Law And Order: SVU Delivered The Long-Awaited Benson And Stabler Reunion, And The Stars Nailed It

Warning: spoilers ahead for Episode 12 of Law & Order: SVU Season 24, called “Blood Out.”

Law & Order: SVU returned with an episode that finally paid off on Benson’s arc of getting revenge on the BX9 gang leader who ordered a hit on her and her son, as well as delivering the shocking death of none other than Maurice Compte’s Capt. Mike Duarte. While the first 55 minutes or so of the episode were jam-packed with the developments, it was the arrival of Organized Crime's Stabler near the end that NBC spent two weeks hyping with a promo that seemed to show Benson and Stabler about to kiss after more than two decades of tension. Their scene didn’t deliver what a lot of fans were hoping for, but I would say that stars Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni nailed it.

What Happened Between Benson And Stabler

As the less optimistic of us in the SVU fandom undoubtedly predicted, Benson and Stabler did not in fact kiss and pay off on 20+ years of tension in “Blood Out,” but their single scene together still wasn’t a complete bait-and-switch. The setup happened when Benson revealed that she’d asked Stabler to pick up Noah from where he’d been staying with his half brother, telling Carisi that “there’s nobody I trust more to bring my son home in one piece than Stabler.”

Because Carisi is not Rollins, he left without trying to hint about her feelings for Stabler and she headed home. As it turned out, Stabler stuck around after Noah fell asleep, and… things started to happen. She called him by his first name and thanked him, to which he responded with “You’re family.” He then got around to dropping the question that had been playing in the promo for two weeks: “Why didn’t you call me?” 

While I maintain that there’s no way he wouldn’t have heard that Manhattan’s Special Victims captain was brutally attacked even if it wasn’t from Benson herself, she simply responded that she knew he would try to protect her. He questioned if there’s something wrong with that, while she made herself very busy rummaging in cabinets. That wasn’t enough to discourage him from saying “I care for you” and then telling her to look at him.

When she finally did, he went in for what would have been the kiss heard ‘round the world… but she pulled away, saying “I want to, but I can’t.” When he wanted to know why, she asked the #1 question: “What if it doesn’t work out?” Stabler responded by asking “What if things work out?” She firmly said that she’s not ready for this and stepped away, possibly wondering if maybe she should have just asked Fin to pick up Noah! 

In all seriousness, Benson backing away definitely wasn’t spoiled in any of the promotional material, although not too hard to predict in light of 24 seasons and counting of the two not taking any explicitly romantic steps forward. So, while I have no doubt that there were plenty of frustrated fans when the credits rolled, I also think that the scene made sense for both characters and worked thanks to the performances. 

How Mariska Hargitay And Christopher Meloni Made It Work

Quite aside from the two actors having the kind of chemistry that kept viewers invested over two decades (and with one absent from the franchise for many years), Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni stayed true to their respective shows in the moves they made in her kitchen in “Blood Out.” In fact, this one scene addressed most of the factors that had me wondering previously if SVU and Organized Crime were on the same page about the Benson/Stabler relationship.

After all, Benson’s one instance of actually opening up to somebody about Stabler happened when she told Rollins (aided by some boxed wine in Kelli Giddish’s final episode) that she once thought of him as her home but still wasn’t over him basically abandoning her for all those years before dropping back into her life. Honestly, who can blame her after he followed up with that reveal about the infamous letter?

Meanwhile, in contrast over on Organized Crime, Stabler has dropped a hint about his feelings in a chat with Jamie, admitted to being in love with somebody (albeit drunkenly and off screen) who could be no one other than his former partner, and emotionally opened up to a therapist about losing a friend due to “neglect” and selfishness in what again seemed like a reference to Benson… and that’s all just from Season 3!

Basically, their respective shows made it clear that Benson and Stabler themselves were not on the same page, but “Blood Out” actually suggested that SVU and OC were all along… with the help of Hargitay and Meloni delivering performances that sold it. While the plot continuity between the two shows may never be clear, the actors keep their characters’ continuity whenever they get to share the screen. Of course Stabler would make the move, and of course she would step back. As somebody who is a fan of the complicated Benson/Stabler dynamic but definitely doesn't need it to become romantic, the scene really worked for me.

Now, there are more questions than answers about what comes next after Stabler opened up and Benson backed away. Can they still interact normally as friends and colleagues after what went down in her kitchen? Are OC and SVU actually going to have more continuity, after Stabler clearly had her on his mind in the episode of Organized Crime that immediately followed “Blood Out” on January 26? What on earth did Stabler and Noah talk about in the car? And why was I deprived of getting to see Stabler and Duarte react to each other?

See what’s next for both characters with NBC’s Law & Order Thursdays, starting with the original Law & Order at 8 p.m. ET, continuing with Law & Order: SVU at 9 p.m. ET, and concluding with Law & Order: Organized Crime at 10 p.m. ET in the 2023 TV schedule. You can also revisit the earlier days of all three shows with a Peacock Premium subscription now.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).