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Benson, Stabler, Fin, and Noah: Catch Up on the Best SVU Characters' Stories

With 25 seasons and counting, here are the episodes that explain your favorite characters' backstories.

By Jessica White

Since its 1999 debut, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has captivated audiences and, when viewers hear that Dun Dun, they know it's time for ripped-from-the-headlines chaos.

How to Watch

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

The elite SVU squad, now commanded by the indomitable Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), has seen its fair share of thrills and chills throughout the series' impressive tenure. With over two decades of SVU, hundreds of must-watch episodes have built the fandom.

RELATED: The Best Law & Order: SVU Episodes Fans Never Forget

From powerhouse guest stars to chilling criminal investigations led by Benson and one-time partner Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), there's so much SVU to enjoy. Plus, with Stabler's return on Law & Order: Organized Crime, there's even more to watch to understand the deep lore. 

It's just a matter of choosing where to begin — because they're all available to stream on Peacock right now.

Casey Novak and the cast of Law And Order Svu Season 6

Which SVU episodes are key to Benson and Stabler's relationship?

Where would Law & Order: SVU be without the powerhouse partners fans know and love, Benson and Stabler?

Any Bensler scene is a scene-stealer, meaning the entire first 12 seasons of SVU are all prime material. From their early days at the unit, to Stabler's eventual resignation, and finally to their will-they-won't-they relationship on SVU and Law & Order: OC, there are dozens of episodes to watch to understand the full scale of Bensler's bond. This is a 25-year friendship we're talking about.

RELATED: What Mariska Hargitay Wants for Benson and Stabler

Here's an incomplete list of must-watch episodes to understand Benson and Stabler's friendship today. Make sure to check out Benson and Stabler's relationship timeline for all of Bensler's key moments, from the iconic kidney quote to their game of phone tag in Season 25. 

Olivia Benson with medium length hair that's curled at the ends

Season 1, Episode 1 ("Payback")

Feast your eyes on the partnership that closed hundreds of investigations, Benson and Stabler. From their first-ever appearance together, Benson and Stabler were close pals with a preternatural talent for cracking tough cases. (Plus, the Benson and Stabler hairdos are enough to justify a rewatch.)

Season 1, Episode 8 ("Stalked") 

This Season 1 episode marks the first sighting of "Protelliot," the mental state Stabler enters anytime Benson is in trouble. After Benson landed on a serial stalker's radar, Stabler went out of his way to guarantee his partner got home safe. 

Season 6, Episode 13 ("Quarry")

Benson and Stabler have had dozens of touching conversations throughout their tenure, but one of the most heartfelt happened after Benson opened up about being a child of rape and raised by an alcoholic mother. Benson questioned whether or not she should ever become a parent due to her problematic lineage, but Stabler wasn't having it. 

"Look how great you turned out," Stabler explained, adding, "It's not all about the genes, Liv."

Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) appear in Law & Order SVU

Season 7, Episode 19 ("Fault")

After years on the force together, Benson and Stabler were forced to face their codependency when a criminal chase went belly-up. At two separate moments during the investigation, Benson and Stabler prioritized the other's well-being more than catching their perp. It was a messy investigation, leading Bensler to consider whether or not they should be partners. 

“Look, we both chose each other over the job. We can never let that happen again,” Stabler explained. “Otherwise, we can’t be partners.”

“I can’t believe you’re saying that,” Benson said. 

By the episode's end, Benson and Stabler's partnership was on ice. 

Season 7, Episode 21 ("Web")

Fortunately, the Bensler partnership breakup didn't last long. Benson was back at the SVU soon enough and, while the reunion was initially awkward, Bensler regained their footing lickety-split.

Olivia Benson with a short dark brown haircut

Season 9, Episode 9 ("Paternity") 

Stabler became a fifth-time father in Season 9 of SVU, but that wasn't without its fair share of worry. After Benson offered to drive his wife, Kathy Stabler (Isabel Gillies), to her doctor's appointment while her partner was out of town, a car crash led Kathy to go into labor prematurely. Benson handled the chaos like a champ, helping deliver the baby while in transit to the hospital. 

Stabler was immensely grateful for his partner's heroism, rushing to the hospital as soon as possible. After the intense delivery, Stabler and Benson shared their first-ever on-screen hug.

Season 10, Episode 7 ("Wildlife")

Aside from Benson's effortless clapbacks, SVU isn't in high supply comedy, but the humor within Season 7's "Wildlife" made the episode a Bensler fan favorite. As Stabler went undercover, Benson showed up at his house when he stopped responding to messages. When the perps arrived unexpectedly, Benson and Stabler stripped down to keep their cover, pretending to be in the throes of post-coital bliss. 

Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) appear Law & Order SVU

Season 13 Premiere ("Scorched Earth") 

This is the episode every Bensler fan dreads but really should rewatch: It's the moment Benson learned that Stabler had resigned from his SVU position and moved his family to Italy. Did Benson get a phone call? Nope.

SVU's Season 22, Episode 9 ("Return of the Prodigal Son")

After over a decade apart, Benson and Stabler locked eyes again in Season 22 of SVU after he visited NYC to watch her accept an award, only for the night to take a traumatic turn. Kathy was mortally injured in a car bombing, moving their reunion to the emergency room. Amid the tragedy — Kathy died as a result of her injuries — Stabler apologized to Benson for abandoning her, but it would take time for the trust to return. 

Law & Order: OC Season 1, Episode 4 ("The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of").

As Law & Order: OC kicked off, Stabler was traumatized after losing his wife, adrift after joining the OCCB.

After Stabler's children recruited Benson for an intervention with him, he panicked. While making meaningful eye contact with Benson, he blurted out "I love you," before clarifying that he meant his entire family. Sure, Stabler. 

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

Law & Order: OC Season 2, Episode 3 ("The Outlaw Eddie Wagner") 

A decent chunk of Law & Order: OC's early seasons focused on a letter Stabler gave Benson upon his return to NYC. She was visibly upset after reading it, but the letter's contents were left a mystery. After he was drugged during an undercover operation, he visited while still under the influence to chat about the infamous letter. 

The letter claimed Benson and Stabler were bad for each other, but he revealed it had been penned by Kathy. However, Stabler clarified that the last line of the letter came from him.

"'In a parallel universe, it will always be you and I,'" Stabler quoted to Benson. "I wrote that. I slipped it in there before sealing the envelope." He then promptly passed out.

Season 22, Episode 16 ("Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing")

After finding success within the OCCB, Stabler visited Benson to let her know he decided to look for apartments in the city. He was officially back, and Bensler could begin to build their bond again.

Season 24, Episode 9 ("And a Trauma in a Pear Tree")

As Stabler settled back into NYC — newly single and deeply interested in mending his friendship with Benson — their will-they-won't-they dynamic quickly reached a fever pitch.

While enjoying a wine night with Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish), Benson got honest about the possibility of a relationship with Stabler. Benson explained she once thought there could be a romantic future but that never felt justified due to Stabler being married. With Kathy gone, Benson was left paralyzed by the possibilities.

Bensler Get Steamy and Almost Kiss | NBC’s Law & Order: SVU

SVU Season 24, Episode 12 ("Blood Out")

Needless to say, Stabler has felt similarly about SVU's sweetheart but the timing has never been right. After he picked up her son, Noah, as a favor after a case, Stabler asked his former partner why she didn't reach out for help. When Benson explained that he would just try to protect her, Stabler questioned why that was a bad thing. 

After telling Benson that he cared for her, he went in for a kiss, only for Benson to turn away at the last moment. 

Law & Order: OC Season 3 Finale ("With Many Names")

After successfully closing a case that had all hands from the SVU and OCCB on deck, Stabler visited Benson to give her a compass necklace. It was a stunning piece custom-made special for Benson. The gift was designed to "lead her to happiness," and ended up playing a massive role in Benson's healing in Season 25

Sergeant Tutuola (Ice T) appears in Season 25 Episode 7 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Which SVU episodes are key to Fin Tutuola's character?

Joining Hargitay's outstanding primetime reign is Ice T as the hailed Sergeant Odafin Tutuola. From his barbed wit to his ceaseless street smarts, SVU fans can't help but fall in love with the seasoned detective.

Fin said it himself best: "Don't look at me, I just know stuff." 

Check out some of Fin's key SVU episodes, below.

Season 2, Episode 1 ("Wrong Is Right"')

Get a load of Fin on his first day at the SVU: He transferred to the unit from Narcotics after spending months undercover, seeking a fresh start. Of course, it was pretty awkward when the first person Fin met at the precinct was his predecessor.

Season 6, Episode 10 ("Haunted")

SVU viewers learned Fin was a father in Season 6 after he was critically injured in a bodega shooting.

Benson called Fin's next of kin — his estranged son Ken Randall (Ernest Waddell) — leading father and son to briefly reunite, although their relationship was still strained. The reunion, however, set Fin and Ken on a path to reconciliation as Ken later assisted the SVU on several cases. 

Season 7, Episode 18 ("Venom")

Fin's family life stole the spotlight after Ludacris guest-starred as Darius Parker, Fin's surprise family member from his ex-wife, Teresa Randall (LisaGay Hamilton).

Darius was put on trial for the rape and murder of a woman, and Fin's ex-wife was forced to reveal that Darius was actually her son (technically Fin's ex-stepson). During his trial in Season 8, Episode 22 ("Screwed"), after refusing to work with the police, Darius aired out the SVU's dirty laundry in retaliation. 

Fin and Ken cut all ties with him in response to his heinous acts. 

Ludacris on Law And Order SVU

Season 9, Episode 15 ("Undercover")

Benson and Fin's friendship has become a token of SVU's success, and that bond deepened after Benson went undercover in a women's prison to investigate a corrections officer. 

RELATED: Fin Was Shot on the SVU Season 25 Finale—What Happened Next Was Even Wilder

After she was attacked by the CO and nearly forced to perform oral sex, Fin heroically arrived and put a stop to the assault just in time. In the following season, he became Benson's main shoulder to rely on as she attended group therapy to process her assault.

Season 20, Episode 15 ("Brothel")

Fin is certainly a smooth talker, but viewers didn't see him warm up to someone romantically until he reunited with Vice Sergeant Phoebe Baker (Jennifer Esposito). The pair had bee partners in Narcotics and had a brief romance following his divorce that ended due to Fin's trust issues.

RELATED: Fin’s Past Came Back to Haunt Him in the Latest Law & Order: SVU

As Phoebe and the SVU investigated a case, the flames were rekindled, leading Fin to ask her on a date. It wasn't long before they fell head over heels. 

Season 22, Episode 16 ("Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing")

After getting engaged in Season 22, Fin and Phoebe prepared for the Memorial Day Weekend wedding but, as they inched toward the altar, they questioned their need to get hitched at all.

At the ceremony, Fin and Phoebe informed their friends the wedding was off, but their relationship was still very much on and have been thriving ever since. 

Law And Order Svu 2509 Olivia Benson Noah

Which SVU episodes should I watch to see Olivia Benson as a mom?

As Benson soared through the ranks of the NYPD, she began contemplating her life outside of the precinct — especially when it came to becoming a mother.

The hectic lifestyle of the SVU tabled that possibility for years but, in a cosmic twist, Benson came across a newborn boy named Noah who'd change her life forever for the better.

Relive some unforgettable episodes centered around Mamma Bear Benson and her adopted son, below.

Season 9, Episode 14 ("Inconceivable")

A robbery at a sperm bank had Benson and Stabler racing against the clock to cover the embryos. The case led Stabler to question if Benson was going to have kids, pointing out her ticking biological clock

That's when Benson revealed she'd already looked into adoption and was denied due to not being "prime parent material" by the agency. 

"They're wrong," Stabler told her.

Season 15, Episode 24 ("Spring Awakening") 

After rescuing a baby boy named Noah Porter from child pornographers, Benson realized the boy had been abandoned by his parents. With nowhere for the baby to go, Benson was named the court-appointed custodial guardian of baby Noah for a year-long trial with the option to legally adopt him at the end. 

Benson graciously accepted. 

Season 16, Episode 23 ("Surrendering Noah")

Season 16 saw Benson flexing her maternal instincts after Noah proved to be a very sickly child. Throughout the season, Benson tracked down the boy's biological parents: a deceased sex worker named Nellie Porter (Emma Greenwell) and her pimp, trafficker, and eventual murderer, John "Johhny D" Drake (Charles Halford).

After Johnny D was arrested and an intense courtroom shootout broke out, Benson formally adopted the boy, naming him Noah Porter Benson

Season 19, Episode 9 ("Gone Baby Gone")

Benson learned that Noah (Ryan Buggle) had a maternal grandmother named Sheila Porter (Brooke Shields) after she applied for custody. After connecting with her, Benson attempted to facilitate a healthy connection between Noah and his grandmother and they got along swimmingly, leading Sheila to even babysit at one point. 

However, after Sheila reported Noah as kidnapped while they were shopping together, Benson's suspicions were raised. After a frenzied chase for her missing son, it was revealed Sheila had arranged for the kidnapping, never intending to let Benson keep him. 

Benson successfully saved Noah, but it was severely traumatizing to both mother and son.

Season 23, Episode 11 ("Burning With Rage Forever")

Benson and Noah established a beautiful bond and he's show how much he trusts his mother. In Season 23, after picking up Noah from a troubling play date where he was being picked on, she asked him what was on his mind. Noah then explained that the bullying began after he told his friend he was bisexual. 

Season 24, Episode 9 ("And a Trauma in a Pear Tree")

Benson's stomach dropped in Season 24 of SVU after Noah located an older paternal half-brother named Connor (Tre Ryder) on a genetic ancestry site — another soul brought into this world thanks to Johnny D's trail of terror. She was initially worried about what kind of kid Connor might be but, after she and Noah had dinner with Connor's family, she was elated to learn Connor was just as well-adjusted as Noah.

Captain Olivia Benson on Law And Order Svu Episode 2513

Which SVU episodes should I watch to understand Season 25?

Season 25 of Law & Order: SVU was a milestone celebration for the NBC nail-biter. As the squad room took new forms, Benson was left to reflect on her long tenure at the unit and began attending therapy sessions to process the years of workplace trauma.

Benson has been kidnapped, shot, assaulted, and verbally accosted more times than anyone could count. Her healing was a long time coming, but turning over the rocks wasn't easy.

Throughout Season 25, viewers got several flashbacks to some must-watch episodes.

Season 7, Episode 3 ("911")

Just as Benson was leaving the precinct for a date, the squad got a call from a little girl claiming she was alone and had been kidnapped. While some officers thought it was a prank, Benson was convinced the girl, Maria, needed help. After mobilizing the troops, she tracked down and saved the trafficked child. Hargitay winning an Emmy for this episode is enough reason to press play.

In Season 25 of SVUBenson reflected on the closed case, and her therapist encouraged her to visit the now-adult Maria. Benson was delighted to learn that Maria had become a cop.

Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) appears in Season 7 Episode 3 of Law & Order: SVU.

Season 15's "Save Benson" Saga

There have been dozens of insidious SVU criminals throughout the years, but the nastiest of the bunch is the man who dared to kidnap Benson, William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber). Appearing in a multi-episode arc that began in the finale of Season 14 and continued throughout much of Season 15, Lewis was a serial rapist who became obsessed with Benson, kidnapping her and torturing her in a secluded cabin before she escaped and the squad arrived. 

RELATED: What Happened During Psychopathic Kidnapper William Lewis' Creepy SVU Episodes?

Hargitay herself admitted the storyline was one of the most grueling to film. The incident created massive ripples in Benson's life and has come up on several occasions. As Benson gained a higher profile within the NYPD, some of her new affiliates learned about her horrifying past with Lewis. 

Pablo Schreiber as William Lewis

Season 16, Episode 23 ("Surrendering Noah")

SVU fans could never forget the moment when Benson came face to face with the infamous Johnny D: It was absolute pandemonium when Johnny attempted to reclaim his parental rights over Noah. Ultimately, he failed and then stole an officer's gun and rained bullets all over the courtroom. 

Naturally, Benson was apprehensive to tell Noah about his troubling origins, but fate had other plans in Season 25. After her preteen son googled his NYPD-famous mother, he was horrified to learn about her run-ins with Johnny D and William Lewis. 

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

Law & Order: OC Season 3 Finale ("With Many Names")

Remember Benson's aforementioned compass necklace from Stabler? It was a cute moment when he visited her with the present — especially considering the gift was accompanied by news of him leaving the city on an undercover case.

Benson noted Stabler's forthright communication about his whereabouts and greatly appreciated the gift and update. After he encouraged her to allow the pendant to lead her to happiness, she promised her former partner she'd try. 

Stream all of these must-watch Law & Order: SVU episodes and more on Peacock