Legions of fans got their wish when news broke that Christopher Meloni would be returning to the Law & Order fold in a new series as his fan-favorite Law & Order: SVU character Elliot Stabler. After nearly 10 years, an on-screen reunion for one of the best duos in TV history, Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Stabler, is near. But things have changed, the old Benson-Stabler dynamic shouldn't return. In fact, it would be reductive to all the growth Benson has gone through. The reunion shouldn't even be a happy one.
Since Meloni left the show between seasons 12 and 13, Hargitay has anchored SVU as the empathetic Benson. Viewers have watched as she moved up in ranks from detective to sergeant to captain. And outside the squad room, she's had more than one long-term relationship, she became a mom. Benson has had more growth in seasons 13-21 than she did in the first 12 seasons of the long-running drama.
Under executive producers Warren Leight and Julie Martin, the show shifted from stretches of bizarre cases of the week—never forget the gibbon in the basketball or the time Benson accidentally got high and started talking about pickles—to focusing on more grounded topics like trauma-informed interview techniques and developing characters beyond cop show tropes.
Meloni left before all that happened when contract negotiations broke down in between seasons. In the season 12 finale, his character was involved in a shooting in the precinct—he shot a young girl who had opened fire in the squad room in an attempt to avenge her mother's rape and murder. In the season 13 premiere, Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) told Benson that Stabler decided to retire following the required leave of absence after the shooting.
Now, Stabler is returning in a new series as the head of NYPD's organized crime task force. When the Benson and Stabler reunion happens, and it should happen, it shouldn't be business as once was usual for the former partners.
It's wise the powers that be didn't put Stabler back on SVU, his return to the show full-time could negate all the growth Hargitay and writers have done with Benson. There was no goodbye between the two—at least that viewers saw—and the relationship ended abruptly. Feelings would be justifiably hurt.
The interaction between the two characters should be kept somewhat limited and perhaps even a bit antagonistic. If they're both heading up units, it's natural there would be some clashing. It's been nearly a decade since they were on screen together. People, including fictional characters, change. Plus, it would give Hargitay and Meloni something new to do with the two beloved characters.
Law & Order: SVU has evolved beyond Benson and Stabler as partners. Let there be strife, at least some, to show the growth these two characters have gone through since they were last partnered up. Don't sacrifice the nearly 10 years of growth to satisfy shippers.
Law & Order: SVU airs Thursdays, 10 p.m. on NBC. It's been renewed for three additional seasons, bringing it to at least season 24.
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)