It's hard to believe it's been three weeks since the last episode of "Law & Order: Organized Crime," which ended on an emotionally charged note with a heated exchange between Sgt. Ayanna Bell (Danielle Moné Truitt) and Detective Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni) about the future of the Organized Crime task force.
In the Nov. 17 episode “Whipping Post,” Bell told Stabler she was taking a promotion to be deputy inspector, which would “change some things” around the office. Stabler responded he already knew not just about Bell’s promotion — but also that the task force would be disbanded. Stabler told Bell he wished she'd told him sooner about the big news, while Bell was frustrated Stabler knew what was happening all along and didn't come to her about it.
With the future of the OC task force on the line, the squad runs into danger during the show's Dec. 8 fall finale episode, "Last Christmas."
Will Bell and Stabler be able to put their differences aside to keep their team alive? In an interview with TODAY.com, Truitt previews what's to come in "Last Christmas," and what it's like to shoot such emotional scenes with her co-star.
"It's been great," she says. "I think as the years go by, or the seasons go by, our chemistry, on screen and acting-wise, we're just even more comfortable with one another. So we're able to listen to one another, make space for one another when we're in these scenes, and just honor one another's process and work."
"I think that's why they end up being so good," she adds with a laugh.
In an interview with TODAY.com earlier this year, Truitt explained she and Meloni "push each other" to do their "best work."
As for the last scene between Bell and Stabler in "Whipping Post," Truitt says, "I watched it, and I was like, 'Ooh, yes!' As the seasons go on, it just gets better and better."
"We both care about our characters and each other's characters and making sure each person has the opportunity to do their best work," she says. "We don't judge our characters. We actually believe what our characters are — how they feel and what they're trying to say."
"It's really fun to be able to work with people who really care about what we're doing every day," she adds.
What's also fun is watching Bell — a strong, gay, Black NYPD sergeant — put Stabler, a ripped, good-hearted and sometimes aggressive detective who was also a "Law & Order: SVU" staple for years, in his place.
Truitt teased another intense moment between her and Meloni's characters that fans will see in "Last Christmas."
"There's a scene where I tell him, 'This is my task force. I'm not leaving somebody behind on my last day,' and when they said, 'Cut!' he was like, 'I got a little scared,'" Truitt recalls while laughing. "'Somebody needs to talk to her about talking to me like this. What is going on.' It is really funny."
Truitt also previewed another scene between Bell and Stabler where the two ad-lib an argument that "wasn't going to be on screen but you might hear it."
"So we're just laying into one another, but it's ad-lib so we're (improvising) it," she explains. "So you kind of have to come off the top of your head. I don't even remember what I said, but it was so funny. Once they said, 'Cut!' the whole crew was like, 'Ooooooooh!'"
Despite the tension, Bell and Stabler will need to come together to protect their squad, and Truitt says, "That will be the beauty of this episode."
"People get so upset about what they feel people owe them. ... It's really all ego," she says. "All of it is ego because if you give grace, and you think about what it's like to be in somebody else's shoes and in their position, then you don't get so upset that they feel like they wronged you when they're just trying to do what's best.
"But when you're put in a position like having to fight for your life, none of that matters."
She adds, "Life has a really awesome way of making you understand what's actually most important, and I think that's what this episode that we're going to see on Thursday really gives."
When it comes to Bell's personal life in Season Three, we've seen a few glimpses of her going through a divorce with her wife, Denise (Keren Dukes), and trying to balance her stressful job with spending what limited time she now has with her son.
"When you go through divorce, it's one of the most terrible things to go through: It's like a death," Truitt says. "And I think this season, she has to really think about who she is, what she values."
Whereas in the previous two seasons, Bell was "doing her job."
"She was happy to have this position as a task force leader," she explains. "She was a new mom, of course, but it's different. There's just a different gravity that comes when you are a new mom; but you've lost your family, you're being challenged on every side, whether it's from your ex-wife, whether it's from Elliot not listening to you when you tell him to do something, whether it's the brass telling you what you are going to do, and you're not having a choice."
Truitt adds Bell "has to sit with herself a bit and really think about what's important to her, and she has to stand up for herself. And she has to make decisions that people might look down on her for."
"I think the sign of a true leader is even in the face of what might feel like abandonment, or people not agreeing with you, are you going to stand on what you truly feel is right? And then when you realize you have another option that could be even better, are you going to take that option? So I think Bell, she's just, to me, much more grounded than she was before."
After the stress with the task force and divorce, Truitt does want her character "to go on some dates."
"I want her to explore a little bit — see how she's feeling in this new season of her life. ... I think that would be really fun, but we'll see," she says.
Truitt and her co-stars recently came together with many of the stars from other shows in the Wolf Entertainment sphere, and she even had a big first — meeting Dick Wolf, the creator of the "Law & Order" franchise, for the first time.
"I told him that he's like the Wizard of Oz to me. I'm living in the city of Oz, and I've never met the man running it," she recalls of one of her favorite moments of the night. "So he started cracking up laughing."
One of the other highlights of the night was sharing a table with her other "OC" castmates — Ainsley Seiger (Jet Slootmaekers), Rick Gonzalez (Bobby Reyes) and Brent Antonello (Jamie Whelan) — and "Law & Order: SVU" stars Octavio Pisano (Joe Velasco) and Molly Burnett (Grace Muncy).
"It was like a mixture of 'SVU' and 'Organized Crime' at one table just all laughing and talking and drinking and just having fun," she says.
"I hit it off with Molly," she adds. (Muncy and Bell in a crossover scene together when?!)
It was only appropriate we close the conversation by asking Truitt her drink of choice, something she often tweets before a new episode on Thursdays, for "Last Christmas."
"I have to go with whiskey," she says.
"Everybody's hearts are going to be all over the place. You're going to need something stiff — you're going to need something strong."
This article was originally published on TODAY.com