I used to watch Law & Order: SVU religiously. I thought Benson and Stabler were obviously in love, though I also knew that there was no way that Stabler would ever cheat on his wife. I enjoyed listening to Munch’s conspiracy theories and his weird little trivia factoids. I loved Finn’s way with a quip and even boring old Captain Cragen didn’t bother me too much. I enjoyed the show, even if I did occasionally call it Law & Order: SUV by accident. Eventually, though, the show’s relentlessly grim atmosphere and subject matter started to get to me and, a few years ago, I stopped regularly watching.
However, I did make it a point to watch this week’s episode of SVU because Elliott Stabler (Chris Meloni) was returning for the first time since both the character and the actor left the show at the end of its 12th season. Stabler returned in order to investigate who was responsible for the explosion that killed his wife. He not only reunited with Benson (and it was nice to see that Meloni and Mariska Hargitay still had their old chemistry) but he also attempted to redeem himself and his reputation. Stabler previously left the NYPD under a cloud of suspicion. Having committed six shootings in the line of duty, he could either submit himself to a full psychological analysis and take an anger management class or he could quit. He chose to quit. Anyone who thinks that it’s extreme to quit your job rather than learn to control your anger obviously never saw Elliott Stabler in action. Stabler was basically fueled by nonstop anger.
When Stabler was on Law & Order: SVU, he was the epitome of the cop who took every case personally. On the one hand, you liked him because Meloni gave a good performance and you could tell that he was trying to control his demons. On the other hand, you always knew that there was a decent chance that he was going to end up beating a suspect to death during an interrogation. It sometimes made him a bit frightening. At times, Stabler’s eyes would narrow and he would get that look on his face and you knew that anyone who cut him off in traffic was probably going to get intentionally rear-ended. He was a road rage incident waiting to happen. Tonight, when Stabler returned to SVU, it quickly became apparent that years of retirement hadn’t done much to calm him down. Admittedly, he had every reason to take this particular case personally but you still got the feeling that, even if his wife hadn’t been murdered, Stabler would still have been looking for an excuse to shoot someone.
I imagine he’ll probably get that excuse soon enough because Thursday’s episode of SVU served as a crossover with the first episode of Law & Order: Organized Crime. Organized Crime is the sixth entry in the Law & Order franchise (the seventh if you count that strange True Crime show) and it’s the first new one since Law and Order: Los Angeles came and went in 2010. This latest entry follows Stabler, who is now once again a detective with the NYPD and who is working with the Organized Crime task force. The first episode found Stabler launching an investigation into Richard Wheatley, a mob heir-turned-businessman who was played by Dylan McDermott. Since McDermott was listed in the opening credits, I assume the entire first season is going to be about Stabler investigating him and trying to take him down.
The first episode of Law & Order: Organized Crime was flawed but watchable. The scenes with Stabler, whether he was comforting his children or investigating a crime or trying to convince his boss that he wasn’t a loose cannon, were all strong. From the minute Meloni showed up, I was reminded of how compelling he was on SVU. Meloni brings a tough authenticity to even the most clichéd of dialogue and, even though he’s obviously quite a bit older now than he was a regular on SVU, Meloni hasn’t lost a step when it comes to portraying Elliott Stabler. The show acknowledged that Stabler, with his “I am the law” attitude, is a bit out-of-place in today’s culture. Stabler, like the Law & Order franchise itself, is going to have to figure out how to adjust to the times.
I was a bit less enthusiastic about both the character of Richard Wheatley and Dylan McDermott’s performance in the role. If Wheatley’s going to be a season-long villain, he’s going to need to develop a few more quirks and nuances beyond loving his children and killing his father. McDermott seemed almost bored with the role, suggesting none of the charisma that one would expect from someone who can convince that world that he’s a legitimate businessman while, at the same time, controlling the New York drug trade. Whealtey seemed like just a generic bad guy and he’s going to have to be more than that if he’s going to be a truly worthy opponent for Elliott Stabler. Hopefully, Wheatley will become more interesting as the show progresses.
That said, the first episode worked well-enough. It was well-directed by Fred Berner and it had more visual flair than I was expecting from a Law & Order spin-off. The scene where Stabler goes to a deserted amusement park to meet with an informant was especially well-done and atmospheric, with the lights of the boardwalk providing a perfectly spooky compliment to what Stabler discovered.
I’ll set the DVR. The first episode wasn’t perfect but I’m still intrigued enough by Meloni’s return to see where this 6-episode series goes.