‘SVU’-‘Organized Crime’ Crossover: What Was in Stabler’s Letter to Benson? (RECAP)

Christopher Meloni as Stabler, Mariska Hargitay as Benson in Law & Order SVU
Spoiler Alert
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[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Law & Order: SVU Season 23 Episode 3 “I Thought You Were on My Side” and Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 2 Episodes 2 “New World Order” and 3 “The Outlaw Eddie Wagner.”]

“I need you,” Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) tells his former partner, Captain Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), in the latest SVU and Organized Crime crossover, but how exactly did he mean it?

The three-episode crossover has a lot of ground to cover. In addition to a case so big Stabler steps away from his undercover workEllen Burstyn returns as his mother, Bernadette, who is bipolar. (She won an Emmy in 2009 for her guest spot on SVU in Season 10’s “Swing.”) The promos have been teasing Stabler and Benson finally addressing that letter he wrote her and something maybe happening between them when he stops by her apartment. Did it live up to the hype? (YES, yes it did.)

“I Thought You Were on My Side”

SVU is brought in after Gabe (Rhys Coiro) sexually assaults a singer, Tara (Herizen Guardiola), and slaps her down the stairs at his club. But he’s well-connected — with cops and the DA’s office (nine arrests in seven years, all charges dropped) — and the other attendees claim they didn’t see anything. Tara manages to get him to threaten her during a call, and the squad arrests him for rape and attempted murder.

As they soon discover, Tara’s not Gabe’s first victim. But just as she’s ready to testify and ADA Sonny Carisi (Peter Scanavino) is going to bring it before the grand jury, Sergeant Ayanna Bell (Danielle Moné Truitt) calls. “You’re not going to like this,” Stabler, who’s been MIA up until now with his undercover work, tells Benson. And since Sergeant Fin Tutuola (Ice-T) awkwardly slipped into conversation with Benson earlier that Phoebe wants to set Stabler up with her sister, let’s do that here, too.

Peter Scanavino as ADA Sonny Carisi in Law & Order SVU

Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Gabe is an advisor to notorious international fugitive and Russian mafia boss Anton, and he’s willing to give him up (for what, Stabler can’t tell Benson yet). But SVU will be part of the takedown, the captain insists. Her former partner promises he has her back, “trust me.” Her reply? “I guess I’ll have to.” That turns out to possibly be the wrong move, as during the takedown, Gabe pulls his gun, and Stabler shoots him in the shoulder. Was that part of them trying to make it look good? Benson can’t help but ask. Was it part of a plan? Maybe, because when Carisi goes to arraign Gabe at the hospital, the US Marshals have already taken him into custody. Did Stabler lie?

He claims he didn’t know Gabe was being put into WitSec when he calls Benson before going back undercover. Detective Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish) is furious about the turn of events and isn’t sure Stabler even cares about the victims, though Benson reminds her he was in SVU even before she was. However, as Rollins points out she “used to” know him. She might not anymore.

“New World Order”

Stabler returns to his undercover life as Eddie Wagner, and he burns down a warehouse and can’t stop Albi (Vinnie Jones) from killing a man he suspects of setting fire to his business. But the more intriguing part of this op remains the Stabler and Bell scenes, in this case when they meet in a confessional in a church. He hesitated when Albi pulls his gun because he felt like he had to prove his loyalty, he confesses. Bell reminds him what he told her when Gina died: sometimes they lose a few to save a lot. But neither quite believes that anymore. She offers to take him out, but he insists he’s good.

Christopher Meloni as Elliot, Ellen Burstyn as Bernadette, Allison Siko as Kathleen in Organized Crime

Virginia Sherwood/NBC

The most interesting part of the episode, of course, comes with Bernadette, who is arrested after she slaps a young boy, thinking he’s her son. With Stabler undercover, Bell picks her up and brings her back to her office. When he joins her (with “hi, mama”), Bernadette doesn’t recognize him at first. Then it takes her a moment to remember he lived in Rome, he and Kathy visited, and that his wife is dead. She meant to attend the funeral, she says, but she had an episode. She changed her pills because she felt OK.  “Your beautiful bride,” she says, asking, “How was Olivia’s funeral?” He doesn’t correct her.

Stabler, his daughter Kathleen (Allison Siko), and his son Eli (Nicky Torchia) bring Bernadette home. She refuses to go back to the hospital and says she’d rather stay in her place and die if she has to. But “I’m 82 years old, I just can’t figure normal,” she admits. Come stay with her family, they urge her. “I guess I’m not doing so well, am I?” Bernadette asks as Burstyn delivers another Emmy-worthy performance. “You could be doing better,” Stabler tells his mom.

The biggest surprise has to be that Nova, the same Marcy Killer suggested as someone they could possibly turn, is a UC and has been for a long time. But why didn’t Sergeant Brewster (Guillermo Diaz) share this with his task force co-commander, Bell? “You couldn’t keep your own UC alive,” he says. Low blow, Brewster!

Danielle Moné Truitt as Sgt. Ayanna Bell in Organized Crime

Bennett Raglin/NBC

“The Outlaw Eddie Wagner”

Bridging the two Organized Crime episodes are the Albanians celebrating a win and Stabler’s role in it — and he manages to get himself into the inner circle even after he’s been drugged (via a kiss from a woman). He keeps it together until he finds himself at Benson’s apartment door. (That “I need you”? He needs help inside.) And then it’s time for the moment everyone’s been waiting for: What was in the letter?!

“We never talked about what happened,” he says as she helps him settle in her living room. “I didn’t write the letter.” Benson is as shocked as we are, especially when he reveals Kathy, his wife, did. “It was her idea. … I tried, I tried, and Kathy helped dictate.” So everything about how “what we were to each other was never real and that we got in the way of each other being who and where we needed to be?” Benson asks. Kathy. “And if there was a man in my life, you hope he’s the kind, faithful, devoted man I deserved?” Kathy.

“But in a parallel universe, it will always be you and I,” Stabler says. “I wrote that. I slipped it in there before sealing the envelope.” He begins toppling over, she stands to help him, he reaches up … and wakes up on Bell’s couch the next morning. (Smart move, Benson.)

Will Benson and Stabler talk about what happened? As we near the end of the episode, it’s looking like there might not have the opportunity. After all, Albi caught Stabler following him to a gay bar, took him out to the woods, and gave him a shovel. What usually happens next: someone’s about to dig their own grave. But Stabler talks Albi out of killing him (“All I’m asking for you is my life, and in return … I will protect your secret with my life”).

By the end of the episode, the former partners haven’t connected again, but Stabler is very much part of the inner circle, invited to join Albi, Reggie (Dash Mihok), and Kosta (Michael Raymond-James) into the private meetings. So he gets a win, but we’re stuck waiting to find out where this leaves Stabler and Benson.

Law & Order: SVU, Thursdays, 9/8c, NBC

Law & Order: Organized Crime, Thursdays, 10/9c, NBC