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16 Dramatic Benson and Stabler Moments on SVU We're Still Thinking About
These two detectives and former partners have gone through their fair share of drama over the years.
With now 25 seasons and countless awards within its arsenal, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has become an NBC classic. While the action-packed cases and suspenseful villains keep fans on the edge of their seats, the powerhouse partnership between Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) was the spark that made fans initially fall in love with the series.
The iconic legal drama created by Dick Wolf has cultivated a widespread audience over the past two decades on air, but the first 12 seasons of Law & Order: SVU were defined by the dynamite Benson and Stabler. These partners didn't fall back on the good-cop-bad-cop trope but instead were nuanced, complex characters with unique strengths and weaknesses throughout their many seasons together.
Now that Meloni has returned as Stabler within his own series, Law & Order: Organized Crime, the beloved partnership has earned a celebrated resurrection, and fans adore watching how Benson and Stabler's relationship continues to evolve throughout their long-running Law & Order tenure.
Let's revisit some of the most memorable SVU and OC moments where Benson and Stabler's partnership was put to the test.
1. Elliot Stabler was instantly protective of Olivia Benson
Season 1, Episode 8 ("Stalked")
It didn't take long for Stabler to become protective over his partner, Benson — behavior that would eventually become routine between the pair. In SVU's debut season, Benson was targeted by a suspected murderer known for stalking his victims, prompting Stabler (who was then married) to step in to make sure his partner was safe.
Stabler surprised Benson with an impromptu ride to work one morning— an out-of-the-way maneuver from the formerly suburb-dwelling Stabler, as Benson was keen to point out. Stabler also insisted on driving Benson home from work that day, as well, after which he offered to walk her inside. Benson turned him down, but Stabler asked for her to blink her lights just so that he could know she made it safely home. Benson rolled her eyes at the thought but did oblige him.
2. Olivia Benson opened up about her childhood to Elliot Stabler
Season 6, Episode 13 ("The Quarry")
In Season 6 of SVU, fans learned about Benson's difficult childhood and unique upbringing. While handling a close-to-home case, Benson shed some light on her origin story to Stabler, explaining that her gene pool consisted of alcohol and violence, as she was the product of an alcoholic mother and rapist father.
After Benson expressed concern over passing on those genes to a child, Stabler offered Benson a wholesome reality check. He told Benson that she defied all odds and rose above her circumstances to build an amazing life for herself. "Look how great you turned out," Stabler told her, instantly lifting Benson's mood.
3. Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler's partnership got complicated
Season 7, Episode 19 ("Fault")
After a boy and girl were kidnapped, Stabler failed to run after an assailant after he witnessed Benson get her throat slashed by the suspect. Benson's wounds were not fatal, but the boy died due to Stabler not pursuing the assailant. The decision was devastating, especially as it highlighted Stabler's priorities when the stakes were raised.
Later in the same episode, Benson was put in a similar situation after Stabler was held at gunpoint by the kidnapper. Benson refused to shoot the culprit out of fear of Stabler getting killed in the process. Thus, both Stabler and Benson chose each other over their jobs during the case, resulting in the pair taking a brief break as partners. No worries — they reunited only two episodes later.
4. Olivia Benson hurried to Elliot Stabler's side in the middle of an arrest
Season 9, Episode 7 ("Blinded")
SVU fans got to see how far Benson was willing to go to protect Stabler after an arrest went belly-up in Season 9. While reading out the rights to a sexual predator who suffered from schizophrenia, Stabler was critically injured. After the culprit head-butted Stabler, he shattered a car window and knocked out Stabler in the process.
Instead of chasing down the escaped offender to secure a swift arrest, Benson rushed to Stabler's side. His injuries led him to experience temporary blindness, but Benson was there during the fallout, a testament to her unwavering support for her partner.
5. Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler's First Hug
Season 9, Episode 9 ("Paternity")
There is "work friend" close, and then there is "saved your wife and unborn baby" close — and Benson and Stabler in the latter category. One of the most dramatic moments between Benson and Stabler occurred in Season 9 of SVU after Benson got into a car accident alongside Stabler's pregnant wife, Kathy Stabler (Isabel Gillies), while Stabler was on a road trip.
The collision caused Kathy's water to break and go into labor prematurely. Always the fearless protector, Benson was thankfully there to deliver the baby successfully and save the day. After rushing to the hospital in a panic, Stabler showed Benson how much he appreciated her efforts during their reunion by going in for an emotional embrace.
6. Olivia Benson told Elliot Stabler she wanted to become a mom
Season 9, Episode 14 ("Inconceivable")
It's a no-brainer that life as a detective for the Manhattan SVU doesn't lend itself easily to family life, as we see Stabler struggle with throughout the early seasons of SVU. Despite the grim day-to-day of her job, Benson always confessed to Stabler that she wanted to become a mother.
After receiving feedback that she wasn't "parent material" from the adoption agency, Stabler was swift in setting the record straight to his dear friend. Stabler assured Benson that the agency was wrong and had no idea who they were dealing with, kind words from the person Benson needed to hear it from most.
7. Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler got naked to protect an undercover sting
Season 10, Episode 7 ("Wildlife")
Sometimes an SVU case requires a little undercover detective work to secure an arrest, and Benson and Stabler proved time and time again that they'd do whatever it takes to avoid blowing their covers. After Stabler went undercover to bust an exotic animal trading ring, Benson paid him a visit just as some of the bad guys arrived.
After the two experienced a brief moment of panic, Benson whipped up a quick solution by stripping down to pose as a sex worker alongside a half-naked Stabler. The pair successfully fooled the animal smugglers into thinking they were swingers instead of cops, but not without creating one of the steamiest Bensler moments in SVU history. The episode remains a fan favorite as Benson and Stabler's will-they-won't-they chemistry went into hyperdrive.
8. Elliot Stabler mortgaged his home to pay Olivia Benson 's bail when she was framed
Season 11, Episode 9 ("Perverted")
After Benson was targeted by an SVU suspect and framed for a murder she didn't commit, Stabler proved that he'd pay any price to protect Benson. After Benson was successfully framed for the crime by a rapist she previously put behind bars, she was arrested, with her bail posted at a whopping $250,000.
Who ended up paying the tab? Stabler, of course, but not without mortgaging his home (without his wife's approval). Stabler was also the person responsible for leading the pursuit of the actual murderer, eventually proving Benson's innocence and getting her back in the precinct where she belonged.
9. Why did Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler stop talking?
Season 13, Episode 1 ("Scorched Earth")
The most tear-jerking Benson and Stabler moment in SVU history happened when Stabler wasn't even onscreen. Season 13 began with Captain Donald Cragen (Dann Florek) delivering devastating news to Benson: Stabler had quit the SVU and moved to Europe — and did so without telling Benson anything.
Benson only received this life-changing update after Stabler failed to show up to work that day. Benson and SVU fans everywhere were blindsided and destroyed by Stabler's sudden abandonment of his partner, with many rooting for his eventual return.
After leaving New York, Stabler didn't speak to Benson for a decade, a shocking development for Benson and SVU fans.
10. Elliot Stabler apologized to Olivia Benson after returning to NYC
Season 22, Episode 9 ("Return of the Prodigal Son")
After many years apart, Benson and Stabler were finally reunited during Season 22 of Law & Order: SVU, which led to the beginning of Law & Order: Organized Crime.
The episode started when Kathy Stabler was injured in a car bombing intended for her husband, and Benson flocked to both Kathy and her former partner's side to provide support.
The pair finally addressed the decade spent apart and Stabler's sudden abandonment. Stabler delivered a gut-punching apology to Benson for leaving her without any notice, effectively addressing the damage he'd done while shedding some light on why he said nothing to Benson before leaving.“I was afraid if I heard your voice," Stabler said, "I wouldn’t have been able to leave.”
Ultimately, Kathy died of her injuries in the episode and Benson helped console her former partner.
11. Elliot Stabler said "I love you" to Olivia Benson during an intervention
Law & Order: OC Season 1, Episode 4 ("The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of")
Stabler struggled in the aftermath of Kathy's tragic murder, moving back to NYC and joining the Organized Crime Control Bureau to get revenge against her killers. The death also laid the foundation for Benson and Stabler's relationship to get even more complicated as the former partners found themselves mutually single for the first time.
As Stabler's behavior became increasingly concerning, Benson helped orchestrate an intervention alongside Stabler's children to address his PTSD. Stabler had refused to come to terms with his condition, throwing himself into his investigation instead, but the intervention forced him to realize how far he'd spiraled.
After Benson demanded Stabler to tell them what he needed, he suddenly blurted out, "I love you." Stabler and Benson shared a weighted glance before Stabler snapped out of it, telling Benson and his family "I love all of you" before shrugging them away.
12. Elliot Stabler told a woman he is in love — with Olivia Benson?
Law & Order: OC Season 3, Episode 8 ("Whipping Post")
During a grueling OCCB case, Stabler worked with an Italian agent and former partner from his time abroad, Tia Leonetti (Ayelet Zurer). While their flirtatious banter caused many to theorize there might be romance on the horizon for the two, Stabler's time with Tia only continued to fuel the fire of a Bensler romance after the pair got drunk and some confessions were shared.
Tia was later keen to remind Stabler of his drunken words. "You said there's a woman you're in love with," Tia explained after admitting she couldn't remember the woman's name. Stabler feigned ignorance over the drunken slip, but many SVU fans believe the woman he may have been talking about was his former partner, Benson.
13. Olivia Benson told Amanda Rollins about her feelings for Elliot Stabler
Season 24, Episode 9 ("And a Trauma in a Pear Tree")
As fans continued to relish any moment of Benson and Stabler's screen time together on SVU and OC, things began heating up for the former partners in Season 24 of SVU. While Stabler began regularly attending therapy and getting his life into shape, he continued to make efforts to reforge his connection with Benson.
"I did feel like Stabler was my home. But he left me, Amanda," Benson reflected. "And I'm not over it. And the thing is that I didn't have a right or a claim. He's somebody else's husband."
Benson then admitted that Kathy's death has led to paralyzing fear due to the endless possibilities now available with Stabler. Losing her friendship with Stabler isn't an option for Benson, and her concerns over that relationship becoming irreparably altered have led to some hesitance from the typically fearless SVU Captain.
14. Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson almost kissed
Season 24, Episode 12 ("Blood Out")
The Benson and Stabler romance theories reached a fever pitch in Season 24 of SVU after the former partners found themselves alone in Benson's apartment after she asked Stabler to pick up her son, Noah, while she was caught up in a case. Taking note of her wounds and exhausted demeanor, Stabler asked why she didn't reach out for help. Benson commented on Stabler's ceaseless need to protect her.
“Is there something wrong with that? I care for you,” Stabler said while closing the distance between him and Benson. “Liv, look at me.”
Stabler and Benson then shared an intimate embrace, but just as Stabler went in for a kiss, Benson pulled away at the last moment.
"Elliot, I want to," she told him, adding, "I want to, but I can't."
Benson explained that she was afraid of it not working out between them and that she wasn't ready. Stabler took the rejection like a champ, and the pairs later discussed the steamy moment in Season 24, Episode 21 ("Bad Things"). Benson admitted that the almost-kiss happened at an inopportune time as Stabler joked about his timing being even worse. The longtime friends agreed it was “just not the right moment.”
15. Elliot Stabler rescued Olivia Benson after she was shot
Law & Order: OC Season 3, Episode 22 ("With Many Names")
The amount of bullets Benson and Stabler have dodged throughout their Law & Order tenures is immeasurable, but Benson found herself hit again in Season 24 during an intense shootout with a hitman hired to kill the former partners. Stabler found himself blinded by tear gas while Benson was able to take down the gunman. Despite his temporary blindness, Stabler heroically carried Benson to safety.
Benson was visited by Stabler shortly after the attack in the hospital, where Stabler was relieved to see she was okay. Stabler confessed that he didn't know what he would do without Benson in his life, and the former partners shared an emotional embrace.
16. Elliot Stabler gave Olivia Benson a heartwarming gift
Law & Order: OC Season 3, Episode 22 ("With Many Names")
Throughout their crossover appearances on SVU and OC, Stabler has recently explored Benson's aversion to normalcy. Stabler has expressed concern over Benson's reluctance to follow her heart, sparking many amusing moments between Bensler as he continues to challenge her hesitance.
In the Season 3 finale of Law & Order: OC, Stabler visited Benson to give her a heads up about an undercover mission he was headed on, providing a stark contrast to his Season 13 shenanigans. Stabler gave Benson a goodbye gift in honor of his brief sabbatical — a beautiful compass necklace. After Benson thanked him, she asked if the compass was meant to lead her to something or someone.
“Lead you to happiness, Liv," Stabler said, to which Benson happily agreed she'd do her best to try.