‘Law & Order: SVU’ Star And Director Mariska Hargitay Confronts Sexual Consent

Mariska Hargitay has again been directing episodes of Law & Order: SVU and her most recent efforts aired Wednesday night in the appropriately titled episode, “A Misunderstanding.” The episode was written by Celine C. Robinson, who previously wrote six other episodes for the series, and centers around a young high school couple in a story that involves a he-said, she-said scenario addressing issues related to sexual consent. Hargitay says the episode was daunting to direct, because sexual consent is as murky topic in real American courtrooms as it is in fictional legal dramas.

Mariska Hargitay Braves The Waters Of “A Misunderstanding” In This Week’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Episode

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“A Misunderstanding” begins with Rita Calhoun, played by Elizabeth Marvel, returning to Law & Order to enlist the SVU squad in helping her to find out what happened to teenage Abby (Charlie Ray). This comes as viewers are given the precursor of the case, which involves the couple enjoying a date together. Following some intense kissing in a secluded area, the two teens eventually end up in a police precinct, where Abby says that she really didn’t want to have sex. The boy argues that she seemed very interested in the heat of the moment.

With no proof one way or the other, the case becomes an issue of his word against her word, and Benson (Hargitay) seems ready to conclude that the issue is really just a misunderstanding between two teenagers.

As the director, Mariska says she tried not to control much of what went on in the scenes, but, instead, let the actors run with it, which, she says, resulted in some very fine performances.

“My job was to allow the characters to tell the story. They all feel justified in their points of view, so we all committed to getting and giving the fullest, most truthful performances. I think the episode gives us a strong perspective of [whichever] character [is] in front of us in the scene,” says Ms. Hargitay of the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode. “When we hear the girl’s side of it, we feel her pain and want justice for her. When we hear his side of it, we understand that he is so misguided and dominated by the macho culture he’s in, he is genuinely caught off guard. He has no idea he even did something wrong until it escalates to the police.”

Mariska Hargitay Divulges Her Feelings Upon Getting Back Into The Director’s Chair

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Having directed an episode in season 16 and an episode in season 15, Ms. Hargitay was eager for greater challenge with her Law & Order duties, so she’s committed to directing two episodes this season with “A Misunderstanding” being the first of those installments. She says that directing is starting to feel more familiar and she finds herself falling in love with it in much the same way she felt about acting, when she was new to performing for the camera.

While the concept of sexual assault is ambiguous, because it varies from state to state, Mariska says the most challenging aspect of the episode wasn’t the legal ramifications, but the actual scene depicting the sexual relations between the characters portrayed by Charlie Ray and Sean Grandillo. Ms. Hargitay says that creating scenes of sexual assault is always difficult, but it was doubly so in this instance, because the events of what really happened had to remain a mystery.

Mariska said that the audience had to empathize with both characters equally, because the idea was to create a story, where the facts were as murky and confusing as the real life situations.

“…even on set and even watching the cut of the episode, there were debates between the creative team about what we just saw. That’s what we’re hoping to spark, so I think it was effective.”

Mariska Hargitay is especially familiar with the subject matter seen on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit because she works with the survivors of rape and sexual assault through the Joyful Heart Foundation.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit airs on Wednesday nights on NBC. Check local listings for times.

[Featured image by NBC]