Television

Benson and Stabler: Reunited!

Today is Good Friday, which means no work and not much to do since mostly everything is closed due to the holiday, and double-closed due to yet another lockdown. The sun is shining and the day lies ahead, yet all I can think about is the epic two-hour crossover I just watched between Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Organized Crime. Quite frankly speaking, I never thought this day would come. For years going on just past a decade, there was no hope nor any indication that long-time fans of the show like myself would reach the milestone we reached last night. Honestly, the pandemic has had many people (myself included) feeling very down lately as it’s been a full year since lockdowns started and being sent home from work. It’s the little things like this that bring back small sparks of happiness, so my hats off to Dick Wolf and NBC for making this happen. If you are not familiar with Law & Order lore, then chances are you are very lost right now. Allow me to give you a quick crash-course to bring you up to speed on why last night was so important to us invested fans.

Law & Order began as a crime series back in 1990 bringing forward a unique blend of screen time split between police stories/investigations and the courtroom proceedings linked to the cases. There were several spinoffs over the years, like Special Victims Unit (SVU) and Criminal Intent, which featured more specific police task forces assigned to certain types of crimes. SVU, for example, would work cases involving sex crimes and anything to do with children. All of the shows followed the same pattern of policing then prosecuting and featured the same theme song and array recurring of characters/cast members. Out of all the series in the Law & Order universe, SVU lasted the longest, beginning in 1999 and still running today. In fact, the show has been noted as the longest-running live-action scripted American primetime series. The reach of this iconic crime drama does not end there as the characters and stories have crossed over into many other Dick Wolf productions, like Chicago P.D. and Chicago Fire. This man has created a television show in every avenue of crime resolution, from not only covering the police and the judicial system, but also shows involving hospitals and global crimes, like in Chicago Med and FBI. There is a large universe of content one can be sucked into when it comes to Dick Wolf, but let’s focus solely on Law & Order SVU.

It’s interesting to see that SVU is the one show in the series to make it big and not only avoid cancellation after 22 Seasons, but continue to achieve amazing ratings throughout. I say this because this installment of Law & Order features the most emotionally taxing and disturbing of all the crimes. Rape is a common theme in the show, but there is also pedophilia, molestation, drug abuse, spousal assault, cultism, and many more sensitive topics that recur throughout. It begs the question why this would be the most popular of the various cannons and why people want to see it go on? Since I’m lumped into the group of people who love this show, here is what I think: we appreciate the realism and raw truth. SVU has been known to ‘pull stories from the headlines’, so much so that every so often you see a disclaimer before the episode begins if it happens to NOT feature a real story. As hair-raising as some of the content can be, especially the stories surrounding child abuse, Law & Order SVU is one of the few shows that consistently delivers on the truth of what really is happening out there in the world. The depravity and sickness viewers see in the portrayals on screen in addition to the way these cases are handled in the courtroom brings to light the reality we are living in today. Another thing I really appreciate about the show is that half of the time there is no happy ending. This show has never shied away from episodes that end with tragedy or no justice for the victim. No, I’m not sadistic and evil, and it does truly hurt to watch these kinds of episodes. However, it’s a crude reminder that sometimes in real life there is no justice. The law is a flawed system and there are times when the police don’t have enough evidence to build a solid case, or an air-tight case can be thrown-out on account of a great lawyer who creates reasonable doubt. I began watching this show when I was in university and it became life for me, and when I think back to why, it’s due to what I would say is my number-one reason for liking this show so much: the characters and their development. I had to mention the development part, because many of us will watch shows and fall in love with certain characters, but not a lot of writers can create a deep relationship between the actor and the audience. Dick Wolf and his writing team have been doing this flawlessly for over 2 decades now.

SVU not only tells the tales of wrongdoers and their crimes, but also how said crimes adversely affect the lawful people involved in the cases. On occasion the police officers would need counselling after certain investigations, or the prosecutors would suffer breakdowns in the middle of trying a case. The psychological effects of the crimes these characters face are huge, at times even leading to characters being written off the show for not being able to handle the department’s emotional demands. Some of those demands meant things like listening to a young child describe their abuse or having to hold back outrage as a rapist would happily describe his conquests with pride. This is where the show dove into the background story of why some of the officers and prosecutors decided to work in that field. Specifically, let’s talk about Oliva Benson (portrayed by Mariska Hargitay). This is one of those Victor Newman type of deals; she was there since episode one and she is still there now, carrying this series as the main protagonist. Oliva has immense empathy for anyone who considers themselves a victim, probably because she herself has been a victim from time to time. Going undercover, Oliva often risked her life to get to the truth of many corrupt operations, being exposed to hardened criminals and almost being raped. On said note, she is the byproduct of rape, answering the question, “what if a woman keeps her rapist’s baby?” The show has periodically put her in front of victims left pregnant by their abuser, wondering if the child will be corrupt like the father, or if they will even be able to stomach raising their aggressor’s child. This is not known to all the characters in the show, but is pivotal in proving to the audience that maleficent behavior is not inherited genetically. Oliva provided stability to many of the victims out there for over 20 years leading up to today, but it was not without help.

Elliot Stabler (played by Christopher Meloni), on the other hand, was the yin to Oliva’s yang. He also debuted in the pilot episode and was her assigned partner from the very beginning. Unlike Olivia, who found herself drawn to SVU because of her own sordid upbringing, Elliot had a wife and several young kids to keep him busy. It would seem his passion for protecting his own children fed into how aggressively he fought to put these horrid offenders behind bars. In one way, he was the opposite of Oliva with his impulsiveness, rage issues, ego, pride, and alpha-male tendencies. On the hand, he and Oliva were tuned to the same frequency and both knew how to read each other inside and out. They carried themselves independently from everyone else, despite working with an entire team of other officers. They didn’t need anyone else really. While different colleagues came and went over the years, Stabler and Benson were constants that we grew accustomed to seeing together. Over time, all of Oliva’s deepest and darkest secrets became Elliot’s and vice versa. With the amount of time they spent together on these cases at the office and in the field, one would have thought they were destined to be together as a couple. Oliva understood Elliot in a way his wife never could because she bore witness to the challenges he faced every day whilst working with victims and lawbreakers alike. Elliot brought a sense of security to Oliva’s life because she had no family left after her mother passed and no one to consider her own kinship. There were times when Elliot unwaveringly put Olivia first, like when he chose to run to Olivia’s side instead of chasing down a suspect in a huge case. In the same episode, Elliot was later held at gunpoint and demanded Olivia shoot at the aggressor, even if it meant he dies in the crossfire. Although though it didn’t resort to that, Olivia admitted to him later that she wouldn’t have pulled the trigger because she could never live with herself if he were to be gone. Olivia also had her heroic moments in favor of Elliot, such as the time she saved his wife Kathy from a car wreck who was also beginning to feel labor pains, thus saving the baby too. There were times when Elliot displayed jealousy towards Olivia’s romantic partners, and moments where they made commitments to each other, like who would be first to donate a kidney to the other. The two shared very emotional moments together, which lead to deep conversations about what their partnership meant to one another. There were embraces, tears, laughs, arguments, and many more emotions shared between these two over the years. Yet, no sexual or romantic line was ever crossed between the two. It couldn’t quite be described as a brotherly/sisterly relationship either. That being said, it was still love; a powerful form of love that these two had for each other, and the audience felt it from day one up until it came to an unexpected and tragic end.

In 2011, Meloni departed from the show after Season 12 due to failed contract negotiations, which meant the end of Elliot Stabler. His character was last seen being forced to shoot a young female victim who showed up to the squad room of the police precinct with a gun, killing several people. Although Elliot had no choice other than shooting her to stop the bloodshed, this event was the final limit. Elliot had already been placed in front of the Internal Affairs Bureau countless times for his aggressive behavior towards culprits and for various other police shootings, all of which he was declared innocent for, but a trend began to show. When Season 13 opened, it was established that Stabler was on leave, but eventually Olivia’s captain breaks the news to her that Elliot would not be returning as he chose to retire. Oliva shifts through the squad room on autopilot until she finds herself a private room where she cries alone. This moment left fans like myself heartbroken, because not only did he leave her, but he never said goodbye. Subsequently, she never heard from him again.

Over the years Olivia moved on to work with different officers and even ended up with a new partner, Nick Amaro (played by the handsome Danny Pino), who even she admitted taught her so much and helped her grow in a way Elliot could not. It wasn’t without hardships though, as one of the most terrifying storylines occurred after Stabler’s departure. It involved Oliva’s kidnap, torture, and near sexual abuse by a vengeful lunatic. She was force-fed nothing by alcohol and kept awake for days, while also forced to watch innocent women be sexually abused by her kidnapper. I remember there came a point when I thought, “this would be the perfect time for Elliot to ride in on his horse and rescue the Princess.” Alas, it never happened. To make matters worse, Olivia thought about the same thing too and truly felt his absence in her life as she fought to stay alive and eventually save herself. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and she certainly did end-up becoming the main star of this show. She went from detective to sergeant, and finally captain. As of now, she runs the Special Victims Unit and is not only a role-model to those around her, but practically a mother to her officers and colleagues. Outside of the job, Olivia adopted a son and began a family of her own. She tried dating a few different men, but ultimately there was only ever one man in her life for a prolonged period of time who made a long-lasting impact.

In the 10 years since Meloni left the show, there was not even a single semblance of hope that he would return. SVU was a chapter closed in his life, and although he remained friends with Hargitay, Stabler was gone. Each passing year affirmed how strange it would be for him to appear ever again given how much he missed in Benson’s life and how her life evolved without him. AND YET, MIRACLES HAPPEN!!! For last night during the mid-season return of SVU, Benson ‘ran into Stabler’ in the streets of New York, seeing each other for the first time in 10 long years. It was a moment every fan only dreamed of till now, but never expected would really happen. For just over a month now, it was heavily advertised that Meloni would be returning to play Stabler, but no one knew how it would go down until last night’s double event.

Now that you’re all caught up on the history and Benson and Stabler, you can see why I had to sit down and pen all of this. Words cannot express the feelings and emotions I felt last night. There is a part of me that wants to be critical of how the episode flowed, but at the end of the day, the moment the words “I’m sorry” gently escaped Elliot’s lips, I was an emotional wreck. “You were the single most important person in my life and you just disappeared.” Those were the words Olivia said to him in return, and then I died a thousand deaths. I’ve added the clip below for reference in case realism is what you need at this point. I won’t spoil the events any further in case I’ve trapped you into being interested (which I do hope I’ve achieved!). Despite being a monumental turn of events for fans, this one-hour homecoming of Stabler felt like it ended all-too quickly, as he was only guest-starring for the episode. Things certainly were not finished or settled with him and Olivia. So… what does this mean for us viewers? Well, the episode was jammed pack with drama, therefore we didn’t get our fill of Benson and Stabler time. However, immediately following the episode, Dick Wolf’s newest show debuted, entitled Law & Order: Organized Crime. If you haven’t heard the news already, this new show stars none other than Chris Meloni returning as Elliot Stabler! In this spin-off, he heads up a new division of the police force targeting enemies he made during his return to SVU. In reciprocation, Hargitay guest-starred in this first episode of the show, continuing the reunion of the long-lost partners. While nothing has been confirmed, Organized Crime gives birth to the idea that we will see more of Benson and Stabler reuniting, and that their relationship is going to evolve. Whether for better or for worse, temporary, or permanent, I’m just grateful this is happening. I can barely contain my excitement and anxiousness as I write this. There is so much to for them both to discover and so much to learn about the last decade. They have A LOT of ground to cover, but the question is whether this reunion will have been a short-lived stunt to garner ratings, or if fans will get to continue seeing all the things they’ve only dreamed of over the last decade. We shall see!

Special Victims Unit and Organized Crime air back-to-back on Thursday nights, so this is an evolving situation. I’ve missed this relationship and felt the hurt over the years by not having closure. Maybe a part of me is so drawn to this because I too have longing to see individuals from my past and find out where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing. I also cannot imagine what Olivia must feel because you don’t always get the opportunity to confront your past, and even if it happens, there is a chance you’ve grown too far apart for things to be the same. As I conclude this, I’m realizing that I did live vicariously through the partnership of Benson and Stabler. For all its ups and downs, it was a beautiful representation of two humans loving each other in an uncategorized way. At some point we all tend to want that kind of relationship in our lives, but when things are going well and they suddenly reach a halting stop, the confusion, hurt, and pain is overwhelming. Having felt this myself and knowing that I may not ever get the chance to revisit some of those old bonds, I am truly hoping that us fans of the show are rewarded for the years we’ve spent believing in these characters. Like I said, during a pandemic, we all feel helpless and lost, but if some fiction can create a light at the end of the tunnel (even if just for a moment), I will gladly take it.

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ARTICLE ARTWORK

“‘What to Watch on Wednesday: Godzilla vs. Kong presents the ultimate monster mash on HBO Max” Entertainment Weekly, www.ew.com/tv/what-to-watch-wednesday-godzilla-vs-kong-hbo-max.

“Let Chris Meloni & Mariska Hargitay’s Latest Reunion Excite You for the Law & Order Crossover” E! Online, www.eonline.com/uk/news/1254410/let-chris-meloni-mariska-hargitays-latest-reunion-excite-you-for-the-law-order-crossover.

VIDEO CLIP

Wolf, Dick. “Stabler’s Heartbreaking Apology to Benson for Abandoning Her – Law & Order: SVU” YouTube, uploaded by Law&Order, 1 April 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WmTqnN8Ejs&t=5s&ab. Accessed 2 Apr 2021.

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