Law & Order: Organized Crime 2×02 featured, among other things, the return of Ellen Burstyn as Bernadette “Bernie” Stabler. And honestly? The biggest takeaway here is “no, I’m not ok. Thanks for asking.”
So, television is really coming for my family-induced issues this season…
When we first met Elliot Stabler’s mom, it was kind of a shock—on multiple levels, really. The SVU episode, “Swing,” revealed a lot of painful truths about El’s family: For one, our beloved Kathleen (totally the fan-favorite Stabler kid, right???) was completely out of control and in big legal trouble after starting the episode off by sneaking into some random family’s house and taking a shower. The reason behind Kathleen’s behavior, though, was a mental illness that she refused to accept she had, much less get treated for. And, worse yet: Her grandmother had the same illness, had never really wanted help to the point where she’d traumatized Elliot as a child and barely had a relationship with her adult son.
After all, even Liv just kind of assumed the Stabler matriarch must have been dead.
That is, of course, the weakest recap of such a phenomenal episode of all time, but we’re talking about the here and the now. And if you’re in the here and the now, you’ve probably watched “Swing’ multiple times, living for the family story, Bernie telling Liv she understood why she scared the pants off Kathy, and something about a carrot.
Law & Order: Organized Crime 2×02 and the Bernie of it all
That brings us to where we are now. Elliot is on a very dangerous undercover mission, but when his mother gets arrested for slapping a random child, he somehow finds a way to come and rescue her. And it’s just…a lot to wrap your head around. The way Christopher Meloni softens every aspect of the tough detective, who’s spent so much time pretending to be a hardened criminal, in scenes with Burstyn is kind of, dare I say, groundbreaking?
The first second El and his mom are together in “New World Order,” you know their relationship has grown over the past decade (and change) since viewers last saw them interact. Detective Stabler is patient with Bernie, a caretaker instead of someone who doesn’t even want to have to deal with her. He still gets irritated—but it’s to a lesser extent, and he calms himself relatively quickly. His frustration stems more from concern than what previously came across as dislike, too. And he just…every time he calls her “Mama,” whether in that first scene or later, the delivery finds a way to shatter so many already-broken pieces of my cold, dead heart.
Maybe it was because Bernie helped Kathleen all those years ago, or maybe it’s just that—on top of everything else she’s already suffered—Bernie is clearly losing even more parts of her mind as time has dragged on. Somewhere in there, there’s also the obvious truth that your friendly Elliot Stabler Apologist has been pointing out all along: The man has grown, matured, and changed before becoming whoever it is that we’re seeing on Law & Order: Organized Crime.
Elliot’s “Mama” has, yet again, stopped taking her medicine. She felt better, so she thought she could change the dosage (that’s not how this works, at all). And you could tell, even with all the major changes in his life, that El was really, truly struggling with seeing her like this. Again. Because seeing your mother this sick is too hard, and it doesn’t get easier when it happens the second time, or the third time, or the 100th. It just eats at you. Then, there’s poor Kathleen, watching something that, undoubtedly, must be terrifying to realize could be her future…and it’s…what a beautifully written and acted series.
It’s so difficult to witness Bernie, screaming about how she’d “rather stay here and die” than go back to the hospital. She, of course, means anything remotely resembling what she calls a “nuthouse.” But all Elliot’s trying to do at this point is make sure she’s been eating. He’s pleading with his mom to just take care of herself so he doesn’t lose her, too. But Mama Stabler is surrounded by her demons and losing to them yet again. The worst part for her is that she knows it now.
“Every time I think I’ve got this thing licked—I think I’m ok. It’s not going to come back. I’m fine—and then, you know…I’m 82 years old. I just can’t figure normal!”
So, the personal connection comes from knowing what it’s like to have a mom who’s sick like this, who you plead with to just take care of herself. It comes from having received, on Monday of the same week Law & Order: Organized Crime 2×02 aired, a text about how that parent “would rather be dead than this.” And hell, even Bernie taking care of all the neighborhood cats?
It’s like my future, when my own parent is that age, is literally right there, and it’s not a good feeling, other than when I sit back and think about just how well everyone at Law & Order: Organized Crime brought this type of intergenerational trauma to light.
And now…back to Zaddycakes’ undercover operation
After the season premiere, I mentioned how dangerous everything was for Detective Stabler and how much I was worried he was going to have to lose a part of his soul to this thing before it was all over. Guess who was right even before having seen even a second of footage from Law & Order: Organized Crime 2×02? This kid.
In “New World Order,” we see Elliot blowing up buildings, even after “Eddie Wagner” having suggested that they just burn the bodies. As far as the bodies in question go, he’s also present when Reggie Bogdani and other KO members are chopping off their fingers and whatnot. (Ew?) On the ride over, he turns down Albi’s offer of drugs, making some dumb comment about having “a lousy ticker.” And the situation on that drive was already tense enough, with Albi mentioning to “Eddie” that he thought Reggie had “bad instincts” for trusting an outsider like him.
He tries to pay for meals in a diner as he and Reggie are walking out before they even get their food but has to be instructed that they dont do things like that. He watches someone get murdered in cold blood, then feels guilty about it because he thinks he should have done something to step in instead of working so hard to prove his loyalty.
And he chooses, for one of his check-ins with Sergeant Bell, to share his findings in a confessional. Our Good Catholic Boy is struggling, but he doesn’t accept the offer for Bell to pull him out.
In short, none of this bodes well—especially after the Italians’ retaliation killed “Nova” from the Marcy Killers’ lover. And then we found out she’d been working for Brewster all along, on a “strictly need to know” basis. Nobody can trust anybody else here; this operation is a combative mess.
But if I have to put my money on anyone? It’s Stabler and Bell…yet I’m still not expecting survival to be an easy thing. At all.
Law & Order: Organized Crime 2×02, disorganized thoughts and old world disorder:
- I can scream all day and all night (I fucking will) about how much Elliot Stabler has changed. But one thing has not: Elliot loves Olivia, and his mother—no matter how confused she may otherwise be—has never forgotten it.
- “His partner…What—what do you mean?” Mama knows El has only ever had one partner that counted. Her name? Olivia Benson.
- “I just remembered your beautiful bride. How was Olivia’s funeral?” I don’t know, but after hearing that line (and everything else that happened this Law & Order Thursday, to be honest), someone had better be planning mine.
- Like. Ma’am????? Please get your son to dislodge his head from his ass already.
- The way Eli was kind of awkwardly hanging back and not engaging with what was unfolding at Bernie’s? Hi. That’s me. It is sometimes an act of self-preservation to simply avoid it all—and, of course pet some cats.
- Four times. Four. Times. He came back. Four fucking times…and never checked on Liv. Not once. Given what we learn in 2×03 (spoilers?), I’m blaming it all on Kathy…But Elliot really is an idiot, huh? Is his middle name Head-Ass?
- Cheeseburger, no cheese? That has a name, Reggie. Look it up. You’re even dumber than the bald dude.
- “Just got a tip from the tips.” Jet’s got jokes.
- “They’re going to make him out to be a criminal—like he deserved this. He wants apologies, he wants the cops to lose their jobs? Ok. Well, just get ready to buckle up for a bumpy-ass ride.” I just really love Ayanna Bell and really love how Law & Order: Organized Crime is not at all shying away from this???
- Ok but how does Meloni make eating an apple and being unbothered so hot????
- Shoutout to Stabler’s giant weapon ending the negotiations with the Italians and getting him just that much more trust in the organization…But I could’ve done without him being a ma-whore at the after party. Especially considering where he headed next…