Law & Order: SVU season 23 finale teases new romance for Mariska Hargitay's Benson - fans react

Warning, spoilers for the season 23 finale below!

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit pulled out all the stops for its season 23 finale, and fans were left freaking out after it was revealed that Captain Olivia Benson, played by Mariska Hargitay, may soon find herself in a love triangle.

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The episode saw Raúl Esparza return as ADA Rafael Barba for a second time this season to defend a domestic violence victim - however, it wasn't Benson who called him but Rollins (Kelli Giddish). As fans will know, the pair haven't been on speaking terms ever since Barba represented Organised Crime's Richard Wheatley (Dylan McDermott) after he was charged with the murder of Stabler's (Christopher Meloni) wife.

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However, at the end of the episode, the two confront each other about their true feelings. When Liv reiterated her disappointment over how the Wheatley trial went down, Barba remarked: "You're denying, you're deflecting. You defend him. It's alright, I get it. It's what you do when you love somebody unconditionally."

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"Please don't tell me how I feel," Liv then replied, which prompted an emotional response from Barba. "But in this case, I can because I do know what it means to love someone unconditionally," he said. "And when you're ready to stop feeling betrayed by me, I'll be here." Woah!

Raúl Esparza returnED as ADA Rafael Barba in the season 23 finale

Taking to Reddit to discuss the reveal that something more than friendship lays ahead for Benson and Barba, one fan wrote: "The last scene omg. I ship them both so hard." Someone else added: "For me, Barba is the only person worthy of Olivia other than Stabler, so this is really doing things to me."

Could there now be a love triangle between Benson, Stabler and Barba?

Another said: "As a Benson/Barba shipper I am So here for this!!!" while a fourth added: "Olivia deserves love and by love I mean Barba."

So could the show's next season see things ramp up romantically for Liv? While discussing the episode with TV Insider, Rafael remained coy but said that it is a possibility that the two could be more than friends.

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"I think everything is possible. I think that the scene is so beautifully written. It suggests any number of options and I think it would be wrong of us as actors to land on any one definition," he said.

"That was the thing we kept trying to wrestle with was how to convey a couple of meetings without hitting anything too hard because it is a fragile story between them and a moment of real tenderness, which exists often between them, but now coming out of a lot of heartache. So yeah, I think all things are possible."

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