It's been nine years since Christopher Meloni left Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, but the actor is reprising the role of Elliot Stabler for an upcoming NBC spin-off. Premiering in 2021, Law & Order: Organized Crime, from executive producer Dick Wolf, will find Stabler heading up the NYPD's organized crime division.
We still don't have an exact premiere date or casting information (besides Meloni, of course), but we already have a long wish list of what we hope to see in Organized Crime. And can you blame us? We've had nearly a decade to think about what we'd want from the detective's long-awaited return. But since we know you don't have all day, we whittled down this list to only the most crucial asks. Read on for the seven things we absolutely need to see in the Elliot Stabler spin-off.
1. Answers about where Stabler has been. Over the past decade, SVU hasn't given us any updates about where Stabler's been since retiring from Special Victims or why he hasn't visited his old co-workers. (He didn't even show up to Munch's [Richard Belzer] retirement party. How rude!) We know that Stabler will now be leading the NYPD's organized crime unit — but how did he wind up there? And what did he do between leaving SVU and joining organized crime?
The only clue we have right now comes from the show's official description, which reveals that Stabler will return to the NYPD "after a devastating personal loss," so it doesn't sound like Stabler's past 10 years will necessarily all have been good ones…
2. A reformed version of Stabler. During Meloni's 12 seasons on the show, SVU never directly reckoned with Stabler's history of anger and violence on the job in a way that actually held the detective accountable. (The character was written out of the procedural with the explanation that he had chosen to quit his job rather than comply with Internal Affairs' requirements after a lethal shooting.) Organized Crime will hopefully be an opportunity to rectify that issue and present a more evolved, improved version of the character.
This doesn't mean that we don't want Stabler to have flaws, or that we want Organized Crime to ignore his problematic and harmful past. Instead, we think this is an opportunity for the series to directly address these issues and condemn them once and for all. And while Stabler has a well-established distrust of psychologists and psychiatrists, it would be interesting to see Stabler in therapy on the show. That way we could actively watch him try to bridge the gap from the detective we saw in SVU to what will hopefully be a more progressive version of this character.
3. An emotional reunion with Benson. As excited as we are to see Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Stabler together again, we have to acknowledge that this reunion might not necessarily be a happy one. That's because while Benson has referenced Stabler a few times, none of her comments have made it seem like he's still a large part of her life. How SVU and the Stabler spin-off will fill in the gaps in Benson and Stabler's relationship — or explain why they stopped having one — will really make or break this potential reunion, and perhaps even Stabler's return to TV as a whole.
If it were up to us, we'd have their reunion be bittersweet — see Benson and Stabler happy to see each other and maybe even bonding over both being parents now, but also have them confront how and why their relationship has changed, and how each of them has changed from the people they once were. Because the thing is, the Benson we see now on SVU is not the same one who was partnered with Stabler. In Season 16, Benson even told Amaro (Danny Pino) that she had grown more in her four years partnered up with him than she ever had while working with Stabler.
If the Stabler we see in this new show has grown as much as Benson has and is able to reflect on his past with perspective, this could provide an opportunity for the two to begin rebuilding their close bond and building a new dynamic that is just as special as the one fans cherished for SVU's first 12 seasons.
4. A willingness to reflect the realities of the NYPD and policing. The most important thing that the spin-off needs to accomplish is for the show as a whole to be actively and outspokenly against police violence. As daily protests against police brutality and systemic racism continue, there is no room on TV for series that glorify cops who commit acts of abuse and brutality, especially if it is portrayed as "doing the wrong thing for the right reason," something SVU showrunner Warren Leight touched upon in a June interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "There are shows with flawed cops at their center. I don't mind a flawed cop at the center, but a flawed cop with a tendency to violence who's glorified, to me, is a real recipe for legitimizing police brutality. That's what I see the most that disturbs me," he said.
While Leight is not going to helm the Stabler spin-off, we do hope that those in charge, including showrunner Matt Olmstead, are paying attention to what Leight is saying and the way the SVU team is publicly committing to using their platform to tell stories that reflect the realities of police brutality, systemic racism, and implicit bias. And while they're at it, it would be great to see the show grapple with questions of whether policing is necessary at all. The more the series is willing to engage with the current discourse about our justice system with honesty and sensitivity, the more successful it will be.
5. The return of the entire Stabler family. Family has always been a big part of who Stabler is, which is why we also can't imagine this spin-off moving forward without recurring appearances from his wife Kathy (Isabel Gillies) and five kids: Maureen, Kathleen, Dickie, Elisabeth, and Elliot Jr., aka Eli. And while they're at it, why not introduce Stabler's brothers and sisters, or give us the long-overdue return of his estranged mother Bernadette (Ellen Burstyn)? If we're going to get an entire spin-off with Stabler as the star, this is a perfect opportunity to dive deeper into his personal life.
6. A ton of crossovers with SVU. Stabler was originally supposed to first return in SVU's Season 22 premiere, but given that Organized Crime has been delayed until 2021, we're betting those plans have changed. However, we're still expecting a lot of crossovers between the two series once they're both on the air. When the crossovers do occur, the easiest way to bring together the two shows would probably be through the courtroom, which presents a lot of exciting possibilities. It would be fantastic to see Carisi (Peter Scanavino) come face to face with Stabler while working a big gang case, or to see Barba (Raul Esparza) return for a special appearance on the spin-off. (Can you imagine those two verbally sparring? Chills!)
But the most exciting potential crossovers would feature Stabler and his former coworkers. Other than Benson, the only other detective left whose time on SVU overlapped with Stabler's is Fin (Ice-T) — who just so happens to be one of the characters we'd want to see reunite with Stabler the most. Fin and Stabler often clashed on SVU, and it would be great to see them reflecting on their past and affirming their respect for one another in a way we rarely got to see during Meloni's time on the show. And if they want to bring back characters like Cabot (Stephanie March), Novak (Diane Neal), or Cragen (Dann Florek) for special cameos, you would not hear us complaining.
7. No attempt at a Benson replacement. What Meloni and Hargitay had on SVU was special, and attempting to recapture that magic on the spin-off would be setting the show up for failure. So please, Organized Crime, don't give Stabler a coworker/best friend meant to mirror his relationship with Benson. Give him confidants and surround him with interesting new characters, but make sure their dynamics are different to ones we've seen Stabler have in the past. Doing this with Benson was exactly how SVU was able to evolve (and thrive) in the post-Meloni era, so we just hope the spin-off doesn't waste its time trying to recreate something that, frankly, cannot be recreated.