Elliot Stabler
Source: NBC

Detective Elliot Stabler Left 'Law & Order: SVU' 10 Years Ago, but He's Returning Now

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Apr. 1 2021, Updated 3:14 p.m. ET

How does Olivia Benson do it? For the past 22 seasons (and counting), she's worked at Manhattan's 16th Precinct in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Now, the detective-turned-sergeant-turned-lieutenant is finally Captain Benson.

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But before she took over the Special Victims Unit, back in the early days of Dick Wolf's successful series, she was just a regular-degular detective partnered alongside Elliot Stabler for more than 12 years. 

Her partner's departure at the time left a huge gap in the show, but that is all about to change. 

So, what happened to Elliot Stabler on SVU, and how did the beloved father-of-five leave the unit? Keep reading for a much-needed recap.

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what happened to elliot stabler svu
Source: NBC

What happened to Elliot Stabler from 'SVU'?

We totally understand the need for a refresher here, considering the almost 500 episodes SVU has delivered to its passionate viewers. And considering how much trouble Elliot got himself into over the course of his 12 seasons on the show, including the too-many-to-count near-death experiences, it's easy to forget on what terms he ended up leaving the squad.

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Just for some perspective, the emotional detective, known for often taking his cases too personally, had an HIV scare, fractured ribs, served as a human shield, was held at gunpoint, was shot, temporarily blinded, stabbed, and was thrown out a window — and those traumas only take us through eight of his 12 season on the show.

And while he came close to dying several times, the detective was also known to use deadly force with suspects, white supremacists, and corrupt police officers, among others.

And, surprise, it's actually this proclivity he had toward aggression that caused him to formally retire from the force.

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Source: Instagram

Now, Elliot Stabler is set to return to the series for the first time since Season 12.

After a remarkably long time away from the show, Detective Stabler will be returning to the cast for a special episode. Although he won't be rejoining the core cast of SVU, his appearance serves as an introduction to his newest role as the star of the latest Law & Order spinoff, Law & Order: Organized Crime.

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For SVU's April 1, 2021 episode, Stabler and Benson will finally reunite, though the situation may not unfold the way fans would like it to. While chatting with Screenrant, actor Christopher Meloni (Elliot Stabler) explained, "No one’s going to be satisfied. I mean, it’s such a long time. It is so many unanswered questions." 

Nonetheless, seeing Elliot return to the cast after all these years will surely prove interesting.

what happened to elliot stabler svu
Source: NBC
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Detective Elliot Stabler last appeared on 'SVU' in "Smoked" 10 years ago.

Back in the early days of Season 6, Dr. Huang flagged Elliot for being at risk for "excessive emotional investment" after he noticed that one of the murdered children he found at Church of Wisdom and Sight was wearing similar pajamas to his kids'.

Captain Cragen also called him out on crossing the line of professionalism several times over the course of his career. 

But back to that traumatic discovery of dead children at the Church of Wisdom and Sight in Season 6: Cragen forced him to take sick leave to avoid suspension after he refused to get any counseling.

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Elliot also made a number of terrible decisions, including directly disobeying his captain's orders, but the last straw came in Season 12's finale during the emotional case of one Jenna Fox, who watched her mom get gunned down in the street. 

when did elliot leave svu
Source: Getty
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When Jenna comes down to the station to confirm that the people responsible for her mother's murder had been arrested, she's about to leave, but instead, starts shooting blindly in the precinct, killing two of the three suspects in her mother's case and injuring the third. She also kills the recurring Sister Peg over the course of her spree.

At one point, Elliot almost gets Jenna to drop the gun and end her impulsive shooting, but the injured suspect she initially shot begins to taunt her. When she raises the weapon once again to open fire, Stabler fires a deadly shot (to be fair, he had warned her) that ends up puncturing her in the ribs.

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And he probably would have been OK to continue in the force if this had been his first, second, or even third offense, but the investigation that follows concludes that his history of lethal actions (not to mention how obtuse and stubborn he is) warrants mandated counseling before coming to the decision of whether or not he should return.

And if you know anything about Elliot, it's that he'd rather not work than talk to a counselor, which leads him to the decision to formally retire. We won't even get into how hurt Olivia is by his actions, or how he disappeared off the face of the earth after that episode, but now we'll finally get to see what he's been up to this whole time.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST on NBC.

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