'Law & Order: SVU' premiere: New hires and old wounds

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kelli-giddish-svu.jpgThe focus leading up to the season premiere of "Law & Order: SVU" has been on the people coming into the show. But to a large degree within Wednesday's (Sept. 21), the focus was on the guy who's gone.

The show picks up more or less in real time after the end of last season. Stabler is nowhere to be found, still on leave after the squad-room shooting in "Smoked." There's a new hire, Detective Amanda Rollins ( Kelli Giddish), and a very high-profile case clearly modeled on that of former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn (they even name-check him).

The case plays out more or less the way the real one has, but that's not what really drew our interest.

The real-life reason for Stabler's departure is that Chris Meloni and the show couldn't agree on a contract extension. Within the show, though, the writers seem to be handling it about as deftly as you can when an actor is just gone. It makes perfect sense that Elliot would be badly shaken after shooting a teenage girl, and that his remaining colleagues, especially Olivia, would be on eggshells.

We learn at the end of the episode that he's put in his retirement papers, which at least brings some finality (if not closure) to Stabler's time in the Special Victims Unit.

So what about the newbies? With Stabler's fate not resolved until episode's end, we won't see Danny Pino until next week. But early indications are that Giddish might fit in OK. Rollins came on a little too Brenda Johnson in "The Closer" at first, but after that slightly awkward introduction she proved to be a fairly canny detective, albeit a little green. (Also, it felt like Munch and Fin got more screen time than they have in quite a while. That's not a bad thing.)

It was also nice to see Stephanie March as ADA Alex Cabot (she and Diane Neal will both be around this season). We're less sure about Linus Roache now being a bureau chief in the DA's office. Cutter was very good in court on the original "L&O," but he looks a little less comfortable in a supervisory role.

Stabler's legacy is going to linger a while, both within the show and among its fans. But this episode felt like a decent first step toward moving on.

What did you think of the "SVU" season premiere?
Photo/Video credit: NBC