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Top Ten: Law and Order SVU Episodes

Yeah, I know Stabler, Cragen, Munch, et al aren't exactly there anymore. But, Benson and Stabler is still one of the best cop duos of all-time. So, sue me.
By @SpeedontheBeat

Now, if you know me, you'll know a few things. I like Nirvana and I think Big K.R.I.T. is one of the GOATS in the making. I'm also a fan of Law and Order: SVU. Correction: I've probably seen every episode at least twenty times and have bonded with people over it. Seriously. As dark as that is, the mother of my children and I watch(ed) this show religiously during any random USA marathon we were both home for. Hell, I lost my virginity in college to someone who was an SVU megafan and introduced me to the show (and Grey's Anatomy, but that's for another post).

Now, yeah. It's a formulaic show at times; thus is the wonder of serialized network television. But, that hasn't stopped it from becoming one of the best shows to watch on broadcast television. Below are my top ten episodes. There will be spoilers, just so you know. I'm also going to skip Honorable Mentions, because we'd be here for hours.

10) Season Eight, Episode 22: "Screwed"

Ludacris as "Darius Parker"

Ludacris is a great actor. He doesn't get his just due in Hollywood. This episode came around the time where Crash was still a thing (they even used the "Crash song") and was the conclusion to a two-part arc (part one was in season seven). But, the way he delivered his lines here? For me, it made me question who was ultimately in the wrong. Yes, Darius Parker was a foul, evil man. That's not up for debate. But the way he poked holes in the seemingly stable and cohesive SVU unit (by sparking investigations into Stabler, Benson, and Captain Cragen) was sheer genius. While Fin says that they'll never think of him again, one has to wonder if that's truly the case. The reason why this episode, as great as it was, doesn't rank higher is because it was somewhat bloated. With guest stars left and right, while great, it began to feel like "oh, ok. Who will Dick Wolf trot out next?"

9) Season 1, Episode One: "Payback"

You can't spell "SVU" without this episode. It's different from what we've come to expect from SVU, since it feels more like regular Law and Order with some sex crimes insanity tossed in to differentiate. But, the dynamics presented in the first hour? Most shows don't go through that much their first year. I mean, we get the dynamics of Benson and Stabler. We get a shootout. We get John friggin' Munch. Oh, and we get this exchange.

8) Season 9, Episode 4: "Savant"

This episode had all the makings of a classic episode. You had federal impediments, cheating, people with disabilities still kicking ass as crusaders for the good guys, more cheating. What else could you want? A bit more cohesiveness would've been nice. It's still in my top ten, though. It doesn't rank higher because, aside from little Katie (who made the episode reach the top ten in the first place), it's kind of an episode where you can see the twists from a mile away.

7) Season 10, Episode 22: "Zebras"

Yeah, you knew this one would be on the list. For most of season 10, crime tech Dale Stuckey was the epitome of annoying little brother. He was awkward, oblivious to boundaries, and just...weird. No one would've expected that he'd end up going batshit insane by the end of it all. As a lot of the great episodes go, it starts off by-the-book. There's a rapist who killed someone, said rapist is caught by the police, and they're tried.

That's when things go off the rails. Judge Donnelly suggests that Stuckey fucked up in processing the bloody knife used by the rapist. Stuckey disagrees, but the killer, Peter Harrison is let off. Afterwards, another dead woman, with the same MO, pops up on Coney Island. Stuckey finds Harrision's fingerprint on a soda can. Harrison's on the run, but Munch's conspiracy theorist ex-wife helps the detectives track him down.

And then things get Dark Knight on our asses. Harrison's attorney is killed with poisonous gas. Donnelly's almost killed with a dose of potassium chloride. Lab Tech O'Hallaran is killed by a mysterious entity, just before he can tell Benson and Stabler who killed Harrison's attorney (he was going to do so from analysis he got from a dead mosquito). And Stabler is knocked out and tied up, just like Rachel Dawes, and is said to have gone out for sushi.

Benson, who knows that Stabler hates sushi (those Batman skills, breh), rushes to the rescue, convinces Stuckey that she has feelings for him. She says she hates Stabler and even kisses Stuckey to further the illusion in one of the sickest kisses I've seen. I don't even know why it's so damn sick. Stabler gets in a nut shot (hey, it's just like WCW) and Stuckey is knocked out (killed?). It was a dark, twisted episode which had its share of uncomfortable humor. It showed Elliot Stabler in a place of vulnerability (again, since he and Benson seem to be lightning rods for punishment). Plus, the slightly sexual music in the kiss scene made it so...much...more...wild!

6) Season 5, Episode 4: "Loss"

Few times have I been legitimately surprised in TV. There are times where I'm like "oh, shit. I didn't see that coming." But, there aren't many where I'm like "OMFG! WHAT HAPPENED?!" The ending of "Loss" alone, and the fact that it made me do that, earns it my six-spot. In the episode, things seem to be going by the book. ADA Alexandra Cabot and the SVU team are going after a drug lord henchman who raped and killed an undercover cop. They, of course, get their man. But, as the story goes on, shit gets blown up, federal agents die, and Alex gets killed. Well, technically.

In a staged drive-by, Cabot is killed and put into Witness Protection. Seeing this episode for the first time (read: during a binge in, like, 2006), I had the "OMFG WHAT HAPPENED?!?!" look on my face, because SVU tends to, y'know, not kill main characters. This episode marked a shift in the series, as it was the last time we'd see ADA Alexandra Cabot until 2009.

5) Season 12, Episode 24: "Smoked"

The episode which changed everything. It starts off (somewhat) standard, in the sense that there's a woman, she has been assaulted, and Benson and Stabler have to find who did it. It's another one of the "they did it X years ago" variety. But, by the end of the episode, after the victim is killed, all bets are off. If you've seen this episode, the final shootout is one that is still seen as controversial four years later, especially because of its fallout in season thirteen and beyond. I still say it was a good kill and Stabler had no choice. I mean, yeah...the girl killed Sister Peg, for Chrissakes.

You don't kill Sister Peg and expect to get away with it. I mean, she worked with Jesus and tried to save the working girls.

4) Season Twelve, Episode 3: "Behave"

A crossover between SVU and Law and Order: LA (LA could've worked, guys), "Behave" featured Jennifer Love-Hewitt as a rape victim who was also the victim of rape kit backlogging. Love-Hewitt's character, Vicki, has been avoiding most outside contact because she's being stalked by her rapist. This eventually leads to the SVU detectives giving the assailant, a traveling salesman named Bill Harris, the exact same treatment. They showed up everywhere--and I mean everywhere he was.

Yes, they got their man in the end and justice was served in the way SVU does and JLH's performance in this episode is remarkable (she ramps up to 11 real quick). But, what made this episode great was Mariska Hargitay's delivery of her lines, especially her "break a bitch" speech. I can't find the whole speech, but this clip should be played to anyone who even thinks about getting into some fuck shit.

3) Season 6, Episode 17: "Rage"

This season six episode showcases, essentially, SVU: 24 Edition. Benson, Stabler, and company go toe to toe with offender Gordon Rickett to solve a string of cases spanning fourteen years. Of course, the SVU team get their man. But, this episode is in my top five for another reason. Throughout the episode, we get snippets of Rickett dissecting Stabler and his character. By the end, we see that Stabler, perhaps, really is a ticking time bomb. We also learn, through YouTube, that Guile's Theme really does go with everything.

2) Season 15, Episode 20: "Beast's Obsession"

The payoff to the seven-episode William Lewis arc was slightly underwhelming. However, it showcased Benson at her most vulnerable (and we're talking a woman who, earlier in the season was kidnapped and drugged and damn near killed this man) and kept viewers on the edge of their seats. The ending fits Benson's character versus her just blowing William Lewis away once and for all. Plus, the end scene and end game (quite literally) is intense. Lewis' last words ("Say goodbye Olivia. This is the last thing you're going to think about...before you die. The last thing you're gonna see") and the fact he kills himself in front of Benson and his other captive, a young girl, show how far Lewis was willing to go to mindfuck someone. He was the definition of a psychopath.

1) Season 15, Episodes 1 and 2: "Surrender Benson/Imprisoned Lives"

The two-part episode which furthered the idea that SVU was both alive and able to do more than just standard police procedural television. After the season fourteen finale, William Lewis kidnapped Benson at gunpoint. The sneaky, conniving, charming son-of-a-bitch then engaged in a cross-state trek which saw him, as mentioned above, drug Benson, kill random state troopers, and keep people guessing his next move. Clearly one of the greatest SVU villains, Lewis begins to attempt to break Benson, by mentioning her father and former partner.

And, like most hostage situations of this nature, when Benson could, she snapped. Damn near killing Lewis, and setting up the rest of the arc, we saw an Olivia Benson we usually didn't see. She was ruthless. She lied, to a degree. She mindfucked people. I cheered, but also questioned why I cheered as she finally got a bit of revenge on Lewis. This episode stands out as my favorite because it shows the limits of humanity and how far people can go when pushed to those limits. Even the "best" people have their breaking points.

But, that's not all. The second part of the episode leaves us wondering if Benson can really recover from that amount of fuckery. And, as mentioned in my #2, this continues on for a good fourth of the season. Great long-term storywriting by the SVU team.


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