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Law And Order: SVU Fans Debate The Episodes That Are Hardest To Watch

Dick Wolf's incredibly lucrative television series "Law & Order" has seen many spin-off shows, and now, even a revival (via Deadline). Stories about the police force and the lawyers who try the cases have been a staple for many crime procedurals. But it is "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" that usually sticks out in viewers' minds. These crimes are described as "especially heinous," which is the truth, as Detectives Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) investigate sex crimes.

Since its premiere in 1999, Stabler has left, returned briefly, and now stars in the newest spin-off, "Law & Order: Organized Crime." But all fans can agree that the dynamic between Stabler and Olivia Benson is what makes the series significant. The duo has chemistry and are committed to fighting those particularly heinous crimes, and their dependable relationship especially grounds the show for viewers when episodes get a little too dark. Some of the episodes depicting these intense crimes are so hard to watch that fans have been debating which are the worst.

Season 1 was hard for some survivors to watch

One of the most realistic aspects of "SVU" is how sexual assault cases are handled. Mariska Hargitay herself has devoted much of her life to addressing these oversights, including the backlog of rape test kits as shown in the documentary "I Am Evidence" (via Decider). Another issue often addressed is the statute of limitations. According to Season 1, Episode 14, "Limitations," there is a five-year statute for sexual assault crimes, causing problems for survivors looking for justice. Thankfully, in 2019, the statute of limitations for second- and third-degree rape was lengthened to 20 and 10 years, respectively, in New York State (via Democrat & Chronicle). 

Some Redditors had difficulty watching this early episode of "SVU." "Season 1, Limitations. I'm a rape victim and someone who escaped some serious religious brainwashing, so seeing that one woman saying she was at peace (when she was clearly lying to herself) and refusing to give up the name of the rapist? Intense rage," posted u/Th3ChosenFew. The commentator goes on to say that there are many times "SVU" has been frustrating, especially because of their personal connection, and many other viewers likely feel the same way. The subject matter of the series is often difficult to watch, knowing how many people in real life have those same experiences.

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).

Fans agreed that Pandora was heartbreaking

Some of the most poignant episodes are also the most devastating. One such episode occurs in Season 4, when Stabler is tracking down someone he thinks is trafficking child porn. Entitled "Pandora," Stabler discovers that the victim, named Meredith McGrath, is not a trafficker, but an FBI informant, and she is sexually assaulted and killed for what she knows. Stabler teams up with Detective Sam Bishop (William McNamara), and the two track down the murderer who is trafficking girls to the Czech Republic. But it is the very end of the episode that had fans talking.

"I found Pandora upsetting when it turned out at the end the girl who opened the door to Stabler had been abused by her father throughout her childhood," posted u/malifact. Stabler and Bishop struggle with the knowledge that even though they arrest her father, there's little justice for his daughter who has been abused throughout her entire life. U/youarelosingme agreed in regards to this episode, stating, "Pandora is one of my favorite episodes but god that scene where Stabler and Bishop meet the girl at the door is just heartbreaking."

Many fans thought that The Undiscovered Country was the saddest episode

Thought to be inspired by the real-life case of the Gard family (via The New York Times), Season 19, Episode 13, "The Undiscovered Country," pulled at many fans' heartstrings. When an infant goes missing, Lieutenant Olivia Benson and the rest of the SVU unit race against the clock to save the child. In a brutal story, it is revealed that it is too late, but the parents of the child have difficulty revoking life support.

"The one where barba ends the life support of a dying child because the law wouldn't let the parents," posted u/cloudview97. "That child was suffering and one parent knew it, but the other parent is too emotional. That one hits so close to home I have only watched it once." Rafael Barba, played by the talented theater and television actor Raúl Esparza, is a fan favorite. The ADA is ultimately the one who has to pull the plug. 

"Yes I've never cried so much for a show. It was based [on] a real life situation. And that made it even more emotional for me. Like soooo many emotions in one episode. Barba is the best [and] that's why," agreed u/3Lady3Death3. All fans agree that Esparza's performance made the episode even more meaningful. "Raul is probably one of the best actors ever on SVU," chimed in u/samiwas1. "He was just so perfect in his role."