped this storied franchise bridge its most difficult year in its record-breaking run, and that the show did it with style."