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Mariska Hargitay, Chris Meloni had a plan for Benson-Stabler’s near-kiss. It was ‘changed at the last minute’

Justice for Chris Meloni and his "breath mint."
/ Source: TODAY

Jan. 26, 2023: A day that lives rent-free in the minds of Benson and Stabler fans on “Law & Order: SVU” because it is the day they — and apparently, the show’s leading stars — were fooled.

That night, the Season 24 episode “Blood Out” aired, and viewers thought they were going to *finally* see a kiss between Mariska Hargitay’s Capt. Olivia Benson and Chris Meloni’s Detective Elliot Stabler following a steamy promo from weeks earlier that showed the two hugging and Benson caressing Stabler’s face, seemingly leaning in for a kiss.

Fans spiraled on social media about what was to come, and the promo even caught the attention of the viral X pop culture account Pop Crave.

The day before the episode aired, Meloni visited TODAY and was grilled by co-hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, who asked the “Law & Order: Organized Crime” star to tease the episode.

“She needs to tell me something that’s very important,” Meloni said about his “SVU” guest appearance. “She’s part Eskimo? A little Eskimo kiss?”

Before his broadcast interview, Meloni confessed to TODAY.com he “popped a breath mint” before filming the scene.

He also described Benson and Stabler’s intimate moment as “interesting,” “delicate,” “difficult” and “awkward.”

“But that’s all good,” he explained, “because I think those were all elements that were part of the scene.”

The next evening, however, the scene that aired during “Blood Out” didn’t reflect what was teased in the viral promo.

Stabler, who was Benson’s longtime partner on “SVU” and abruptly left for 10 years before his big return in 2021, was in her kitchen because she asked him to pick up her son, Noah (Ryan Buggle), from outside the city and safely bring him home.

Stabler asked Benson why she didn’t call him, in reference to when she was attacked by gang members outside her home.

“Because I knew that you would try to protect me,” she answered, while nervously shuffling through her cabinets looking for sugar.

Stabler approached her, told her he cared for and finally asked her to look at him, which she did once she found the sugar.

At this point, the two were really close, and Benson leaned in like she wanted to kiss Stabler, who stopped her at the last second.

They nuzzled each other’s faces while Benson told Stabler: “I want to, but I can’t.”

This is where the video editing appears to get choppy, and as the two pull apart, it looks like they had been kissing, which wouldn’t line up with how their faces were positioned a few seconds prior.

“Why not?” Stabler asked.

“Because — what if it doesn’t work out?” Benson responded, as she pressed her forehead against his.

Cue another apparent rough edit when the camera cuts to Stabler and their foreheads no longer touch. He then asked, “And what if things work out?”

The scene concluded with Benson pulling away and telling Stabler that she’s “not ready for this.”

The hug and certain touches in the promo didn’t end up in the episode at all. It didn’t take fans long to notice those issues, and “the kitchen scene” has remained a hot topic of discussion among them to this day.

“Me when they changed the kitchen scene without telling us,” one fan posted to X with a photo of Hargitay in action.

“it’s genuinely the elliot stabler and olivia benson kitchen scene that had THE 24 YEAR LONG AWAITED KISS THAT ENDED UP DELETED AND CHOPPED UP ON THE EDITING ROOM FLOOR,” another fan shared.

Now, over a year after the episode aired, Hargitay confirmed to Variety that the scene was actually “changed at the last minute.”

“To be honest with you, Chris and I thought it should go one way and the powers that be didn’t, so it got changed at the last minute, that near kiss,” she explained in the May 1 interview. “Obviously, Dick (Wolf, the show’s creator) gets final say. It’s his show and he didn’t want that.”

Hargitay and Meloni have said they are dedicated to making scenes, especially ones involving personal moments, with their characters.

Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson and Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler
Hargitay says she and Meloni are "irrevocably locked."Virginia Sherwood / NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

In February 2022, Meloni told TODAY.com that those little touches like a handhold, for instance, between their characters are their “thing.”

“No that’s, you know, that’s our thing,” Meloni said. “There’s nobody who knows these characters better than she and I. With all due respect to the writers, whatever you see is really she and I figuring it out — figuring out what the exact words are or the exact emotions are.”

Hargitay also told us at the time that she always feels “inspired and sated” after working with Meloni.

“I always go home at the end of the day after he and I have worked together and feel so inspired and sated because we push each other, and we challenge each other, and we go to uncomfortable places. And so it’s a very exciting work environment,” she said.

Hargitay, whom Variety named as one of their 2024 Power of Women honorees, described her chemistry with Meloni to the outlet as “undeniable.”

“We want to hold the tension,” she said, “and do what’s right and truthful for both characters.”

Meloni’s “Organized Crime” has been rumored to be moving from NBC to Peacock for its next season. “SVU” and “Law & Order” have both already been officially renewed for new seasons on NBC.

When asked if Meloni could ever return to “SVU” if “OC” isn’t renewed, Hargitay said, “I don’t see why that wouldn’t happen or couldn’t happen.”

“I think that we’re sort of irrevocably locked.”

“Law & Order: SVU” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC after “Law & Order” at 8 p.m. and before “Law & Order: Organized Crime” at 10 p.m. The shows all stream the following day on Peacock, which is part of our parent company NBCUniversal.