The latest Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had Benson tangling with not just a hard case but a clash with her old partner.
Christopher Meloni guest-starred to put the tensions between Benson and Stabler front and center.
A hard assault
I Thought You Were On My Side began with Tara (Herizen F. Guardiola) singing at a nightclub where owner Gabe Navarro (Rhys Cairo) was celebrating his birthday. When Gabe tried to hit on her, Tara brushed him off. This led to Gabe assaulting her in her dressing room and when Tara tried to run, Gabe punched her and sent her falling down the stairs in sight of everyone else in the club.
Fin was checking in with Olivia at an outside diner upon not having heard from Stabler in months. Benson tried to brush it off and even joked about lying to her therapist about being okay with all the changes to the team in the last few months.
They get the call on Tara, who had suffered severe spinal damage, who talked in the hospital about Gabe attacking her but was worried as Gabe “is tight with the cops.” Fin confirms that and he and Rollins talking to witnesses led to everyone denying anything happened, even a woman claiming he was a “great boss” while bearing a black eye.
With the cops listening in, Tara called Gabe to try and get him to confess to what he did, but he smartly figured it out to keep quiet. However, he crossed the line by snapping, “I’ll pay for your funeral,” giving the cops an excuse to pick him up. Gabe refused to confess while openly asking, “What can I offer to make this go away?”
A DNA test showed that not only had Gabe attacked Tara but was linked to an assault in Miami and the murder of a Jane Doe a year earlier. Despite that, Tara was still ready to testify against him.
Just as Carisi was about to indict Gabe, Benson got a phone call that brought her and Carisi to a building where waiting was Sgt. Bell…and Elliot Stabler who told Olivia, “You’re not gonna like this.”
Benson and Stabler reunited…somewhat
FBI agent Clay (Josh Cooke) explained that Navarro was tied into various smuggling and drug operations, with Stabler having tangled with him in Naples years earlier. He was also the advisor to Russian mobster Anton Popkov (Demosthenes Chrysan).
Benson made it clear she wanted Navarro only for Gray and Bell to say point-blank they needed Navarro to get at Popvok. Stabler tried to play nice by telling Benson they now had leverage to push Navarro into flipping on Popvok. Benson was upset, but Carisi made it clear it was out of his hands.
Benson and Stabler had it out with Benson clearly unhappy about him being out of touch for three months. They discussed Benson’s accident with both clearly knowing it wasn’t a drunk driver.
The pair interrogated Navarro, slipping right back into their old chemistry to press Gabe, including leaking to the press he was working with the cops. Navarro revealed that Popkov is in New York with Tara confirming he’d been at Gabe’s party.
Bell and Gray weren’t happy when Benson demanded SVU be part of the bust on Popkov to get at Navarro. She and Stabler had a private meeting where Stabler gave his word “I got your back on this.”
The raid and the aftermath
The raid was set with Fin nervous, no doubt remembering what had happened to Kat while Rollins and Clay exchanged some flirting banter.
The cops raided the manor only to find Popkov had already escaped via a crawl space tunnel. Benson and Stabler caught up to Navarro and Popkov escaping on motorcycles. Navarro went for a gun with Stabler shooting him in the shoulder with Benson wondering if it was just to make it look good for Popkov.
Benson assured Fin and Rollins that Carisi was arraigning Navarro for Tara’s attack…at which point, Carisi called to tell her that Navarro had been taken from the hospital by U.S. marshals.
Benson stormed to see Bell as Stabler was already back undercover. Clay revealed Navarro was already in witness protection, with Bell stating getting Popkov was more important.
“Because I respect you, I’m going to pretend you never said that,” Olivia snapped.
Benson told Rollins that Stabler assured her he had no idea about the deal, but Rollins snapped that Stabler wasn’t the same man Benson knew.
Rollins was also affected but assured Carisi, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Not surprisingly, Tara was more upset than anyone that her attacker was getting off scot-free. Her words of “you’re supposed to be protecting me, not him” added to Benson’s guilt and once more questioned just how much good she was really doing.
It was a powerful hour that showed the once strong Benson-Stabler partnership had hit a major roadblock.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit airs Thursdays at 8/7c on NBC.