The most recent episode of “Law & Order: SVU” left fans of Mariska Hargitay’s character loving her even more.
As Captain Olivia Benson, Hargitay has, over the course of 17 years, developed a loyal fanbase who’ve marveled at her persistent desire to track down some of the most insidious criminals, all the while handling relatable personal struggles.
And the latest episode offered a new layer of compassion to her character, and further, to her 8-year old son Noah (played by Ryan Buggle).
After an intense, early scene of Noah dealing with bullying, the story came back around at the end of the show, and in a moment of sudden clarity, Noah reveals to his mother that he is bisexual.
As Today explained of the jarring opening moments, Noah was seen on all fours in a cage with a collar on being told by a classmate named Hudson to "bark like a dog,” as he filmed the scene. As Hudson’s mom and Benson stumble onto the situation, Noah says they were “just playing.”
After getting him outside and demanding some answers, Noah just wants to drop it at first.
"Hudson's a jerk,” he says to his mother. “He put his dog's collar on me, locked me in the cage, and he wanted me to eat dog food."
Benson is naturally shocked, but "I don't want to talk about it anymore” is the only answer Noah wants to give.
The usual crime fighting imperatives get in Benson’s way until she can have a talk with Noah towards the end of the episode.
It’s during that calmer moment, as mother and son are walking down the street together, that Noah finds the courage to open up more.
Noah is annoyed when Benson says she talked to Hudson’s mother about the incident. "He bullies everyone," says Noah. "It was just my turn to be his target." His defenses break down a little further eventually leading up to the episode's twist.
The boy explains he doesn’t know why Hudson picks on kids, including one who uses they/them pronouns whom Hudson started calling "a fairy."
"Then,” said Noah matter-of-factly,” I said that I was bi.”
And as understanding slowly grows over Benson’s face, Noah concludes, "And that there's no shame in being true to yourself.”
"That's right, Noah," Olivia proudly replies, acknowledging how her son stood up for himself and his fellow bullied classmate.
"That is incredibly brave," she adds.
"Well, it's my truth. I just hadn't told anybody before," he tells her.
The moment was a genuine tear-jerker, played with subtle drama in a way that “SVU” fans have come to appreciate.
Noah seems to feel his mother is processing his truth and tries to lighten the moment. "No big deal," he replies. "It's not like I have a boyfriend or girlfriend, it's just not fair for anybody to be left out."
"I hear that," Olivia says as she grabs him for a hug and kiss. "I'm really proud of you."
Fans reacted emotionally to the scene across Twitter, not just for the sudden revelation, but for the understanding way in which Benson took in her son’s story with no judgement.
"Noah knowing he has the love and support from his mom to not be nervous to come out as bi made me actually sob," one fan commented. Another stated, "As a leader of the LGBTQ club at my school, I loved seeing Noah come out and be so comfortable with himself. We need all kids to be like this!
And another impressed fan added, "it’s noah feeling comfortable enough to come out as bisexual in the way that he chose to, just shows one of the many attributes that make olivia benson such a wonderful mom and human being. they’re both so lucky to have each each other.”
And Buggel himself felt a similar intensity about what he was able to convey as Noah. He shared those thoughts in an Instagram post that appeared shortly after the episode aired.
Underneath a gallery of shots, Bugel noted: " “It’s time to pass the Equality Act. Filming this episode was such an important, incredible and exciting experience for me. @therealmariskahargitay personally called me to talk about the script before it was finished and I felt so involved and respected. It is incredible to see Noah beginning to discover who he is. My feelings are the same, there is no shame in being true to yourself and no one deserves to be left out or bullied because of it.”