Word has been circulating around the squadroom since the summer. Though Law & Order: SVU boss Warren Leight hoped and planned to bring series alum Chris Meloni back as Elliot Stabler in the Season 22 premiere — and publicly said as much in May — an on-camera Stabler/Benson reunion won’t happen when the show returns Thursday (NBC, 9/8c).
So Meloni’s return to the Law & Orderverse likely won’t happen until his spinoff, Organized Crime, debuts sometime in 2021. But, of course, that doesn’t mean that Olivia & Co. will have nothing to do but pound bad coffee and butt heads with the District Attorney’s office until then. Right away, the premiere episode deals with the American public’s shifting perception of the police — as evidenced by a summer of real-life protests against police brutality and racism — and so that’s where we started in a recent email interview with Leight.
TVLINE | Earlier this year, you made it clear that the upcoming season would not shy away from addressing police brutality and how it intersects with racism. Can you give us an idea (or some examples) of what that may look like in coming episodes?
In our Season Premiere, “Guardians and Gladiators,” our cops arrive at a crime in Central Park where a Black man has already been arrested. As civilians record their every move on cell phones, the squad makes a series of quick decisions that turn an already enraged community further against them. Throughout the episode, and the season, we’ll be looking at how explicit and implicit bias shape the criminal justice system, and also at how public scrutiny and anger, and internal conflicts, affect our squad.
TVLINE | Adjacent to that: How closely will Season 22 pick up after the events of the Season 21 finale? Is Fin back on active duty? Will he struggle with how things went down in that case?
In the Season 21 Finale, Fin found out he was being sued by the family of a Black man he shot during a violent domestic dispute. That shooting will continue to hang over Fin, legally and emotionally, at the start of this season. In our second episode, “Ballad of Dwight and Irena,” Fin will realize the shooting is now viewed through a different prism than it had been originally.
TVLINE | What can you tell us about Rollins and Carisi in Season 22? He turned down her offer of a drink in what wound up being your finale last season. Is the show moving away from them as a potential couple?
Rollins and Carisi are just good friends. With really bad timing. [Executive producer] Julie Martin and I are as interested as everybody else is on how their path will turn.
TVLINE | What guest stars do you have lined up so far for Season 22?
Thrilled to welcome Riki Lindhome (Another Period) to our second episode. She’s sensational as Irena, a lifelong victim of abuse who struggles to protect herself and her children from her current boyfriend. Also thrilled to welcome back Tamara Tunie to our third episode, “Remember Me in Quarantine,” a story of four college students quarantined in an apartment, whose lives are forever changed by the pandemic.
TVLINE | What does Kat have going on this season? Will we see her as a more seasoned, less impulsive officer than she was in Season 21?
This season Kat will strive to be less impulsive, but that does not mean she’ll be any less outspoken. She’s a different generation than her squadmates, and she sees things through a different prism. It’s a learning curve for her, and also for her “superiors.”
TVLINE | You’ve confirmed that Toby Moore’s trial won’t be in the premiere. I know you’ve said you’d like Ian McShane back but logistics and travel are an issue. Has anything changed in that regard? Are there concrete plans to depict Sir Toby’s trial this season?
We are confronted everyday by the difficulties of shooting during a pandemic. Location shooting is still all but impossible on city streets, testing and housing out-of-town actors is another minefield. For the moment we’ll be keeping things local, which means Sir Toby gets the delay he was hoping for. We assume he is out there intimidating witnesses and tainting the jury pool as we wait.
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