This Devastating ‘SVU’ Episode Changed Benson and Stabler’s Relationship Forever

This Devastating ‘SVU’ Episode Changed Benson and Stabler’s Relationship Forever

In the 25 years Law and Order: SVU has been on the air, it has had its fair share of devastating cases. After all, the series follows the detectives of the Special Victims Unit, which often deals with sex crimes, hate crimes, and crimes against children, all of which are especially sensitive topics and can easily get under the skin. Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) are often on the front lines of these cases. The partners quickly became one of the most iconic pairings on television, bringing a sense of charm to an otherwise dark series. Throughout their many seasons together, they’ve solved countless cases and had their fair share of complications. But one case, in particular, took its toll on Benson and Stabler, and it was during Season 7’s “Fault.”

 

law-order-svu
Law & Order: SVU

This series follows the Special Victims Unit, a specially trained squad of detectives in the New York City Police Department that investigate sexually related crimes.

GenreCrime Drama
LanguageEnglish

Number of Seasons25

Debut DateSeptember 20, 1999
StudioNBC, Wolf Entertainment

SVU’s “Fault” Forced Stabler to Make a Life or Death Decision

Every episode of SVU begins by telling us that the detectives investigate “especially heinous” crimes, so we always know we’re in for something difficult to watch. But “Fault” was a new level of heartache for the show. In the episode, the detectives find that a family has been brutally murdered in their home, and the two youngest children are nowhere to be found. Suspicions turn to Victor Gitano (Lou Diamond Phillips), a recently released sex offender. The detectives track Gitano to a train station and attempt to blend in with the crowd as they await his arrival. But due to a nervous ticket clerk, Gitano realizes he’s being watched and takes off. As the detectives try to find him, Stabler comes across the boy in the crowd and urges him over. Meanwhile, Gitano resurfaces holding the girl and approaches Benson, who, in her state of surprise, lets her guard down, giving Gitano the opportunity to slash her neck with a knife. As Benson falls to the floor, Stabler’s attention is suddenly torn between the boy and his fallen partner, and his moment of distraction is just long enough for Gitano to swoop in and grab the boy.

Stabler momentarily battles between following Gitano and checking on Benson but ultimately chooses Benson and rushes through the crowd to her. Thankfully, her wound is only surface level, and the shock of it did more damage than the actual injury itself. Insisting that she’s okay, she urges Stabler to go after Gitano, and though he hesitates for a moment, he eventually relents. But when he makes it up to the flight of stairs where Gitano had fled, he sees a crowd of people swarming in one area and Fin (Ice-T) telling him not to come any closer. In the frenzy of escape, Gitano killed the boy by cutting his throat before escaping with the girl. Stabler is devastated by the sight, blaming himself for not chasing after Gitano when he had the chance and believing if he had, he could have saved the boy.

“Fault” Put Benson and Stabler’s Partnership to the Ultimate Test

Benson and Stabler angrily talking with one another in SVU. Image via NBC

Stabler’s guilt over the boy’s death leads him to take his anger out on Benson, going so far as to accuse her of not doing her job. She defends herself by saying that Gitano was using the girl as a shield and that she couldn’t get a safe shot at him, but Stabler is blinded by his guilt and continues to take it out on her. He eventually visits Dr. Huang (BD Wong) to hopefully come to terms with his choice. Huang attempts to comfort Stabler by saying that he had to make a choice between saving the boy or saving Benson and that he had no way of knowing Benson didn’t need him. He tells Stabler that he was being a good partner. But Stabler is still battling with himself, and he says that Benson made him turn away from the boy, only to backtrack when Huang asks him if it’s because he cares too much for her. It’s a question Stabler is unable to answer, but the look on his face speaks volumes. Benson didn’t force him to do anything. Instead, it was his own personal feelings towards her that made the decision for him.

Stabler attempts to go on with the case as normal and meets back up with Benson, who’s tracking Gitano’s previous whereabouts. This leads them to a warehouse in New Jersey, where they are ambushed by Gitano. He takes Stabler hostage and threatens to shoot him. Benson holds Gitano at gunpoint, but she’s unable to take a shot at him due to the threat to Stabler. There’s no way for her to take down Gitano without risking Stabler’s life and potentially killing him in the crossfire, so the three stand in a tense showdown for what feels like an eternity. The anxiety of the scene is only furthered as Gitano continuously teases the detectives by lying about whether or not he’s killed the little girl. Meanwhile, Stabler tells Benson to take the shot and not worry about him. But much like Stabler’s earlier conflict, Benson, unwilling to risk the life of her partner, cannot take the shot, even if it would ultimately take down Gitano. Gitano is eventually taken out by a SWAT member, saving Benson from having to make the impossible decision of whether to take the shot and risk Stabler’s life. But even though Gitano is no longer a threat, and they managed to rescue the girl, Benson, and Stabler are in a sort of limbo about their partnership.

“Fault” Changed Benson and Stabler’s Partnership Forever in ‘Law and Order: SVU’

Olivia Benson tearfully looking at Elliot Stabler in SVU. Olivia Benson holding a gun in SVU. Elliot Stabler looking down fearfully at Olivia Benson.
Fin Tutuola holding a tissue to Oliva Benson's neck wound in SVU.
Elliot Stabler being held hostage in SVU. Olivia Benson tearfully looking at Elliot Stabler in SVU. Olivia Benson holding a gun in SVU. Elliot Stabler looking down fearfully at Olivia Benson. Fin Tutuola holding a tissue to Oliva Benson's neck wound in SVU. Elliot Stabler being held hostage in SVU.

After Benson and Stabler successfully recover the girl and bring her to the hospital, they finally get a moment to breathe and debrief. As they sit together outside the hospital room, Stabler tells Benson that he knows she would’ve taken the shot had the SWAT team not beaten her to it. But Benson tells him she wouldn’t have, and she can’t believe he would think she would cause his death, no matter the circumstances. He tells her that he just couldn’t get the boy out of his head and that they both chose each other over the job, something they can’t let happen again. Then he delivers a fatal blow of his own by telling Benson if they slip up again, they won’t be able to be partners anymore. This guts Benson, but he explains that she and the job are all he has, and he doesn’t want to wreck that. On the one hand, it makes sense. Throughout the season, Stabler has been dealing with his impending divorce from his wife and, thus, not seeing his children as often. Benson and the job really are the only stable things in his life at the moment. But that doesn’t make it any less devastating to hear him speak of such a scenario. The episode ends with Benson showing up in Captain Cragen’s (Dann Florek) office, informing him she wants a new partner, beating Stabler to the punch.

The following episodes see Benson join the computer crimes team and eventually go undercover, gaining Stabler a new partner in the meantime. But even when they become partners again, there’s still a weight hanging over them, like an anvil about to drop. The aftermath of “Fault” forced them to confront their relationship and how they’ve begun to care for one another on a deeper level than just being partners. This development not only affected them but also affected their jobs and the victims they were trying to save. They continue to walk on eggshells around one another for a while, and there is a noticeable difference in their relationship. It’s only natural that working so closely with one another for an extended time would lead to the pair growing close, but “Fault” forces Benson and Stabler to realize they’ve grown too close and dependent on one another. They’re still fantastic detectives and do their job with professionalism and finesse, but there’s the unspoken knowledge that if it came down to it, they would unblinkingly choose to save one another.

There’s also the emotional pull beneath it all, like when Benson and Stabler were discussing whether or not Benson would have taken the shot, even if it meant killing him. She says, “What about your kids?” And, after a beat of silence, asks, “What about me?” It’s a loaded question that can be dissected in a million different ways. Not only would she have the guilt over killing her partner and taking away his children’s father, but she’d also have to deal with her own emotions over losing him and learn to go on with the job without him by her side. “Fault” brought about a new and unexpected side of Benson and Stabler and forced them to confront the boundaries of their partnership and personal feelings in the most devastating way. Yes, they eventually become partners again and manage to smooth things over, but the aftermath of the episode lingers throughout the rest of their time together. Something that is proven in the Season 8 episode “Philadelphia” when Benson gets herself tied up in a personal case, and Stabler helps cover for her despite knowing she is in the wrong. They’re dependent on one another in a way that isn’t healthy for their jobs. The episode forces the pair to finally admit that there is something deeper than just a general loyalty to the job brewing beneath their partnership, and it changes both SVU and Benson and Stabler’s relationship forever.

 

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