Law & Order: Organized Crime 3×18 “TAG:GEN” is, to borrow Danielle Moné Truitt’s words for it, “a really good episode for Bell.” And it’s good overall. This is the type of episode that, again, showcases how insanely good Truitt is as Bell. It’s also another episode that highlights, incredibly well, that stereotypes don’t work. Because, even with in a single group or community, everyone will have their own unique experiences.
Some of those experiences, even — as Bell points out toward the end of the hour — are not even what we want ourselves to believe they are. That’s an extremely difficult sort of self-reflection to have to make and process, so it’s not at all surprising that Bell’s own realization comes at the end of a case that forces her to really think about who she is and whether or not she’s as open to the rest of the world about it as she thinks she is.
For all the emotional moments “TAG:GEN” provides, though, the hour manages to still give viewers just enough of a break to keep from completely crushing us. That comes, of course, from the undercover operation with “Daddy.” Which, yeah. It’s still a huge “ok but WTF” any time this series just…ignores the fact that the entire City of New York should know Detective Stabler’s face by now. But, at this point, it is what it is. So, if we’re going to have to suspend disbelief in this way, we may as well have fun with it. And uh…yeah. That is what we call fun.
“I’m not ready yet.”
There’s an overly-optimistic line from Detective Stabler, about halfway through Organized Crime 3×18, that sums up the trap that a lot of well-meaning people have fallen into: “To be honest, I didn’t know it was still an issue.” And I want to start with that, not because this is Elliot’s story, but precisely because it’s absolutely not. Many people who would otherwise be great allies for the LGBTQ+ community have sat by, after small victories, and thought something along the lines of, “our work here is done.” The Obergefell case, which determined a federal right to protection for same-sex marriages, was settled in 2015. And so, folks allowed themselves to become complacent. But here we are, in 2023, with so many anti-LGBTQ+ bills, it’s impossible to keep up.
It’s because of complacency, of not continuing to stand up once some victories were won, that we got here. And, looping things back around to the episode, it’s because maybe Stabler didn’t see blatant homophobia in the circles he was actively working in anymore — because he works under an out lesbian Sergeant — that he may have allowed himself to become complacent. Or…not even complacent, even. Just less aware.
Arguably, to get things back to the true heart and center of this story — Bell and the rest of New York’s LGBTQ+ community — it’s precisely Sergeant Bell’s current level of comfort that’s to blame for a lot of the guilt she feels in this episode. Put another way, when she beats herself up for wondering how she could miss a string of crimes targeting gay men, she’s afraid that she, like those outside the community, has become a little bit too settled. But she hasn’t, as we learn later. Not in the way she initially thinks, at least.
In this particular instance, Ayanna didn’t miss or ignore anything. This is the first time she’s hearing about the connected robberies. And it’s exactly because the NYPD has been ignoring the situation. The institution doesn’t care; individual cops don’t bother to look. And so, Bell’s never had the actual chance to see any part of this picture, much less the full one — until now. Now, when she does get her first look at the case, it’s Sergeant Bell, with the help of her squad, who finally gives these victims some justice. In the process, viewers get the chance — whether the ones who actually need to take it or not do — to examine some biases and how they affect a community that’s about as at risk as it has ever been.
First of all, there’s the obvious. In his attempt to make whatever money he thought his dad owed a mobster, Alex picks an easy target: gay men. They’re easy because, yes, even if individual cops are the good guys, the NYPD itself is still rife with homophobia. Imagine, for a moment, what would happen if we changed the victimology. If these were cis, straight men being drugged and robbed at a string of cishet white dude bars that only served “manly” (wtfever that even means) drinks. If, instead of a dance floor, there were pool tables and TVs that only aired sports. Consider how much more of an outcry would exist then.
So, maybe we’re not seeing a hate crime that’s more overt — in terms of hateful phrases being tossed all over, everywhere, in the process. But, even by knowing to target gay men on some dating app and meeting up with them in what’s supposed to be their safe spaces, yes, this is a hate crime. Often, those outside a marginalized group like this one need something much more blatant. But by the time it gets to that level, it’s far too late.
Second, “TAG:GEN” reminds us, through Eric, that every journey is different. It is not anyone’s place to force anyone else to come out. So, if he’s not ready to do so, no matter how much “better” things are today, he is the only one who gets to decide when it’s time. Ayanna does a beautiful job of just…listening to him and standing by his side — quite literally, at some points — when he shares all of his fears. That’s exactly the right thing to do. No pressure, no “but look how ‘accepted’ I am” crap, and no judgement. And certainly, attacking someone because of our perception of their sexuality, which then forces them out…ain’t it.
“How do you do it? You know, put on the uniform and just…be yourself?”
Law & Order: Organized Crime 3×18 is, additionally, just a powerful look at Ayanna Bell’s…everything, really. There’s her quick ability to pick up on why Eric is so nervous about the case report. She handles that initial conversation with the detective beautifully. Sending Elliot out of the hospital room makes Eric feel more at ease, and she knows it will. (No shade to Elliot, and notably, he’s pretty clear about not feeling slighted.) Bell also knows how to talk to him and let on that she knows, without forcing him to admit anything — which goes to the point above about never forcing others to come out.
But, of course, there’s a lot more to Ayanna’s story than merely that. This entire case weighs on her, precisely because it is her own community. Even if it’s a slightly different lane, to speak, because she’s not a gay man. She’s part of this overall umbrella of a group of people, whose sexuality and/or gender is treated as “other.” Yet, her experience as a gay woman will not be exactly the same as a gay man’s — especially not in the NYPD. And, even if she and the victims had all fit the same labels, of lesbian and Black, and all had the same job…they would still have different lived experiences.
There’s never a doubt — not once — that the people responsible for creating this episode get that.
Then, as we learn in the final bar scene between Sergeant Bell and Detective Eric HasNoLastName, some of the good aspects of her life have actually come at a great price. Yes, she’s out. And yes, people know it…but has she been as openly gay as she might like to be? Especially at work? And what does that even mean for her? As it turns out, Ayanna has regrets — ones that come from the fact that, within our entirely fucked up world, every aspect of who she is puts a target on her back.
“Ironically, while working this case, I realized…I haven’t. You know, early on, when I came out, I was so scared about something going wrong. I watched everything I said — everything I did. I already had the pressure of being a Black woman on the job. I figured, you know, I can’t tone this down. So. Tone down the gay…The problem was, I just got comfortable living like that.”
Truitt really nails this exact bit of dialogue, this exact scene. Moreso than the rest of the episode, where she is also just outstanding at showing how important this case is to Bell — even if, as the sergeant in charge of this case, she has to keep that emotion as internalized as possible. At the bar, though, Ayanna is able to step outside of her rank and be “just” a human being. Because of this, and because she’s with someone who has the ability to get it more than Elliot can, she can show some of what she’s been hiding.
(No, that’s not to say she doesn’t share anything at all with Stabler. It’s just different. Thoughts on that below.)
But in this bar, where everyone is welcome, Bell’s able to let her guard down. So, she can admit to some of her pain without worrying someone might see her as weak. Or even see her as other. And she doesn’t let out pain alone. Ayanna is also just flat-out exhausted, to the point where she needs to take a deep breath and let that out — even in the middle of a statement that’s not exactly long enough to need a breath. At least, it doesn’t seem long enough to need a rest until you really think about what’s being said. Once you do, if you’re really listening and bearing witness to everything Truitt’s performance is giving, it suddenly seems kinda superhuman that she hasn’t let it all out sooner.
But she can’t if she wants to survive in this world. That’s the point.
“I don’t think I’ll ever know.”
Although “TAG:GEN” isn’t a Stabler episode, that’s not to say that Christopher Meloni doesn’t still get plenty of chances to shine. It’s just that they all come secondary to Truitt’s parts. His presence is also secondary in the many scenes featuring the gay men affected by the robberies. As they should be. Meloni, just like his character, does his best work in this episode when he’s simply there as support. Which is also as it should be.
Truitt and Meloni remain golden when they get their personal scenes. Just like during the Murphy case, the two manage to provide a perfect balance in how their characters interact. Bell is the emotional — and emotionally vulnerable — one, while Stabler is there to listen. Whatever he feels is for, and because of, Ayanna’s intense level of hurt. El’s just there to listen, as well as to be the quieter one. So, he gives Bell that outpouring of comfort — but it’s very subdued.
This is, as is usually the case on this show, most obvious when Bell and Stabler get to share some quiet time. After the case is closed, they get yet another outstanding one-on-one. As usual, the scene that’s just them simply reinforces everything positive I’ve ever said about how good these actors and their characters are together. Meloni, for his part, is just so…soft and careful. And although Ayanna doesn’t fully let go until she’s at the bar, she does let Elliot see a great deal more of what she’s going through than normal. There’s no better way to describe it than to say it’s done through yet another barely held-back sort of…knife to the gut from Truitt.
Then, there’s Elliot’s big moment of getting it by admitting that he actually…can’t. He follows Ayanna’s “it can be a lot. You know?” with genuine honesty, rather than trying to prove something to make himself feel better.
“No, actually I don’t. I don’t think I’ll ever know. But I do want you to know that, whenever you may need it, however you may want it, I’ll support you.”
Meloni delivers those lines with these brief pauses, which serve to show Elliot’s really thinking of the right thing to say. He really cares and wants to say the right thing, in the right way. If more of us would measure our words so well, or be just quietly supportive instead of shouting over people from marginalized groups about what “allies” we are, and make our support actually about them and not us, maybe we could actually get shit done.
It’s a process, and no one’s going to be the perfect ally. Nobody can even be a perfect friend either. But Elliot Stabler is putting in the work to be the best version of himself. He’s also trying so very hard to be the person his partner needs him to be. And it shows.
Let’s be more like 2023 Elliot Stabler, ok? (Previous, disappeared versions of this man need not apply.)
More on Law & Order: Organized Crime 3×18
- Consider the difference between Jamie trying to avoid dancing with his “I’m not much of a dancer” line at the beginning of “TAG:GEN” and Elliot just going for it when he’s undercover. Granted, El is, in fact, not much of a dancer. Yikes. But there’s something to be said for being old enough to have grown out of that need to be “macho” at all times. (Again, wtfever that even means.) If only everyone his age had grown in that direction, rather than more bigoted ones.
- Looking good in that suit, Reyes. Looking. Good.
- “Problem is. All my friends are cops.” A problem indeed.
- What a clever way to bring Detective Chang back in.
- And again, it’s important to note that even being “safe” because you’re working under someone else who’s out…doesn’t mean you actually feel safe if you’re not exactly like her.
- Not Bell using “friends” as a code the way
the two dumbassesEO do.
- “It’s complicated. As a whole, the department has gotten much better. But…can’t say that for everybody.” Mmmmhm. And until you can, there’s still a problem.
- “Good samaritan.” I laughed. Should I? Probably not….but I did.
- The change in Elliot’s demeanor when he realizes why this Dominic guy isn’t at all apologetic. Subtle, yet fantastic, stuff from Meloni.
- “But the cops didn’t think he was drugged. Just…partied too hard.” This is called believing homophobic stereotypes about The Gays™, specifically gay men. And also not giving a shit about them. Because homophobia.
- Notice how the person being used to lure all these men has a certain stereotypical collection of mannerisms. He is, in fact, the only one like that in this entire episode. Also a really, really good detail. This guy lays it on thick for a reason.
- Detective Chang!!!
- “Is it really that bad around here?” “It’s tricky…and it’s different for men.” Another way to show different experiences for Bell and Eric. Yes, from neighborhood to neighborhood — precinct to precinct, for the NYPD — things change.
- Ok but the way Elliot pulls that jacket off the back of his chair and flips it over his shoulder… Sir, life isn’t a runway.
- Ok but that blue suit is style.
- The community knows and tries to protect each other since no one else will. Read that again.
- Absolutely gutting, watching Bell witness and feel the heartbreak rolling off this dead victim’s neighbor. Just another great moment for Truitt, showcasing not only the empathy but also some (misplaced) guilt for not being able to prevent this.
- “I’m not ready. The judgements, the whispering. Missing out on assignments, promotions. Not hanging out with the guys. Being out might be best for you but…not for me.”
- Theme here, but: Her reaction to everything Eric trusts her with is everything.
- The look over Bell’s shoulder and the theatrical (for lack of a better word) way Stabler raises his hand when Eric asks who the lure is…These two. Nothing but respect for my favorite partners.
- I can’t with this dating profile. The selfie from Season 2, the “daddy” (it’s Zaddy, bestie)…I just can not.
- “Daddy?! Really.” “It’s your look, man.” Absolutely, positively, can not. This show is a comedy.
- Where are the bloopers? And who had the privilege of creating that profile? While we’re at it, doesn’t Meloni always turn the prettiest shade of pink?
- Thank you to Wardrobe for everything in this episode…but especially El’s tight AF tshirt. And thank you to God for those arms.
- Which arms? Choose your fighter: Whelan’s or Stabler’s.
- The way Elliot flirts…hm. Maybe all we have to do to get him to properly flirt with Olivia is tell him he’s undercover?
- …ok but Zaddy, that dancing is not becoming of you. Please stop. (Don’t.)
- I’m still stuck on “Daddy” being a thing in an actual dating profile, used for Elliot in an undercover op. Especially after that one time Liv called him Daddy while he was undercover. Because, really.
- “Daddy is a mobster wannabe.”
- Love it when it’s the actual criminals doing the shooting instead of Stabler! (But we don’t need someone shot every episode, actually.)
- “You almost made me cry.” “What if I had?” “I’d have to fire you.” I love the way they can go from all that emotion and care, right back to this.
- “Think it’ll get easier?” “Yeah — yeah. I do.” I also love ending on a message of hope, even if everything out there is pretty bleak right now.
- The end of the Jablonski era was really this good, huh? Shame to get such a powerful hour, with great messaging delivered by showing instead of telling, just to lose it. Good luck to the next few episodes.
Thoughts on Law & Order: Organized Crime 3×18 “TAG:GEN”? Leave us a comment!
Law & Order: Organized Crime airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC. The series returns on Thursday, April 27.