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[This story contains spoilers for the April 1 series premiere of Law & Order: Organized Crime.]
Amid a big premiere for Law & Order: Organized Crime and excitement over the long-awaited reunion of NYPD Capt. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Det. Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni), some viewers of the show were less thrilled with the motivation behind Stabler’s return.
The SVU episode in which Stabler and Benson come back into contact opens with Stabler’s wife, Kathy (Isabel Gillies), being badly injured when a bomb — intended for Elliot — goes off in the couple’s rental car. Kathy later dies, which sets Elliot on a quest to find his wife’s killers, leading him to the task force at the center of Organized Crime.
It’s also an example of “fridging,” or using a dead female character as motivation for a male protagonist. Showrunner Ilene Chaiken defended the device in a call with reporters Wednesday, saying that even though the storytelling beat was in place when she joined the series (taking over for original showrunner Matt Olmstead), she rolled with it.
“When I joined this show, it was a fait accompli — a premise I was given to work with. I wasn’t in any way put off by it — I was immediately drawn in,” Chaiken said. “When you tell a story about a character who’s been gone for many years, a question you have to answer is, ‘Why now?’ [Kathy Stabler’s death] as a storytelling catalyst is one of the best ‘why nows’ I could think of.”
Law & Order creator and executive producer Dick Wolf called the plot point “one of the most dramatic teasers I can remember on any show. I didn’t see anything that was critical of that storytelling choice, [but] you can’t please all the people any of the time.”
Organized Crime is adopting a more serialized approach to storytelling than its Law & Order predecessors, with the first season focusing on Stabler and the task force bringing down Dylan McDermott’s Richard Wheatley. The season will have one fewer episode than originally planned after production had to shut down for a time due to COVID-19, but Wolf said the arc of the season wouldn’t be affected.
Going forward, the show will continue to focus on both Stabler’s work and his life as a now-widowed father of five kids. Wolf said a potential second season (which hasn’t formally been announced) would be broken into three eight-episode story arcs he described as echoing The Godfather, American Gangster and Scarface.
“These are going to be really bad guys that give Chris a constant source of energy, outrage, belief in justice, and a different way of pursuing criminals than we have before,” Wolf said.
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