Law & Order: Organized Crime 2×03, “The Outlaw Eddie Wagner,” finally answered the question we’ve all been asking since the series premiered: What’s in the letter? And there was so, so, so, so, so much to unpack because of it.
So…About that letter…Yeah…Getting over it—much less getting over the acting and that brief, sizzling moment where Olivia was totally thinking of getting a taste of Elliot? Not gonna happen. Nope. You know, hearing Elliot tell Mama Stabler that he and Kathy had been back to New York four times over the past 10 years and knowing he’d never once so much as sent Olivia a fake Facebook birthday wish in all that time…That hurt. But once you learn about the letter, everything just makes a sick kind of sense.
Honestly, all those years of feeling guilty for my personal hatred of Kathy Stabler, seeing her as someone always irritating, in the way of my ship, and manipulative? Guilt’s gone. Long gone. In fact, this is a Richard Wheatley fansite now. He did what needed to be done. Bye, Kathy. Sorry, not sorry.
A slight trip down memory lane…
When Christopher Meloni first left SVU and when we had to see Olivia Benson’s heartbreak over finding out her partner had left her without a word at the beginning of season 13, one scene started to haunt me. Just one. Kathy and El were in bed in season 12’s penultimate episode, “Delinquent,” when Detective Stabler’s phone rang. And Kathy made some snide comment about Elliot’s “office wife,” then ran bitter, jealous interference with the call.
…he was being called in to investigate an especially heinous crime, to find justice for the victim, but the wife was so triggered by the existence of then-Detective Benson, she couldn’t even mask her jealousy and insecurity when she was in bed with Elliot. I don’t know about anyone else, but that scene has continued to haunt me for 10 years. Every time I think I’m over it, or that I’ve “grown” enough to realize the Stablers’ failed marriage was a two-way street—that Elliot was a complete moron in his own right, who should’ve gone to Liv‘s door that fateful night when Eli was conceived, not to the woman he was divorcing—something reminds me of why I shouldn’t be.
Enter Law & Order: Organized Crime 2×03 to cement that scene in my mind forever as the absolute characterization of Kathy. In a lot of ways, her story was never exactly fair. We only ever saw her from a younger, stupider Elliot’s perspective, after all.
She was the nagging wife, who knew Elliot was in love with his work partner and constantly showed her jealousy and bitterness over it. She couldn’t even get a divorce without asking for Olivia’s help…and yet, she let El back in, had another kid with him…And off they went to Europe, causing Elliot to rip some piece away from the one true love of his life, to not even make an appearance in her hour of greatest need, and to lose so much time with her.
And all along, even as the years passed and Elliot left such a huge part of him behind, Kathy still couldn’t help herself from feeling like she needed to create barriers. An ocean was not enough to separate EO. Kathy knew that. And yet, thanks to her, and thanks to Elliot’s longing to keep a “stable” family for his kids—since he never had it himself—there has been so much suffering.
So, let’s talk about the scene now.
So, that’s what’s in the letter…
For once in his life, when Elliot Stabler was in crisis, he finally went right where he was always meant to go and where he’s always wanted to be: To Olivia. In the middle of this very dangerous undercover operation that Law & Order: Organized Crime has set up, El is struggling. Even after executing a huge win for the KO as Eddie Wagner, he was still uniquely vulnerable: Someone drugged him, and he was completely out of his mind.
So of course, the only person who he thought could help him was Liv. And of course, after cozying up to the wrong woman yet again—at least this time as part of a persona, not because he’s really that stupid—he was going to be desperate to see the person he’d always wanted to have that with. And so, despite nobody knowing when or how he learned where Olivia lives now (fic writers, do your thing), Elliot went in search of her.
Just like Liv was always going to stand up for her man, no matter her insecurities, she was also always going to let him in when he showed up in need of her help. The first person who I see saying they think it makes her weak or a pushover is going to get dragged so incredibly hard…Because, really, the strength that Olivia Benson has—the deep down pure good that is in nearly every ounce of her soul, especially when it comes to this man who keeps hurting her because he’s always been incapable of just taking the leap they both need? That is something that makes her so much tougher, so much better, of a person than any of her crusade for justice or ice-cold threats to shoot some loser’s balls off ever could.
Benson’s heart just keeps on beating; she just keeps on loving.
And so, as Law & Order: Organized Crime kicked off, Elliot Stabler was finally reaching out to take Olivia’s hand—grabbing onto her as she’d offered during his intervention—and she was there for him. She was there to catch him.
But Liv was trying to do that thing she does where she puts on her professional mask, becomes Captain Benson, as a way of holding boundaries in this new world where El’s no longer married to someone else. She was talking about protocols for what happens when someone gets drugged undercover, needing to take Elliot to the hospital…And all he wanted to do was confess. Not to the God he’d been serving so long, the faith he’d answered to for the 12 years when he couldn’t make the move. No. He had to come clean to a much more powerful force in his life: Her.
And that’s when we learned what’s in the letter…It was a ton of Kathy’s lies. Elliot didn’t know how to talk to Olivia, how to approach her after all this time, so his wife—the woman he’d ghosted Liv for, doing damage in ways he probably still has no idea about because of it—dictated to him what to say.
“…that 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.”
“That was Kathy.”
“And if there was a man in my life, you hope he’s the kind, faithful, and devoted man that I deserved.”
If it had ended there, Law & Order: Organized Crime would have failed us in big ways. The open way Olivia tried to approach Elliot after first having read the letter would have made no sense. The moving toward something more—letting El into her home in the middle of the night, the whole not-wedding date situation, the smitten looks during the Purple Magic case, Liv’s recent defense of her El when she talked to Fin, Amanda, or anyone else—all would have been continuity disasters. More to the point, the utter devastation Mariska Hargitay gave us from Olivia the instant she learned that what’s it the letter wasn’t actually from Elliot’s heart would have been the biggest question mark of all.
But it was the catch in Hargitay’s voice, the extra heartbreak beyond heartbreak as Liv began to recite the next line burned into her memory that told us something big was coming. And it was so huge as to negate everything in the letter that came before it, as well as to send Bensler even closer to their next level than ever before.
“But in a parallel universe…”
“…it will always be you and I. I wrote that. I slipped it in there before sealing the envelope.”
Look at the way Meloni makes sure that, even in his drug-induced haze, Elliot looks Olivia dead in the eye for that last bit. His voice takes on a determined strength; he makes sure this one true thing is loud and clear, absent of the weakness and hurt the previous lines were laced with.
Think, as you’re piecing it all together, how El was ready to finish Liv’s sentence right then and there. And appreciate the shock from Olivia to hear that the one part of that letter she’s probably clung to these months was, in fact, real.
Because it will always be Benson and Stabler. It always has been. They’re inevitable.
You can talk about the once-in-a-lifetime chemistry that Hargitay and Meloni have until the end of time, and it will never explain what made this scene in Law & Order: Organized Crime 2×03 so magical. Throw in the usual fangirling and talk of how the two actors are incapable of letting me live, even…and it’s just…Words are inadequate. In this universe, in a parallel one—it doesn’t matter—there was always going to be something out of this world that could perhaps only be described as partners for life.
All Kathy accomplished, in the end, was hurting everyone. Over and over again. She paid the ultimate price before she ever got to find her own soulmate, all while trying (and failing) to keep some kind of barrier between Elliot and his. That’s not love. That’s selfishness.
And yeah, we should probably have a conversation sometime about how the male gaze of it all had Kathy set up to be a character someone like me would grow up hating because she was my hero’s “competition” for Elliot’s heart. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. She wasn’t any kind of competition at all.
It was always going to be EO. Benson and Stabler were meant to be…which really makes you think about whether or not the Elliot of Law & Order: Organized Crime looks back at his whole, “Soulmates?! Come on, Olivia” nonsense from the beginning of the Bensler partnership and laughs at how little he used to know.
And no, we’re not over the thirst Liv had when she looked down at her boy’s lips while he gently pushed her hair back either. The EO consummation is going to be too hot for TV, huh?
Wait…there was more plot?
So, that whole, life-changing, bit of acting and writing…was just the beginning of Law & Order: Organized Crime 2×03. Even if the Benson/Stabler relationship is the center of God’s (Mariska’s) universe and ours, it’s not actually the main point of this series. Weird, huh?
Detective Stabler nearly got himself killed when “The Outlaw Eddie Wagner” did a terrible job of hiding himself as he was following Albi Briscu. Promising to hide Albi’s secret wound up finally getting him into the inner circle, but it was too close of a call.
And El? Honey, if anyone’s killing you and making you dig your own grave before they do? I’ve got an SVU Captain and a whole fandom lined up way ahead of some mobster.
Where were we…Ah. Yes.
It was also time for Jet to have a chance to be badass in every way imaginable. When Elliot’s fancy new phone needed its encryption broken, our girl knew just how to find the programmer’s signature, how to pick him out of a crowd, and even how to break him. She outsmarted him at his own game and even threw in an epic chase—some physical kickassery on top of all the intellectual strength. When she was in her element, she became much more…outgoing probably isn’t the right word? But something like it.
No wonder Ainsley Seiger lit up over just teasing Jet’s part in this episode. And honestly? It was so incredibly well done. So many series have gotten the whole, “introverted nerd” type so wrong. Or they make their Official Computer Geek Girl way too quirky. Sure, some folks are like that..but not most, at least not in my extensive experience from having been incredibly online and also a kind of kickass mathematical type.
But Organized Crime got it so, so, so, so right. Put your “nerd” in the right setting, doing the thing that makes them flourish. And they will do exactly that. If Special Agent Dana Scully, M.D. is to thank for so many women currently in STEM, y’all had better watch out for some studies on the Jet Slootmaekers effect in a few years.
But that is still not all. This series is insane.
When she’s not busy having to babysit her undercover operative, Sergeant Bell is also in the middle of trying to find some kind of justice for the brutality her nephew, Damon, suffered. There’s a constant tension between Ayanna and Denise over it, and the plot just keeps getting thicker.
“You’d rather he ended up a hashtag?”
“I’d rather this not happen to him at all. But we don’t live in that kind of world. So, why don’t you and I change it?”
Law & Order: Organized Crime 2×03 saw Bell getting a very interesting offer from Congressman Kilbride: Join him in politics, rather than trying to fix the (in)justice system from within. He promises her that there’s “real power in making the law,” unlike in enforcing it.
“I’m guessing you were once like me: a young, Black cop who thought the only way to make systemic change was from the inside. But you must know by now that if policing in America was ever going to self-correct, it would’ve happened already.”
But change hasn’t come, and Bell couldn’t even save her own nephew by working inside the system. Kilbride’s so-called solution isn’t exactly one to have faith in either, though: One glance at Washington shows you that there’s not a whole hell of a lot of power to make a change there either. Maybe the only way to actually change anything is to make like Eddie Ashes and burn it all down.
Law & Order: Organized Crime fangirl thoughts:
- “I felt I had to come here.” “You felt?” “We never talked…We never talked about what happened.” “I have nothing more to say about what happened with Navarro.” “Not Navarro. Us.” Anyone else think of jumping off a cliff from that alone? Or are all y’all normal.
- “A grown-ass man should have friends that they can turn to in the middle of the night.” He does, Denise. Her name’s Olivia.
- This man, waking up in his Captain’s bed instead of on the Sergeant’s couch when.
- No, really. Fucking WHEN.
- “I need you to let me in. Let me in.” Baby, you’re so far inside of her, she can’t even stand to have you clinging to her like that because she can’t trust herself. Look at how much she was struggling, trying to keep some non-existent walls up.
- Ok but like. Back to Kathy being a bitch: Remember all the times Olivia sent Elliot home to her and always respected the shit out of that sham of a marriage? Saint Olivia would have never intentionally come between the Stablers. She just swallowed her own feelings and put herself last all those years.
- “I kept it together.” “Until you got to Benson’s.” “Why? What did she say?” Anyone else actually on the verge of death?
- “This better not be a meeting that could’ve been an email.” Yes, we continue to stan Jet.
- Albi: “Move that ass.” Me: Yes. That ass. Zaddycakes. Yum.
- If Law & Order: Organized Crime is going to continue with the ass mentions, the fitted jeans, and all the rest? I refuse to be expected to hold back on the unhinged thirst. So there.
- No, but really…how do Hargitay and Meloni do things like that apartment scene? How do they keep getting better at it? How do I get them to let me live?
- “Ok, but how did you…?” “You’re welcome.” Stan Jet..and literally, this feels like how Marshmelon would answer my own question of just how.
- All funnies aside: Thank you to Mariska Hargitay for never giving up on bringing Chris Meloni back into the fold. And for both actors for just…delivering. What we’re getting to watch here is just really, truly special. We’ll never deserve it.
Law & Order: Organized Crime airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC.