Law & Order: Organized Crime 3×19 “A Diplomatic Solution” takes Elliot Stabler out of the supporting role we last saw him in and puts him right back at the center of…everything, really. His mother’s back home, which is definitely something for us to celebrate as viewers. But it’s not a happy return in the world of the series — Mama is not doing well. At all.
If trying to find the best way to take care of Bernie was the only thing on Elliot’s plate, it’d be more than enough. But, of course, that’s not how a procedural works. Detective Stabler plays backup security for Diya Laghari, a diplomat in town to give a speech…and never gets to.
Trying to unravel all the who, how, and why surrounding the bombing that kicks off the episode is interesting enough. But it’s really the individual, interpersonal scenes that make it a really entertaining watch. So, since it’s been a while since we’ve seen Mama Stabler, let’s get all our feelings out about her…and then come back to the case.
A bittersweet family reunion
It hurts, watching a loved one lose parts of themselves. Even more painful is the knowing — knowing they know it’s happening, knowing neither one of you can stop it. There’s nothing to grasp at, no solution, as you’re seeing time, and memory, and so many things slip away. It’s a horrifying, agonizing, gut-destroying sort of experience. And it’s one that, for the Stablers, is almost certainly uniquely difficult, considering Elliot and Bernie already wasted so much time. (Something we know thanks to Ellen Burstyn’s first appearance as El’s “Mama” way back in SVU‘s “Swing.”)
The Stablers’ troubled history makes the recent gifts Organized Crime has given us that much more precious — and those moments where Bernie is completely lost that much more awful to bear. Every single scene where mother and son interact in “A Diplomatic Solution” features incredible work from Christopher Meloni and Ellen Burstyn. It doesn’t matter whether they’re actually in the same place or if it’s just a phone call, with Bernie opening by asking her son not to be mad at her for getting lost. The work is just on point. While every individual, and every family, experiences things differently, what these two do on screen together feels very real, raw, and familiar.
For Burstyn’s part, she makes Bernie so much smaller on the aforementioned phone call, her voice exuding a fear and a frailty we don’t normally associate with a larger-than-life character like Elliot’s mother. It’s in direct contrast to the Bernie who jokes around, gets sarcastic with El when he’s fretting over her before leaving for work. And that lightness is there even after she’s completely forgotten she put the kettle on. This, forgetting about tea, is a “small” slip-up and one that doesn’t really affect her. Not much, anyway, though she is noticeably stunned. Getting lost on her walk is something else entirely. And the reactions, from both characters and in both situations, meet the moment.
Then, there’s the scene that closes the episode. Yes, Bernie is “herself” again. But she’s still a much more subdued version. She knows what’s coming, knows it’s inevitable. Knows that, very soon, she’ll need more help than her son can give. At the same time, Elliot is patient, and loving, and holding in his own emotions — keeping his cool in a way he wouldn’t have been able to in the past. He has an air of acceptance about him — as much as anyone can in a situation like this. So, the Stablers are going to do what they have to do.
It’s so touching, and it’s nice to get to see Meloni play that loving, devoted son again. Even in that particular role, he gets to have layers to him. He’s maybe a little bit overbearing — a touch bit nervous, even — in the beginning. But even as he frets over Bernie as he rushes to get ready for work, he’s still just…utterly adoring when Mama Stabler starts mocking him for it. It feels weird to use the word for this type of love, but El is so smitten. Later, he’s clearly a little worried when he calls to say the lunch plans changed and gets Bernie’s voicemail instead of an actual answer. But, at that point, he’s still giving off just a bit of “huh. That’s odd,” like he’s talking himself out of what his gut is telling him.
When Bernie calls to say she’s lost, that’s when you see the panic set in. But you don’t hear it because Elliot is working so hard to keep it out of his voice. He can’t add to Bernie’s fear. And so, he doesn’t. Meloni has to navigate two very different tones in a single moment. As a surprise to no one, he makes it look easy. Natural.
And then, to refer back to the ending again, he’s just so quiet when he tells Bernie he wants her to be happy. That’s all we really want for our loved ones at any time — but especially in the end. Even in the quiet, and in the acceptance, though, El’s still troubled. And he’s still uneasy. Because you never can be completely settled with something like this.
It goes without saying. But we’ll go ahead and make it explicit anyway: It’s really nice to have Ellen Burstyn back, to get these incredibly human touches. There’s something so special about what she brings to the table as an actor, as well as what this relationship brings to this series. And, while we know this has been in the works for quite some time, it’s good to be done waiting.
Of course, another great touch is getting to see Bernie insert herself in the case when Elliot sends Jet over to watch her. Which, to be clear, that’s also a really interesting choice on El’s part. The Elliot/Jet pairing hasn’t quite gotten as much in-depth work as some others. But every time Meloni and Ainsley Seiger have a chance to banter, or even just share a corner of the room during police work, you can tell there’s something close there. This is a whole new level, though. Because for Elliot to trust Jet with his mom, especially in the shape she’s in, speaks volumes.
Bernie’s particular input is pretty cool outside of that, though. You can’t help but wonder how many other stories Bernie might have to tell. No matter how much they may (hilariously, with the reaction from Seiger) make her audience a bit uncomfortable. We know so very little about who she used to be, or even who she is outside of Elliot’s perception. So, that little nod to her being someone other than just Elliot’s mom, someone with her own past, is a treat.
On a more depressing note, it also makes you wonder what more Bernie may have to lose. What other stories could she tell, if only her mind could access them? That’s just another problem with aging and memory loss, though. Someone can remember a certain point in time in vivid detail but just fail to grasp at so much else, no matter how desperately they try. They’ll have their good days, their bad days, and their truly tragic ones. It’s not a linear path, or at least not a linear one that’s all in a single direction.
Another point to consider: The fact that Elliot is going through this with Bernie and isn’t totally losing it at every single opportunity is a real testament to his character growth. Not just from the guy we met in 1999 but even when compared with the completely unhinged person we saw face off with Richard Wheatley in more recent memory. He’s quite steady, and contrary to certain throwaway lines that still fail to make sense, also hella emotionally available. Just saying.
Like, imagine if Olivia Benson could open her eyes and see this Elliot Stabler already.
The character has been in some pretty good hands in recent years. Let’s hope his march forward continues.
Elliot doesn’t get to be just Elliot in this episode — no matter how fun much it would be to watch an entire hour of only Stabler family…stuff. No, he still has to be Detective Stabler. And Detective Stabler, much like his civilian counterpart, is all about duty and honor.
What makes the case in Law & Order: Organized Crime 3×19 work, aside from the little bit of open-ended mystery surrounding Madam Laghari (which we discussed in-depth with guest star Karen David), is more the way David and Meloni work together than anything else. That’s not exactly out of the ordinary for this series, but every pairing is unique — and this one hits some compelling notes of its own.
With Elliot and Diya’s first meeting going the way it does, their temporary partnership (of sorts) is entertaining to watch right from the start. Elliot’s just so completely unbothered by being mistaken for some kind of…underling or whatever. Madam Laghari can barely engage with this stranger, too busy on her phone to really even look up toward him when she asks about water. And the look on her face just screams “WTF” off of his “afraid not.”
It reads a lot like two people who are used to being totally in charge sizing each other up and figuring each other out. Elliot’s always been all alpha male. Now, though, he has this diplomat from this powerful family to protect now, and she’s clearly used to being her own kind of alpha. And whatever understanding they come to, whatever Laghari gets off Stabler’s smug sonofabitch personality (if you will) in response to her behavior, something clicks into place.
The callback to the water mixup, once the two characters reach the consulate, is effortlessly funny. David and Meloni play it so well, like these two people really get each other and have bonded over it pretty quickly. Not to mention, for David’s part, Diya has just enough self-deprecation in the delivery to show she’s admitting she made a mistake — without ever actually apologizing. Which is refreshing in its own right, as we women often feel like we have to apologize for too much.
When Laghari ditches Stabler to go visit Sita in the hospital, it’s both perfectly reasonable to expect from a personal standpoint — and just one more test of boundaries to see if she can really count on Detective Stabler. (She can. When it comes to protecting people, this man does not stop.) And the banter here, too, about whether or not she needs to ask him for permission is, yet again, excellent work. There can be incredible chemistry and an ability to play that push and pull without it having to be a threat to certain other chemistry, and the entirety of “A Diplomatic Solution” is the perfect example of that.
The best highlight for these two probably comes in the scene where Diya talks about ambition. Elliot’s hearing her confess to something like vulnerability, all while she’s staying strong and proud of what she does. By that point, the characters really have built up a lot of trust and understanding in very little time, to the point where Stabler completely picks up on Laghari’s hints about her head of security. These characters both get something in each other, and the detective is unwavering in his support. As he often is.
The way Elliot keeps coming back, even when the head of security keeps trying to push him out, is a pretty clear indication of the other man’s involvement in the whole crime at the heart of the episode, sure. But it’s also just another reminder that our detective sees things through. He’s been told to keep this person safe, so he’s going to do that until he’s sure the threat is gone.
That last part makes the twist at the end work better than it otherwise might. Elliot offering to drive Diya to the airport doesn’t have to be about anything other than him finishing the job…except it is something else. He’s figured something out, and he calls her on it in private. And I think, probably, the best part of this scene is how Meloni has Elliot hint around the accusation without quite making it — all while offering Diya a way out. And David makes it clear that her character is very much trying to think on her feet and is also not the hardest sell in the world when it comes to the detective’s “diplomatic solution.”
In short, there’s a lot to think about here, and that’s all because the character work, both from the usual suspect and our guest star, is just so good.
More on Law & Order: Organized Crime 3×19
- “You’re leaving me alone to fend for myself! How will I ever manage? What’s a poor old lady to do?” It’s a comedy.
- I would like to go to whatever party Bernie is throwing while her little boy is out of the house. Anyone else?
- So, Elliot’s comment about needing to get Eli home for spring break…What even is a timeline with continuity? Eli was just here. Which random break was that?
- And speaking of the many sons of Elliot Stabler: Task Force Daddy really had to tell the work kids to chill when they got excited about overtime, huh?
- To everyone looking at Reyes like “??” after he rattled off all that political knowledge out of nowhere: Same. I mean, it’s good to learn surprising tidbits about characters, in terms of what their interests are outside of work and all, but that was quite a bit of dialogue there. Here’s hoping this series doesn’t go the faux intellectual route like a certain other one has done with the armchair psych lately.
- On the one hand, it’s a very good thing that we actually have a slight update on Jack. Especially after we know Danielle Moné Truitt specifically asked then-showrunner Sean Jablonski what was up there. On the other, we do not like to hurt Ayanna Bell…and she was hurt when she said how rough the case was going. Not to mention, seeing her actually be a mom to Jack would be even better than just mentioning the case. Maybe in a different episode?
- In other news, if that “I love you” at the end of El’s call to Mama didn’t get you in the gut, do you even have emotions? (…and also: EO WHEN.)
- “I got you, Sarge.” I continue to love them, even when there’s relatively little of them.
- Really liked the work just before the bombing. Everything’s set up to show that Stabler’s instincts are sharp, and he was the right person for this job. He knows something’s off — even makes the last-minute switch to put Laghari in the car with him before things get tense — and he trusts himself when he starts to get that feeling. Even with what’s going on at home, he’s still got that focus.
- “Madam, I was ordered to provide you with protection, not refreshments. So.” This bald bitch (fond, not derogatory).
- Elliot Stabler is the biggest fucking softy. Look how he gets when he’s explaining to Sita that she’ll be ok, that help is on the way. And how he is with his heart-eyes gushing over his Mama. Just…all the things. (You can fight me if you disagree, but you’ll lose.)
- “I’m alright. Just need a moment” while she’s obviously rattled. Ah, yes. Nice to see Strong Female Characters™ from all over the world have something in common!
- No but the way Zaddy Stabler just looks threatening, yet controlled, in security dude’s face. And his slow look down at that man’s hand on his chest before he just peels it off…I, too, would like to ask for some water now. Anyone else kinda, uh, thirsty?
- “…and likely by our missing hoodie dude.” Love that Jet talks the way I do when I completely blank on characters’ names, actually.
- “You should be investigating the IRS. They’re the perfect organized crime.” I mean, especially considering they take from us broke ass people and let the billionaires pay them nothing.
- Oh! And “this is not the OT I was talking about.” A comedy!
- The sewer stuff…Real talk? First off, I’m very glad that the unhoused people were never considered suspects. Instead, they were just a potential information source. On the other hand, I kind of hate that Reyes’ “deal” with them was about not turning them in for their use of electricity. See also: “Society drove us down here. They want bury us so they don’t see us. So, we take what we need to survive. Ya feel me?” And finally: I’m sorry, but I could not stop thinking about Erg and the Morlocks in The Gifted and how that one network never deserved that show. Forever bitter.
- No but why is Elliot Stabler so disgustingly charming. Especially after he marches in that hospital, all business-like and “don’t” with the ONE™raised finger.
- …also, why do both of those shades of Stabler cause a lot of, uh, feelings.
- That hospital scene just excellent work from both Karen David as Diya and Sunita Deshpande as Sita. Just so much pure emotion there.
- “Hey. Ayanna. This custody fight? This, too, shall pass.” “Promise?” Again, I say: I love them. And for El to make time for that, when he’s already dealing with so much? An actual king.
- Also, it’s fairly telling that Elliot doesn’t answer Ayanna’s question…
- “Got all that from this picture, huh?” “I didn’t. Your mom did. Also, she wanted me to tell you she doesn’t need a babysitter.” Tell him the rest, Jet. I’m begging for his reaction.
- “The why is as vast as the world and as complicated as its politics.” That’s the excuse I’m going to use next time someone asks me why I’m still holding out hope for EO.
- “To borrow from your country’s cliche, all politics is personal.” Not a cliche, though. It’s pretty personal when politics is trying to legislate you and/or people you care about out of existence, for one.
- “I’m just a diplomat, but ambition is always a target. Especially in politics. Especially if you’re a woman. And especially if you’re fighting for a place on the world stage from what is soon to be one of the most populous nations in the world.” 10/10, zero notes.
- Ok but the choke move shouldn’t do it for me either…and yet.
- “I am here for you.” (Things this bald bitch didn’t say to his partner for 10 years.)
- Great tension building when Bell and Stabler go for the arrest and creep up on the suspect. Even better partner work.
- “I have to admit, Ivan. Your rap sheet reads a bit like Tolstoy.” “Thank you.” “That wasn’t a compliment.” And she is BORED. I love you, Ayanna Bell.
- “…comedy.” Remember that part where I love Stabler and Bell?
- “I don’t know what the truth is. But I will protect my country’s interests. And, perhaps, yours.” Marine Stabler has entered the chat.
- “I just don’t trust politicians.” Twitter user @chris_meloni has entered the chat.
- “Mama. Mom-Mom.” He is…
- The way he kisses his mommy’s hand, too. Help.
Got thoughts on Law & Order: Organized Crime 3×19 “A Diplomatic Solution”? Leave us a comment!
Law & Order: Organized Crime airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC.
Fun fun episode. As you said, it hit all the notes (Stabler-Bell, Stabler family moments, OCCB squad and the personal scenes between Elliot and guest cast). This was another excellent episode, after the Chinatown episodes and the Tag Gen episode.
And the fangirling about Elliot Stabler in hospital scene… I totally endorse that.. haha