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Stabler is the manifestation of a macho man— he is stubborn, overly protective of women, children and Detective Benson, and is very quick to react with violence. So it’s certainly been surprising to see a more Zen-like Stabler in season 12, as a cop who isn’t using his fists as often as his mouth.
In an ode to his formative years as an uncontrollable rage-a-holic with menacing whispers of accusation and his signature neck- twisting of perps, let’s take a look at the Top Ten episodes of Detective Stabler’s wrath.
10. Redemption (Season 3)
After losing a case involving a young child who was sexually abused by her grandfather, Stabler is left to seethe in his anger as he contemplates the injustice of the judicial system. Unleashing his irritation on a coffee table in the precinct and then during interrogation where he chokes a suspect and ignores Detective Benson when she tries to intervene eventually leads him to being temporarily paired up with another rough around the edges detective. Detective Hawkins shows Stabler what happens to a cop who loses control and ruins his personal life. Evidently it’s not a message that sticks with Stabler for too long.
9. Annihilated (Season 8)
After playing a confusing game of go-round with his wife who begs him for a divorce and then invites him to spend the night in her bed, we see just how much the job affects Stabler when it comes to his volatile family life. A case that involves a man living a double life, one as a well presented family man and another as the fiancee of a women who believes he is a CIA agent, hits close to home. After Stabler coaxes the family man to reveal that he killed his entire family in the belief that they would not survive without him, Stabler locks him in the interrogation room and grips him in his signature choke-hold. After coming close to choking the suspect to death, Stabler walks out of the precinct in a daze. Perhaps wondering what his family would do when the day finally came that he was sent to jail for voluntarily killing a suspect.
8. Swing (Season 10)
After a series of dramatic events involving his daughter Kathleen, Stabler learns that she is bipolar. Unable to cope with the news, his fist meets a wall. During a dramatic scene between Stabler and his mother (a wonderfully cast Ellen Burstyn) it is revealed she is also bipolar and refuses to take medication. When Kathleen chooses the same path, Stabler turns his daughter in for theft. Enter Detective Benson, who lays down some truths about Stabler’s propensity for expelling his rage on other people (and objects) instead of talking about it. And once again, Benson saves the Stabler family.
7. Confession (Season 10)
Stabler has minimal rage control when it comes to sexual violence against young children, particularly when the case reminds him of his own children. After an aggressive word exchange with pedophile Jake Berlin who claims to never touch children, only looks at photos of them (and provides other pedophiles with photos on his website), Stabler discovers that Berlin has posted younger pictures of his now teenage daughter online. He is found by the other detectives in Berlin’s apartment, with torn knuckles and a severely beaten Berlin on the ground, desperately trying to erase the images from the website. His unmitigated rage leads him to an unpaid suspension, which surprisingly after 10 seasons is only his first (that we know about).
6. Lunacy (Season 10)
In the final installment of Elliot’s string of episodes from hell, he fatefully runs into his former Marine Corps mentor -and the man he named his son after - Dick Finley (James Brolin), while investigating a case about an astronaut who was raped and brutally murdered. He invites Finley to join the squad as they investigate the death, and after several confusing incidents that lead from one suspect to another, Stabler realizes that it is his former mentor who is the perp. He turns up at Finley’s hotel room, ready to arrest him. Finley resists arrest by punching Stabler, which leads to a heated fight in the hotel room. Stabler lands one final punch at Finley for having the nerve to shake his son’s hand, before arresting him.
5. Fat (Season 7)
Learning that Benson has been voluntarily reassigned to a different unit after an earlier case led to a tense moment between the partners proves to be the final loss of control for Stabler, whose private life is slowly falling apart. He is temporarily paired up with Detective Blaine, whom he clashes with from the beginning. When Blaine observes that he understands why Benson “dumped’ him and accuses Stabler of screwing over his former partner, Stabler responds with a swift punch to the face that leads to an all-out corridor brawl between the two men, ripped shirts and all. Stabler, forever the valiant defender of his deeply complex relationship with Detective Benson.
4. Pandora (Season 4)
Earlier episodes have had him confessing to fantasies of killing pedophiles, but this episode is the first time we see Stabler clearly struggle with the prospect of murdering an unarmed suspect .SVU takes a trip to Europe to expose the global issue of human trafficking. No longer bound by American laws, Stabler is finally permitted to legally set free his fury on a perp in interrogation. He spares no punches, edging the perp with a rapid elbow to the throat and a severe table thrashing. Meloni does a marvelous job in the final scenes as he visibly grapples with the overwhelming desire to kill the bad guy because of his immense rage, but manages to maintain control long enough to bring the perp in with handcuffs, and still breathing.
3. Ripped (Season 7)
Stabler is led to investigate a case involving his former partner Pete Breslin’s son Luke, who is linked to an assault. Stabler witnesses Breslin viciously assaulting his son in the bathroom and quickly intervenes. The resulting beat down has Stabler land some serious blows to his former partner that leaves him unconscious. Elliot quickly realizes he has finally gone too far and heads straight to therapy, where it is revealed for the first time that he grew up with an abusive father.
2. Turmoil (Season 11)
When his own son Dickie becomes tangled in a case that the detectives are investigating, tensions run high. Like any typical father versus moody teen, Stabler and his son are incapable of communicating effectively, so when his son taunts him, he loses his temper. Stabler asks Dickie if he has “lost his mind” and Dickie quips that if he had, he wouldn’t “be the first Stabler to do that”. Stabler immediately snaps, rough handling his son and coming close to punching him, before reality settles over him and he is taken aback by his sudden and absolute loss of control.
1. RAGE (Season 6)
The ultimate episode that explores Stabler’s unadulterated rage. By season six there has been a dramatic regression in Stabler’s ability to control his rage, having been pushed even closer to the edge by the disintegration of his family life when his wife leaves him. This is a gripping episode that pits Stabler against Gordon Rickett, who he threw through an interrogation room mirror and failed to incarcerate 14 years earlier. His anger continues to escalate during the episode as he struggles to crack Rickett during a tense interrogation. When Rickett, who is also closely tethered to his inability to control his rage, points out the parallels between himself and Stabler, it noticeably agitates him and Stabler finally reaches near homicidal rage. Presented with the means to finally indict Rickett, Stabler struggles with possibility of killing him before Benson steps in. In parting shot we get a perceptibly shaken Stabler contemplating what Rickett has said, before unleashing his fury against his locker door.