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Out Of All The Benson And Stabler Moments On Law & Order: SVU, This One Stands Above The Rest

Executive producer Dick Wolf's successful franchise spinoff "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" is now in its 23rd season, and its most determined detective-turned-lieutenant, Mariska Hargitay's Olivia Benson, is, as ever, one of the series' most consistently compelling draws. With the premiere of "Law & Order: Organized Crime," fans of the universe had cause to celebrate, as Benson (aka "Liv") finally reunited with her former partner, Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), in a series of crossover episodes. Over the long course of the pair's often tumultuous, occasionally antagonistic, frequently affectionate, and ever-on-the-verge of a more than platonic relationship, they've shared a number of dramatic interactions. So many, in fact, that Reddit threads and fan sites are constantly ranking, listing, and exchanging their thoughts on the duo's most memorable moments.

When it comes to those rankings, there's a veritable encyclopedia of Liv-Elliot moments to choose from, depending on whether or not you prefer the tension that arises when the two are at odds with one another (as they often are) or you're more interested in the pair's cozier moments. In other words, with regard to Benson and Stabler's "will-they-won't-they," there's as much to be gleaned from the "won't" as there is from the "will."

That said, there are a series of three episodes — sometimes referred to as "The EO Trilogy" by fans (via Reddit) — wherein the proverbial "push" of their relationship reveals and foregrounds the nature of its "pull." In managing to bring both elements of the partners' dynamic into stark relief, these episodes set themselves apart (particularly in the eyes of many "SVU" fans) and contain one of the most important and revealing "Benson and Stabler" moments of the entire series.

Season 7 is a big one for Benson and Stabler

On "Law & Order: SVU" Season 7, episodes "Fault," "Fat," and "Web" (19, 20, and 21, respectively, per IMDb) deal with the consequences of Benson and Stabler's unresolved feelings for one another. Importantly, it hardly matters whether those feelings are platonic, romantic, or some complex hybrid of the two. What matters is that the detectives have grown so close to one another that their relationship gets in the way of their ability to do their job. The fall-out leaves at least one victim dead, forces Benson to request a new partner and transfer squads, and echoes throughout the episodes and seasons to follow.

In "Fault," the pair must track down sadistic serial child molester Victor Paul Gitano (Lou Diamond Phillips), who's recently kidnapped a young boy and a young girl. During an intense chase scene at a bus terminal, Stabler fails to get his hands on the young boy when he pauses to help Benson, who is wounded. She doesn't need his help, but he doesn't know this, and his split-second decision to choose his partner over the boy has disastrous consequences: Gitano kills the child before making his escape. Unable to deal with his decision, Stabler takes his anger out on his partner, blaming her for his actions before B.D. Wong's Dr. Huang helps him see things clearly.

In the same episode, Benson hesitates to shoot Gitano when he uses Stabler as a shield. Although Gitano is killed by a sniper, she admits to Stabler that she would never have taken the shot. Both detectives choose one another over the life of an innocent victim — a choice that says more about their relationship than almost any other moment shared by the pair in their long and storied history.

Benson and Stabler go through a kind of break-up in Fault

The SVU duo shares an intense exchange toward the end of "Fault." Stabler tells Benson that, unless they learn how not to choose each other over the job, they can't be partners. Benson's face says it all: She's heartbroken by her partner's remarks, but in the end, it's she who requests a new partner and transfers to Computer Crimes.

Whether or not you agree with Stabler's "tis a far, far better thing I do" approach to keeping Benson at arm's length in the wake of such revelations, his remarks about what she means to him summarize their co-dependent relationship. "You and this job are about the only things I've got," says the then-father of four who (by the way) is still married, "and I just don't want to wreck that."

The detectives' exchange at the end of "Fault" stands out as much as for what it doesn't say as for what it does. Viewers must fill in the blanks about Benson feeling so betrayed by her partner's remarks, why Stabler is so terrified of losing her if they grow closer, and why, when it came down to it, neither were able to put the other's life in danger to save a "special victim." Moreover, the scene is characterized by extreme back-and-forth close-ups of the detectives' faces and makes tangible the claustrophobic nature of the insular world they've unintentionally built around themselves. 

"Fault" boasts an average rating of 9.1/10 on IMDb, and consistently makes the cut when it comes to various outlets' lists of the best Benson and Stabler moments (see: We Are Entertainment News, Vulture, and Buzzfeed). What's more, the episode is a beacon for long-time fans of the pair. As u/justice4juicy2020 wrote on the subreddit r/bensler: "Fault. All of Fault. You could do an entire top ten list of EO scenes just from that episode alone."