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Elliot Stabler's Best Episode In Law & Order: SVU Season 10

Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) is probably as synonymous to the "Law & Order" franchise as the iconic "Dun Dun" sound in the show's opening. For years, the detective could often be seen solving the gruesome "Law & Order: SVU" cases with his longtime partner, Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay). Stabler defined himself in the series as an intensely-driven detective whose dedication to his job often put him at ends with his personal life. Stabler also displayed undeniable chemistry with Benson, and the two were arguably the heart and soul of "SVU" among fans, and easily provided some of the series' best moments.

Stabler departed "SVU" in 2011, but thankfully returned to the franchise through a spin-off called "Law & Order: Organized Crime." Fans welcomed Stabler's return into the "Law & Order" franchise and his former partner Benson's life. And considering some of his best moments in "Law & Order: SVU," it's easy to see why the character would get such a warm reception. Season 10, in particular, is full of some of the best Stabler-centric episodes the series can offer. For example, the episode "Lunacy" forces Stabler to confront his daughter's mental health. Meanwhile, "Swing" has Stabler learn the adage of never meeting your heroes.

However, while those two are wonderful Stabler offerings, a different episode stands as the best Stabler episode in Season 10.

Stabler goes undercover in Wildlife

"Wildlife" is not the usual "Law & Order SVU" episode we're used to. Even the episode's opening scene begins wildly, as it shows people looking over Elliot Stabler, who's been shot. It then flashbacks one week earlier, where we learn Stabler's wounds are due to him going undercover to infiltrate a shady animal-smuggling ring because of its connection with a murder victim. Besides its unusual premise, what makes "Wildlife" shine as one of Stabler's best episodes is that instead of a simple, fun undercover adventure, we witness Stabler experiencing the complexities going undercover brings, especially to his family.

In one scene, Olivia Benson has to remind Stabler that he can't just go undercover without notifying his wife Kathy (Isabel Gillies), especially as they have a newborn at home. And Stabler also sees the consequence of being too dedicated to the job when he learns that deep-undercover federal agent Victor Tybor (Reg E. Cathey) no longer has a family due to work being too much for them to handle.

"Wildlife" is an excellent Stabler episode because it offers a lesson that the detective keeps having to learn. Stabler recklessly throwing himself into undercover work is a plot that often comes up, especially recently in the "Law & Order: Organized Crime" episode, "As Hubris Is to Oedipus." In one tense scene (via Law & Order Official YouTube) between Sergeant Ayanna Bell (Danielle Moné Truitt) and Stabler, Bell calls him out for using undercover work to run away from his real problems.

Wildlife also gives a special nod to Bensler

The deep lesson aimed at Elliot Stabler could alone mark "Wildlife" as the best episode for the detective. However, according to IMDb, with it being one of the higher-rated episodes in Season 10, there's obviously much more going for "Wildlife." Its unusual premise of focusing on an animal-smuggling ring instead of the usual crimes highlighted in the series helped propel it as an atypical "SVU" experience. Per Pacific Standard, the episode also earned the series a nomination from the Humane Society's Genesis Award for raising awareness on animal issues. But from the series' fan perspective, "Wildlife" should probably earn an award for igniting the flames of Bensler ship fans.

Stabler's cover is almost blown in one scene when the animal smugglers trail Olivia Benson visiting him. However, their crisis is averted when upon interrogating him, Benson acts as if she is a sex worker that Stabler hired. Story-wise, the moment expertly showcases the quick-thinking and intense chemistry between the partners when their backs are against a wall. However, as episode writer Mick Betancourt told Pacific Standard, the moment was also partially written to specifically wink at fans who long shipped the two partners. So not only is "Wildlife" the best Stabler episode of the season, but it's also a contender for having one of the best Stabler and Benson moments.