Fifteen years in, a show isn't supposed to be this great.
The first hour of the season opener of NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" Wednesday (Sept. 25) is haunting, terrifying and Emmy-worthy. A second, unrelated episode followed, but it's the first half of the premiere, the conclusion to last season's finale, people will be talking about.
When last season ended, serial rapist William Lewis ( Pablo Schreiber) had kidnapped Olivia ( Mariska Hargitay) after a crime spree that included raping and torturing an older photographer ( Judith Ivey).
Cragen ( Dann Florek) ordered Benson to take off two days because she was so furious and frustrated that Lewis kept evading prosecution. Benson followed orders and went home -- where Lewis was waiting for her, gun drawn.
When the season opens, Benson is tied up and has duct tape over her mouth. She's woozy from drugs, and her face is swollen and bloodied. She knows the other detectives will search for her, but she also knows they could arrive too late.
It has been 35 hours since anyone had contact with Benson, and when the SVU detectives realize this, they descend on her trashed apartment, and immediately know Lewis took her. The chase is on.
Lewis takes her on a trip during which he rapes his lawyer's ( Lauren Ambrose) mother and kills her father. Lewis also kills a rookie police officer who stops him for a minor traffic violation.
At a secluded beach house on Long Island, Lewis handcuffs Benson to an old iron bed.
Benson is hardly a pushover. She's fierce and has no problem fighting. For much of this episode, she does fight, and she loses.
But she never gives up, even shackled to a bed. Surrendering, for Benson, is not an option.
Ultimately, we know she has to win because she signed on for the season. But getting viewers through the 44 minutes is such a tense ride that commercials are welcome.
Lewis is a psychopath. He loves pain, violence and torturing women. He preys on older women and, in a particularly distressing scene, he pulls a 5-year-old girl and her mom into the house where Benson is held captive. Having a little girl and her mom in danger re-energizes Olivia.
In true Benson fashion, while handcuffed to the iron bed, she works free one of the iron rods from the headboard and brandishes it as a weapon -- while her knees and wrists are bound. She grabs her gun, cocks it and subdues him.
Once she gains the upper hand, Benson has time alone with Lewis. Most people would just shoot him and do the world a favor. She aims, but can't do it.
"I want to shoot you in the head right now and watch you bleed out," Benson says to her tormentor.
Even when Lewis taunts her, she won't kill him. She does, however, pulverize him.
"All your life you have been listening to stories, women telling you about the worst night of their lives. What about you? What are you working through?" Lewis says to Benson.
When police arrive and escort Benson out, she is in shock. And when she walks out of the squad room, the looks on the other detectives' faces are nothing but pain.
They couldn't protect one of their own from the worst nights of her life.
By the end, Benson gives her statements, receives medical help and is talking with a therapist. She can't return home; her apartment is a crime scene. She can't work; she needs to recover. And she will never be the same.
Photo/Video credit: NBC