Why ‘SVU’ & ‘Organized Crime’ Shouldn’t Do the Obvious Benson-Stabler Romance

Law Order SVU Stabler Season 22 Return Benson
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[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Law & Order: SVU Season 22 Episode 9 “Return of the Prodigal Son” and the Law & Order: Organized Crime series premiere “What Happens in Puglia.”]

Did SVU just reunite former partners Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloniand tease that the Law & Order franchise might put them together romantically (something some fans have wanted for over 22 years) … in the span of two hours? It seems possible. And it would be the wrong move right now.

Elliot, still a detective, and Olivia, now the SVU captain, cross paths again when he and wife Kathy (Isabel Gillies) come to NYC for his work. They’re also in town to see his former partner — who played a significant role in both their lives (she helped deliver their fifth child) — get an award. But things quickly take a dark turn when the Stablers’ rental car is bombed and Kathy ends up in the hospital. She dies from her injuries (specifically a ruptured spleen), and yes, her husband and their kids grieve. But even before then and as she’s clearly dying in the hospital — we know going into the crossover that Stabler suffers a significant personal loss before his spinoff — the focus is entirely on Olivia and Elliot’s bond. (Let’s make one thing clear: We love seeing the two together again. Their relationship was a significant part of SVU‘s history.)

“It’s like the old days,” Kathy comments even as Elliot strokes her hair. “The two of you together, always so in sync. You really didn’t talk for 10 years?” It’s gotten to the point that she was just assuming her husband had lied about being in contact with Olivia all this time. And it’s shrugged away. Olivia’s “it’s true” even comes across a bit like her assuring Kathy before she dies that Elliot hadn’t lied to her because the writing is on the wall the moment his wife is loaded into the ambulance at the crime scene that she’s not going to survive the episode.

Elliot doesn’t spend much time with Kathy; Olivia probably spends more time telling him to be with his wife than he does in that hospital room. And yes, of course, SVU needs to have Benson and Stabler sharing the screen as much as possible after fans have waited a decade to see them together again. But the fact that it happens as Kathy is dying doesn’t come across that great, due to the nature of the case and her injuries. The franchise might as well be screaming that Kathy is in the past before she even is, which reads wrong especially on Organized Crime when we see a photo on Elliot’s phone of the couple happy together in Italy.

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We don’t even see Elliot share loving scenes with his wife (other than from Olivia’s perspective as watches from a distance in the hospital hall). Instead, his most emotional scenes, other than grieving with his kids, come from his conversations with Olivia. If a romance is indeed coming between these two, how can we separate that from how easily Law & Order tossed aside his marriage?

“You were the single most important person in my life, and you just disappeared,” Olivia tells Elliot after he (finally) apologizes for not telling her he was quitting the NYPD when he left.

“If I heard your voice, I wouldn’t have been able to leave,” he admits.

Then, when we pick up on Organized Crime, barely any time has passed since Kathy’s death and Elliot’s already talking about how much Olivia would have loved where the Stablers had been living in Italy. “I can’t,” she tells him.

Mariska Hargitay Benson Christopher Meloni Stabler Law Order Organized Crime

Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Then he gives her a letter he’d written her in lieu of a speech at her awards ceremony. The contents of that letter are significant enough that she turns up at his apartment building to talk about it late at night. (He’s too distracted to talk to her at the moment — by work, by finding a mobster’s body on a Ferris wheel and stealing his phone, you know how it goes when you’re working organized crime.)

So the problem isn’t if, after all these years and it not being a possibility due to things like his marriage when they were partners, Olivia and Elliot get together and end up each other’s “ones.” It’s that too little weight was put on his marriage to Kathy in the episode she died because 40 minutes needed to cover quite a bit: the partners’ reunion, him leaving like he did, Kathy dying, the case, and setting up his spinoff.

Now, this isn’t to say that putting Olivia and Elliot together in the future is a bad idea. But to start setting it up so soon is.

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

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