What happened between Olivia and Elliot in “SVU”?

April 18, 2024
10 mins read

Aside from providing viewers with some of the most complex crimes that have occurred in New York City, the police procedural/legal drama series, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” known as “SVU,” gave birth to the longest slow burn “love story” of Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler. The complicated relationship that they had as colleagues, partners and best friends left loyal fans wondering if they would ever receive an answer to the ‘will they or won’t they’ question the series writers hinted at for decades. Even after one of them left and then returned to headline a new spin-off series, fans never gave up, as the two still shared the same “Law & Order” expanded universe, and would often do crossovers between their TV shows.

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A brief background on “SVU”

“SVU” has been the most successful spin-off drama show from the franchise series, “Law & Order,” aired on the NBC network. While the original series tackled crime in general, “SVU” focused more on the sexually-oriented cases and abuses directed at the most vulnerable groups in society, the youth, the elderly, and the disabled. The creator of the TV show, Dick Wolfe, shared that the spin-off series came from his wanting to explore the psychological complexities behind the sexually-motivated atrocities, and it so happened that the New York Police Department in real life had a Special Victims Unit dedicated to investigating crimes of that nature. The working title was “Sex Crimes”, but it didn’t sit right with some of the network executives, and it was suggested that it would be best if they patterned it to the real police force unit, hence the eventual title “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

The spin-off series premiered on 20 September 1999, with more than 18 million people watching it that night, and it garnered an average of over 12 million viewers in its first season. Two decades later, it earned the distinction of being the longest-running US live-action series in the history of primetime TV, after its original series went off the air in 2010. It also became the only remaining drama series that had made its TV debut in the 1990s, and since when it’s received more than 90 award nominations, winning more than 30 of them. In September 2022, it aired its 24th season as part of the five-year deal that Dick Wolf signed with NBC Universal Content Studios back in 2020.


The Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler “SVU” timeline (1999 – 2013)

With a drama series focused on tackling serious crimes, “SVU” viewers never thought they would become hooked by the slow-burn romantic tension between two of its main leads, Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson, and Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler. Both were detectives in the Special Victims Unit of the New York Police Department, but was complicated from the start, because Elliot was already married with kids. Here are some of the most significant moments of their relationship over the years:

That Elliot Sabler stare

From the fans’ point of view, the romantic tension between the two was evident from the start. However, no one knew if it was the writer’s intention, or if it was just how the fans wanted it to be. In the second episode of the first season entitled “A Single Life,” most viewers believed that Elliot gave her that meaningful stare, which signaled that he was into her that early on. At that time, Olivia felt that he was looking at her but not saying anything, which prompted her to ask, ‘What?’ There was no flirting between the two as they were just partners; it was just plain chemistry that started to tickle the imagination of the viewers.


The protective partner

Having a protective partner when pursuing violent and unpredictable perpetrators was a bonus in their line of work. Elliot was such a partner when Olivia was being stalked by a man they were investigating. He would drop by her place unannounced early morning, saying he was just around the neighborhood. Olivia knew that he was looking out for her since Elliot lived far away in the suburbs. After work, he would drop her off and tell her to ‘Blink your lights when you get inside.’ She was getting a little irked as she was trained to protect herself, however, she didn’t have any choice but to follow him, since they both knew he would stay inside his car until she gave him the signal.

‘Can you blame him?’

He was married, and she was free to date anyone she liked. One time, she went out on a date and slept with Detective Brian Cassidy, one of the detectives in the precinct, and it frustrated her afterwards as she broke her one rule of not dating anyone from work. Elliot asked her about it, and Olivia initially denied it, but then asked if it was that obvious. She declared that it was just a one-time thing. She told Elliot that the guy was asking her out again, and he said, ‘Can you blame him?’ That was one loaded statement that “SVU” fans believed that Elliot meant he found her quite attractive.

From partners to friends

Over the seasons, the partners became close friends that they were able to drink in one cup without getting icky. Olivia found it easier to open up to him about her alcoholic, uncaring mother, and her tragic past of being born out of rape. With that kind of childhood, she constantly doubted her capability to be a good and responsible mother in the future – it was Elliot who encouraged her to believe in herself. They reached the level of friendship in which they could argue regarding a case without forgetting that they were friends. In the sixth season, when Elliot’s wife left him and filed for divorce, it affected the way he handled their investigation, but Olivia stood by him. She could make a tense situation lighter so he wouldn’t feel burdened. He said that his work made it difficult for his wife to live with him, to which Olivia replied, ‘She should try working with you.’ In a later season, Elliot reconciled with his wife and had another baby from a one-night stand they had when they were separated, which frustrated many fans of the drama series.


Prioritizing each other

There were three episodes in the seventh season that became fan-favorites of “SVU” viewers, who continued to ship the two characters. It started with the 19th episode, which was aptly titled “Fault,” when the two realized that they would choose each other over the vows they swore to uphold as cops. When their lives were on the line, they chose to save each other instead of apprehending the criminal. Elliot said that it couldn’t happen again, because if it did, they could no longer be partners. Olivia was hurt, and the episode ended with her asking their boss for another partner. In Episode 20, they experienced what it would be like without each other, and Elliot couldn’t adjust well. He even punched his new partner in the face, and would often visit his former partner in her new office in the Computer Crimes Division. He even asked for her help during the interrogation, which he knew she wouldn’t be able to resist. By the 21st episode, Olivia was back at her old desk; Elliot couldn’t believe his luck that she was back in his life.

Elliot mortgaged his house for Olivia’s bail

In one of the episodes in Season 11, Elliot didn’t blink twice when he mortgaged his home for $250,000 just to bail Olivia from jail – she became the top suspect in a murder case that was handled by the Internal Affairs Bureau. Olivia was shocked at what Elliot did, but he told her he wouldn’t want her getting shanked at Rikers Island, which was where NYC’s main jail complex was located. She inquired if his wife knew about it, but he simply said, ‘Well, it’s not at risk. You’re innocent.’

The heartbreaking exit of Elliot from “SVU”

In 2013, fans were devastated when they watched Elliot leave “SVU” without telling Olivia. The viewers never had the chance to see the two say their proper goodbyes, in fact, the TV show never showed him again, and it was heartbreaking for her to learn about his resignation from Captain Cragen. The captain informed her that Elliot quit and he couldn’t do anything to stop it. She just said, ‘He’s earned it’ and then proceeded to an empty interrogation room and broke down in tears. Everyone was left hanging without any explanation as to the reason why he left, and so the fans could easily relate to what Olivia felt at that time.

The Olivia-Elliot reunion (2021 – present)

It took the executive producers about 10 years to hold a reunion that every “SVU” fan fervently wished for over the years. Christopher Meloni announced that he would return to the “Law & Order” universe to reprise the role of Elliot Sabler, with the new spin-off series called “Law & Order: Organized Crime.” While he would no longer be Olivia’s partner as he joined another task force, the Organized Crime Control Bureau, fans were ecstatic about the possibilities of crossovers between shows. Sure enough, the showrunners didn’t waste time in having the two together again in a series of crossover episodes.


“The Return of the Prodigal Son”

The ninth episode in Season 22 featured the highly-anticipated reunion of Elliot and Olivia. It was the night when she was to receive an award, and on her way to the event, she saw Kathy, Elliot’s wife, injured on a stretcher and being loaded into an ambulance. Then she heard someone call her name and the world of all the Olivia-Elliot shippers came to a standstill. After 10 years, they saw each other once again, and it was kind of surreal for Olivia. Apparently, Elliot and his family lived in Rome after he left SVU, and he was in town for a meeting with the Organized Crime Task Force, and another detective, Fin, informed Elliot that Olivia was to be honored that night. They were there to attend the dinner when their rental car exploded. The episode was laced with tension and undercurrents between the two, as Olivia and her team helped in solving what had happened to Kathy. When they had a confrontation scene on how he left her without a word, social media went buzzing. Unforgettable lines were spewed out between the two. Olivia told him, ‘You were the single most important person in my life and you just disappeared’ to which Elliot replied, ‘I know. I was afraid if I heard your voice I wouldn’t have been able to leave.’

The letter that Elliot gave Olivia

Elliot’s wife didn’t survive her injuries, and after the funeral, he gave a letter to Olivia. For quite some time, viewers weren’t privy to what was written in it, but everyone knew that she was heartbroken when she read the letter. Finally, in one of the crossover episodes between the two spin-off series, the show revealed the contents of the letter. Unexpectedly, Elliot appeared on Olivia’s doorstep quite stoned as a result of his undercover stint with the Albanian mob. Olivia wanted to call it in as part of NYPD’s standard operating procedure on cops who were drugged, but he wanted to talk about the letter. He confessed that he wasn’t the one who wrote it, as it was Kathy who dictated it. Olivia was surprised as she rattled on some parts written in it such as, ‘That what we were to each other was never real.’ If that wasn’t heartbreaking enough, the other line would do it for anyone who was following their story. ‘That we got in the way of each other being who and where we needed to be?’ Obviously, she memorized the content of the letter by heart – Elliot said that the last line was his own words, ‘But in a parallel universe, it’ll always be you and I.’ Apparently, he slipped it in before the letter was sealed.

Elliot finally said the words, ‘I love you’

In the premiere episode of the spin-off series, “Law & Order: Organized Crime,” Olivia did a crossover. Elliot’s children asked for her help for intervention with their father, as following his wife’s death, he was spiraling down, and Olivia immediately went to his apartment to talk to him about his erratic behavior. During the emotional conversation they had in front of his children, when she asked him what he needed, Elliot blurted out the words, ‘I love you’. Olivia was shocked and even before anybody could react to it, Elliot followed it by telling everyone that he loved them all. While the fans knew that he wasn’t in a good place when he uttered those words, it was a giant step to fixing whatever type of relationship they had at that time.


‘BenSler’: will they or won’t they?

The slow-burn love story between Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler, fondly called ‘BenSler’ by their fans, captivated “SVU” viewers for decades. While no happy ending was promised by the writers of the show, the recent narrative being played out between the two gave hope to fans that what they were waiting for since 1999 would happen soon. Both had a hard time adjusting to their new situation after being separated for 10 years, but were willing to make it work.

A very meaningful conversation

In one of the crossover episodes, they had a confrontation – Olivia told him that what happened after he came back to her life after the 10-year radio silence was just a one-way street and it was quite unfair to her. She couldn’t understand why he gave her that letter that he didn’t write, and why he never asked her about what happened in her life when he was gone. Elliot simply said, ‘I’m not sure I know. I guess I didn’t know how to begin.’ She replied, ‘That makes two of us.’


They called it a friendship

Elliot promised that he would find a balance in their situation. They both knew that what they were to each other was complicated, so for the time being they agreed to call it a ‘friendship.’ Elliot would often call her, ‘My friend, Olivia,’ as if it meant something else. He invited her and her son, Noah, to have Christmas dinner with his family, but Olivia never showed up. Elliot wanted to meet her son, but she said that they needed to wait, since he went undercover again and Noah could easily get attached. However, fate intervened and they met when he was buying flowers for his mother, while Olivia and Noah were walking on the same street. When Elliot introduced himself to Noah, the little boy said he already knew who he was.

During the finale episode of the 23rd season of “SVU,” Olivia finally admitted to a friend, ‘And the thing is that I didn’t have a right or a claim. He’s somebody else’s husband.’ She’s having a hard time now that Elliot’s wife wasn’t there anymore, because it would be paralyzing to know the consequences of the possibilities between them, especially if it didn’t work out. Elliot, on the other hand, just admitted to a former partner in Rome that he’s in love with someone.

That made all the fans excited for the next seasons of “SVU” and “Organized Crime.

Martha Clifford

As an Author at Net Worth Post, I guide a dedicated team in the art of revealing the stories behind the world's most influential personalities. Fueled by a relentless curiosity and a knack for uncovering hidden stories, I immerse myself in the intricacies of our subjects' lives, weaving together accurate data and compelling narratives. My involvement spans the entire editorial process, from the seed of research to the final flourish of publication, ensuring that every article not only educates but also captivates and motivates our audience.

At Net Worth Post, we are committed to providing thorough investigations into the net worth and life achievements of innovators across diverse sectors such as technology, culture, and social entrepreneurship. My method merges meticulous research with eloquent storytelling, designed to bridge the gap between our readers and the remarkable individuals who redefine our tomorrow. Through spotlighting their journeys to success, the hurdles they've surmounted, and their contributions to society, we aim to give our readers a deep and inspiring insight into the luminaries who are paving the way for progress and ingenuity in the modern era.

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