Thursday, December 9, 2021

REVIEW: 'Law & Order: Organized Crime' - Stabler Grows More Concerned for Eli's Mental Health in 'The Christmas Episode'

NBC's Law & Order: Organized Crime - Episode 2.09 "The Christmas Episode"

When Eli goes missing, Stabler asks Benson and the task force to help him find his son. Wheatley considers his future.

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 next episode of NBC's Law & Order: Organized Crime (which concludes a crossover with the Law & Order: SVU episode "People vs. Richard Wheatley").

"The Christmas Episode" was written by Zachary Reiter & Rick Marin and directed by Fred Berner

The new season teased the return of the Wheatley family drama in its premiere. The action then quickly pivoted to Stabler's undercover work targeting the Kosta organization. It got off to a perfunctory start but ended in a nicely resonant place. But the show clearly has an addiction to the Wheatley story because it produces so much personal drama for Stabler and his family. Very little progress has similarly been made in Bell's own family story of suing the police department. That remains forever in stasis it seems. Meanwhile, Richard Wheatley goes on trial for the murder of Kathy Stabler. Sure, it didn't happen as quickly as most trials do in the Law & Order franchise. The story even notes that people can delay justice for a long time before anyone can try to hold them accountable. It's also notable that the trial happens in the SVU portion of a crossover event. That's slightly weird because it always comes across as incredibly personal for Stabler while the SVU characters merely support his emotional turmoil. Benson is aware of that. She calls Stabler out for always demanding so much from her without showing much interest in what her life has become in the decade they were apart. That relationship is fraught with so much drama. It comes from the audience expectation of a will-they?/won't-they? pining for each other. Right now, things can't be easy. Stabler has awkwardly handled his grief as well as his return to the city. He can't immediately jump into a relationship with Benson - even though he has been open and intimate with Angela and Flutura in his recent investigations. The franchise understands that Benson and Stabler's relationship is more important than that. And yet, it's just as rewarding when Benson tells Barba that she feels betrayed over him representing Wheatley. She doesn't know if she will ever get over it. That's a simple declaration but one that is informed by their own history. They always had such professional respect for each other. And now, all of that might change because of Stabler's reckless actions. It shows how the storytellers don't want to fundamentally change who Stabler is. It should also make us question the choices he and the task force make in investigating the organized crime elements in the city. It took eight episodes for them to unravel the mysteries surrounding the Wheatley family. That still doesn't amount to anything. The feds cut a deal. Stabler has a personal vendetta. That's used to make him seem like a rogue cop obsessed with Wheatley without the evidence to back it up. Plus, Angela is lying to the detectives. That will hopefully make more sense in the future. Right now, it's all about the suffering. In the SVU portion, the story easily could have pivoted to the epic rematch between Carisi and Barba in the courtroom. They are the lawyers involved. The story always revolves around Stabler though. That focus is always present. His family is dysfunctional. That was true before he went undercover. He can justify the various actions he has taken. And yet, those consequences extend beyond him. As such, people aren't required to be in his orbit. When Stabler opens the door hoping to see Benson and Noah join the Christmas celebrations, it's Bell instead. She comes bearing bad news. That will only further tear this family apart. That anxiety got Eli caught up in his own criminal investigation. Stabler's son needs him now more than ever before. Eli worries about how much his father can take. Everyone is concerned. That perpetual state of worry harms their psyches as well. They blame themselves even when Stabler wants to reassure them. It's a twisted cycle. One that plays out across the generations in this family. They can heal together. That just seems to be beyond their grasp as the world continues to conspire against them. Every Wheatley family member has the means and access to make a Stabler family member suffer. That's evident. It's all complicated as well. It's just the start of what's to come too. Wheatley is released. Barba can no longer suffer him. That does little to heal the damage that has been done. Finding that balance may come eventually. Right now, the chaos swirls around Stabler and his family to the point where they can barely keep it together both individually and as a whole. Of course, everyone is entitled to make mistakes. Those can be natural in dramatic storytelling as well. Other elements are trying to fool the audience and present as smart when it's all revealed as some elaborate ploy. That's annoying and disingenuous. That doesn't make for a great crossover where characters clash heads. The show needed someone with a personal connection to the franchise but who had never interacted with Stabler before. Barba is aware of what this connection means for Benson. He targets the investigation. He hopes he did so compassionately. True compassion though comes from Lucas, the officer helping Eli when he was on the verge of suicide. Those depths are present. It creates engaging storytelling. But it all remains incredibly complicated and melodramatic too. Nothing is going easy for Stabler.