In her long 21 year history on Law & Order: SVU, Mariska Hargitay has delivered countless gut-wrenching performances. We count down her top 40 episodes of Law & Order: SVU.
40. "Authority" (Season 9, Episode 17)
When Robin Williams guest stars in one of the most memorable appearances in SVU history, Benson finds herself taken by his character where he holds her in a room when Stabler arrives only to fake torturing her with electricity.
39. "Bullseye" (Season 12, Episode 2)
While investigating the rape of two young girls by a neighborhood sex offender, Benson finds herself confronting the rapist face-to-face at the climax of the episode, someone she knew from before.
38. "Motherly Love" (Season 18, Episode 10)
Mariska Hargitay directs this 400th episode of SVU where Benson finds herself doing something she's never done before in helping a teenage boy who is accused of killing his friend when his own mother tricked him into doing so after having been in a sexual relationship with the friend her son killed. When his mother betrays him at trial, Benson has his back.
37. "Bad Blood" (Season 1, Episode 11)
While Munch looks for Benson's biological father by putting the dots together from her mother's rape case, Benson doesn't think the suspect in an investigation is her actual father, but spends the whole episode wondering where he has been and looking back at her mother's case files trying to find some sort of closure.
36. "Monster's Legacy" (Season 14, Episode 13)
The chemistry in this episode between Mariska Hargitay and Andre Braugher is at its best when Benson and Bayard Ellis travel to Ohio to clear an inmate from death row whose history as a sex abuse victim may have been ignored by his defense attorney. This episode shows Benson's quest to advocate for victims of all kind and her constant perseverance to bring justice where it is needed.
35. "Murdered At A Bad Address" (Season 21, Episode 6)
Walking through the city with Noah, Benson runs into her brother, Simon, who she hasn't seen in many years. She plans to go out to lunch with him, but the day of the event, he never shows up which upsets Olivia. Later, she is called down to the morgue by Melinda Warner when her brother's body is found after an overdose drugs. Olivia bursts into tears crying, as she realizes he was her last living blood relative.
34. "Surrendering Noah" (Season 16, Episode 23)
Benson's motherhood to Noah is tested when Johnny D returns from prison asking for shared custody of Noah. Benson must go back to the case of Ellie Porter which haunted her over a year ago to help put away Johnny D for good.
His demise is met in a courthouse shooting, but the highlight of the episode is at the end when Benson attains permanent custody of Noah, and her goodbye to Nick Amaro in which she tells him she grew more with him in 4 years than she did in all her time with her old partner, Elliot Stabler, as we see the Olivia Benson that has transformed over the many years.
33. "Mood" (Season 19, Episode 2)
In the wake of finding out Brian Cassidy is behind an investigation with the State's Attorney's office, Benson must defend herself when being interrogated for child abuse.
She then makes a run at Cassidy and confronts him for investigating her after their relationship after all the years. All of this in the midst of an investigation where she must comfort a rape victim who isn't believed for the bizarre details of her rape.
32. "Granting Immunity" (Season 16, Episode 19)
Mama Bear Benson erupts in this one when an investigation into a high school sex party, leads to the discovery of unvaccinated teens for measles, which hits close to home when it leaves Noah in the hospital.
31. "Dearly Beloved" (Season 20, Episode 19)
Benson grapples dealing with a rape victim who is thinking about aborting her own baby, to which Benson gets very emotional, being the product of rape herself, even crying in a stairwell because of all the heightened emotions.
30. "Contact" (Season 1, Episode 19)
This early SVU episode gives us a side of Benson we haven't seen much, her dating life. She meets up with a journalist at a bar and takes him back to her apartment, but when he begins to seem too obsessed with a case she's handling, she cuts it off and sends him out of the apartment. Finding out he leaked information on the case, she storms his office and rips him apart in front of all his coworkers.
29. "Zero Tolerance" (Season 20, Episode 3)
So troubled by the immigration laws set in place by Donald Trump, Benson arrests an ICE agent for kidnapping after she was transported to a federal lockup without her family in horrible conditions. Her and Stone even take the case to court, offering up a glimpse of everything Benson is about, victim advocacy, and a call to change a broken system.
28. "Bombshell" (Season 12, Episode 2)
Benson goes undercover with Stabler as a married couple at a swingers club. The onscreen chemistry between the two makes this one a fan favorite and one of the many reasons Benson and Stabler have become one of the most iconic duos in television history.
27. "Remember Me" (Season 19, Episode 23)
In the first hour of the two-part season 19 finale, Benson must attempt to diffuse a situation when she finds herself hostage by a woman claiming the man she has at gunpoint trafficked and raped her five years prior, but Benson's claims of remembering someone's abuser is not a tool used to side with the woman, instead personal experience of her own.
26. "Next Chapter" (Season 18, Episode 7)
After contemplating retirement with her boyfriend Ed Tucker, Benson looks into the investigation of a sexual assault. The investigation results in Benson shooting a former cop who had Carisi at gunpoint. In the episode's final scene, she discloses to Carisi she is not looking to retire, yet cases like this are what push her to continue her job.
25. "Rescue" (Season 12, Episode 10)
After taking custody of a young boy, Calvin, from his crazy mother, Benson must convince the mother his best option is to let him stay with her, but Stabler interrupts the situation which ends in the boy going back with his mother, leaving Benson in tears. This was Olivia's first shot at being a mother, and what she thought could have been her last. Calvin had lived with Olivia for a while, and this was the culmination of his storyline.
24. "Girls Disappeared" (Season 16, Episode 1)
Following Calvin, Noah brings Olivia a final hope of being a mother in which we see in this season premiere, and how having a son at home, affects her while she's on the job. This episode is also personal for Benson, as it involved the sex trafficking ring that Ellie Porter, Noah's birth mother was a part of. When a criminal threatens her, she confidently gets in his face and responds "I've got the largest gang in the city", showcasing how much of a badass she is.
23. "The Longest Night of Rain" (Season 21, Episode 12)
One of the most heartbreaking episodes in the series where Benson attends Tucker's retirement party and reconnects with him during an investigation into a dirty police officer accused of rape. Later in the episode, Tucker reveals to her he was diagnosed with cancer.
They exchange a goodbye later on, as Benson finds out he killed himself so his wife would not have to watch him suffer until his inevitable death. Fin comforts her in her office as she bursts into tears crying while looking at a picture of her and Tucker from the trip they took to Paris.
22. "Paternity" (Season 9, Episode 9)
While Elliot is on a road trip, Olivia gets into a car accident with his wife Kathy, which makes her water break and puts her into labor. Benson must then deliver the baby on her own. When they get to the hospital, Benson and Stabler share a long hug that brings them closer than ever before.
21. Philadelphia" (Season 8, Episode 16)
Benson discovers she has a half brother who becomes the suspect in a sexual assault case as she battles between loyalty to the only family member she's ever had, or to the police force that she belongs.
20. "Scorched Earth" (Season 13, Episode 1)
After Christopher Meloni's departure from the show, after it's 12th season, Kelli Giddish comes in as detective Amanda Rollins which Benson learns to work within their first case together investigating an Italian diplomat for raping a hotel maid.
In this episode, we see the lack of chemistry that was always present with Benson and Stabler and watch the episode's closing moments as Benson has an emotional meltdown in the interrogation room after Captain Cragen informs her Elliot will not be returning and has put in his retirement papers.
19. "Perverted" (Season 11, Episode 9)
Benson is framed for the murder of a bike gang member. She is arrested by Ed Tucker from IAB and must prove her innocence, which she was sick with a flu.
18. "Father's Shadow" (Season 13, Episode 13)
Benson puts herself into the line of fire when a woman and her daughter are held hostage by a troubled teen. Benson is able to talk him out of killing them and convinces him that he can change and is nothing like his father. Her bravery is shown to shadow over her own safety.
17. "Post-Mortem Blues" (Season 15, Episode 21)
Right after being held by William Lewis again after he escapes prison, Benson must deal with a whole new series of events when IAB determines her actions are inconclusive and must continue their investigation which almost resulted in Benson's badge being taken away.
16. "Florida" (Season 8, Episode 19)
Benson risks both her and Stabler's badges to help protect her newly found half-brother. The investigation takes an emotional toll on Benson when family secrets about her father emerge.
15. "Trophy" (Season 12, Episode 7)
A case hits Benson hard when she realizes her connections with the victim's daughter are nothing she would have anticipated. She ends up with custody of her son Calvin and begins to wonder about her rapist father and how many other half-siblings she has out there.
14. "Gone Baby Gone" (Season 19, Episode 9)
When Benson lets Sheila Porter into her life as Noah's biological grandmother, this episode closes that storyline when Benson's son goes missing at the hands of Sheila. Benson frantically works with Sheila to help find Noah until she disappears from the precinct when they find out she orchestrated the kidnapping. The episode results in a standoff between Benson and Sheila in a log cabin in the middle of the woods, and Benson having to explain to Noah what happened.
13. "Psycho/Therapist" (Season 15, Episode 10)
After being kidnapped by William Lewis, Benson must come face to face with him again at his trial. She lies on the witness stand to protect herself as Lewis claims he's being framed.
12. "Wrath" (Season 3, Episode 2)
Murder victims connected to Benson's past cases show the killer seeking revenge on her. In the final moments of the episode, Benson is cornered to shoot the killer down when he holds a woman hostage. She then wonders if she will turn out like her father.
11. "Payback" (Season 1, Episode 1)
The episode that started it all. Benson is called out for sloppy casework by Captain Cragen when she sides with a rape victim who killed her abuser. We also meet her mother, Serena.
10. "Zebras" (Season 10, Episode 22)
During the investigation of a serial killer, Stabler discovers CSU detective O'Halloran's body in the lab with the screen showing that the killer's DNA matches CSU technician Dale Stuckey. He is held by Stuckey until Benson comes to the rescue in one of her most powerful performances in the finale's closing minutes.
9. "Heartfelt Passages" (Season 17, Episode 23)
In the heartbreaking season 17 finale, Benson gets entangled into a hostage situation with a corrupt corrections officer who rapes his inmates. She then blames herself for Dodds getting shot, but her look to the squad walking down the hallway at the hospital delivers the message of Mike's death in a touching finale that left audiences speechless and is one of Benson's most emotional episodes yet.
8. Infiltrated" (Season 8, Episode 6)
After leaving the show for a couple of episodes due to her pregnancy, Mariska Hargitay returns with a bang. Benson works undercover in an eco-terrorist group in Oregon and is arrested and returned to New York City to testify in a rape case.
7. "Behave" (Season 12, Episode 3)
In one of the most powerful episodes of the series, Benson works closely with a victim who has been assaulted around the country by the same attacker. The episode then leads Benson to travel to speak up about rape kit backlogs, a huge problem in our country today.
6. "Something Happened" (Season 19, Episode 7)
What at first seemed like a troubled rape investigation turns into a homicide case and the victim Benson was working with turns into the prime suspect. Benson must disclose the secrets of her past to connect with the woman and understand what took place.
After a long episode mostly consisting of dialogue between the two, Benson sits in the interrogation room for a breather in the episode's closing scene as the woman is being escorted out in handcuffs.
5. "Undercover" (Season 9, Episode 15)
Benson goes undercover to take down a prison guard raping female inmates. She is taken by the guard to an empty room with nobody else and is almost rapped just as Fin comes to the rescue. This was Benson's first close call of being assaulted on the show.
4. "Townhouse Incident" (Season 17, Episode 11)
When Noah's nanny comes to Benson when she thinks something weird is going on at another family's house, Benson intervenes to find herself stuck in a hostage situation that will keep you on the edge of your seat as Benson fights to stay alive and keep the family safe.
3. "Beast's Obsession" (Season 15, Episode 20)
Benson must go through the whole ordeal again when William Lewis escapes from prison and makes Benson confess in a press conference that she lied at his trial. Benson then escapes her protected custody to save a girl being held by Lewis. The nerve-racking episode concludes with a wild game of Russian roulette between Benson and Lewis.
2. "911" (Season 7, Episode 3)
The Emmy-winning episode for Mariska Hargitay is one worth watching over and over again as Benson works around the clock nonstop to find a missing girl who is on the other line of a 911 call. Benson digs up the girl out of the ground herself after a confrontation with the kidnapper to find the girl unconscious but ends up saving her life.
1. "Surrender Benson" (Season 15, Episode 1)
In the biggest and most unforgettable episode of the series, Benson is kidnapped from her apartment by serial killer William Lewis who was under investigation by the SVU for rape and murder, and he holds her captive for days as she pleads for her life over and over again until she gains control of a metal rod from a bed and beats him up continuously with it out of anger. This life-changing event for Benson changed the future of the show and her ways with victims.
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