A Fallen Away Fan’s Take on the Return of an SVU Star

Confession: I stopped watching Law & Order: SVU when Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni) left. While I love Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson and I’d watched the show for 12 seasons, it was the Benson/Stabler dynamic that had me hooked. When that stopped being the centerpiece of the show, I moved on. I’m obviously in the minority here, as SVU is the longest-running live-action primetime series in American history.

Benson and Stabler were two opposites who understood each other, almost two sides of the same whole. She was measured and careful, her very existence born out of trauma—and living proof that trauma could be overcome. He was impulsive and emotional, a devoted (if occasionally misguided) family man who was personally affronted by the criminals who preyed on the innocent. 

Their two personalities meshed beautifully. Both wrestled with demons, both had a strong moral compass, and despite both being stunningly gorgeous, the idea of them as a couple was never a thing. Work wife and work husband, yes… but without the will they/won’t they vibe that most shows would’ve chosen for them. 

I tried not to have a crush on Chris Meloni. I failed. His role as a sadistic psychopath on Oz kept me from crushing for quite a while, but eventually, Stabler triumphed over Chris Keller in my memories, and I just let it happen. He was tough but flawed, strong but vulnerable, smart but looked like a tough guy… and super sexy, but deeply in love with his wife, despite some rocky times here and there. What’s not to love?

When Meloni left the show, I tried to hang in there, but eventually, I stopped watching. Mariska Hargitay’s still compelling as ever, and I love how she’s become such a powerhouse behind the scenes as well as on the show—Benson’s a captain now—but I just didn’t have it in me after Meloni left to keep going. Worst of all, we never got the farewell we all deserved… and no one deserved it more than Olivia Benson.

It took ten seasons for Stabler to come back. A TV eternity. When I finally sat down to watch it, almost frothing in anticipation, I was struck by a surprising swell of emotion: It turns out I was just as pissed as Olivia Benson about Stabler leaving. I remembered, after ten long years, that he never said goodbye—not to her, and not to me. When they finally came face-to-face, I felt all the Olivia feelings! 

I was happy to see him, like a piece of me (as a TV viewer, not as a fictional former partner) was missing. I was angry he didn’t call (her) first. How could he call Fin but not Olivia? I didn’t know how to even deal with him… I wanted Benson to run up and hug him as much as I wanted her to slap him across the face. I wanted her to be warm and welcoming as much as I wanted her to be cold and distant. I watched Hargitay’s face play out all of MY emotions, and we became one. And when the tragedy of the episode happened, like Benson, I was heartbroken for Stabler as I flashed back to all of his history, all of OUR history, and the multi-layered complicated character he always was.

And I learned one final thing. I don’t want to watch Stabler without Benson any more than I want Benson without Stabler. I do love seeing Chris Meloni in shows (did you watch The Handmaid’s Tale last season?) and I love a good Mariska Hargitay interview, but I did not find my way back to SVU or start watching Organized Crime. Like Benson, I’m not part of Stabler’s life anymore.

Unlike Benson, I have the Hulu library at my disposal for all the old SVU episodes, though, and it’s there where I will live, in a world where Benson and Stabler are partners forever in all their gorgeous we’re-not-in-love-with-each-other-even-though-we’re-both-spectacularly-sexy glory. Who says there’s no going back?

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About Laurie Ulster

A transplanted Canadian living in New York, Laurie Ulster is a freelance writer and a TV producer who somehow survived her very confusing adolescence as the lone female Star Trek fan in middle school. She writes about pop culture, lifestyle topics, feminism, food, and other topics for print, digital, podcasts, and TV.

View all posts by Laurie Ulster