Law & Order: Why Elliot Stabler Left the Special Victims Unit

Now that the character is returning for his own spinoff, this is why Christopher Meloni’s Elliot Stabler left the Special Victims Unit in the first place.

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 22, Episode 9, “Return of the Prodigal Son” and Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 1, Episode 1, “What Happens in Puglia”.

For twelve years Law & Order: Special Victims UnitDetectives Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) confronted the perpetrators of crimes considered especially heinous. Stabler was always the most emotional of the pair, in stark contrast to the generally calm and collected Benson. The emotions of the family man and the detective often overwhelmed him, generally resulting in violent and angry outbursts in the suspects. Despite this, he remained dedicated to the functions of the Special Victims Unit. However, after twelve seasons and an Emmy nomination, actor Christopher Meloni chose to leave the show and beloved character behind.

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The last episode of SVU saw the long-awaited return of the detective, beginning a story that served as an introduction to his own spin-off, Law and order: organized crime. Now that he’s returned to the long-running franchise, this is the traumatic reason Stabler left the SVU, and the NYPD, in the first place.

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The reason for Stabler’s departure can be found in the season 12 finale, “Smoked.” After investigating the murder of a rape victim, detectives arrested three men (including one played by a pre-fame Pedro Pascal). They imprisoned the men in their precinct “cage”, awaiting transfer to a royal prison. Although justice was about to be served, the episode ended on a horrifying note when the teenage daughter of the murder victim entered the compound and opened fire on the incarcerated men. After accidentally shooting the recurring character (and longtime detective ally) Sister Peg, Stabler was forced to return fire to the teenager, killing her.

Upon entering season 13, actor Christopher Meloni left the show and thus Stabler was scrapped in the season premiere, “Scorched Earth.” The next season began shortly after the end of season 12, with Stabler still on leave in the wake of the fatal shooting incident. An Internal Affairs investigation was opened due to other Stabler shooting incidents. Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) informed Benson that if Stabler did return, he would have to undergo psychological evaluations and counseling. The episode ended with the reveal that Stabler chose to retire rather than return to work, emotionally devastating Benson.

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Despite Elliot Stabler’s early retirement, it was revealed in SVU Season 22, Episode 9, “Return of the Prodigal Son”, which Stabler re-employed for the NYPD as a liaison with Rome. He had also been investigating international crimes, including terrorism and organized crime. After his wife Kathy was seriously injured in a car bomb, he teamed up with Benson again to solve the case. His reunion with Benson was tense, as they had not spoken since his departure.

Kathy eventually dies, and Elliot joins the NYPD’s organized crime task force in the first episode of their spinoff show. Law and order: organized crime.

Created by Dick Wolf and produced by Wolf Entertainment and Universal Television, Law and order: organized crime stars Christopher Meloni, Dylan McDermott, and Tamara Taylor. The series premiered on Thursday, April 1 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

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