This post contains spoilers for Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Organized Crime.
Reunited, and it feels so… well, not good, really.
On Thursday night, Law & Order finally reunited NBC’s most beloved platonic couple: After a decade apart, Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson and Christopher Meloni’s Elliot Stabler are back on the case. Unfortunately, it took the death of Stabler’s wife, Kathy, at the hands of a mysterious, high-level criminal to make it happen.
Thursday marks the premiere of Meloni’s new Law & Order spinoff, Organized Crime. Given the magnitude of Benson and Stabler’s (Babe-ler’s?) reunion, it should come as no surprise that NBC blew the event up into a crossover event with SVU—which opened on Kathy Stabler being wheeled into an ambulance as a stunned Olivia looked on. Apparently, despite the fact that the Stablers have been living overseas, they’ve become a bombing target here in the U.S. Maybe it has something to do with Elliot’s new job?
As Stabler explains, he went on a walkabout for a few years after his departure from the NYPD; he began working private security and eventually, he wound up working as an international liaison handling terrorism, sex-trafficking, and organized crime. He came to New York to testify on a case, and Kathy had tagged along. Apparently, the police placard in their rental car tipped off the bomber.
Kathy initially survived the attack, but later died in the hospital of a ruptured spleen. Benson and her team are able to track down the suspected bomber, but soon enough he, too, is found dead in his cell from an overdose. The explosive appears to have been an international design.
Sadly for Kathy, her brush with death is mostly just a plot device to bring Benson and Stabler together (and, of course, launch Stabler’s new standalone TV gig). Benson volunteers to lead the bombing investigation, and allows her old partner to accompany her during the first interrogation, where they question a QAnon devotee. It quickly becomes clear, however, that the perpetrator in this case is someone far more sophisticated.
A lot has changed since last time Stabler appeared onscreen. In his latter seasons, especially, Meloni’s character became known for his hot temper and propensity for bending the rules—qualities that have not aged well in light of recent discussions of how cop procedurals have promoted harmful ideas about policing. So as Stabler made his grand return, viewers also got a healthy dose of hand-wringing about how “good” or “bad” of a cop he might be now.
“Don’t tell me, ‘We don’t do it that way anymore, please,’” Stabler tells Benson at one point. “I’ve been living out of New York, not under a rock.” Vouching for his former colleague to a newer peer, Finn insists, “End of the day, he’s a good cop.”
Eventually, Stabler loses his cool over the questions: “I’m pretty sick of people judging me for who I was 12 years ago,” he says. “I was a good cop then, I’m a good cop now.”
As Ayanna Bell, the organized crime officer in charge of hunting down the criminal element responsible for his wife’s apparent murderer, shoots back, “Guys who came up when you did, you guys never think you need to change your ways.”
But the chief order of business in hour one of this crossover event, naturally, was addressing the distance that’s festered between Stabler and Benson in their decade apart.
It’s been 10 years since Benson and Stabler worked a case together. Meloni’s last episode, the Season 12 finale, ended with Stabler shooting the daughter of a rape victim, who’d open fire in the NYPD precinct with a gun she’d purchased off the street. In subsequent episodes, Benson learned her longtime partner had resigned. The two have not spoken since.
“Are you sorry for leaving, or are you sorry for walking—for not giving me the courtesy of telling me?” Benson asks. “You were the single most important person in my life. And you just… disappeared.”
“I know,” Elliot replies. “I was afraid. If I heard your voice, I wouldn’t have been able to leave.”
Stabler and Benson’s partnership was always, erm, shall we say… intense? That fact came up Thursday night as well, as newer squad members, including Amanda Rollins, hint at the ambiguous “thing” the pair notoriously shared. Stabler seems curious when Finn mentions Olivia’s romantic relationships, and tries to glean some information out of his old colleague—only to be told he’ll need to ask himself.
“That fact came up Thursday night as well, as newer squad members, including Amanda Rollins, hint at the ambiguous “thing” the pair notoriously shared.”
At the risk of sounding crass about poor Kathy’s death, her tragic fate does prompt one, yes, very crass question: Are we finally, after all these years, going to see Stabler and Benson kiss? Pretty please?
Right now, however, Stabler obviously has bigger fish to fry. Kathy’s murder case is officially out of Benson’s jurisdiction, although that’s no guarantee she’ll stand down. Stabler’s youngest son, Eli, is shattered over his mother’s death and despondent that the family will not be returning to Rome. (Sadly, NBC apparently does not have the funds to give us Law & Order Takes Tuscany.)
Stabler himself, meanwhile, has already begun grilling international criminals and chasing down leads, continually referring back to a smuggling case he’d been working in Puglia. Turns out, medical supplies have become a lucrative source of money for organized crime rings during COVID times.
At the root of all this, it seems, is Freddie (Dylan McDermott)—the son of a notorious mob boss named Sinatra (yes, Sinatra) whose goons were also behind the Puglia PPE smuggling. Freddie, who also goes by the name Richard Wheatley, enjoys an upper-crust existence, painting himself as a legitimate businessman. Even Sinatra seemed ready to rat his son out to Stabler—but unfortunately, Freddie got to him first and executed him on the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island.
Now, the chase is afoot. It seems likely that this case will consume a good portion of Organized Crime’s premiere season, or at least provide its early narrative backbone. But once the fog clears and the gavel inevitably falls, there will be time for other, longer-simmering questions—including, yes, whether after all these years, fans might finally get to see Benson and Stabler reconcile and, eventually, smooch. For now, however, we’ll have to wait and see.