Wednesday night's premiere of NBC's long-running "Law and Order: SVU" took Olivia Benson to a darker place than she's been in the show's 15 seasons -- at the hands of a serial rapist played by "Orange is the New Black's" Pablo Schreiber.
"At various points, he's drugging her and he's pouring alcohol down her mouth. He's torturing her psychologically and physically," showrunner Warren Leight told TV Guide. "It takes her a long while to accept the fact that this is happening to her. She bargains with him, she gets angry with him. She has to really go through a lot."
Mariska Hargitay, who has played the empathetic Detective Benson since the show debuted in 1999, told "Today" in a recent appearance on "Today" that the premiere was her most challenging episode to date.
"It was, without a doubt, the most difficult episode I ever shot in 15 years, and it was unlike anything I've ever done," she said. "But I have to tell you, after 15 years, to be nervous and scared and excited to go to work -- it's a pretty great thing."
"When you're acting, your body doesn't know the difference of acting or being in reality, and you try to keep it real...I think you pretty much play the what-if game," she added. "It's just about believing it. I think that's why you study your whole life to be focused and be present."
If the premiere felt more "cinematic" than previous seasons of the series, it's all part of Leight's plans to take "SVU" to new dramatic heights -- as evidenced by NBC's enthusiastic promotion of the new season.
"At times it is a little cinematic, at times it is a little theatrical. I didn't want it to feel like another episode or just another premiere," he told Zap2It.