Law And Order: SVU Star Talks Stabler As A 'Potential Threat' And More Organized Crime Crossovers

law and order svu return of the prodigal son benson garland mariska hargitay demore barnes nbc
(Image credit: NBC)

The return of Christopher Meloni's Elliot Stabler to Law & Order: SVU will deliver a reunion that many fans have been waiting nearly a decade for, but that doesn't mean he won't bring a whole lot of complications with him on the way to launching the Law & Order: Organized Crime spinoff. Demore Barnes, who plays Deputy Chief Garland on SVU, recently spoke with CinemaBlend about the game-changing SVU/Organized Crime crossover, including the potential threat that Stabler poses.

Not only will Stabler's return reunite him with Benson and Fin, but it will also introduce him to a very different unit including mostly different people from when he left, with Demore Barnes' Garland as one of those whom Stabler has no history with. Barnes confirmed that although Garland and Stabler won't interact face-to-face in the episode that features Stabler's return, fittingly called "Return of the Prodigal Son," the return of Stabler will impact Garland's dynamic with Benson. Barnes previewed what's ahead, saying:

I think we as actors we get to in this show play some really interesting things and I think it's only going to get more interesting as Chris [Meloni] and Stabler become more integrated within, not only within Organized Crime, but also with SVU because I think it's been well publicized there's going to be much crossover between the two shows. And as far as Garland and Olivia are concerned, it's going to be an interesting dance, because here we have two very thoughtful characters who want a lot of the same things but also want very different things. And add now Stabler back into the mix and the same holds true, but now there are three. So how does that work, how does that work in lieu of their shared history, 'their' being Stabler and Olivia's shared history. And then now this new relationship that Garland has with Olivia, and everybody wants, as I said they want a lot of different things, and a lot of the same things but Garland's concern is where they differ.

The big crossover that starts with Law & Order: SVU and launches Law & Order: Organized Crime will be the first of many instances of characters between the shows mingling, and having Stabler in the mix is bound to cause all kinds of complications. After all, Stabler and Benson have over a decade of history together working side by side, but they've also been separate for nearly as long as they were partners by this point, and Stabler left badly. Benson has formed new bonds like the one with Garland, who has been pretty unimpeachable.

Demore Barnes' tease of an "interesting dance" certainly paints a picture! Barnes also previewed a specific aspect of "Return of the Prodigal Son" that will show that the reactions to Stabler's return will really be a matter of perspective. Fans may be excited and Benson may be in for a shock, but Garland has reasons to be wary of the threat that Stabler could pose. Barnes explained:

You'll see a scene in 'Return of the Prodigal Son' where they're navigating just that. Garland is really trying to suss out and determine what level of threat or concern should be appropriated to Stabler. Where does Olivia's allegiance lie, whether with the department, with Stabler, or even with Garland himself in their relationship, their friendship. And so, in that scene you'll see them navigating that, where on paper it's very clear that Stabler doesn't have a quote unquote clean record. Garland's mandate is to change and reform the police department, and he sees Stabler as a potential threat, a potentially very large threat to that mandate and to that objective. And he's really trying to determine how much can he lean on and count on Olivia. How much can he depend on her, what are her allegiances and ties to Stabler. And they also have an underlying friendship as well so I think what will be interesting, ultimately for the audience to see is, what is that mix of personal and business and how does that play out between he and Olivia.

Considering the circumstances of why Stabler left SVU in the first place, it would probably be hard to believe if Garland wasn't wary of the threat that Stabler could pose to his efforts to make change. The cop that Stabler was in his darkest moments on Law & Order: SVU doesn't fit with what Garland is trying to accomplish in 2021 and beyond, even if Stabler is a good man with the best of intentions and good cops who will vouch for him. But what does Stabler's history with Olivia mean for SVU, and how much Garland can rely on her?

The reunion between Stabler and Benson is bound to come with some baggage to be dealt with (and hopefully an apology made by Stabler for how he left), so the dynamic should definitely be interesting as allegiances potentially shift. With Demore Barnes' Garland sticking around as a regular on SVU and Christopher Meloni starring in Organized Crime, Garland and Benson will presumably still be working together regularly, even with the possibility of frequent crossovers. Barnes shared how Garland will approach the situation of Stabler's return:

Garland [is] a newcomer to the precinct and to the department and SVU. [Benson] has a very different perspective on Stabler than many others might have. Because of how thorough and researched Garland is, he's keenly aware of what he knows, he knows what he knows, but he's also knows what he doesn't know and I think that's part of what bothers him about Stabler, that he sees his record on paper. He's able to, by way of his research, determine what his history and his past is and appears to be, but Garland also knows the devil always exists in the details. And he's also keenly aware that he doesn't know what all those details are. And so, while the division, and the precinct and the entire department has a target on their back, Garland also feels as though he has one on his [back].

All things considered, the return of Christopher Meloni as Stabler is something that fans have been waiting a long time for, and it's clear that "Return of the Prodigal Son" will have plenty of layers beyond the reunion between Stabler and Benson. Stabler not looking the best on paper is an issue that popped up from time to time during his run on SVU, before the calls for reform. Now, under Garland's eye, Stabler's record could be an issue.

Not so much of an issue that he won't be a cop, though! Law & Order: Organized Crime premieres with Stabler at the center on Thursday, April 1 at 10 p.m. ET, immediately following Law & Order: SVU's "Return of the Prodigal Son" at 9 p.m., all on NBC. Be sure to tune in to see how Stabler fits into the NYPD after so much time and so many changes and a fresh tragedy, as well as how relative newcomers like Garland handle his return.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).