Before April 1, it seemed impossible that Elliot Stabler would ever return to the "SVU"-niverse, and then he did. Before this year, it seemed impossible there would ever be a world in which Elliot Stabler ended up with Olivia Benson — but here we are — talking about the possibility of TV's longest slow burn actually igniting.
OK, we don't know what will ultimately happen between Mariska Hargitay's Olivia Benson and Christopher Meloni's Elliot Stabler, but Meloni did have an interesting response when asked at NBCUniversal's Summer 2021 Press Tour about the fans who have always wanted to see a romance between the "SVU" captain and "Organized Crime" detective.
"Hope springs eternal. I mean, why not? I think it's going to be a collaborative effort between those showrunners for 'SVU' and 'OC,' and I believe with Mariska and I, to kind of figure it all out," he said.
"It's a complicated relationship," he continued. "So, we'll see."
Fans will recall a lot happened between Benson and Stabler in season 22 of "SVU" and season one of "Organized Crime" — from Benson being his first call, and hug, after his wife's death to a declaration of "I love you" during an intervention. Oh, and who could forget the lingering stare the two shared at Detective Fin Tutuola's wedding when Benson told Stabler how Fin met his fiancée — she was his first partner. Sound familiar?
This season, however, the duo may start off spending more time apart, as Stabler will have to go undercover.
"We now have Elliot undercover, and I think Benson recognizes certain telltale signs that he might need to talk to people, or maybe it’s not the most healthy place for him to be in the moment," Meloni said. "It does put a strain on how Benson, Stabler engage each other.
"But also the writers from both shows have written it in such a way that our lives do overlap and intersect. So we engage each other I guess from a more professional angle there for a few shows and a little bit from the personal side.”
One of the more personal moments Stabler and Benson shared shortly after his return happened when he handed his former partner a letter, which led to an unofficial online campaign from fans asking week after week, "What's in the letter?"
When asked during a conversation Sunday with TVLine's Michael Ausiello, Meloni confirmed the letter will be addressed this season.
“I think you’re going to set your head on fire when it happens," he said. "I think there’s going to be a riot. I don’t like riots.”
Fans may, in part, be especially curious about the contents of the letter because it may offer a clue as to why Stabler's character left so abruptly at the end of season 12 of "SVU." Off-screen, it came down to failed contract negotiations between Meloni and the show.
"I think there was a very unsatisfying ending to the Benson-Stabler saga, or journey, kind of abrupt for the fans," he said during Monday's press event.
"I think there was always those feelings, those underpinnings of feelings, that never got answered," he added.
Part of what makes the Benson-Stabler dynamic so exciting is the chemistry between Hargitay and Meloni, who credited the unique bond the two share after so many years of working together and knowing each other.
"I don't have that relationship with any other actor walking the Earth because I've never worked with anyone for as long as I have with Mariska," he said.
She's a hard worker. I helped for the first 12 years, but she kept the 'SVU' train going for 23 years now.
Chris Meloni on Mariska Hargitay
He continued, saying his return "was revisiting a thing that ... was left unfinished."
While his character returned under "a completely different dynamic," coping with the death of his wife, he said about working with Hargitay again: "The cornerstone of it all was a playfulness, a humor that we just always have with each other, and a camaraderie — a loving camaraderie."
He said back when the two first started working together in the late '90s, that most of the challenges were because "of the two strong personalities finding each other's dance steps."
"I would argue we found those dance steps 80% of the time, and 20% of the time you didn't," he said.
"That's where, I don't know, just stuff happens and it can be creatively wonderful stuff and it can be challenging stuff and it's just stuff. Because at the end of the day, I think we see each other and know each other at our cores, and that will be love, and honor and respecting each other's gifts. We have forgiven each other's trespasses. We've quite literally grown up together."
He added he and Hargitay have "always had each other's best interests at heart."
"She is what she puts out there," he said. "She is open, and honest, and trustworthy and a ball of light. She radiates a goodness and a warmth and an inclusiveness — just a wonderful energy to be around.
"She's a hard worker. I helped for the first 12 years, but she kept the 'SVU' train going for 23 years now. She's dedicated to what she does, she walks the walk. A good egg."
"Law & Order: SVU" returns Sept. 23 with a two-hour premiere, followed by the premiere of "Law & Order: Organized Crime" at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.