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Olivia Benson's Best Moments On Law And Order: SVU

In the criminal justice system, sexually-based offenses are considered especially heinous. Though New York City is home to the elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit, one member, in particular, has dedicated over 20 years to solving these crimes and making the city a bit safer for those in it. That detective, sergeant, lieutenant, and the eventual captain is none other than Olivia Benson, played by Mariska Hargitay, in "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit."

Olivia Benson began as and continues to be the face of "Law and Order: SVU." Throughout the years and all of the storylines Olivia has survived, she has found a way to persevere and become a role model for women everywhere. The promotions that are traditionally given to men, the countless life-threatening situations, and her ability to remain kind and acknowledge the importance of mental health are perfect examples of a stellar human being.

Most of what Olivia does involves helping others, but there are certain moments throughout the series where Hargitay's portrayal of the character greatly stands out over more standard storylines. With 24 seasons, though, it's hard to narrow down all of the best moments of such a notable television character. Read on to find the top Olivia Benson moments, including serious events, hilarious happenings, and showcases of good power.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The death of her mother

Olivia had a complicated relationship with her mother, Serena, for a number of reasons. Olivia is a product of a rape. After she was born, Serena, who was an alcoholic, consistently emotionally and physically abused her daughter, which created a huge rift between them and was part of why Olivia wanted to go into the SVU. This is why when Olivia finds out her mother has passed away in Season 2, Episode 8 ("Taken"), she feels many complicated emotions. Donald Cragen (Dann Florek) delivers the news to Olivia that her mother died from a drunken fall. Olivia is wracked with sadness, guilt, and relief because of how hard her relationship with her mother was.

However, she quickly accepts the reality of the situation and throws herself back into her work. This is one of Olivia's best moments because you see how truly strong she is and how much she's overcome. Despite the obstacles, Olivia continues to prove to be a successful, dedicated, and kind-hearted woman. It's just one of many testaments to Olivia's character, but it's also really powerful for viewers who also struggle with their parental relationships to see that it's OK to feel a wide range of emotions while grieving.

Riddle me this

In every episode of "SVU," Olivia shows off her smarts and savvy detective work as she pieces together clues and works investigations to find out the truth. Season 6, Episode 4 ("Scavenger") is a strong example of Olivia showcasing not only her skills but also her excellent teamwork with partner Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni). Here, the killer gives the detectives a series of clues to lead them to the mother, who was kidnapped while taking her baby for a walk in the park.

This episode is intense throughout as Elliot and Olivia have to solve riddle after riddle to find where the killer is keeping the mother, and all the while her oxygen tank is depleting. While trying to solve these riddles, dealing with the woman's family, and figuring out a motive for why someone would want to do this, Olivia simultaneously deals with the fact that the unsub is a copycat killer, and that they're racing against the clock to save the woman. "Scavenger" brings Olivia's multitasking and problem-solving skills to the forefront, and, even more impressive, Olivia manages to save the kidnapped woman.

Finding the kidnapped girl

Season 7, Episode 3 ("911") is one of the most powerful and memorable and this is mostly due to Hargitay's performance. Olivia receives a call from a young girl who says she's locked in a room alone and that she needs help. Olivia talks to her and asks many questions about her life, but upon figuring out that they can't trace the call, the detectives begin to suspect that the little girl isn't really in need. However, Olivia continues to believe and sticks with her. As the episode progresses, Olivia finds out that the girl's death had been faked and she had been used on a pornography website. She eventually catches the man who is holding her, and though they almost don't make it in time to save her, Olivia is able to perform CPR on the young girl and revive her.

This episode gives Hargitay so much room to flex her acting chops. The audience sees her really tap into Olivia's full spectrum of emotions — from panic and urgency to collected calm and happiness. Hargitay's acting and Olivia's detective work are some of the best in the whole show. Critics agreed with this as well, with Hargitay winning the Emmy Award for outstanding lead actress in a drama series for her performance in "911," which is also considered one of the best episodes in the show's entire run.

Olivia delivers Kathy's baby

Many "SVU" fans have always wondered if Olivia would ever be romantically involved with Elliot Stabler, with Hargitay herself saying in a January 2022 interview on "The Drew Barrymore Show," "The energy's there. Olivia's been in love with him for many a year." The two have great chemistry and consistently make audiences guess whether or not they'll end up together, but ultimately they decide it's better for their friendship and working relationship that they don't romantically partner up.

Instead, Elliot eventually marries Kathy (Isabel Gillies), and she becomes pregnant. In Season 9, Episode 9 ("Paternity"), Olivia offers to take Kathy to her check-up while Elliot is working. However, they get into a car accident and Kathy becomes pinned inside. It's up to Olivia to not only keep Kathy alive when the EMTs can't reach her but also to help deliver the baby after her water breaks during the accident.

Olivia is an impressive person, but the fact that she's able to get through the accident herself, keep Kathy alive, help her deliver the baby, and do it all while using an even-keeled tone is incredible. The whole scene is so powerful and shows amazing strength from Olivia in a field where she's not experienced and is dealing with her own trauma from the car accident. It just goes to show that if ever in a crisis, Olivia Benson is who you'd want with you.

Olivia goes undercover

Season 9 has a lot of good plot lines for Olivia, but one of the most powerful is in Episode 15 ("Undercover"). Olivia embeds herself in a women's correctional facility to try and investigate a crooked prison guard who may or may not have raped and beaten an inmate. It's dangerous because she has to act as a prisoner with no connections to the SVU, except for Odafin "Fin" Tutuola (Ice-T) who poses as a guard to keep an eye on her. Eventually, Olivia finds herself in the same situation as the victim who accused the guard and is about to be assaulted. However, she's able to fight him off long enough for Fin to rescue her, and they arrest him.

"Undercover" is one of the more tense episodes. We know while watching that the detectives put themselves at risk for the job, but this particular strategy poses a specific danger for Olivia who almost doesn't make it out. This is one of the best examples of Olivia's character because she doesn't hesitate to throw herself into a threatening situation for the opportunity to help someone else and put a bad person behind bars. The episode is gritty and powerful, but it shows why Olivia is so dedicated to her job.

Olivia poses as a sex worker

In Season 10, Episode 7 ("Wildlife"), Elliot risks his marriage to take on an undercover assignment that could very well get him killed. Olivia manages to convince Kathy not to leave him and goes to Elliot's undercover house to tell him that he is on the verge of ruining things with his wife. However, the bad men show up while she's still there. Olivia tries to hide, but the men hear Elliot talking through the door and investigate. Olivia, acting quickly, returns to the room without her shirt and pretends to be a sex worker that Elliot is paying, trying to prove that she's not a threat to the men. It's a brilliant move, and very surprising to the audience.

This episode highlights that Olivia would do anything to protect Elliot and get the job done. Her dedication is limitless, even having to appeal to scumbags just to keep from getting caught. Additionally, for the audience, it's a great example of Olivia's quick thinking and ability to role-play when undercover, adding to her expansive list of talents.

Duping Dale

Another brilliant and quick-thinking move from Olivia occurs in the Season 10 finale ("Zebras") when Elliot's life is in danger. Dale Stuckey (Noel Fisher), who worked in the crime scene unit before turning crooked, kidnaps Elliot and begins to torture him. Olivia stumbles upon the scene and Dale holds her at gunpoint, but she quickly spins the story to make it seem like she's on his side. She explains that she's going to tell the captain that Dale secured the crime scene and called her and that she also hates Elliot and will corroborate the story that he died in the line of duty, and not at Dale's hand.

She slaps Elliot across the face several times and convinces Dale that he can replace Elliot as her partner. When Olivia kisses Dale to distract him, Elliot kicks him and she knocks him out, freeing them both and stopping Dale from doing any more harm. Olivia always knows exactly what to do, and her actions often save not only her life but the lives of those around her. Her ability to act and convince an unhinged man of her devotion to him and not her partner is brilliant, and yet another example of why Olivia is the strongest asset to the team.

Olivia accidentally gets high

A rare humorous moment on "SVU" comes when Olivia accidentally gets high in Season 12, Episode 5 ("Wet"). Olivia inadvertently inhales some mushroom vapors while interviewing a suspect, Dr. Vincent Prochik (David Krumholtz), in his lab. She then goes into the interrogation room with Elliot and Dr. Prochik and starts spouting some crazy sentences that don't make sense. She claims the doctor was spotted at Niagara Falls and accuses him of having "stabbed the captain with a pickle." Moments later, she passes out, and when she comes to, realizes she inhaled the vapors during the initial visit to the lab.

"SVU" is a very intense show with serious subject matter and funny moments are hard to find. That's why this is one of Olivia's best moments. Hearing her say nonsensical things during a serious investigation is shocking and a welcomed timeout from the heavier events of the show.

Married and swinging

In Season 12, Episode 19 ("Bombshell") Bensler fans are treated to the partners going undercover as married swingers. As part of an investigation, Olivia and Elliot head to a club known as the Swing Set, and though they do come up short, it does help a bit with gaining more information on those involved.

Elliot and Olivia have a powerful connection, which is necessary when working so closely together. However, in this episode, fans get to imagine for a moment that the pair are romantically involved instead of just keeping their relationship friendly and professional. How easily they slide into these roles only goes to show that they have palpable chemistry and a great foundation for their relationship to be able to fool others into thinking they're married. But Hargitay's performance as Olivia is especially strong in this episode, showing off her sensitive, marital side rather than her usual tough detective exterior.

Losing her partner

When a television show runs for so long, it's impossible to expect the whole cast to remain for the entire run. However, the departure of a main character is always a big blow for fans, and Elliot's exit from "SVU” is no exception. In the Season 13 opener, Olivia learns that her partner has filed his papers. Cragen explains to her that there was nothing he could do, and offers for her to take the day off to process or grieve however she needs. But, in true Olivia fashion, she rejects the offer and returns to the office, before telling her team to "give me five [minutes]."

Olivia is a strong woman who is usually able to hold it together, but upon finding out that Elliot is leaving, the audience watches a raw moment where Olivia sits by herself and mourns the loss of her partner. After 12 years of solving crimes together, Olivia not only loses her partner, but also her best friend. That's a lot for any person to take, but Olivia handles it with grace and, yet again, prioritizes the job over her own feelings. Hargitay's acting upon finding the news is heartbreaking and shows her emotional side as it bleeds through her tough nature.

William Lewis kidnaps Olivia

In the closing moments of the Season 14 finale ("Her Negotiation"), William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber) ambushes Olivia in her own home and kidnaps her after he's let out on bail. In the premiere of Season 15 ("Surrender Benson/Imprisoned Lives"), the SVU team is looking for Olivia, who is being tortured by William. He moves Olivia to a new location to continue his horrors on her, but she is able to escape. Olivia ties William up and has every opportunity to kill him, however, she chooses justice and lets the police take him away and get her out safely.

William and Olivia have a very complicated standoff throughout Season 15, but this episode in particular is powerful and stressful to watch. First of all, to watch Olivia endure every bit of torture from William and not exact revenge on him is admirable and is arguably the biggest testament to her character throughout the whole show. Additionally, Hargitay's performance in this episode is so gripping and believable that you're on the edge of your seat with worry the entire time and sick about what's happening to such an amazing character.

Russian Roulette

Another amazing Olivia moment is when she faces off against William again in a deadly game of Russian Roulette. In Season 15, Episode 19 ("Beast's Obsession"), William escapes from prison and kidnaps a 12-year-old girl, threatening Olivia to "tell the truth" or the girl will die. The truth here is that Olivia perjured herself during William's trial. After Olivia publicly confesses, she goes to meet William and save the girl, only to have him make her choose who he'll assault first — her or the girl. Olivia offers herself, but quickly rejects his advances, to which he responds by engaging in a game of Russian Roulette. She's willing to do anything to save this girl, so she plays. Though neither dies until the last chamber, William shoots himself in an attempt to frame her for his death.

Not only does this episode show the extent of Olivia's dedication to the job in that she would sacrifice herself in more ways than one to save this little girl, but it also shows that she's not perfect with the admission of her perjury. Though Olivia is about as great of a detective as you can get, she proves she's only human and reached a point where she needed to tell a lie to put William away rather than have him walking the streets and hurting others. Throughout her fears of this episode, though, Olivia admirably keeps her cool, which is another example of her power.

Adopting Noah

A lot happens to and for Olivia in Season 15, however the biggest thing, in a rare sweet plot line, is Olivia adopting her son, Noah. Originally, Olivia finds Noah in a room occupied by child pornographers while investigating a case against them. He then bounces around many different foster homes and is continuously kicked back into the system. Olivia discovers his mother was killed and is granted temporary custody of Noah while investigating the death. In the Season 15 finale ("Spring Awakening"), Olivia is granted custody of Noah for one year. Finally after that time, in the Season 16 finale ("Surrendering Noah"), Olivia officially adopts Noah and has a party to celebrate.

Noah and Olivia's relationship is one of the best parts of "SVU." Olivia faces so much negativity and hardship through her work and through her inconsistency of coworkers and romantic partners, so it's a beautiful bright spot in her life. Plus, the adoption is a huge relief after a while of custody battles. More than that, though, because Olivia had such a complicated relationship with her own mother, it's lovely to see her be the parent to Noah that she should've had growing up.

Captain Benson

Another memorable milestone for Olivia comes in in Season 21, Episode 1 ("I'm Going To Make You A Star"), when she officially becomes captain of the SVU. At the end of the episode, William Dodds (Peter Gallagher) informs Olivia that he's being sent to Coventry to lead the Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Task Force, saying, "Feathers were ruffled so a head has to roll." He then tells her that he made a condition when negotiating his "exile," and that is for Olivia to become captain. With that, she's officially promoted.

There is no one who deserves this promotion more than Olivia. She constantly works hard and puts her life on the line for the job. She's great with the team and knows how to navigate any situation, making her a great leader. More than that, though, is her unmatched dedication and personal investment in the SVU, and after 20 seasons that is rewarded in the best and most deserved way.