Will Stabler return to 'Law and Order: SVU' for battered Benson?

Image: Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler
Stabler, come back for Benson if not your fans!Today

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By Anna Chan

Christopher Meloni's Det. Elliot Stabler exited "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" at the end of season 12 with so little warning and basically zero closure that fans are still hoping for a return of some sort. In the show's season 15 premiere Wednesday, "SVU" seemed to hint at the possibility of his return.

As a battered and bruised Det. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay, who deserves an Emmy nod next year for this performance) stood over her unconscious captor played by Pablo Schreiber, she whispered of her desire to torture him as he'd done to her and so many others, but was unsure of what to do. 

And then it came: "My old partner, he'd know what to do," she spat. "He wouldn't question himself after what you've done. He'd kick your teeth in, break your legs, break your arms, break your back, break your face. Maybe I should call him ..."

Longtime fans at that point were no doubt screaming "Yes!" and urging her to to dial the volatile El. And why not? 

"When people are in these situations, they think about the most important people in their life, so we had to go there!" showrunner Warren Leight told TODAY about Liv bringing up Stabler. He also teased that as the implications of the ordeal weigh on her during the course of this new season, "We're going to see her malfunction from time to time."

After such a horrific experience, why not turn to the man who was clearly her rock to help her get through the aftermath — and give fans the closure they've been wanting? Though it may make sense to fans to bring Stabler back for Benson's story line, Leight says don't bet on it.

"I don't know how it could work logistically, economically or given the network politics of it," he admitted, noting that Meloni is now working on FOX's upcoming midseason sitcom "Surviving Jack." "I think we just have to accept the fact that the closure we got was somewhat half a--ed because these guys couldn't work out a way to arc (Meloni's story) out, and it's unfortunate."

Benson won't have Stabler's shoulder to cry on, but she won't be going through the recovery alone, with Dean Winters back as her love interest, Det. Brian Cassidy.

"The question for Cassidy and for her is: Can (their relationship) survive this kind of stress?" Leight said. "In situations like this, people either fail you completely or step up ... and even if people step up, you — the victim coping with surviving — may not be able to accept it." 

Things will be tough for her partner, Det. Nick Amaro, as well.

"Amaro, he broke the law to find where she was, to get information, blatantly so," Danny Pino, who plays Amaro, told TODAY. "So I think there's an intensity and there's a bond between the characters that happened very quickly. ... There's a healthy amount of beating himself up for what happened to her. I think he's going to deal with that throughout the season."

But he won't just be the only other SVU detective who has to grapple with what Benson went through.

"This kind of an event resonates throughout the whole squad room," Pino said.

"(Benson) getting battered is doubly emotional for the fans, for the fellow actors and the writers," Richard Belzer, who plays Munch, told TODAY. "It brings it to a whole new level because we deal with crimes that don't involve us! And now one of our own. So this is going to reverberate throughout the whole season and put us right up there with the intense kind of writing that you see on cable."

"Law & Order: SVU" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.