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Best Law & Order SVU episodes

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50 best Law & Order SVU episodes

With its 20th season premiering this fall, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” has become one of the most well-known staples in the crime-drama genre. It’s the first of two spinoffs of the original “Law & Order,” loosely based on a specific precinct of the New York City Police Department—they usually deal with sex crimes, child abuse, missing children, crimes against the elderly, and practically anything else that the department feels they can handle. The most popular character in the ensemble (besides Ice-T, of course) has been around since the pilot and will be starring in the upcoming season.

Detective-turned-lieutenant Olivia Benson, played by Mariska Hargitay, is often hailed as the reason for the show’s immense popularity. She was joined by Odafin “Fin” Tutuola, played by rapper Ice-T in season two for four episodes—but he loved it so much that he is still on the show today. With Richard Belzer’s eccentric portrayal of Detective John Munch, and the ever-changing dynamics between Benson and her partner Elliot Stabler, the show has received steady praise since its premiere in 1999. Due to the extremely sensitive nature of the crimes, the writers are known for tackling current day controversies surrounding sexual violence in a unique and thoughtful way.

After 434 memorable episodes, and countless cameos—think Serena Williams, Martin Short, Whoopi Goldberg, or James Brolin—Stacker is taking a trip down SVU memory lane by listing the 50 best episodes in the show’s history. The rankings are based on IMDb ratings, while the number of user votes was used to break any ties. Read on to see which legendary episodes made the list.

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NBC
#50. Manhunt

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 2, Episode 18

Air date: April 20, 2001

After a waitress is kidnapped, Detectives John Munch (Richard Belzer) and Odafin "Fin" Tutuola (Ice-T) realize the crime may be linked to a killer from the previous summer. Their pursuit entangles them with Canadian authorities, and the case is based on the 1980s serial killers Leonard Lake and Charles Ng.


 

NBC
#49. Desperate

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 4, Episode 18

Air date: March 14, 2003

A young boy witnesses his stepmother being killed. Traumatized and fearing his father, who tries to prevent detectives from questioning the child, the boy refuses to tell what actually happened to her. This leads Detectives Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) to investigate further into the disappearance of the boy’s biological mother.



 

NBC
#48. Stranger

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 10, Episode 11

Air date: January 6, 2009

In this episode, detectives work to figure out what happened to a teenage girl that reappeared after being kidnapped four years earlier. They soon realize the girl is actually an impostor for the real person who went missing, and try to uncover who she really is. The case bears resemblance to the unsolved 1994 Nicholas Barclay case.



 

NBC
#47. Hardwired

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 11, Episode 5

Air date: October 21, 2009

A young boy’s strange behavior leads his mother to discover that the child was sexually abused by his stepfather. The case seems to be open-and-shut, but the defendant complicates things when he offers to give up the pedophile advocacy group he is part of in order to avoid the charges.




 

NBC
#46. Manhattan Transfer

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 17, Episode 17

Air date: March 2, 2016

In the first of two episodes that show members of SVU investigating a sex trafficking ring in a Catholic girls high school, detectives struggle to bring charges against all of the perps involved, including cops, judges, and even a priest.



 

NBC
#45. Above Suspicion

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 14, Episode 2

Air date: September 26, 2012

“Above Suspicion” is the third and final part of a story arc that’s so good, all three episodes are among the highest-ranked "SVU" episodes. As the squad tries to put away the madam responsible for a large-scale prostitution scandal that led to several murders, they each struggles with problems in their professional and personal lives.



 

NBC
#44. Rhodium Nights

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 13, Episode 23

Air date: May 23, 2012

In the dramatic finale of season 13, the death of a young prostitute at a high-scale bachelor party leads SVU to two competing escort services. When more people start dying, the detectives look into the client lists of both services, but they are shocked at the names they uncover.


 

NBC
#43. Ridicule

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 3, Episode 10

Air date: December 14, 2001

The death of a young woman takes a back seat as this episode progresses due to Detectives Benson and Stabler discovering that the victim had taken part in the rape of a male stripper with her friends. This often-forgotten acknowledgement of men being victims of rape as well is only slightly hindered by the fact that the wrong Amendment was cited by one of the judges regarding gender equality protections.



 

NBC
#42. Mask

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 12, Episode 13

Air date: January 12, 2011

When the daughter of a sex therapist with a sleazy past is brutally attacked by a man wearing a creepy mask, the detectives must interrogate him in order to find his daughter’s attacker. Detective Stabler explores the world of sex addiction when he’s forced to go undercover in the uncooperative therapist’s clinic to solve the case.


 

NBC
#41. Gambler's Fallacy

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 15, Episode 17

Air date: March 12, 2014

In a series that often gets its plotlines from real life crimes and headlines, season 15 offers a refreshing and raw look into the personal lives of many of the show’s central characters. In this episode, Detective Amanda Rollins is blackmailed by the managers of an underground casino due to an unsettled gambling debt, causing her to inadvertently become an accomplice to several crimes while attempting to keep her colleagues’ growing suspicions at bay.



 

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#40. Scheherazade

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 8, Episode 10

Air date: January 2, 2007

Golden Globe and Tony Award-winning actor Brian Dennehy guest stars in this episode that starts with a deathbed confession by a former bank robber. Detectives Benson and Stabler must investigate whether the wrong man was put in jail for the murder of a woman who shared a daughter with the bandit.



 

NBC
#39. Ghost

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 6, Episode 16

Air date: February 22, 2005

A hitman who is known simply as “The Ghost” murders a wealthy couple, and investigations into their deaths lead the detectives to a drug cartel responsible for the show’s former Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot entering witness protection. In order to nail the criminals, Cabot must come out from hiding and risk her life in order to testify.



 

NBC
#38. Savant

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 9, Episode 4

Air date: October 16, 2007

A young girl diagnosed with Williams syndrome observes an attack that leaves her mother beaten and in a coma. Because she is the only witness to the attack, detectives first suspect and try to interrogate the victim’s husband. But with the man’s legal team using the Patriot Act to keep him from testifying, the young girl must be questioned in order to find out what happened.



 

NBC
#37. Families

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 5, Episode 15

Air date: February 10, 2004

Things go from bad to weird to worse in the course of one episode, as a young girl is discovered raped and murdered. In the course of the investigation, detectives realize that the girl was pregnant, which leads to some abhorrent family secrets spilling out.



 

NBC
#36. Spiraling Down

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 13, Episode 10

Air date: December 7, 2011

The detectives are successful at arresting the johns of a 14-year-old prostitute, including a famous pro football player. The case against the quarterback starts falling apart, however, because his defense attorney argues that years of getting hit in the head playing football led to the defendant having diminished mental capacity, a claim that has been studied over the years by experts.



 

NBC
#35. Locum

IMDb rating: 8.6

Season 12, Episode 1

Air date: September 22, 2010

Perhaps one of the more disturbing episodes from an emotional standpoint, “Locum” deals with a young girl who Detectives Stabler and Benson learn has a very unique relationship with her parents. Anyone with a complicated family history is advised to stay far away unless you’re willing to confront some painful themes throughout the course of the episode.



 

NBC
#34. Send in the Clowns

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 19, Episode 17

Air date: March 21, 2018

If you are creeped out by clowns, mimes, or masked figures of any kind, now is your chance to look away! This episode deals with the investigation of a missing student disappears on a field trip to the Big Apple, believed to have been abducted by a man whose face was covered in a very creepy disguise.



 

NBC
#33. Service

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 19, Episode 18

Air date: April 11, 2018

Since members of the Armed Forces are placed on a high pedestal in this country, as they should be, it can be difficult to appropriately approach instances of military personnel committing atrocities. Such a case is what Benson is faced with in this episode, where she has to carefully navigate prosecuting a soldier believed to have committed a sexual assault.



 

NBC
#32. Gone Baby Gone

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 19, Episode 9

Air date: January 3, 2018

Though we usually get a look at Benson and Stabler’s attempts to save the day for others, this episode gets extra personal as it’s Benson herself in need of saving. The entire team comes together, knowing they need to act quickly in the face of her son Noah’s kidnapping.


 

NBC
#31. Heartfelt Passages

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 17, Episode 23

Air date: May 25, 2016

SVU is no stranger to hostage situations, and the one involving officer Gary Munson in this episode is no exception. If you happen re-watch the episode and find Munson a little too lovable to be an intimidating antagonist, that may be because you recognize him as Brad Garrett, the face of fan-favorite Robert Barone in “Everybody Loves Raymond.”



 

NBC
#30. Liberties

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 10, Episode 21

Air date: May 19, 2009

“Liberties” was one of seventeen episodes directed by Oscar-winning director Juan Jose Campanella, a many who has no lack of experience crafting eerie plotlines. Campanella is the mastermind behind creepy crime-based mysteries such as The Secret in Their Eyes and Cannibals.


 

NBC
#29. Mean

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 5, Episode 17

Air date: February 24, 2004

When a girl’s body is found in the trunk of a car, Benson and Stabler interrogate her classmates and uncover a disturbing trend of bullying. Though many SVU episodes are the results of the writers’ imaginations, this concept was actually derived from the 1992 case of Indiana’s Shanda Sharer.



 

NBC
#28. Fault

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 7, Episode 19

Air date: April 4, 2006

Benson and Stabler track a recently released sex offender who has kidnapped two children. The fate of those children’s lives, as well as the two detectives' professional relationship, hang in the balance.


 

NBC
#27. Persona

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 10, Episode 8

Air date: November 25, 2008

Benson, while investigating the claims of a domestic abuse victim, unearths another cold case involving a woman shooting her alleged rapist. Will she let it go, or reopen old wounds in search of the truth?



 

NBC
#26. Fallacy

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 4, Episode 21

Air date: April 18, 2003

A house party turns deadly as an uninvited guest is found dead on the bathroom floor, accused by another guest of trying to rape her. When a dark secret is unearthed, it becomes impossible to figure out who to trust.



 

NBC
#25. Design

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 7, Episode 2

Air date: September 27, 2005

Benson manages to save a suicidal pregnant woman from killing herself, but there’s more to April Troost than she claims. Can Benson find the truth while also protecting April? Bobby Flay and Lynda Carter have guest star appearances on this episode.



 

NBC
#24. Lost Reputation

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 14, Episode 1

Air date: September 26, 2012

Picking up from the shocking cliffhanger at the end of Season 13, the SVU Squad investigates how Captain Donald Cragen (Dann Florek) ended up with a dead escort in his bed with no recollection of the night before.



 

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#23. Beast's Obsession

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 15, Episode 20

Air date: April 9, 2014

Facing off against the obsessive prison escapee William Lewis, Benson must confront a nightmarish situation. When she wriggles out from underneath her security detail to face Lewis, it’s anyone’s guess who makes it out alive.



 

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#22. Signature

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 9, Episode 12

Air date: January 8, 2008

Tasked with hunting down a serial killer known as the Woodsman, Benson and Lake enlist the help of an FBI agent, Lauren Cooper. However, cracks begin to appear in Cooper’s tough veneer, and her true relationship to the case is revealed.


 

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#21. Born Psychopath

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 14, Episode 19

Air date: April 3, 2013

When a school nurse finds bruises and marks on a little girl’s body that the little girl claims to of been done by a monster, the SVU squad looks further into it. In this episode, the Fremont High School is mentioned as a reference to The Twilight Zone: It's a Good Life because of the terror Anthony Fremont in the movie.



 

NBC
#20. Paternity

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 9, Episode 9

Air date: November 27, 2007

In this episode, one situation swiftly leads to another making a different case than expected. A young boy who was lost is found on the street in rough condition, only to show the detectives there was something worse at hand, the rape and murder of a nanny.



 

NBC
#19. Screwed

IMDb rating: 8.7

Season 8, Episode 22

Air date: May 22, 2007

Darius Parker, Fin’s nephew, goes to trial for rape and murder. In the process of this, he is doing everything he can to bring the unit down with him by digging up dirt on all of them to use in his defense case.



 

NBC
#18. Dare

IMDb rating: 8.8

Season 19, Episode 16

Air date: March 14, 2018

When a surgeon uses a girl’s organs without the parents' consent after her death, it quickly becomes a criminal case bringing in the SVU.



 

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#17. Dominance

IMDb rating: 8.8

Season 4, Episode 20

Air date: April 4, 2003

It all begins with a quadruple homicide that started with a sexual assault that leads the team to not only find the killer, but to prevent more victims.



 

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#16. Scavenger

IMDb rating: 8.8

Season 6, Episode 4

Air date: October 19, 2004

A serial killer is leaving hints throughout the city for the team to find. They are all supposedly clues to help to find him and stop him from taking his next victim.


 

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#15. Zebras

IMDb rating: 8.8

Season 10, Episode 22

Air date: June 2, 2009

Because of a mistake made by CSU Tech Dale Stuckey, a killer goes free. This leads to more killings, putting more and more people at risk. Meanwhile, Kevin Carolan plays one of his three roles that he has done in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."



 

NBC
#14. Alternate

IMDb rating: 8.8

Season 9, Episode 1

Air date: September 25, 2007

Cynthia Nixon may be known for her portrayal of Miranda Hobbes in “Sex and the City,” but her character in this episode is quite the opposite of a sophisticated lawyer. Her character, Janis, plays a woman with multiple personalities, who is looking for her missing child. But when her mental illness starts to worsen, along with multiple deaths occurring in her family, the detectives find this case even harder to solve.



 

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#13. Identity

IMDb rating: 8.8

Season 6, Episode 12

Air date: January 18, 2005

While this episode is loosely based on the controversy around gender reassignment surgery, the way the topic plays out is incredibly unexpected. The main suspect in a case of sexual assault is dead, so the detectives are left to deal with the evidence his sister presents.



 

NBC
#12. Authority

IMDb rating: 8.8

Season 9, Episode 17

Air date: April 29, 2008

Robin Williams makes a special appearance for the 200th episode of the series, as an unstable man who wants to play out the Milgram experiment in real life—testing people’s responses to authority by making them commit heinous acts.



 

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#11. The Undiscovered Country

IMDb rating: 8.9

Season 19, Episode 13

Air date: February 7, 2018

A.D.A. Rafael Barba may have interfered in many cases on the show, but this one might be the most emotional. His involvement in a family’s right-to-die court case causes tension between himself and now-Lieutenant Olivia Benson, who he has now been working with for six years.



 

NBC
#10. Loss

IMDb rating: 8.9

Season 5, Episode 4

Air date: October 14, 2003

This is Alexandra Cabot’s last episode before meeting Casey Novak—the new A.D.A., Cabot, and the detectives, are involved in a tense case surrounding undercover agents, and Colombian drug dealers.



 

NBC
#9. Shadow

IMDb rating: 8.9

Season 11, Episode 12

Air date: January 13, 2010

"SVU" is often known for some of its non-sexual cases, this being one of them. In a complicated mix of money, fraud, and connections, Benson and Stabler are on the task to find out who murdered a well-known couple.



 

NBC
#8. Her Negotiation

IMDb rating: 8.9

Season 14, Episode 24

Air date: May 22, 2013

In a memorable season finale, Benson fires off the previously mentioned chain of events between herself and a suspect called William Lewis—who is originally brought in for flashing young girls in Central Park. His character appears in three more episodes, just after a startling cliffhanger.



 

NBC
#7. Conscience

IMDb rating: 8.9

Season 6, Episode 6

Air date: November 9, 2004

A boy murders his five-year-old neighbor. And after he’s revealed to be a sociopath, the five-year-old’s father takes drastic steps to resolve the case.



 

NBC
#6. Raw

IMDb rating: 8.9

Season 7, Episode 6

Air date: November 1, 2005

In this chilling episode, a sniper shooting leaves numerous kids wounded and one dead. Then, the rifle gets traced back to a Neo-Nazi group. To top it all off, one of the detectives is seriously injured during the trial of the sniper.



 

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#5. Behave

IMDb rating: 8.9

Season 12, Episode 3

Air date: September 29, 2010

Vicki Sayers ends up in the hospital after being raped and beaten. Throughout the investigation, detectives Benson and Stabler discover that she’s been beaten and raped by the same attacker since she was 16 years old.



 

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#4. Dreams Deferred

IMDb rating: 8.9

Season 14, Episode 9

Air date: December 5, 2012

A serial killer is on the loose after being fired from his job as a bus driver. Detectives discover he has ties to a prostitute who SVU has encountered before, and they team up to track down the murderer.



 

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#3. Undercover

IMDb rating: 8.9

Season 9, Episode 15

Air date: April 15, 2008

The rape kit of a teenage girl who was brutally assaulted goes missing. Her mother is in jail and during the investigation, so detectives Benson and Fin go undercover to investigate the corrections officers at the facility.



 

NBC
#2. Surrender Benson

IMDb rating: 8.9

Season 15, Episode 1

Air date: September 25, 2013

This season opener picks up exactly where the show left off in a nail-biting opener of Benson beaten and tied to a chair. SVU detectives eventually realize that Benson is missing and frantically search for her.


 

NBC
#1. 911

IMDb rating: 9.0

Season 7, Episode 3

Air date: October 4, 2005

A young girl’s call to 911 leads SVU detectives to discover she’s a child pornography victim. Detective Benson learns more and more about the girl in hopes to rescue her from the perpetrator.



 

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