By Lynette Rice
April 01, 2021 at 10:20 PM EDT
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Warning: This article contains spoilers about Thursday's episode of Law & Order: SVU.

"You are the most important person in my life and you just disappeared."

That was Olivia Benson talking, right before the start of the MOST IMPORTANT CROSSOVER EPISODE EVER of Special Victims Unit on NBC. TV's most painful breakup came to a blissful end on Thursday, as Christopher Meloni, as Elliot Stabler, reunited with his beloved partner on the streets of New York.

Things got right down to business. Benson (Mariska Hargitay), who was supposed to be accepting an award somewhere, is diverted to a car bomb explosion that severely injured a long-lost friend — Kathy, Stabler's wife. That's when Benson hears a blast from the past; it's Stabler, who's in town as NYPD's "man in Rome."

"He tried to kill her," Stabler blurts out. Who he who? No hugs and kisses are exchanged — that may be asking too much of Stabler and Benson right now — but Stabler has some explaining to do.

Where have you been for the last 10 years, detective?

A brief recap: The last time we saw Stabler was at the end of season 12 when he fatally shot a young woman who was avenging her mother's murder. (It was revealed in the season 13 premiere that Stabler had responded by retiring.) Off-camera, word circulated that salary negotiations went south, prompting Meloni to unexpectedly quit after the finale. Raise or no raise (he turned down an $8-9 million payday), the actor has frequently maintained that he holds no ill will toward the show or creator Dick Wolf.

To help explain his absence, Stabler explains in Thursday's episode that he had a "walkabout" for a few years before working in private security in Europe. He then joined a terrorism task force, which led to him becoming a liaison to the NYPD who specializes in sex trafficking and organized crime.  

"I meant to give you a call we were coming," Stabler admits to Benson, though she's not in the mood for faux apologies.

"Are you sorry for leaving? Are you sorry for walking, for not giving me the courtesy of telling me?" Benson responds. "You were the single most important person in my life and you just disappeared."

"If I heard your voice, I wouldn't have been able to leave," explains Stabler. But he's not going to stick around for long: he's got mobsters to catch in Organized Crime. And he's already found his first case: finding the wise guy who may have planted the bomb that was meant for Stabler but killed Kathy, instead.

Benson has to stand down, though: it's no longer her case. Cue: Organized Crime!

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