Saturday, April 16, 2022

REVIEW: 'Law & Order: Organized Crime' - Stabler Receives a Promotion During His Undercover Work in 'Change the Game'

NBC's Law & Order: Organized Crime - Episode 2.18 "Change the Game"

As the task force makes a critical arrest in the case against the Brotherhood, the Marcy Organization ups the ante with a dangerous shipment of illegal weapons. Stabler looks for ways to gain Webb's favor while staying loyal to Donnelly.

"Change the Game" was written by Rick Marin and directed by John Polson

The parallels between Stabler and Nova's undercover work continue to grow. They have both been promoted to serve as the deputies for Frank Donnelly and Preston Webb, respectively. Their work required them to get close and earn the trust of their targets. They have achieved those goals. They have been rewarded for it. It increases the pressure on them to provide results. Nova has done this work for years now. It's starting to payoff. And yet, she doesn't appear in this episode at all. She is sidelined to focus even more on Stabler and his own rise. It happens much more quickly. This season required him to investigate multiple different criminal organizations. He had to have his attention elsewhere. He took huge risks. He did so in order to protect the city. He carried personal animus as well. He may just be jumping from case to case to avoid the uncertainty that lingers in his personal life. He has yet to grapple with all that turmoil must entail. This particular story with Donnelly has gotten personal for him quickly too. It may serve as the culmination for his self-reflection on his time on the force. He presents as a dirty cop now. His family questions the man he has become. He digs out old photos and videos of his childhood. He can look back fondly instead of questioning what his father was truly doing. Uncertainty has been brought into that corner of his life. Bernadette just wants him to find peace. He needs to be there for his family. He can't shoulder the burden of the job by himself. He has to lean on the people who care about him. So many worry about his well-being. He pushes himself to the limits on this job. But so much emotion is released when he and his mother can look at the past without being traumatized by it. Not everything was good with Joe. They were asked to be willfully in the dark. They had to ignore his concerning characteristics. Those make him human. Stabler has to reckon with that now. He can't forever live in the ideal of what life could have been. He has to be in the reality of the moment. He is facing off with people who easily could kill him at any moment. He has to be careful as he gauges the threats from those around him. That includes Cassandra Webb. She may be an even more keen observer of his behavior. Everything is a risk. He hopes the various stories he tells are believed. He can't fall prey to them too. He has to know what's real and what isn't. That's hard on this job.

Again, the character work with Stabler is vastly more compelling than the details of the actual plot. The task force has one member of the Brotherhood in custody. The word has spread. He is torn over whether to be loyal to the Brotherhood or his family. He holds strong until Stabler gives him permission to turn against his fellow officers without implicating Donnelly. It still leads to the discovery of the man Donnelly killed during the jewelry heist. A case is still being built. Stabler knows he is hugging a killer. That can't be denied. Donnelly is just as evil as Preston Webb is. Webb presents as the face of organized crime in the city. He is the one power player remaining. He was patient and knew when to strike. He has celebrated during this upswing. He has also killed those who question his ability to rule as strongly as he could. He has a comfortable life. One where he can force people into compliance. He can make Stabler and Donnelly investigate a disruption in his supply chain simply by turning the gun against them. That's a precarious image because he has already shot numerous people. That has quickly built up how deadly he can be. The audience should obviously be worried about those who are part of his world. That includes Stabler and Nova. The parallels between their undercover work may only further signal the inherent tragedy that they can't achieve the same outcome. With Stabler as the lead of the show, that sets a potentially more dire future for Nova. She carries more of the risk. And yet, Stabler may collect the entire reward. He is part of a team. He coordinates with Bell over absolutely everything he is doing. She has to carefully manage all the assets she has in the field. That includes herself. She is exposed to a certain extent too. She is lying to the people she loves. All of these cops are exposed without the protection meant to keep them safe. Even those bulletproof vests can be pierced now. The job is more dangerous than it has ever been. Donnelly uses that as an excuse for how corrupt he has become. And yet, he has always carried himself this way. This was the expectation of who he would be from a young age. His father set him on this path. Meanwhile, Joe kept Stabler from this ugliness. That allowed him to see the noble calling of the job without ever having to articulate the notion of doing it better. Stabler has that clarity now. He must live up to it even when so many people want to see him as just another corrupt cop out for himself and destructive to everyone around him.