Law & Order: Organized Crime's Stabler Tells Benson He Loves Her (Yes, Really) in Emotional SVU Crossover

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Law & Order: SVU‘s Capt. Olivia Benson likely was steeling herself to hear a lot of things when she signed on for an intervention at her former partner’s apartment. But we’re willing to bet that a declaration of love wasn’t one of ’em.

So in Thursday’s Law & Order: Organized Crime, Benson was visibly shocked when Stabler blurted “I love you” (!!) at her during the very difficult conversation initiated by his children.

Let’s back up for a minute. Earlier in the hour, Kathleen Stabler met with Liv at a coffee shop to enlist her help: Her dad’s erratic behavior following the death of Kathleen’s mom, Kathy, was only getting worse as the weeks went on. Olivia, of course, knew this already, having gently confronted El about his posttraumatic stress disorder in a previous episode. So she agreed to be there when the Stabler kids talked to their father.

When Stabler returned to his apartment one night after work, he found Kathleen, Olivia, Dickie, Maureen, Elizabeth and Eli gathered in the living room.  He looked around warily, wondering what the heck was going on. And as they explained, he became increasingly defensive about his borderline manic behavior, which had gotten him and Eli in a car accident earlier in the episode. “Elliot, I’m here because your family is worried about you,” Liv said. “I didn’t ask you to be here,” he quietly, though cuttingly, responded.

Liv absorbed that hit, adding that everyone there cared about him and therefore was worried about him. But he refused to sit down and engage in the conversation, adding that they should talk with his current superior Sgt. Ayanna Bell, because “if there were any problems, she would recognize them.”

Eventually, with El nearly twitching out of his skin with discomfort, Liv tried again. “Elliot, tell us what you need,” she said softly. “I love you,” he replied, then seemed to realize what had just come out of his mouth. (Side note: Not gonna lie, I had to replay that a couple of times, just to make sure it was real. My heart!) Olivia, too, looked taken aback by what she’d heard, and Elliot — who was clearly not doing well — suddenly seemed near tears. “I love all of you,” he choked out. “I don’t think I can do this.”

Then, after describing the whole shebang as a “weight that’s dragging me down,” Stabler ran out… and wound up at Angela Wheatley’s apartment, where they had a heart-to-heart about the trauma of losing a loved one and how to survive the grief.

At the end of the episode, El worked out with his speedbag, ate some leftover takeout and called Liv — who screened his call, so he left a message: According to a social media photo of the bomb site, El now knows that he wasn’t the target: Kathy was. (Wait, what?)

But back to that “I love you.” While I OF COURSE was floored by the fact that those three words came out of El’s mouth, it’s clear that Stabler is not in a good place right now — and that’s why I understand the line to mean “You are and nearly always have been one of the most important people in my life, and I am flailing at the moment, so I am reaching out for any branch that will help me from falling off this very tall tree and also I maybe haven’t slept in a week?” And I’m good with that! It’s a step! I certainly did not think the line indicated anything romantic — especially not after that reaction shot of Liv right after he said it — though if you had other thoughts, I’m all ears!

What did you think about the big Stabler/Benson moment? Hit the comments and let us know!