While fans of Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler continue to watch with bated breath to see if the duo's relationship will ever advance beyond friendship, they've been treated to some adorable photos of Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni filming "Law & Order: SVU" and "Law & Order: Organized Crime" together. Some of these recent pics show the two touching each other's faces while on set, so we had to get to the bottom of what the story was behind the sweet gesture.
Monday on the red carpet at NBCUniversal's upfront, Meloni told TODAY the story behind the snaps.
"She and I used to do a schtick," Meloni said, while demonstrating, and explained one of them would say, "You're great kid."
"We'd clip each other in the chin," he continued. "But yeah, if we did a great scene, we'd go, 'Hey, good job.' So that — we were re-creating that."
Meloni worked side by side with Hargitay on "SVU" for the first 12 seasons of the show before departing in 2011, and he returned to the "Law & Order" universe last year on his own spinoff, "Organized Crime."
Since then, Benson and Stabler have appeared on each other's shows and shared many emotional moments together, like Benson being there for Stabler and his family after his wife's unexpected death and Stabler recently meeting Benson's son.
So for the first time, a single Stabler was in Benson's orbit, leading many fans to wonder if the yearslong "will they/won't they" dynamic between the two would shift toward "they will."
In February, Meloni told TODAY he believed Stabler was "in the middle of realizing" his feelings for his former partner.
"Yeah, I think it’s more difficult for him. I think he’s carrying a lot of — stuff," he added.
This week, however, Meloni said Benson may be the one who's struggling with that potential next step.
"Well, I think, and this is just my perspective, I think now it's Olivia who's having more difficulties than Stabler," he said. "I was reintroduced into this universe having freshly lost my wife and trying to — coming back to a place and a situation that I hadn't been in."
"So I think it's as the feelings build and the reality builds that oh, we're in an environment where we can act on these feelings, possibly, then it's getting all too real."
Someone who was witness to Benson and Stabler's first 12 years of ups and downs was their boss, Capt. Donald Cragen (Dann Florek), who recently reprised his role on an episode of "Organized Crime."
Meloni said he "always wanted to work with Dann" and "jumped" at the opportunity to have a scene with him again.
"I knew it would be right. I knew aspects of what it should be and what we had to say, what our relationship was, and for me personally it was a very deep — it was a really deep moment."
When asked who else from his original run on "SVU" he'd also like to work with again on "Organized Crime," Meloni said Stephanie March, who played assistant district attorney Alexandra Cabot and was also beloved by the viewers.
Another character adored by the fans is Dana Lewis (Marcia Gay Harden), who is a former member of the FBI that Benson and Stabler worked with a few times, and inevitably for Stabler, every time he crossed paths with her, he somehow ended up hurt: In one instance, Dana accidentally shot Stabler.
We floated the idea of the return of Dana Lewis past Meloni, who said with a laugh: "I don't want Stabler to get shot anymore."
Someone else who definitely doesn't want Stabler to get shot again is his mother, Bernadette "Bernie" Stabler, who's portrayed by the legendary Ellen Burstyn.
Like with Florek, Meloni said shooting the especially emotional scenes with Burstyn is "a pretty deep thing."
"I lost my mother five years ago or so, you know it's been awhile, but I realized that she's, in a way, she's a bit of a surrogate mother for me," he explained. "I didn't realize that. ... It kind of snuck up on me, crept up on me. So, she's a pro; it's kind of effortless to work with her. She is a very interesting actress so that always, you know, I find that fascinating."
"She's always working. ... If she doesn't understand something, she can't do it," he said, before adding she's the kind of person who's "so confident in what they know and what they don't know."
"I think it shows," he said about his on-screen bond with his TV mom. "Whatever is happening, I think it shows. I know I feel it any time I'm with her."