How ‘Law & Order: Organized Crime’ Is Handling Elliot Stabler’s Police Brutality Problem
Dick Wolf, showrunner Ilene Chaiken, and star Chris Meloni break down Stabler’s tense, highly anticipated return—and his glorious reunion with longtime partner Olivia Benson.
One week after Law & Order: Organized Crime kicked off with a massive SVU crossover event, Dick Wolf, showrunner Ilene Chaiken, and star Christopher Meloni are finally ready to reveal a little more about NBC’s latest big procedural.
For months, details about Organized Crime have been kept largely under wraps. But during a press conference Wednesday, the trio answered reporters’ questions about what kind of cop Elliot Stabler will be in 2021—and what it was like to finally reunite him with his longtime partner, Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson.
Last summer, as Black Lives Matter protests spread across the nation in the wake of George Floyd’s death, conversations about police procedurals began to shift. For years, data has indicated that these programs can promote damaging ideas about policing by, among other things, valorizing rogue cops—and in 2020, that reality became impossible to ignore.
As showrunners began releasing statements addressing the issue, some viewers wondered how Elliot Stabler’s upcoming standalone series would handle this new dynamic, given the detective’s status as perhaps TV’s best-known hothead cop. Speaking about behind-the-scenes conversations between Law & Order producers and showrunners, Dick Wolf told reporters Wednesday, “We spent a lot of time talking about police behavior. I would put it to you, probably more time than any other non-law enforcement people in the country. Because it’s what we do every day.”
Wolf referred back to a statement he made last year, when he said he and his colleagues were listening to the conversations of the time, and added that the show’s crew read “virtually everything” written on the subject from both sides of the political spectrum—“from the far left to the far right.” (The Law & Order boss did not elaborate on what specific resources or groups the team might have consulted.)
“Of course we deal with what’s going on,” Wolf continued, “but it’s never in a knee-jerk way.” He described “the paradigm episode” of Law & Order as a conversation between all of the series regulars, in which each of them is on a different side of the same question and “every one of them is right—because life is not black and white, it’s shades of grey.”
Ultimately, he said, “What I said in the spring still holds: The shows will speak for themselves.”
As Elliot Stabler re-entered the world of Law & Order last week during the crossover premiere, he faced questions from several colleagues about his style of policing. Many of the detective’s older colleagues, like Hargitay’s Olivia Benson and Ice-T’s Finn Tutuola, vouched for him to newer colleagues, who were more skeptical. Stabler himself, meanwhile, appeared frustrated by the constant hand-wringing, even as he acknowledged that, yes, the world of policing is changing.
But beyond the newfound questions about Stabler’s character, Organized Crime will also be distinct from the other Law & Order properties in its storytelling. As Wolf recently revealed, the show’s premiere season will include three eight-episode arcs, which he likened to The Godfather, American Gangster, and, finally, Scarface.
“All you have to do is look at the casting in the first episode and realize, you know, this is not episodic casting,” Wolf said—referring to an episode that included Dylan McDermott as our first big bad, the rising mafioso Richard Wheatley. “We’re shooting for bigger game [with Organized Crime],” Wolf said, “and I think it’s gonna be endlessly interesting, and the character... has evolved in subtle ways that are given a lot more than lip service.”
To that end, perhaps, Organized Crime’s premiere included a major tragedy. The series begins with the death of Elliot Stabler’s wife, Kathy Stabler—an occasional presence on SVU for years before Meloni’s departure. Asked what he would say to anyone displeased that the show chose to kick off by using a dead wife to motivate its male central character, Wolf was blunt: “You can’t please all the people any of the time. It’s not what we do; the only thing we can do is tell stories.”
Chaiken said the plot point had already been established by the time she came aboard as showrunner, but added that she thought it was a “great place to start.”
“I was immediately drawn in,” Chaiken said. “When you tell a story about a beloved character that’s been gone for many years, the first question you ask yourself is, ‘Why now?’ And that, as a storytelling catalyst, is one of the best ‘Why now’s I could think of.”
The silver lining of this tragedy, however, was pretty obvious to many fans from the start: Could Benson and Stabler finally become an item? (Once they heal all the pain Stabler caused when he left the force without saying goodbye, of course.) The answer to that question remains to be seen—but Meloni confirmed that both he and Hargitay were floored by fans’ responses to their on-air reunion.
“I think she was expecting it more than I was,” Meloni said of his longtime co-star. “Because I think... she’s been in the Law & Order stew... I was not prepared. ”
“It’s overwhelming, and it’s wonderful, and it’s very appreciated,” Meloni continued. “And I think this time around, I don’t know, the pressure’s off. I feel less pressure than I did when Dick first tasked me with being Elliot Stabler. So I’m a bit freer to appreciate everything. It’s a nice journey.”