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With 23 seasons and countless awards under its belt, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has become a long-running NBC classic.
The iconic legal drama created by Dick Wolf has cultivated a widespread audience. While the action-packed plots and suspenseful villains keep fans on the edge of their seats, the partnership between Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) is what made fans initially fall in love with the show. (Meloni is now on his own series, Law & Order: Organized Crime.)
Benson and Stabler's most dramatic moments in SVU history
The first 12 seasons of Law & Order: SVU were defined by Benson and Stabler's strong and complicated partnership, with many memorable moments defining their relationship. Despite being opposites in many ways, Benson and Stabler prove that work dynamics can often become like family ones. Let's revisit some of the most dramatic SVU scenes where Benson and Stabler's partnership, lives, and careers were put to the test.
1. Benson and Stabler's partnership is compromised
Season 7, Episode 19 ("Fault")
After a boy and girl are kidnapped, Stabler fails to run after an assailant after he witnesses Benson getting her throat slashed by the kidnapper. Benson's wounds are not fatal, but the boy dies due to Stabler not pursuing the assailant. Later, Benson is put in a similar situation when Stabler is held at gunpoint by the kidnapper, and Benson refuses to shoot the culprit for fear of Stabler getting killed. Both Stabler and Benson choose each other over their jobs in the end, resulting in the pair taking a brief break as partners. No worries: They reunite only two episodes later. Phew!
2. Benson hurries to Stabler's side in the middle of an arrest
Season 9, Episode 7 ("Blinded")
SVU fans got to see how far Benson is willing to go to protect Stabler after an arrest goes belly-up. Stabler is injured while reading out the rights to a sexual predator who suffers from schizophrenia. The culprit head-butts Stabler, shattering a car window and knocking out Stabler in the process. Instead of chasing down the escaped offender, Benson rushes to Stabler's side. Stabler's injuries cause him to struggle with temporary blindness, but Benson is at his side the whole time.
3. Benson and Stabler become closer than ever
Season 9, Episode 9 ("Paternity")
There is "work friend" close, and then there is "saved your wife and unborn baby" close, with Benson and Stabler in the latter category. One of the most dramatic moments between Benson and Stabler occurs in Season 9 when Benson gets into a car accident with Stabler's pregnant wife, Kathy, while Stabler is on a road trip. The collision causes Kathy's water to break and go into labor. Have no fear: Benson is here to deliver the baby and save the day. Stabler shows Benson how much he appreciates her efforts when they reunite at the hospital and share a rare but memorable long hug.
4. Benson and Stabler do whatever it takes to stay undercover
Season 10, Episode 7 ("Wildlife")
Sometimes the SVU requires a little undercover detective work, and Benson and Stabler will do whatever it takes to avoid blowing their covers. When Stabler goes undercover to bust an exotic animal trading ring, Benson visits him at the same time as some of the bad guys show up, causing the two partners to panic. Benson finds a solution by stripping to pose as a sex worker alongside a half-naked Stabler. The pair successfully fool the animal smugglers into thinking they're not cops but not without creating one of the most tense moments in SVU history.
5. Elliot proves that he'll sacrifice anything for Olivia
Season 11, Episode 9 ("Perverted")
After Benson is targeted by an SVU suspect and framed for a murder, Stabler proves that he'll pay any price to see Benson safe. After Benson is successfully framed for the crime by a rapist she previously put behind bars, she is arrested, with her bail posted for $250,000. Who ends up paying the tab? Stabler, of course, but not without mortgaging his home without his wife's approval. Stabler is also the person responsible for leading the pursuit of the actual murderer, which proves Benson's innocence.
6. Benson is blindsided by Stabler leaving the SVU
Season 13, Episode 1 ("Scorched Earth")
Get the tissue box ready because we are revisiting one of the most devastating Benson and Stabler moments, and Stabler isn't even onscreen for this one. Season 13 begins with Benson learning that Stabler has suddenly quit the SVU and moved to Europe without telling Benson anything. Even worse, Benson only receives this life-changing news after Stabler fails to show up to work. Benson and SVU fans everywhere were blindsided and destroyed by Stabler's sudden abandonment, with many rooting for his eventual return.
7. Stabler apologizes after abandoning Benson
Season 22, Episode 9 ("Return of the Prodigal Son")
After a decade apart, Benson and Stabler were finally reunited during the NBC crossover of Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Organized Crime, starring Meloni. After Kathy is killed in a car bombing that was targeting Stabler, Benson comes to her former partner's side to provide her support. The pair finally address the decade spent apart, with Meloni delivering an emotionally gut-punching apology to Benson for leaving her without any notice. “I was afraid if I heard your voice," Stabler begins, "I wouldn’t have been able to leave.” SVU fans rejoiced as Benson and Stabler immediately fell back into their old ways as each other's rocks within their unstable careers.
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