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Stabler's Tearful Apology to Benson for Abandoning Her on SVU Will Break You

This is one of the all-time most emotional scenes in Law & Order: SVU history. 

By Chris Phelan

Ready for an emotional rollercoaster?

How to Watch

Watch the Season 26 premiere of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Thursday, October 3 at 9/8c on NBC.

One of the most heart-wrenching moments of the Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson relationship throughout Law & Order: Special Victim Unit was a particularly powerful scene from the Season 22 episode, "Return of the Prodigal Son."

After seeing Stabler for the first time in 10 years, Benson found herself in one of the most critical conversations in her life — hearing a tearful apology from Stabler that was long overdue. Because of events that transpired in the Season 12 finale, "Smoked," which saw Stabler getting caught up in a dramatic courtroom shooting that left a teenager dead, it was revealed in the Season 13 premiere that Stabler had left the SVU squad that he called home for so many years.

He moved his family to Italy and essentially vanished without a trace — and Stabler never told Benson he was leaving. Benson had to be told the news by someone else.

This scene from "Prodigal Son," below, is as emotional as it gets, and even though not many words are spoken — as it always is with these two characters — it's what's not said that is most impactful. 

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Stabler's apology to Benson on SVU had countless emotional moments

Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler walk together in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 24 Episode 22.

Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni made a career out of crafting every SVU scene they shared into a bonafide masterpiece, and they delivered big time in this scene. There are so many memorable, gut-punch moments in this iconic conversation — here's what sticks out to us the most.

"You're sorry for leaving or are you sorry for walking? For not giving me the courtesy of telling me?" Benson asked Stabler, to which he replied, "Both." 

Just brutal. Benson is understandably frustrated — and rightfully still a little bit bitter about how it all turned out — and in a rare show of vulnerability, Stabler can do nothing but confess to doing things in the most messed-up way possible.

"You were the most — the single most — important person in my life and you just disappeared," Benson told him. 

How many fans can relate to this line? Millions? Hundreds of millions? Whether it's a romantic relationship or a friendship, when someone you hold near and dear to your heart gets up and leaves without even saying goodbye, you feel betrayed. You feel like an afterthought. You are heartbroken.

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"I was afraid if I heard your voice I wouldn't have been able to leave," Stabler said. 

And this sums up the Bensler relationship. Whether the two characters want to admit it or not, feelings do exist — and whether or not those feelings are romantic has always been irrelevant. It's why fans are so crazy about this pairing and why there will never not be interest in a potential Stabler-Benson reunion down the road.