Ranking Every Episode of ‘Law and Order: SVU’ (Part 2)
In the TV journalism system, shows about crime and violence are considered especially addictive. The dedicated critics who write about these shows are known as totally insane people (me) who love sensational television. These are their stories.
In honor of the 400th episode* of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit airing tonight, I’ve taken on the task of ranking of every single one. By now you’ve read Part 1 of the ranking. (If not go do that here). Now you’ve arrived at the top 200, the very best episodes about crime and rape and other atrocious things that will make you terrified to be a New Yorker. When ranking each episode I took a few things into consideration: How original is the premise? How clever is the twist(s)? If the episode is based on a real-life incident, how well does the show comment on it? But most important: How much did the episode leave me crying / screaming at the TV / gasping in shock? Check out the ranking below, then tell us your favorite episodes in the comments.
(Expect all the SPOILERS. This article also includes some graphic language relating to violence and sexual assault.)
200. “Russian Love Poem,” Season 1 Ep. 12
I honestly couldn’t care less what this episode is about. The best part happens a minute and a half in. With a straight face Mariska Hargitay delivers the line, “Do you think there was a reason that the killer sodomized your husband with a banana?” It’s all downhill from there.
199. “Theatre Tricks,” Season 13 Ep. 11
One jealous actress sets up another to get raped on stage during a theater production that’s part Sleep No More, part Eyes Wide Shut. Adam Driver is the first suspect. When Rollins says “You may have been hiding behind a goat mask, but we know you raped her,” his defense is, “I was a donkey.”
198. “Turmoil,” Season 11 Ep. 8
When Cabot drops a rape case, the victim tries to kill herself. Stabler tries to reconnect with his teenage son whose best friend gets killed by a drug dealer.
197. “Wannabe,” Season 11 Ep. 23
A student pretends to be a cop and helps capture a rapist, but when he’s discovered the arrest is thrown out. How did everyone in the squad room fail to notice a random kid in a uniform?
196. “Townhouse Incident,” Season 17 Ep. 11
This must be the 15th time Benson’s been taken hostage, which seems a little ridiculous. Part of me wishes the writers would stop throwing her into traumatic situations, but the other part is like, “Hell yes, gimme all your over-the-top suspenseful madness, SVU.”
195. “Gone,” Season 7 Ep. 16
Based on the Natalee Holloway disappearance, a teenager is found dead and sexually assaulted. When the cousin of one of the murderers testifies, he’s later kidnapped and murdered by both killers. Maggie Siff’s court officer helps them dispose of the body.
194. “Paternity,” Season 9 Ep. 9
Benson gets in a car accident with Stabler’s pregnant wife!
193. “Families,” Season 5 Ep. 15
One of the earliest SVU episodes about incest (there are a lot), begins with the body of a pregnant girl, leading to the discovery that she and her boyfriend were half-siblings.
192. “Users,” Season 11 Ep. 7
Who doesn’t love a Huang-based episode? When a boy’s heroin addiction prevents him from testifying against a therapist who’s assaulting girls (James Frain), Dr. Huang risks his license to take the addict to a clinic for an illegal drug that will curse his addiction.
191. “Asunder,” Season 2 Ep. 6
A homicide detective (Nestor Serrano) is accused of rape by his wife. The investigation reveals they are both abusive to each other.
190. “Outcry,” Season 6 Ep. 5
Amanda Seyfried plays a student found duct taped and beaten in her dorm. Her unreliable testimony leads to her rapist getting acquitted, but it inspires another one of his victims to come forward.
189. “Parasites,” Season 2 Ep. 19
The remains of a Romanian immigrant named Ava are dug up along with a collar and a leash. But the murdered woman Benson and Stabler are investigating turns out to be alive: Ava’s twin sister Irna was killed after an arranged marriage and Ava stole her identity, then tried to save a third sister sold to an immigrant matchmaking company.
188. “Torch,” Season 11 Ep. 21
In one of the weirdest interrogation scenes, Stabler tries to get a confession out of a pyrofeliac by taunting him with burning matches. Then Sharon Stone’s ADA Jo Marlow pretty much accuses Stabler of rape by sexually coercing the suspect. Hm, not so sure about that.
187. “Savior,” Season, 11 Ep. 14
Micha Barton plays one of the sex workers attacked by a minister (Lee Tergesen) who leaves Tarot cards on their bodies. Elizabeth Marvel guest stars as a doctor before playing DA Rita Calhoun in Season 14.
186. “Dependent,” Season 8 Ep. 14
Emily Van Kamp confesses to killing her mother and assaulting her father (Cary Elwes), but it was her boyfriend who attacked them. When Stabler tries to arrest the boyfriend and he suddenly dies of heart failure, Stabler is investigated by IAB for manslaughter.
185. “Criminal,” Season 5 Ep. 21
An ex-con working as a professor is framed for murder by one of his students. Zoe Saldana plays the professor’s daughter who tries to save him before he kills the guy who framed him.
184. “Counterfeit,” Season 3 Ep. 14
Benson and Fin team up to track down a rapist who they discover at the last minute is a former convict impersonating a police officer.
183. “Taken,” Season 2 Ep. 8
The daughter of a family of con artists accuses a man of raping her to get money out of a lawsuit. When he gets sent to Rikers, the detectives find out he’s innocent. After he’s raped and murdered in jail, she’s tricked into a confession.
182. “Stolen,” Season 3 Ep. 3
A drug addict mother sells one of her unborn children to a baby broker (Bruce Altman). But when her baby is stillborn she does what anyone does when they’re looking for quick cash – steals another woman’s baby from a grocery store.
181. “Risk, Season 4 Ep. 2
A baby dies from a cocaine overdose. A group of mothers have been acting as drug mules, sneaking cans of baby formula with cocaine across the Mexican border. Stabler goes undercover to catch the dirty cop behind the operation.
180. “Clock,” Season 8 Ep. 2
Two teenagers go missing; one planned his kidnapping to get ransom money and the other is a young girl thought to be kidnapped and raped by an older man. The girl is actually 17-years-old but has Turner’s Syndrome, which makes her appear younger than she is.
179. “Wrong Is Right,” Season 2 Ep. 1
SVU has had a lot of men set on fire with their genitals cut off (see “Babes” below). This guy had the honor of being the first.
178. “Personal Fouls,” Season 13 Ep. 2
Dan Lauria plays a Jerry Sandusky-inspired sports coach who has been secretly abusing young boys on his basketball team. One of the victims (Mehcad Brooks) comes forward and testifies. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Heavy D also show up.
177. “Legacy,” Season 2 Ep. 4
A wife accuses her husband of abusing her daughter, then they detectives think it’s the stepfather, then the stepbrother, but in a signature SVU twist of you-met-the-perp-in-the-beginning, it was the mom.
176. “Unstable,” Season 11 Ep. 1
Stabler realizes he put the wrong rapist in prison when assaults with the same M.O. lead him to a serial rapist played by Mahershala Ali. Wentworth Miller plays an NYPD detective who acts aggressively towards assault victims and beats up the wife of Ali’s rapist. Talk about unstable.
175. “Pretend,” Season 8 Ep. 21
A murder investigation about teenage boys who fight each other on camera with florescent light bulbs leads to a teenager girl in foster care accused of statutory rape. The woman is in her late 20s but has convinced herself she’s 16 years old so she doesn’t have to leave the foster care system.
174. “Paranoia,” Season 2 Ep. 14
Benson’s training officer (Khandi Alexander) is raped and the investigation seems to link to gambling debts from her husband, played by Isiah Whitlock Jr., who’s probably cameoed in more L&O episodes than any living actor. The assault was from drug deals she was aiming to expose.
173. “Manhunt,” Season 2 Ep. 18
Munch and Fin are often off on the sidelines while Benson and Stabler take the lead, but here they get their own episode and their own chase of two serial rapists.
172. “Desperate,” Season 4 Ep. 18
A little boy testifies against his abusive father (Rob Estes) for murdering the boy’s stepmother.
171. “Angels,” Season 4 Ep. 6
That time Will Arnett played a travel agent who sends rich pedophiles to other countries to rape kids. Oh, then he records it and sells the videotapes back to them as souvenirs.
170. “Deception,” Season 4 Ep. 2
Sherilyn Fenn pretends to be raped by her ex-husband so her lover (Frank Grillo) will kill him. Then she frames her stepson (Jonathan Bennett) who she’s also sleeping with, then marries him so he won’t testify against her. It happens!
169. “Contagious,” Season 6 Ep. 11
A 9-year-old girl accidentally accuses the wrong person of rape after surviving a car accident. Mary Stuart Masterson’s psychiatrist Hendrix (who Stabler keeps flirting with) uses the girl’s drawings to find the abuser and it ends up being a rugby player at her school.
168. “Trade,” Season 9 Ep. 18
A pregnant woman’s dead body seems to link to a love triangle quarrel between a father (Stephen Collins) and a son (Matthew Davis). While both are suspected of the murder, it’s their attorney (Michelle Borth) who killed the woman out of jealousy. She then admits she loves the son and pulls him off a rooftop with her. Ah, romance.
167. “Doubt,” Season 6 Ep. 8
Benson and Stabler ofter disagree on cases, usually stemming from something personal in their lives. But in this episode it hinders their ability to investigate a case where a woman (Shannyn Sossamon) accuses her professor of rape.
166. “Spiraling Down,” Season 13 Ep. 10
A retried pro football player (Treat Williams) is charged with the statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl. His attorney (Andre Braugher) uses his sports-related concussions as a case for mental instability. After he’s found not guilty for reasons of dementia, he kills himself on the courthouse steps.
165. “Informed”,” Season 8 Ep. 1
An FBI informant for Marcia Gay Harden’s Agent Dana Lewis is raped by a drug dealer. After she kills her rapist, Benson goes undercover to help stop an attack by an eco-terrorist group, but the informant attempts to blow up an office building first.
164. “Hell,” Season 10 Ep. 17
That time Luke Cage was a Uganda war criminal who killed a sex slave then tried to strangle Stabler with the handle of a mop.
163. “Redemption,” Season 3 Ep. 6
Stabler is in a mood when Cragen pairs him with another detective (David Keith). The two of them track down a serial rapist known as the Soho Strangler thought to be captured 18 years ago.
162. “Taboo,” Season 7 Ep. 14
A baby thrown in the trash is discovered when a dog runs up to its owner with afterbirth in its mouth. The mother (Schuyler Fisk) admits she wanted to get rid of her child. Also: the father of the child is also its grandfather.
161. “Rooftop,” Season 3 Ep. 4
An ex-con is suspected in a series of murders and rapes targeting young black women. After the suspect dies in a drug overdose the case leads to a music producer. Right after he makes bail, he bites one of the victim’s brothers, which gives the squad DNA evidence to convict him.
160. “Father Dearest,” Season 13 Ep. 20
James Van Der Beek pretends to be a sperm donor so he can get back at his long-time rival for marrying his ex-girlfriend.
159. “Hammered,” Season 11 Ep. 4
A man (played by Scott Foley) wakes up covered in blood with a dead woman in his bed. He looks like the victim, but he’s actually the murderer; he killed an abortion doctor in a drunken blackout. EADA Sonya Paxton screws up the trial when she shows up to court drunk and plays the wrong CGI-reenactment of the crime for the jury. Whoops.
158. “Pandora,” Season 4 Ep. 15
An FBI informant acts as a vigilante tracking down online child pornographers. Stabler goes to Prague with Pam Grier’s DA to find a young girl.
157. “Motherly Love,” Season 18 Ep. 10
The 400th episode of SVU’s got murder, it’s got a mom with a secret, and a surprise during the trial.
156. “Popular,” Season 3 Ep. 16
A junior high student who might be a rape victim refuses to report the assault. The detectives find out she’s in a club where girls trade sex favors for beer. (Who likes beer this much?!?) She finally reveals her boyfriend’s best friend raped her.
155. “Surveillance,” Season 3 Ep. 17
Emily Deschanel plays an acclaimed cellist who is assaulted and later shot by a stalker who’s convinced they’re in love. Ending on a nice bloody note, the stalker’s girlfriend brutally murders him in the bathroom.
154. “Sacrifice,” Season 3 Ep. 7
What do you do when your daughter has cystic fibrosis and you can’t pay her medical bills? Become a porn star, obviously. That’s what Elizabeth Banks and Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s husband and wife do. The husband gets assaulted by their porn producer, who Banks later shoots and kills.
153. “Countdown,” Season 2 Ep. 15
A little girl wrapped up in a rug falls out of a van. The squad investigates a string of kidnappings, leading them to a former birthday clown child molester (Jim Gaffigan). The real perp is worse, and once they find him he negotiates the removal of the death penalty to give up the location of his final victim.
152. “Bullseye,” Season 12 Ep. 2
It’s a classic SVU twist of where the good guy who’s helping the squad catch the bad guy was actually the bad guy all along. Plus Benson gets to punch the rapist square in the face.
151. “Burned,” Season 8 Ep. 11
Blair Underwood’s father is accused of raping his wife and Stabler thinks he’s innocent. Then he sets his wife on fire in the middle of the street. (He was innocent, by the way. But then he set her on fire because she accused him and he’s an alcoholic.)
150. “Inheritance,” Season 3 Ep. 8
A series of assaults on Asian women leads the detectives to an unlikely racist killer: A half-Asian, half-black man (Marcus Chong, aka Tank from The Matrix) who’s ashamed of his Asian ethnicity and takes it out on women.
149. “Inconceivable,” Season 9 Ep. 14
An episode about Benson and Stabler tracking down stolen frozen embryos, so it’s got to be good. A couple steal eggs from a fertility clinic to get publicity for their activism organization, but end up accidentally destroying the eggs. Then the husband gets shot by a man whose wife had her eggs preserved.
148. “Care,” Season 3 Ep. 9
How perfect is it that Piper Laurie was cast as an abusive grandmother? The body of a 5-year-old leads the squad to suspect girl’s foster brother (after Cragen plays a video game to figure out the kid’s M.O.). He was just trying to protect his sister from their abusive grandma, who killed her.
147. “Manipulated,” Season 7 Ep. 15
Rebecca De Mornay plays a wife who pretends to be paralyzed and injects herself with a virus to get her husband’s attention. When he cheats on her, she hires a hitman to kill strippers and frame her husband for murder. It happens!
146. “Control,” Season 5 Ep. 9
Mariska Hargitay’s father, Mickey Hargitay, guest stars as a mutilated man who’s murdered by the mother of a woman held captive in a dungeon. Oddly enough, Benson is accused of murdering him at one point.
145. “Crush,” Season 10 Ep. 20
Benson and ADA Pond investigate a judge (Swoosie Kurtz) for handing out hard sentences. After she imprisons them, they reveal she has a deal to make commissions off the teens she sends to her cousin’s sex offender correctional facility.
144. “Coerced,” Season 5 Ep. 6
A schizophrenic homeless man (Leland Orser) has been roaming the streets for years without his medication. After he abducts a boy, Stabler learns the man was kicked out of a mental hospital for witnessing the cover-up of a murder.
143. “Witness,” Season 11 Ep. 16
A rape victim that seems to be exaggerating her assault ends up having a hand wound infected with flesh-eating bacteria. The only witness hesitates to testify, afraid it could get her deported back to the Congo where she was raped. Eventually she does and it inspires Cabot to help prosecute sex crimes internationally.
142. “Bound,” Season 5 Ep. 23
Jane Krakowski plays a nurse who kills elderly women as a way to get revenge on her mother, who she thinks loved her less than her brother (Anthony Rapp). She then murders her brother and kills her mother by injecting her with air!
141. “Official Story,” Season 13 Ep. 12
A man assaults the CEO of a private military contractor (John Doman) to get revenge for his daughter who was gang-raped in Iraq by four of the company’s employees. SVU has handled cases of military rape a few times, but this episode did it with the most care. Benson also kisses Haden (Harry Connick Jr.) for the first time.
140. “Hunting Ground,” Season 13 Ep. 15
Ain’t nothing like a good ol’ chase to find a kidnapped victim. Benson and Amaro track the killer to his cabin, ending in a tense shootout where Amaro saves his partner.
139. “Poison,” Season 5 Ep. 24
When Novak is suspicious of a biased judge (Tom Skerrit) for acquitting a woman who forced her daughter to drink laundry detergent, she investigates one of his past cases. She gets Warner to exhume a little girl’s body to prove that she wasn’t murdered by her mother, but died from drugs that caused crystals to grow in her brain.
138. “Broken Rhymes,” Season 18 Ep. 6
Finally SVU hires a trans actress to play a trans character (and a positive depiction of one). The episode touches on the bathroom debate, when a trans woman is attacked and murdered. The squad suspects a transphobic rapper, but he was secretly in a relationship with her. His record producer kills the girl to protect the rapper’s career.
137. “Waste,” Season 4 Ep. 8
A comatose woman is found to be six weeks pregnant, but she wasn’t raped. A man with Parkinson’s disease has been paying a doctor to artificially inseminate women in comas for stem cell research. Oh and the dying man is suing for custody of the woman’s baby. There’s a lot going on in this one.
136. “Uncivilized,” Season 1 Ep. 7
What begins as a slow-burn investigation into a sex offender for the rape and murder of a young boy ends up even more twisted. The sex offender was innocent (go figure!) and it was actually two teenage boys who assaulted the kid then killed him with a bike chain.
135. “Possessed,” Season 12 Ep. 12
Taryn Manning plays a former kidnapping victim who was used for child porn. After a fan of her old videos finds and attacks her, she tries to track down another victim from her childhood to testify against their kidnapper. Turns out that guy grew up to become a child pornographer too!
134. “Quickie,” Season 11 Ep. 11
My therapist once told me that it always goes back to the mother. That’s also true of 99 percent of SVU episodes. In this one a man knowingly infects women with HIV as a way to get back at his mother who he thought left him as a child. Later one of his victim sprays hydrochloric acid in his face in the courtroom.
133. “Ritual,” Season 5 Ep. 14
The typical SVU creep: A skinny pale dude, usually balding with messy hair and wiry glasses. That makes Michael Emerson the perfect pick for a man who buys sex slaves from a Nigerian child trafficker.
132. “Patrimonial Burden,” Season 17 Ep. 7
A rare case of SVU handling a current event well. This take on the Duggars scandal had the show’s signature melodrama, suspense, and a surprising twist that commented on corrupt religious figures.
131. “Swing,” Season 10 Ep. 3
Stabler’s daughter Kathleen is caught up in a robbery after using drugs. Stabler thinks she’s bipolar and seeks out his estranged bipolar mother (a great Ellen Burstyn) for help.
130. “Dolls,” Season 4 Ep. 7
David Harbour plays a rapist who’s obsessed with dolls. He kidnaps two young girls so he can dress them up as dolls. Note: The title of this episode is “Dolls.”
129. “Babes,” Season 10 Ep. 6
As if an episode based on the Pregnancy Pact wasn’t exciting enough, the opening scene has a castrated homeless man running down the street after he’s been set on fire.
128. “Execution,” Season 3 Ep. 15
A relatively slow and eerie opening scene leads into a totally bonkers cliffhanger when a sadistic serial killer assaults Dr. Huang and bashes his head into the wall. But you know he’s okay because if SVU ever killed off Huang there’d be a riot.
127. “Her Negotiation,” Season 14 Ep. 24
Buckle up, the Pornstache nightmare begins. Pablo Schreiber’s William Lewis (who, in case you forgot, gleefully burns his fingertips on a hot grill) kidnaps and rapes a woman, then kidnaps Benson from her apartment.
126. “Liberties,” Season 10 Ep. 21
A woman’s ex-boyfriend gets revenge by plotting her rape on a rape fantasy website. Then a judge realizes the defendant is his long-lost son who was kidnapped years ago.
125. “Wet,” Season 12 Ep. 5
A victim is killed by eating poisonous mushrooms. Benson inhales the mushroom concoction and gives her single greatest line of dialogue: “I’m not the one who stabbed the captain with the pickle!”
124. “Merchandise,” Season 12 Ep. 4
Leave it to SVU to find a way to connect a New York City’s farmer’s market to a sex slave ring where children are sold under the guise of working as farm hands.
123. “Double Strands,” Season 13 Ep. 4
Everything from a rapist’s M.O. to his neck tattoo connect to a string of assaults Rollins was tracking back in Atlanta. While the DNA of the suspect matches perfectly, the detectives find out he had a vindictive twin who’s been following his brother around to pin the crimes on him.
122. “Hothouse,” Season 10 Ep. 12
Sarah Hyland plays an overachieving student who kills her roommate.
121. “Rage,” Season 6 Ep. 17
Matthew Modine plays a perp Stabler arrested 14 years ago who’s suspected of a recent crime. Stabler realizes that if really lost control of his anger he might end up on the other side of the interrogation table.
120. “Blinded,” Season 9 Ep. 7
No biggie, Stabler just goes blind (temporarily).
119. “Locum,” Season 12 Ep. 1
Foster parents (the mother’s played by Joan Cusack) force their adopted child to look and dress like their child who went missing years ago. In a last minute twist, Benson and Stabler find the kidnapped girl.
118. “Disabled,” Season 11 Ep. 17
A paralyzed woman with locked-in syndrome is raped and beaten. Her jealous sister (Jill Scott) has been abusing her, but it’s the nursing home’s bus driver who’s been sexually assaulting disabled women.
117. “Rape Interrupted,” Season 18 Ep. 5
A terrible title for a smart episode about campus rape and the media based on the Stanford rape case.
116. “P.C.” Season 11 Ep. 13
Kathy Griffin plays a lesbian activist named Babs Duffy who heads an organization called “LesBeStrong” – what more could you ask for? When a killer targets the lesbian community, Babs blames the SVU for not investigating hate crimes. She also makes a move on Benson.
115. “Guilt,” Season 3 Ep. 18
A Cabot-heavy episode where she gets emotionally invested in a case against a serial molester targeting teenage boys. She loses it on the squad when they can’t find solid evidence, so she finds it on her own without a warrant. Stabler and Benson break into the perp’s apartment without a warrant.
114. “Painless,” Season 5 Ep. 22
A woman’s suicide leads to Marlee Matlins’ Dr. Solwy, a deaf woman who runs a website that assists people who want to end their lives. Munch opens up to her and reveals he’s been blaming himself for his father’s suicide.
113. “Mercy,” Season 4 Ep. 14
A dead baby is found inside a cooler in the Hudson River. When Warner determines the cause of death, the squad finds out the baby had Tay-Sach’s disease and the mother euthanized her child so she wouldn’t suffer.
112. “Unorthodox,” Season 9 Ep. 13
Alexander Gould plays a 14-year-old rapist who assaulted kids by trying to re-enact a prison rape movie. Maybe don’t let your kids watch movies about prison rape?
111. “Chameleon,” Season 4 Ep. 1
The Aileen Wuronos episode where Sharon Lawrence plays a sex worker who murders men who she says were raping her. Cabot tries to prosecute for the death penalty (the first time against a woman in New York), but she commits suicide first.
110. “Mother,” Season 5 Ep. 3
A psychiatrist who treats sex offenders reports being assaulted. The main suspect is Robert (Jon Abrahams), a patient she’s having a relationship with. But – and bear with me, this gets confusing – Robert’s older sister Christina was the one who attacked the psychiatrist for taking advantage of him. And Christina is actually Robert’s mother. Christina’s mother (Robert’s grandmother) took her baby away years ago and abused him, so Christina killed her. Got it?
109. “Stranger,” Season 10 Ep. 11
Based on Frederic Bourdin’s impersonation of a kidnapped boy (and the awesome 2012 film The Imposter), a young victim escapes her abusive father and pretends to be a kidnapped victim returning home years later.
108. “Repression,” Season 3 Ep. 1
It’s Inception, only Shirley Knight is the child psychologist version of Leo DiCaprio who plants false memories in kids. By trying to recover a little girl’s repressed memories, a little girl becomes convinced her father raped her.
107. “Girls Disappeared,” Season 16 Ep. 1
Carisi joins the squad as they investigate the sex trafficker behind Ellie Porter’s murder.
106. “Vanity’s Bonfire,” Season 14 Ep. 7
What starts off as a child abduction case ends in a Scott Bakula’s mistress getting stabbed with a healing crystal.
105. “Haunted,” Season 6 Ep. 10
After Fin is declared a hero cop for taking out two shooters, a woman returns from his past when he worked undercover to find a missing girl who died. He gets the body exhumed and tries to track down the woman’s baby.
104. “Flight,” Season 12 Ep. 15
A rich entrepreneur claims he’s been raped by a woman when he was just trying to get a massage. That sounds fishy of course, and he is actually a rapist who assaults young women hired as masseuses.
103. “Disrobed,” Season 1 Ep. 13
A judge who exchanged sexual favors for verdicts is found murdered in his car. A woman murders him after he went back on his promise to keep her abusive husband locked up. Cassidy breaks down in front of Cragen and leaves SVU for Narcotics.
102. “Resilience,” Season 4 Ep. 10
Titus Welliver plays a father who raped and impregnated his daughter. He previously killed the family nanny and threw her in the river when she found out.
101. “Snatched,” Season 10 Ep. 13
A girl is kidnapped for ransom to pay off a couple’s gambling debts. There’s also a diamond heist and Wallace Shawn plays a professor who’s the number one safe cracker in the country.
100. “Downloaded Child,” Season 15 Ep. 19
Benson and Cassidy break up and say goodbye in his final episode, and now I’m crying.
99. “Cold,” Season 9 Ep. 19
In Lake’s final episode he’s wanted for the murder of a police officer. The squad finds out he’s been secretly trying to catch a rapist with a group of detectives who investigate cold cases off the clock. Casey gets herself suspended for trying to help Lake. (It’s also Diane Neal’s last episode until she returned in Season 12.)
98. “Legitimate Rape,” Season 14 Ep. 8
A cameraman becomes obsessed with a sports reporter. When she starts dating a news anchor, the cameraman stalks her with a hidden camera, rapes her, and gets her pregnant.
97. “Blood,” Season 6 Ep. 21
Stabler’s personal family issues mirror a case of an elderly woman risking her health and safely for her drug-addicted son. It’s a slow episode without many thrills and no twists, but it does offer a good examination of Stabler’s need to cover for his daughter’s mistakes.
96. “Storm,” Season 7 Ep. 10
After Hurricane Katrina, two girls are abducted by a sex offender and taken to New York. On the way, they cross paths with a man who stole vials of anthrax, which eventually kills the rapist.
95. “Selfish,” Season 10 Ep. 19
A little girl goes missing and is found dead. Her mother (Hilary Duff) is accused of murder, but the child died of measles after being exposed to another boy whose mom was an anti-vaxxer.
94. “Disappearing Acts,” Season 4 Ep. 5
The assault of a woman leads to a father and son in witness protection hiding from the Russian mob. Angry that he had to grow up under different identities, the son decides to kill off his dad by selling him out to the mobster who’s been after him for years.
93. “Smut,” Season 10 Ep. 10
A serial rapist uses a drug on his victims so they won’t remember the attack. His attorney uses the defense that his attacks were caused by watching “thousands of hours” of porn. The defense works until the guy incriminates himself when he gets an erection while being cross-examined. Oh well.
92. “Holden’s Manifesto,” Season 16 Ep. 4
Based on the Isla Vista killer, a teenager uploads a video detailing a planned shooting. Noah ends up in the hospital.
91. “PTSD,” Season 10 Ep. 9
A Marine who went AWOL is found murdered. Benson still struggles with her own PTSD after her assault in “Undercover” and pulls her gun on the wrong suspect.
90. “Tragedy,” Season 5 Ep. 1
Stable and Fin deliver the baby of a kidnapped woman. The woman’s ex-boyfriend is suspected, but it was the mother (Shirley Knight) of his new fiancé who wanted to get rid of the baby.
89. “Infected,” Season 5 Ep. 12
A boy (Malcolm David Kelley) murders the man he witnessed kill his mother. Novak wants to plead him out, but a gun manufacturing company won’t allow it, so she schemes to cause a mistrial.
88. “Manhattan Vigil,” Season 14 Ep. 5
This episode opens with every New York parent’s worst nightmare: A little boy gets kidnapped when he’s separated from his father on a crowded subway. The kidnapping leads back to another abduction from years ago. The squad finds the kidnapper (Tom Sizemore) and rescues the boy from a warehouse where they find the previous victim’s body.
87. “Baby Killer,” Season 2 Ep. 5
A 7-year-old shoots and kills a young girl in his daycare class. Based on his drawings, it seems he planned the shooting in advance. He was actually trying to kill gang members he saw commit a crime, but accidentally missed and shot the girl instead.
86. “Devil’s Dissections,” Season 17 Ep. 1
Why do people become medical examiners? A) They’re genuinely interested in dissecting the human body. B) They’re sociopaths who want to botch the medical reports of the people they rape and kill. (Note: In this case, it’s B.)
85. “Perverted,” Season 11 Ep. 9
A rapist Benson put away in the past blames her for getting raped in prison by a biker. He sets her up for murder by getting a scientist to place her DNA in a blood sample.
84. “Intoxicated,” Season 6 Ep. 19
A girl and her boyfriend murder her mother (Cathy Moriarty), blaming it on mood swings caused by Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. (It’s a thing.) When the girl admits she killed her mother because she was a violent alcoholic, Benson opens up to Novak about her own mother’s abusive alcoholism.
83. “Responsible,” Season 8 Ep. 18
Laura Leighton plays a mom, but she isn’t a regular mom, she’s a cool mom. She gives alcohol to her daughter’s friends and she sleeps with a teenage boy (Hunter Parrish) her daughter has a crush on. After the boy dies from drunk driving and the detectives discover the daughter is an alcoholic, Novak prosecutes the mother.
82. “Venom,” Season 7 Ep. 18
Fin’s relative Darius (Ludacris) murders a woman and her baby out of anger toward his mother for neglecting him.
81. “Soulless,” Season 4 Ep. 25
This one is full of stellar performances. Siobhan Fallon is the mother of a three-year-old boy who was murdered by Logan Marshall-Green. Ann Dowd plays his mother, who eventually testifies against him for the murder of a teenage girl.
80. “Lowdown,” Season 5 Ep. 20
One of Benson’s ex-boyfriends is murdered and found to be HIV positive. When Novak learns the identity of the man he was having affair with, she gets too personally involved and tells the wife to get checked for HIV, almost losing her license.
79. “Influence”,” Season 7 Ep. 22
Brittany Snow plays a bipolar high school student who falsely accuses two students of rape. When she tries to commit suicide, she accidentally drives her car into a group of students and kills a girl. Norman Reedus plays a famous musician who pays for her defense because he was also suicidal as a teen.
78. “Starved,” Season 7 Ep. 8
Benson goes undercover on a dating website to catch a rapist (Dean Cain) who uses speed-dating to find his victims.
77. “Haystack,” Season 8 Ep. 15
A mother commits suicide when the media blames her for her son’s kidnapping. Stabler tracks down two possible fathers, an abusive one who was also the kidnapper (Dana Ashbrook). Eventually the baby ends up with the mother’s new husband (Pablo Schreiber as a good guy for once).
76. “Greed,” Season 3 Ep. 20
Henry Winkler steals a man’s identity then marries a wealthy woman. He and his partner, who is also faking her identity, stage assaults on each of their wealthy spouses and try to frame them so they can steal their money.
75. “Lead,” Season 10 Ep. 15
A mentally unstable man murders the pediatrician who abused him as a child. Dr. Huang notices the man has a habit of chewing on objects. They discover he got lead poisoning as a child from chewing his toy cars, which caused brain damaged that made him kill the doctor. There’s a lesson in here somewhere.
74. “Collateral Damages,” Season 17 Ep. 15
Deputy Commissioner Hank Abraham (John Pais) is revealed to be a pedophile in a child porn ring who tries to kill himself when he’s found out.
73. “Sick,” Season 5 Ep. 19
The Michael Jackson episode, but instead of a musician it’s a toy-store billionaire accused of being a pedophile. There’s also a mother who poisoners her daughter, but covers it up with a fake cancer diagnosis so she can get pity money and attention.
72. “Svengali,” Season 9 Ep. 6
Jared Harris is delightfully creepy as a Charles Manson-like serial killer who seduces a young women to continue his killings. Then a bomb is sent to SVU in a pizza box. It explodes in the squad room but everyone’s okay.
71. “Brotherhood,” Season 5 Ep. 12
The brutal murder of a frat brother exposes the rape of another (Elden Henson). Novak uses the frat’s ledger to convict the pledge master of sexual assault.
70. “Grief,” Season 4 Ep. 23
A father (Joe Morton) murders his daughter’s rapist right as Benson and Stabler get enough evidence to arrest him. The father then tries to kill himself in Central Park, but Stabler talks him out of it.
69. “Impulsive,” Season 9 Ep. 3
Melissa Joan Hart’s teacher is accused of raping a student, but he’s the one who raped her. (He’s a sex addict who can’t control himself.) Later when he’s sent to a rehab clinic he’s raped; Novak tries to shut down the clinic for covering it up.
68. “Rockabye,” Season 7 Ep. 9
A pregnant teenage girl is brutally beaten and loses her baby. Her boyfriend is accused, but later admits it was the girl’s plan to abort the baby since a doctor wouldn’t perform it for her.
67. “Philadelphia,” Season 8 Ep. 16
Benson learns about her half-brother Simon (Michael Weston) at the same time that he’s a suspect in a rape case. It’s solid mixture of a detective’s personal drama entangled with an SVU case that the more recent seasons could take a cue from.
66. “Home Invasions,” Season 13 Ep. 14
A daughter plots the murder of her father, who’s been molesting her, and her mother, who didn’t do anything about it. The murder goes wrong and the daughter accidentally gets shot. The wife was also having an affair with her female boss.
65. “Escape,” Season 5 Ep. 11
A child rapist escapes from prison to get revenge on his stepson who testified against him. Benson goes after him with a detective she used to date (Craig Bierko). The rapist takes Benson hostage in an ambush before he’s shot down.
64. “Victims,” Season 2 Ep. 13
The only thing worse than a job chasing pedophiles and rapists is when a job that makes you protect pedophiles and rapists from being murdered. Eric Roberts’ former cop is suspected of killing convicted rapists. It’s actually Ann Dowd’s social worker who killed the rapists who gave her friend (Rosemary DeWitt) HIV.
63. “Competence,” Season 3 Ep. 22
Lois Smith plays a mother reporting the rape of her pregnant daughter with Down Syndrome. It leads to an interesting trial about the girl’s competency where the judge argues that if the girl is capable of raising a child, she must be capable of consent.
62. “Parts,” Season 6 Ep. 22
A dismembered body in a junkyard leads the detectives to Marlee Matlin’s Amy Solewy, who’s helping an organ dealer sell his kidney on the black market. Stabler has to stop a dying kid from getting an illegal kidney, while Munch risks his job to help Solewy get the kidney. What starts as a sensational episode ends in some heavy, quiet moments.
61. “Closet,” Season 9 Ep. 19
A football player is the lead suspect in the murder of a gay man who he was secretly married to. He gets outed when a journalist (Bill Pullman!) Benson is dating leaks the information. The football player is innocent and his agent (Rick Hoffman) killed the husband by accident.
60. “Manic,” Season 5 Ep. 2
Cabot prosecutes a young boy (Rory Culkin) who murders two kids only to later regret it and find out that an antidepressant led to his psychotic episode.
59. “Baggage,” Season 10 Ep. 18
Don’t watch the opening of this episode before bed – it’s of a dead girl hog-tied, lips glued shut, with her eyes wide open sharing into the camera. Creepy. Stabler teams up with another detective (Delroy Lindo) to catch a serial killer who fudges the time of death of a victim (and thus creates an alibi) by using a kiln.
58. “Futility,” Season 4 Ep. 22
Who knew little Kevin Arnold would grow up to become a demented serial rapist? After getting arrested, Fred Savage’s perp represents himself in court so he can intimate the victims and charm the jury. Eventually his girlfriend, who was also his lawyer, kills him.
57. “Privilege,” Season 4 Ep. 17
When a wealthy teenager (Erik von Detten) is suspected of raping and killing his girlfriend, his grandmother (Michael Learned) blames the father for grooming him to be violent to women. But it’s never that simple on SVU. It was the grandma all along! She bought him escorts to assault.
56. “Scourge,” Season 2 Ep. 21
Jack the Ripper was made for SVU. Four murders across the city within 24 hours lead to a man called the Night Ripper (Richard Thomas), but he’s not just crazy and murderous for no reason. Benson tells the man’s wife (Karen Allen) that he had syphilis, which led to schizophrenia.
55. “Abomination,” Season 5 Ep. 8
A murder victim is the poster child for a gay conversion therapy group – literally, Benson IDs him by seeing his photo on a poster. Jonathan Tucker’s Ian is the initial suspect, but it was his father, a conversion therapist, who killed his son’s boyfriend. His son must come out to testify against him.
54. “Shaken,” Season 5 Ep. 10
A little girl collapses in a park and is rushed into surgery. Warner discovers the child died from Shaken Baby Syndrome and the mother later admits she angrily shook her baby to get her to stop crying.
53. “Serendipity,” Season 5 Ep. 5
A man trying to trick a paternity test is found dead with a tube of another man’s blood in his arm. That blood points to the rapist in a cold case that Benson and Stabler track down with the help of Novak (in her first episode.) Novak ends up rescuing a little girl stuffed inside a cooler.
52. “Tortured,” Season 4 Ep. 16
Where to begin with this one? A dead woman is found in an alley with one amputated foot and a designer heel on the other. The detectives hunt for owner of the shoe, and lo and behold, it’s a guy with a shoe fetish. Benson and Stabler eventually try to help him when they learn his mother beat him with shoes, causing brain damage.
51. “Careless,” Season 5 Ep. 18
At first a priest is suspected of killing a boy, then his foster father is accused of smothering him with a pillow. Next Novak goes after his social worker (Julie Hagerty). But it was the kid’s foster mother. She takes in kids and then abuses them and kicks them out but continues to get paid to foster them.
50. “Appearances,” Season 4 Ep. 19
A sex offender blames a how-to kidnap and murder guide for his murder of a beauty pageant contestant. He says it was emailed to him again and again despite unsubscribing. After he pleads guilty, Cabot goes after the company who sent the emails for accessory to murder. Does that mean I can sue Seamless for draining my bank account?
49. “Pique,” Season 2 Ep. 20
It’s a story we’ve heard again and again on SVU: A mother sexually molests her child, who grows up to be a killer and a rapist. But this is the definitive mommy issues episode. After a pregnant woman is killed, Stabler gets inside the suspect’s (Chad Lowe) head until he confesses and admits to his mother’s abuse. Then the detectives find him in bed naked with his dead mother he just murdered.
48. “Penetration,” Season 12 Ep. 8
Marcia Gay Harden’s Dana Lewis returns as a rape victim, and one who does her own rape kit (because she’s a boss). The Neo-Nazi from “Raw” had a man assault Lewis for killing his son (who was trying to kill Stabler). The final piece of evidence comes out during the trial when Benson notices Lewis’ rapist called her by the name she used undercover years before.
47. “Florida,” Season 8 Ep. 19
After eight seasons Benson finally learns about her father’s history and meets his other rape victims. Her half-brother Simon’s story picks up after he jumped bail in “Philadelphia” and Benson learns he’s been framed for rape by a detective with a grudge.
46. “Screwed,” Season 8 Ep. 22
How perfect for an SVU episode to open on a Nancy Grace-esque crime show featuring Star Jones? When Darius’ (Ludacris) murder case from Season 7 goes to trial, he hires a dirty cop to dig up dirt on Stabler. He later cross-examines his mother (a great performance by Lisa Gay Hamilton) where she reveals that his father, and her rapist, was her father.
45. “Trials,” Season 10 Ep. 1
This has gotta be one of the most underrated episodes. A foster child’s father (Luke Perry) is investigated as a serial rapist. The boy’s real mom (Sara Gilbert) and foster mom (Julie Bowen) are both rape survivors who met at a PTSD meeting. In a sly double reveal at the end, the real mom realizes the foster dad Noah is her rapist, then DNA reveals he is also the same man who raped the foster mom before they met and he later made her fall in love with him.
44. “Strange Beauty,” Season 13 Ep. 22
Two brothers got in a car accident as kids where their mother lost one of her legs and part of her face. One brother grew up to become a plastic surgeon. The other grew up to become a psychiatrist who’s sexually aroused by amputees and performs body modifications on women. All is well for the brothers, until an amputation gone wrong kills a girl and she’s dumped in a taxi. An SVU episode made for David Cronenberg.
43. “Annihilated,” Season 8 Ep. 20
A classic murder mystery. Dylan Walsh plays a man with two identities: One as a family man, another as a fake CIA agent with a secret fiancé. He rapes and kills his side woman, then when his family is murdered he blames it on his wife, but the gunshot pattern proves he did it.
42. “Ballerina,” Season 10 Ep. 16
Carol Burnett is a former Rockette with terminal cancer who gets her adopted son (Matthew Lillard), who she’s also sleeping with, to help her kill off her many husbands. She also pushes one of her husbands (Vincent Curatola) out a window.
41. “Solitary” Season 11 Ep. 3
Stabler voluntarily gets locked up in solitary confinement for 3 days to try to understand why a convict (Stephen Rea), who lived in “The Hole” for 16 years, pushed him off a rooftop. It’s rare to feel genuine sympathy for a criminal on this show, but you do with Rea’s bank robber (it helps that he’s not a sex offender).
40. “Ripped,” Season 7 Ep. 4
One of the definitive Stabler episodes. A domestic dispute with his former partner ignites memories of his own relationship with a father. Stabler goes to therapy (can you believe it?!) and reveals the origins of his anger issues.
39. “Shadow,” Season 11 Ep. 12
Sarah Paulson plays a rich sociopath who murders her parents, sends a hit man after Benson and Stabler, and has Ice-T (working undercover) help her escape from jail. Benson also blackmails a guy who has a kink for licking boots.
38. “Ridicule,” Season 3 Ep. 10
Two seasons before she joined the series as A.D.A. Casey Novak, Diane Neal guest-starred as a bondage and rope enthusiast who helped rape a male stripper (much to Stabler’s disbelief) and kill one of her murder accomplices.
37. “Heartfelt Passages,” Season 17 Ep. 23
Showrunner Warren Leight has been delivering some of the series’ most high-stakes (if emotionally manipulative) season finales since he came on in Season 13. In his final episode Barba gets a death threat, Sgt. Dodds get shot and survives. But oh wait, jkjk, he suffered a stroke in the hospital and now he’s dead. I honestly didn’t care much for Dodds, but this episode had me crying.
36. “Denial,” Season 3 Ep. 21
Season 3, also known as the season when the SVU writers lost their damn minds, finds Martha Plimpton as a heroin-addicted sex worker who’s been carrying a human finger in her purse for 13 years. Not enough to hook ya? Her mother, played by Mary Steenburgen, abused and killed her other sister and brother years ago.
35. “Cage,” Season 8 Ep. 8
You know what would be a heinous crime? If Margo Martindale never guest starred on SVU. In this episode she’s an abusive foster mother who locks children in cages. One of the abused children (Elle Fanning) stays with Detective Beck, then sets fire to her apartment.
34. “Fault,” Season 7 Ep. 19
One of my favorite Benson-Stabler episodes that puts their relationship to the test. After Lou Diamond Phillips’ sex offender slashes Benson’s throat, Stabler tries to save her, but it costs them a boy’s life. Later Benson chooses saving Stabler over catching the perp because dammit, these two aren’t just partners, they’re soulmates.
33. “Wildlife,” Season 10 Ep. 7
A tiger (owned by a rapper played by Big Boi) lunges at Stabler. A monkey climbs out of a basketball and hugs Cragen. But most important: Benson pretends to be Stabler’s escort so she doesn’t blow his cover investigating an exotic animal smuggling ring.
32. “Confrontation,” Season 8 Ep. 5
This one’s scarier than most horror movies. Stabler and Beck (filling in for Benson), try to catch a serial rapist who keeps assaulting the same women by keeping track of their ovulation cycles so he can get them pregnant.
31. “Wrath,” Season 3 Ep. 2
After serving seven years for crimes he didn’t commit, a man (Justin Kirk) is released from prison and tried to get even with Benson for wrongly capturing him. He starts killing people (not so innocent anymore are we?) linked to Benson’s cases. When she finally confronts him in a hostage situation she’s forced to shoot and kill him.
30. “Monogamy,” Season 3 Ep. 11
John Ritter plays a jealous husband who attacks his pregnant wife after she cheats on him. Then he literally RIPS HER BABY OUT OF HER BODY. Oh, and the twist? It was actually his baby.
29. “Behave,” Season 12 Ep. 3
Jennifer Love-Hewitt plays a woman who never leaves her home because she was raped by the same man, four times, over the course of 20 years. Are you wondering why I’ve willingly given over 400 hours of my life to watching this show? Same.
28. “Confession,” Season 10 Ep. 22
A teenager shows up in the squad room and admits he’s struggling with sexual feelings for his younger stepbrother. The squad uncovers a “look but don’t touch” pedophilia website run by Tom Noonan in some of the most perfect casting in SVU history.
27. “Head,” Season 5 Ep. 25
Amy Sedaris makes a hidden toilet camera for her brother to spy on people with. The footage reveals a teenage boy being sexually assaulted. The woman has been having an affair with the teenager, but can’t help it; a brain tumor caused her to become a pedophile.
26. “Surrendering Noah,” Season 16 Ep. 23
“Don’t mind me, I’m just crying because Olivia finally adopted Noah after his rapist father shot up a courtroom. Tense, swiftly paced, and heartbreaking are the perfect ingredients to a great hour of SVU, and this has all of that. It’s also Nick’s final episode, and his goodbye leads to Olivia referencing Stabler saying, “Our relationship … whatever it was.” *screams* *faints*
25. “Payback,” Season 1 Ep. 1
The very first SVU episode opens with joke about the victim’s “cigar” getting chopped off; classic! It’a solid introduction to the squad where we hear Munch’s JFK conspiracy theories and we meet Benson’s mom and learn her history.
24. “Demons,” Season 7 Ep. 1
When trying to catch a serial rapist (played with just the right amount of creepy vibes by Robert Patrick), Stabler goes undercover as a convicted rapist. He blends in a little too well, then has to pretend to assault another girl.
23. “Mask,” Season 12 Ep. 13
Jeremy Irons runs a sex addict rehab center and is convinced he drunkenly raped his daughter years ago (don’t worry, he didn’t). Meanwhile his daughter’s girlfriend is assaulted by a masked man and Stabler goes undercover as sex addict to find the rapist.
22. “Night,” Season 6 Ep. 20
Angela Lansbury, Alfred Molina, Rita Moreno, Bradley Cooper – can this guest cast get any better? To top off a crazy case about two immigrant rape victims, Novak gets brutally attacked in her office by a masked man delivering her flowers.
21. “Shattered,” Season 11 Ep. 24
Remember that time Oscar nominee Isabelle Huppert guest-starred as a mom who goes totally nuts after her kidnapped son dies, shoots Dr. Warner, then holds her husband, Benson, and ADA Marlowe hostage?! It’s cu-RAY-zee. Then Stabler goes all Bond and sneaks through the air vents to save the day.
20. “Psycho/Therapist,” Season 15 Ep. 10
A lot of psychopathic rapists have represented themselves in court before, but nothing comes close to Pornstache’s trial. It’s Pablo Schrieber’s most terrifying performance as William Lewis (and this is the same maniac who tied Benson up and later made her play Russian Roulette).
19. “Dominance,” Season 4 Ep. 20
SVU loves a good incestuous twist. In this one, two brothers commit a quadruple homicide. The older brother (Ian Somerhalder) frames his younger brother (Jason Ritter), whom he’s also been forcing to have sex with him.
18. “Charisma,” Season 6 Ep. 7
Jeff Kober’s cult leader/con man Abraham has to be one of the most disturbing SVU villains. After discovering a horrific crime scene at his apartment, Abraham kidnaps a 12-year-old he’s impregnated so he can steal her trust fund when she comes of age.
17. “Pure,” Season 6 Ep. 18
Few things are as unnerving as Martin Short playing a sadistic rapist. He pretends to be a psychic who gives clues to the squad about a murder he committed.
16. “Weak,” Season 6 Ep. 9
Amanda Plummer plays a schizophrenic who claims she was raped. All signs point to Dallas Roberts (before he played a different serial killer in Seaosn 16), but his DNA doesn’t match the crime scene. In a science-y twist, he was the killer but because he had leukemia and a bone marrow transplant, his blood has different DNA from the rest of his body. Science-y!
15. “Quarry,” Season 6 Ep. 13 One child molester creates another child molester that creates another one in a layered story that begins when Warren finds the remains of a boy from the 1980s. It all ends with Michael Shannon’s Avery, the former victim of abuse who lives with the guilt that he was never able to save the little boy. Shannon makes this episode.
14. “Surrender Benson,” Season 15 Ep. 1
No big deal, Pornstache just kidnaps Benson and tortures her for hours. Then she gets away, handcuffs him to the bedframe, and beats the living crap out of him.
13. “Savant,” Season 9 Ep. 4
A woman is murdered by the son of the man she was having an affair with, but her husband (Aidan Quinn) is the main suspect. Their daughter, who has a mental disability and perfect pitch, is able to identify her mother’s attacker by the sound of his voice.
12. “Scavenger,” Season 6 Ep. 4
A copycat serial killer who looks like Kevin Spacey in Seven is a failed mystery writer who only murders single mothers because his mom (a fantastic Anne Meara) used to lock him in a closet as a child. Stabler locks him inside the squad room closet to get the location of his latest victim.
11. “Conscience,” Season 6 Ep. 6
Kyle MacLachlan goes nuts in the courthouse, grabs a cop’s gun, and shoots and kills a 13-year-old kid. But hey, you’d probably do the same if the person who murdered your kid apologized to you with a menacing smile.
10. “Juvenile,” Season 4 Ep. 9
Before Connor Paolo played the teenage abuser in “Web” he played an even more twisted kid who rapes and murders not just any person, but a friggin’ cancer patient. Then he blames it on an older kid he forced to help. It’s one of the most unsettling performances by a child actor on the show.
9. “Smoked,” Season 12 Ep. 24
“Phew, they caught the killer and the rapist!” you think with a sigh as the tense episode comes to a close. Maybe you check your phone, maybe you grab a snack from the kitchen now that it’s all over. But wait, there’s four minutes left in the episode… what the… OH MY GOD THERE’S A SHOOTING IN THE SQUAD ROOM. OH MY GOD SISTER PEG’S BEEN SHOT. OH MY GOD ELLIOT JUST SHOT A TEENAGE GIRL. And we never saw Stabler again.
8. “Loss,” Season 5 Ep. 4
Cabot almost dies from a car bomb explosion! Then she gets gets shot by a Colombian drug cartel! Then she goes into witness protection!
7. “Zebras,” Season 10 Ep. 22
Craziest scene in SVU history: The time Benson slapped the crap out of Stabler and told the sociopathic CSU technician Dale Stuckey to kill her partner. And don’t forget she then kissed Stuckey, but only to distract him while Stabler attacked him from behind. Plus, Judge Donnelly gets drugged.
6. “Identity,” Season 6 Ep. 12
In the most bananas SVU episode in existence, male and female twins are murder suspects, but the secret is they are both born male. After a circumcision gone wrong one child was given surgery and raised as female. Not upsetting enough? No worries. Their psychiatrist has been molesting them, and then he forces them to perform sex acts on each other. Then one murders the psych. Yeesh.
5. “Raw,” Season 7 Ep. 6
This opening is so intense I have to skip it when I rewatch this episode. A sniper shoots a schoolyard full of children, one of whom was black. The squad is led to a gun store where Marcia Gay Harden’s Agent Dana Lewis is working undercover to infiltrate a white supremacist group. Dana saves Stabler’s life when a Neo-Nazi’s son shoots him in the courtroom.
4. “Alternate,” Season 9 Ep. 1
Cynthia Nixon is a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder who murders her parents and claims one of her alternate personalities did it. The twist? She faked it the whole time to get revenge on her parents for abusing her and her sister.
3. “Undercover,” Season 9 Ep. 15
Benson goes undercover in a women’s prison to catch a drug dealing correctional officer who’s raping the inmates. The C.O. locks her in the basement after a prison riot, then beats and tried to rape her until Fin arrives. Name a more harrowing SVU scene. I’ll wait.
2. “Authority,” Season 9 Ep. 17
There are few things more disturbing than watching a beloved actor from your childhood play a sexual predator. Robin Williams portrays the Compliance fast food strip search guy who used different voices to create false identities (a role made for Williams). He also kidnaps Benson and pretends to torture her in his recording studio.
1. “911,” Season 7 Ep. 3
The all-time greatest SVU episode is also Benson’s best episode. It got Hargitay her one and only Emmy. (Shame on you, TV Academy!) She stays on a 911 call with a young girl held captive for the duration of the episode as the squad races around the city trying to track her location, only it keeps changing by the time they arrive. I’ve seen this episode at least five times, and each time I’m on edge.
*The 400th episode of SVU, “Motherly Love,” which premieres tonight on NBC, is the 399th episode to air. It’s the 400th episode that was written, including the Donald Trump episode “Unstoppable” that was shelved.