The Rape of Elliot Stabler – How Law and Order Neutered Their Best Character
Arguably one of the most iconic cop shows of our time is Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, lasting longer and crossing more milestones than even the original Law and Order TV series it spun off from. The reruns are in syndication on a number of channels and you can access SVU on almost any on-demand streaming service available to you; it’s been on practically all of them. Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler, and Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson, have managed to become an iconic duo that carried the series for 13 seasons before Meloni parted ways with NBC due to a contract dispute. For many, it sullied the show. That’s no disrespect on Mariska; she still plays her part very well, but the duo was as iconic to cop shows as it gets – following the slow removal of almost the entire rest of the cast, Olivia Benson remains the only character who has remained on the show all the way to the current 22nd season, with the second longest tenure going to Ice T’s Odafin Tutuola, who has remained a cornerstone since Season 2.
For many people, the “Dream Team” SVU Unit are Benson, Stabler, Tutuola, and John Munch (portrayed by Richard Belzer), Captained by Don Cragen (Dann Florek). These are the episodes literally everyone watches in syndication – they’re the undisputed best episodes this series has. They’re darker, more gritty, and while sometimes a little cheesy and over the top with the melodrama, they’re just flat-out fun, and while it’s probably wrong to say a show about rape is fun, the first 13 seasons pretty much get far more play than the second half of the series. It wasn’t just Stabler’s departure that hurt the show – it was the lighter, brighter set. Suddenly the SVU’s headquarters turned from dark and gritty, to well, bright, and shiny. It became Disneyland in comparison. For some reason the fade-outs, complete with the gavel “DUN-DUN” sound, which is a staple of every Law and Order TV series, was also phased out. It sounds trivial, but it removed some atmosphere.
Also, the show became more politically slanted, tackling divisive topics like Gamergate, criticizing 4-Channers, “Right-Wingers,” “Trump Supporters” and a whole lot more. For the most part, the first thirteen seasons are far more neutral in terms of storytelling, and while they touched on some social issues or some real-world events, avoided taking a clear-cut side of a topic that has the country divided 50-50%. Sure there are still episodes which are watchable, and fun, and some are still ridiculously over-the-top (the “incel” episode, Season 20, Episode 4 is so absurd you can’t help but laugh at the entire thing), but for the most part it began to push people away.
To many viewers an absolute selling point was the fact that the main character (Elliot Stabler was the first-billed character until his departure) played a little loose with the rules and he wasn’t above slamming someone into the desk in the interrogation room, “accidentally” punching someone in the face, or flat out lying to a perp to get him to tell on themselves or get themselves in trouble, such as telling a psychotic patient “If we don’t get what we want the Kashistis (fictional aliens posing as humans) will take your son away” to cause a psychotic break that forces Dr. George Huang (BD Wong) to deliver the patient a sedative to make him easier to interrogate. He also once shoved a horny female perp’s head into the wall for grabbing his dick. Good times.
Stabler was very much the alpha of Law and Order SVU, and while it’s a role that Finn also fits on the show, Ice T’s strange one-liners, and weird street smart “factoids” are so over the top instead of taken seriously, Ice T is more of the “meme guy” on the show with many made up “Ice-T-isms” appearing online as a nod to the character.
Finn is vital; he just fills a different role, the "what the fuck did he just say?" role – Stabler was always the loose cannon, who openly even admits early on that he’s fantasized about killing perps, something that viewers didn’t fault the character for at all but in today’s “social justice” climate is a complete no-no due to the fact the modern Leftist media HATES law enforcement.
When Meloni decided to return to SVU, almost 10 years after his initial departure I was thrilled and said to myself “maybe this show will go back to being watchable every week,” but those hopes were quickly dashed for a number of reasons; Meloni was getting his OWN Law and Order spin-off as Stabler, “Law and Order: Organized Crime,” and so that means getting a permanent return of the Stabler-Benson combo that played so well off each other for 13 seasons would be at best, minimal “crossover” interaction. Those hopes were further dashed when I realized “What are they going to do to Stabler in 2021?”
Elliot Stabler, you see, is what the Left would call “PROBLEMATIC,” or “toxic masculinity,” not just because his trademark rough handling of suspects, but for a number of backstory reasons that we’ve learned over the course of 13 seasons of SVU.
A white male
no-nonsense style cop (skirts the rules)
A devout practicing catholic
Married with five children,
believes in the nuclear family
doesn’t like abortion
does not believe in divorce, and in fact there is a long story arc where he tries to work it out for his wife and five children and retain his marriage as opposed to divorce his wife.
Dominant/alpha-minded, in his treatment of other people, especially suspects – usually resulting in some form of physical aggression. The Irish-Catholic “I Love to Fight” archetype. (the Stabler character is of Irish decent)
Blunt, somewhat to the point of “offensive” humor with his wise-cracks and one-liners.
For the most part, Stabler is many things that could be considered politically to the right in today’s age. They aren’t going to allow this. “THINGS HAVE CHANGED.” This is even mentioned in his return episode a number of times. Despite that, I wanted to see for myself, because the foolish optimist in me held out hope that this Stabler, despite being older and wiser, would, at his core be the same Stabler that left. In fact, Meloni’s return to the character drew the highest ratings for Law and Order: SVU in the past four years. I’m not going to review the entire SVU/Organized Crime crossover, but I am going to go through a few bullet points.
--The show opens up with a car bombing, that ultimately results in the death of Kathy Stabler, Elliot’s wife. This is done as an attempt to virtually destabilize his family because they were a happy nuclear family, still together (although most of Stabler’s children are adults now).
--The first suspect, through information we find from Benson and her team is “involved in the Capitol riots of January 6,” “doesn’t believe in masks or COVID,” “is mad Trump isn’t president,” etc. They also say people like this and like him have been running roughshod over the entire country the past four years as if to imply ALL conservatives are monsters – this has nothing to do with Stabler but it does have to do with the fact that if you’re of that right-side aisle politically that Stabler had much appeal to, you’re unwelcome. Fuck you too, then, Executive Producer Dick Wolf.
--The perp begins to shit-talk and insult Stabler, Stabler then rolls up his sleeves (this man ALWAYS had rolled up sleeves), and… walks away? They want to show us that Stabler has changed and matured, and he constantly brings up this point while Benson tongue lashes him, no longer an equal due to the fact she’s Captain now and he isn’t. It feels more like an authoritarian woman’s world “flex,” as opposed to anything else. It’s a far cry from Don Cragen’s firm-but-fair Captaining. The man just lost his wife, Liv. The fact he didn’t beat the perp within an inch of his life for saying anything about her, is a miracle. This is Stabler we’re talking about – if you’re keeping score Stabler does the “right” thing and STILL gets brow-beat for it.
--Stabler also has some awkward interactions with Benson after his wife dies, and at one moment Olivia Benson says, “I can’t right now,” which almost makes it seem like Stabler hasn’t waited for the body to be cold in the ground before an implied relationship with Benson – because modern day television wants to appeal to those that have been shipping for a Stabler/Benson affair angle since day one. Now there’s no affair; Kathy is dead. But she’s also been dead a total of like five minutes by this point, so this flies in the face of the Stabler character to even imply he’d be like “okay I can finally get with Benson now.” Yes, the partnership between two cops who are partners is said to be a bond that can be just as intimate, if not more so than your marriage but that’s neither physically nor sexually intimate.
--Stabler has three daughters, and two sons. The two sons are soyboys now. That could just be a result of the actors who play Stabler’s sons looking that way in real life (all the young actors and actresses cast as Stabler’s children reprise their roles), but it was noted.
--Several pieces of footage on both shows of Stabler crying, which, while yes, the death of his wife would cause tears, it’s like watching Superman cry. It just shouldn’t happen. This guy was the dominant force of the show and the entire two-hour block of programming serves to take him down several notches – almost every female character low-key accuses him of “mansplaining” any time he tries to speak. Stabler isn’t really firm with anyone like he used to be, except maybe his kids.
I am glad to see Christopher Meloni getting work again. He’s an excellent, underrated actor, and even the short-lived SyFy television series, Happy, was a lot of fun – he plays a disgraced cop in that series and you can almost “suspend disbelief” and believe it’s “what happened to Stabler after SVU,” somehow making it more fun. Law and Order: Organized Crime seems darker so far than its sister show and has some strong star power. Dylan McDermont and Chazz Palminteri for example, were great in the initial episode. It has dark edge to it and is more graphic than the “Sunshine Land with Rape” that SVU has become. However, in order for it to achieve long-term and consistent success we need a “return to form” for the Stabler character. We need less of him being talked down to by literally everyone he comes across. We need him to be the tough guy, the guy who plays fast and loose with the rules. We need this to be a show that’s less about politics and more about “gritty cop drama.” Are we going to get that? Judging by what I’ve seen, no. Judging by what I’ve seen they want to deconstruct the Stabler character they built and push this Brave New Leftist World upon him.
The Elliot Stabler of old, would have pushed back. This guy? I don’t know. And they even killed off his wife solely to give him some kind of horribly humbling, neutering, demoralizing experience. I don’t see myself watching this every week, but I see myself potentially checking in on occasion hoping for that return to form, but if previous experience is any indicator, I will be sorely disappointed as will many people that just wanted him to slam a perp into a wall or scream one-liners at them.