christopher meloni elliot stabler law and order svu nbc

Oh. My. Goodness. Fans? We are finally way closer to being able to watch television's longest-running scripted drama, Law & Order: SVU, bring original (and sorely missed) character Elliot Stabler back to the canvas. Christopher Meloni, who played the role for 12 seasons before deciding to step away from the growing L&O universe, is returning to the show when new episodes pick back up in 2021. And, it likely won't be far into the new year before we get to see him, as Meloni just offered fans a new look at his Law & Order: SVU return which showcases a key Stabler detail.

If you're an OG SVU viewer, you likely remember a lot about Elliot Stabler, even though it will be nearly a full 10 years since we saw Christopher Meloni as the character on screen. We've already heard about some of the changes that Stabler will be dealing with when he returns to the Special Victims Unit, but there are some things that need to remain the same and Meloni just gave us our first look at one of those Stabler aspects, on Instagram, as he finally begins filming on Season 22. Take a look!

Ooooooh, yeaaaaahhhhh! The United States Marine Corps is back in the Law & Order: SVU building, baby! Stabler served in Operation Desert Storm, and was a hand to hand combat specialist while in the military, and his service was an important part of his character. What was also an important part of Stabler's look was this tattoo of the official Marine emblem on his forearm, so even if Christopher Meloni hadn't captioned this picture "first day of school," I doubt that any of his fans would have missed the obvious fact that this bit of body art means that he's getting back into character and on set.

Meloni's return has been a long time coming, too. It wasn't as though he left after Season 12, and audiences just forgot all about him and Stabler. Oh, no. There was always a strong desire from fans for both to return to the show in some way, which was due to both the fact that the character was written out of the show off camera, and (possibly more importantly) Stabler had blazing hot chemistry with the woman who was his partner and is now the SVU's top dog, Olivia Benson.

The obviously close friendship that Benson and Stabler had quickly gave way to simmering sexual tension...for the fans, anyway. Stabler was married, and even though he and his wife, Kathy, had their issues during his time with the SVU, he and Benson never crossed that line, much to the collective chagrin of Stabson shippers everywhere. (Fine, Stabson is terrible. Benbler? OK, no. Someone should have worked this out two decades ago...)

Of course, Christopher Meloni will have a lot more to deal with as he continues his return as Stabler than that (probably) lingering sexual tension and proper tattoo placement. While we still don't know the full extent of what Stabler will be dealing with, or what will bring him back into the fold, he will also be heading up the new series Law & Order: Organized Crime. That show will see him trying to rebuild his life, find absolution, and handle the changes in policing while dealing with a personal loss of some kind.

I can only guess that we'll see at least the seeds of those stories when Elliot Stabler and Christopher Meloni begin the road back on Law & Order: SVU, so be sure to tune in when the show returns on January 7, at 9 p.m. EST on NBC. For more on what to watch in the new year, check out our guide to winter / spring 2021 television!

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