Thursday, September 23, 2021

REVIEW: 'Law & Order: Organized Crime' - A New Investigation Sees Stabler Going Undercover in 'The Man With No Identity'

NBC's Law & Order: Organized Crime - Episode 2.01 "The Man With No Identity"

After taking down Wheatley's drug empire and discovering his wife's killer, Detective Stabler must infiltrate a notorious crime family aiming to take over New York City's cocaine trade. Sergeant Bell is forced to work with a rival colleague when their investigations collide.

In 2020, the television industry aired 493 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the season premiere of NBC's Law & Order: Organized Crime.

"The Man With No Identity" was written by Ilene Chaiken & Kimberly Ann Harrison and directed by Bethany Rooney

All of the drama with the Wheatley family isn't over just yet. However, Stabler has moved on to a new case as well. He is working undercover to infiltrate an Armenian crime family. Now, the first season showed the perils of going undercover in this line of work. It's a sacrifice Stabler is apparently willing to make despite all the loss his family has endured over the last year. Eli doesn't want him to feel guilty for spending so much time away from them either. Of course, he rationalizes his father's behavior because he was told that Stabler is the only person who can do this job. That probably isn't true. Stabler is simply committed to the work. He won't allow others to carry that risk given how much damage was done to the unit in its previous case. Stabler and Bell trust each other. They can always rely on Jet for technical support. That's an incredibly small circle of trust. They have to navigate both these powerful crime families as well as the politics of policing in this city. Stabler and Bell aren't even given the opportunity to say that they have been conducting this investigation above board in all aspects. The very first moment spent in this story showcases it going awry. They believed they alerted all the proper authorities to be aware that an undercover officer was working on the docks. And yet, it still resulted in Stabler and his new criminal friends spending a couple hours in jail. That means Stabler can prove himself as reliable to this organization by helping track down who stole their cocaine. It's the only move he can make. In the end, he doesn't earn a lot of trust. This is tedious and arduous work. It may not pay off in the end. Reggie trusts Stabler. He's not running this criminal organization though. He's just mid-level in this family business. Those at the top are much more skeptical. Of course, they are also willing to start a full-on war on the streets with a rival gang. The person who calls it off is far removed from the situation itself. Kosta runs this organization. He only makes one phone call. That's enough for everyone to change their thinking on the situation. Bell is preparing for bloodshed. She expects civilian lives will have to be saved. The situation has developed so quickly that the police will have to intercept now instead of making a play for the heads of this organization. Those plans are disrupted. It was unlikely Stabler's undercover work would be over so soon. This show serializes its stories. It's not episodic like the majority of the Law & Order franchise. Its casework is much more complicated. It needs to be precise. Even then, the criminals they target can potentially earn sweetheart deals from the prosecutors. That's what Richard Wheatley has enjoyed. He can turn against his fellow criminals. He doesn't have to be held accountable for the various schemes he was running. Now, it's completely up to convicting him for Kathy's murder in order to deliver some kind of meaningful justice. Even then, Angela seems a bit more tentative about testifying against her ex-husband. She's still alive. That's good news. It's clear that enough time has passed for these deals to be figured out and for others to recover from their near-fatal injuries. But so much of the stage is still set from that final confrontation the task force had with Richard Wheatley. That may no longer be the predominant focus. And yet, it still carries personal significance. That quality is missing in this premiere. That comes from Stabler just doing the work of investigating organized crime. That's the job he has signed up for. It's his new focus for the NYPD. He still has the freedom to go off the rails and conceal things in order to maintain his cover. People remark on not being able to tell him apart from the other criminals. But that's the police mentality trying to prop up this potential success. The crime family may not be deceived by Stabler. He has to work for that. This story is also just hoping that the audience instinctively sees these criminals as villains who must be put away. It doesn't offer much nuance to the situation. No one can seemingly match the mustache-twirling villainy of Dylan McDermott either. Of course, a solid cast of actors has come onboard to give breadth to this new organized crime family. It's just stifled in the early going. That was true to an extent in the first season as well. It's just a bit more noticeable and potentially a problem here. The show can't rely on the Wheatley family to provide all the enticing drama this year. It wants to move on while still embracing what was so successful previously. That's a tricky balance that may not work in every instance.