christopher meloni elliot stabler mariska hargitay olivia benson law & order svu nbc 2021 season 22

Well, Bensler fans, the long-awaited event we'd all be hoping for finally happened. After 10 agonizing years, we actually got to watch Christopher Meloni's Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay's Olivia Benson reunite last Thursday on Law & Order: SVU. Viewers have been hoping for this to happen basically since Meloni left the series before Season 13, and you can bet that a huge number of people tuned in to see him return as Stabler on SVU.

The numbers are in, and according to Entertainment Weekly, Christopher Meloni deciding to bring Elliot Stabler back was very much a good thing for Law & Oder: SVU. Thursday's episode, which saw him meet up with Mariska Hargitay and start the Bensler party again, brought in an amazing 8 million viewers, which is the show's highest number since 2016. On top of that, the Nielsen numbers also indicate that the episode had a 1.7 rating in the hot advertiser demo of adults 18-49, and that makes for SVU's best posting in that category since 2017.

Of course, the joy doesn't stop there. As you will likely know by now, SVU's hour was part one of a crossover with the new spinoff Law & Order: Organized Crime, which is headed up by Meloni and his Elliot Stabler, who's newly returned to the NYPD and the country after much time overseas. Part two of the crossover began on Organized Crime right after, and that Season 1 premiere averaged 7.9 million viewers and won itself a 1.6 rating in the 18-49 key demo, NBC's best numbers in the time slot since 2018. Combine these two successes, and it means that NBC won the night, with 6.6 million viewers and a 1.3 demo rating.

Stabler's return managed to push Grey's Anatomy from the top spot, where it usually reigns after each new episode. Basically, it's a good time to be a Bensler fan, and, luckily, there's going to be plenty more of Stabler and Benson together on screen as the seasons for each show continue. I'm going to get into some spoilers, below, so be sure to look away now if you haven't caught up yet!

As promised, Stabler came back in with a bang when he met up with his former Law & Order: SVU cohorts again. His wife, Kathy, was the victim of a car bombing, which put the SVU on high alert and led to Stabler and Benson meeting up again. Remember how I noted that Stabler had been overseas? Well, it turns out that, at some point after retiring from the force (off screen) before Season 13, he came back into the fold and became the NYPD's "man in Rome." Benson was set to get a special award, and Kathy had convinced her husband to return for the ceremony, which he did, but without telling his former partner.

Stabler was already poking his nose (and almost his fists) into the investigation, but when Kathy tragically succumbed to her injuries, it set him off on a personal vendetta which led to him choosing to stay in New York and becoming a part of the Organized Crime division. End spoilers!

The reunion between Stabler and Benson was peppered with a lot of tense conversations from the two former besties, and also leaned pretty hard on the will-they-won't-they dynamic the duo of Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay have always had as their characters, so we can probably bet that there will be a lot more of that when we see them together again. And, that, I'm guessing, will only lead to more fan excitement and great ratings for the episodes to come.

Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Organized Crime air Thursdays on NBC, at 9 p.m. EST and 10 p.m. EST, respectively. For more to watch, check out our guide to early 2021 TV premieres!

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