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The Instagram Post That Has Law & Order: SVU Fans Excited For This Character's Return

The fall TV season is well underway, and despite the challenges posed by everything about the year 2020, Law & Order: SVU debuted its record-shattering 22nd season. That's reason enough for fans of the NBC crime procedural to celebrate. However, a recent Instagram post from the series' star that hints at an upcoming very special guest appearance has die-hard SVU stans flying through the roof with excitement.

Mariska Hargitay, aka Captain Olivia Benson, took to her personal Instagram to post a candid photo of a table read for an upcoming episode of the new season. Of course, because this is 2020, the reading was happening via Zoom. And when fans looked up to the upper righthand corner of the grid, they noticed that one of the people on the call was none other than Christopher Meloni, better known to some as Benson's former partner, Detective Elliot Stabler.

Meloni co-starred with Hargitay on the first 12 seasons of SVU before he abruptly left the show and the character behind. Presuming that Meloni was participating in the table reading and not just popping in to say hello, the episode will mark the actor's first time back on the franchise since his exit, and will presumably act as a bridge between SVU and his upcoming spin-off, Law & Order: Organized Crime.

A reunion between Stabler and Benson was already teased over the summer, but seeing what appears to be proof that it is imminent was a thrill for many. Fans took to the comments section of the Instagram post to celebrate.

SVU fans were freaking out over the Stabler sighting

Meloni's appearance in the Instagram post had people writing in with declarations of surprise, love, and excitement. Instagram user @arincouu threw on their caps lock and yelled, "I SPY WITH MY LITTLE EYE A LONG LOST PARTNER." They weren't the only one who felt that an all-caps comment was the only way to properly express their elation. As @jessonamission exclaimed, "THE REUNION WE'VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR OMG."

The prospect of a Benson and Stabler reunion was at the forefront of the minds of many fans sounding off on the image. User @mariska.joyful celebrated the sight of the two former colleagues together again by writing, "Yassss, The Benson and Stabler reunion." Meanwhile, @cassandralynn710 wanted to recognize the magnitude of the moment for SVU fans. They gushed, "Y'all singlehandedly saving 2020 like it's no big deal."

The feelings of many in the fanbase were aptly summed up by user @lovelyhargitay, who said, "My heart is like...DUN DUN."

What happened to Christopher Meloni and Detective Stabler?

Following season 12 of SVU, rumors were swirling about which of the show's cast members would be returning and in what capacity. There were reports that Detective Benson was being moved into a supervisory role while a new detective (alleged to be played by Jennifer Love Hewitt before her short stint on fellow crime procedural Criminal Minds) stepped in to be the new series lead. At the same time, Meloni was rumored to be negotiating a pay raise before signing onto a new season (via TVLine).

Ultimately, Hargitay remained in her role as one of the leads of the series and Love Hewitt moved on to other projects. But Meloni apparently never did reach an agreement, as Detective Stabler didn't return to the force when SVU premiered its 13th season. The show explained his absence by declaring that Stabler retired because of the trauma he was dealing with following a deadly shooting in the season 12 finale.

Fans of the franchise have long held out hope that he would return in some capacity. Those who are excited to see him guest-starring on an episode of SVU for the first time since 2011 are also likely overjoyed at the fact that Stabler is returning to the Law & Order universe to anchor his own spin-off.

The status of Law & Order: Organized Crime

Back in March 2020, the news dropped that a new Law & Order spin-off starring Meloni as Detective Stabler was being launched (via The Hollywood Reporter). You might recognize March 2020 as a mere month into the TV and film industry being rocked by COVID-19, and since that initial announcement, there have been some bumps in the road for the new project. NBC originally announced that the show, eventually titled Law & Order: Organized Crime, would premiere on its fall lineup (via TVLine). However, that premiere window closed without any sight of the series. According to a report from The Hollywood Reporter, the delay was partially caused by the series' showrunner, Matt Olmstead, exiting over creative issues.

Despite the hiccup, the show — which sees Stabler returning to the force to head up a squad dedicated to taking down organized crime syndicates — is still slated to premiere sometime in 2021. For those who might have been concerned about the delay, the fact that Meloni is making an appearance on SVU should put any fears to rest.

While his reappearance on the series hasn't been officially explained, it seems likely that it's mean to serve as a backdoor pilot for Organized Crime. Whatever the logistics are, Stabler is back, baby!