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Elliot Stabler's Best Episode In Law & Order: SVU Season 7

In 2019, two years before Christopher Meloni's Elliot Stabler was given a reboot with the debut of "Law & Order: Organized Crime," long-time fans of his origin series, "Law & Order: SVU," shared their thoughts on how they'd improve on the notoriously hot-headed detective on the series' subreddit. Predictably, most took issue Stabler's infamously short fuse. 

"Give him [some] anger management classes," wrote user u/AthomicBot, while another fan said they "would've liked to see him be reprimanded properly for his behaviour and actually have an experience he could learn from" (via Reddit). Considering Stabler spent the vast majority of his time on "SVU" manhandling suspects, flying off the handle, and struggling to maintain objectivity whenever a case hit too close to home (which was often), the suggestions are hardly surprising. In fact, "Organized Crime" has felt obliged to address that same issue in a number of episodes, presumably in an effort to make the character more acceptable to a viewing audience far more aware of law enforcement's systemic shortcomings than they were when "SVU" debuted in 1999. 

At least part of what made Stabler's rage so (often intentionally) unpalatable, even in the early 2000s, was the fact that the series did little to explain the emotional root of the detective's stubborn volatility. Aside from "Stabler has kids, therefore Stabler hates those who would do them harm," audiences knew little about what made him tick. All that changed, however, in his best episode from "SVU" Season 7. 

In Ripped, audiences are given some insight into Stabler's upbringing

In "Ripped," a teenage boy named Luke (Paul Wesley) is arrested after he assaults his friend and classmate Pamela (Julia Weldon) in a fit of rage brought on by steroid use. Luke just so happens to be the son of Elliot Stabler's former partner, Officer Pete Breslin (Noah Emmerich). Following Luke's arraignment, his father corners him in the courtroom bathroom and proceeds to verbally and physically abuse his son, calling him a failure. Stabler bursts in on the scene, but rather than simply restrain his former partner, he beats him so aggressively that the security officers who arrive assume Stabler is the one they're meant to detain. 

Though the viewer later learns that Officer Breslin's own steroid use (and subsequent rage) is what led to his son's use of the drug, Stabler doesn't know this at the time. All he sees is a father — an officer of the law no less — attacking his son.

While it's hardly the first time the detective has used excessive force, it's the first time he finds himself unable to explain or understand his complete loss of control. What's more, it's the first time Stabler — who's struggling to come to terms with his separation from his wife and children — actually scares himself. In the following scene, he hesitantly seeks the help of the department therapist, Dr. Rebecca Hendrix (Mary Stuart Masterson). Stabler's conversation with Dr. Hendrix reveals the reason behind his response to his former partner's actions, and simultaneously provides audiences with some insight into the detective's psychology. 

Ripped marks an important milestone for Elliot Stabler

There's a reason that seeing a police officer assault and call his son a failure sets something off in the emotionally-scarred detective, and a reason his ostensible "failure" to keep his family together manifests almost exclusively as rage and frustration, rather than sorrow. 

In "Ripped," we learn that Elliot Stabler's father — a cop who was let go and lost his pension after refusing to testify against a fellow officer — was both verbally and physically abusive to his son. Once, when a fifth grade Stabler cried after his father destroyed his school project, his father then beat him, because "only pansies cry." 

For the first time in seven seasons, we learn that Stabler's toxic masculinity was literally beaten into him since he was a child. What's more, and (again) for the first time in the series, we see the emotionally-repressed detective cry.

In a recent Reddit post, fans listed Season 7, Episode 4 as one of the episodes they'd use to "describe [Elliot] Stabler to a new watcher." User u/SnooCats8451 noted that in "Ripped," the detective "finally seeks help to deal with the s*** his own dad put him through as a kid," while user u/idontcare6666 referred to the episode as, simply, "the one where he talked about his father." While the episode doesn't justify Stabler's abuse of potential suspects, it does reiterate the notion that abuse is cyclical — a theme around which the series consistently revolves. Coupled with the Season 10 revelation that Stabler's mother suffered from undiagnosed, untreated Bipolar disorder (via IMDb), it also highlights the importance of mental health care as a means of helping to break that cycle.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.