Review: Beloved character returns to ‘Law & Order’ spin-off in the worst time for cops

By Yzzy Arias, April 20, 2021

He’s back! Detective Elliot Stabler, played by Christopher Meloni, returned to the scene of the crime to debut in the new “Law & Order: Organized Crime” series that premiered on April 1.

It’s heartbreaking when a beloved character is written off, but it stems hope for their return. However, despite the anticipation, the long-awaited return of Stabler was over-hyped and disappointing.

“Law & Order: Organized Crime” is the latest addition to the “Law & Order” universe that centers on an Organized Crime Task Force that investigates the ongoing criminal operations that work to profit from illegal activities — including blackmailing, extortion, firearms trafficking, bookmaking, illegal gambling and counterfeiting goods.

When Meloni was dismissed from “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” due to contract disputes in 2011, Stabler, the character he portrayed since 1999, was written off. Known for his history of shooting six people while on the job — which seemed like a never-to-return situation — Stabler’s reappearance surprised viewers in the new crossover episode in “SVU” which introduced “Organized Crime.”

After 10 years, Stabler reunites briefly with his former partner Olivia Benson, portrayed by Mariska Hargitay. The reunion of the dynamic duo of Benson and Stabler that had viewers tuning in week after week in the earlier seasons fell short and felt rushed throughout the episode.

Despite the questions surrounding Stabler’s whereabouts during the past decade, he held back and gave vague responses, leaving viewers with more questions than answers.

The new spin-off uses serialized storytelling that’s inconsistent with the “Law & Order” predecessors, which were mostly episodic. The new line of storytelling, however, is unfavorable because Stabler doesn’t catch the bad guy at the end like audiences are familiar with. In the past, Stabler’s episodes were open-and-shut cases that were easily decided or solved with only the occasional “to be continued” or cliffhanger episodes.

Since his appearance from the earlier “Law & Order” series, Stabler was known for his anger management issues and getting physical with suspects during interrogations. With his return, the show’s New York Police Department changes dramatically to address those issues.

The series implements new rules and laws within the police department, including cameras installed inside interrogation rooms. The actions and behaviors that were brushed off in the past are unacceptable in the present day, especially with national protests urging officers to take accountability for police brutality.

Due to the ongoing national outcry concerning police violence, Stabler’s return couldn’t have come at the worst possible time and can be unappealing to both new viewers and longtime fans.

Stabler must learn how to adapt to the new rules or be held accountable for his actions in order for the spin-off series to survive past its first season.

New episodes of “Law & Order: Organized Crime” premiere on NBC on Thursday nights at 10 p.m. and are available on NBC’s streaming service, Peacock. To understand the first episode of “Organized Crime,” viewers are recommended to watch season 22, episode 9 of “Special Victims Unit.”

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