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Mariska Hargitay says 'Law & Order: SVU' feels 'like a different show now'

"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" will soon return from its mid-season break and back to the storyline that's gripped viewers since the last season closed — the physically and emotionally difficult ordeal faced by Det. Olivia Benson. But according to Mariska Hargitay, the actress behind Benson, the series isn't just looking back to the old. It's all new too.

"I think it's been a journey," the "SVU" star, who made a visit to TODAY on Wednesday, said of the drama as it enters the second half of its 15th season. "I think the writing changes now that we have new showrunners. It feels to me like a different show now, which I think is a great thing. After 15 years the show feels so unbelievably fresh, and that's a gift."

So what fresh material is store for Det. Benson? It's time for her to go to court and face the man who kidnapped and tortured her.

"I read this and I thought, this is one of the best scripts I'd ever read — so complicated and so painful," Hargitay said of the story to come.

The plot will bring closure to the case against Benson's attacker, but that doesn't mean the detective will get closure.

"It's not that simple, I think," Hargitay explained. "What she went through I don't know that she can recover from. It has changed her. She's still fighting PTSD."

Hargitay's ongoing portrayal of that struggle had TODAY's Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb thinking they smell an Emmy in her future.

"Is that what that is?" Hargitay said with a laugh after she sniffed the air.

It wouldn't be the only honor for the "SVU" star. In November, she followed in the footsteps of her famous mother, the late Jayne Mansfield, and got a star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

"It was incredibly emotional," she recalled. "It was surprisingly one of the most emotional and beautiful days I can remember. My mom got a star. All the photos that I've seen of her with my brother and my sister there, and there I was on that day with my with my brother and my sister. It was an incredibly bonding moment, and I felt very, very surprisingly close to my mom."

Her star was placed next to Mansfield's.

The winter premiere of "Law & Order: SVU" airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on NBC.