The 30 Best 'Law and Order SVU' Episodes, Ranked by a Superfan

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There's Law & Order and then there's Law and Order: Special Victims Unit aka SVU. There's often a debate between fans of both as to which one is better, and while this is admittedly a very biased editor take, we've got to say SVU is better by a landslide. Nothing against the original Law & Order! It's been going on for almost 35 years, has had some incredible episodes, and paved the way for its successor. However, SVU is what took things up a notch. The combination of the pairing of Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni as the iconic Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler, to the contributions of Dann Florek, Richard Belzer, and Ice-T as Donald, John, and Odafin, and, of course, the compelling storylines has resulted in not only the best Law and Order SVU episodes, but also some of the best television ever. 

As long as crime is around, crime shows like Criminal Minds, Law & Order, and Law & Order: SVU will always be around as the latter specifically have and continue to pull from real life cases—similar to some true crime content. Having premiered in 1999, SVU is the longest running primetime live-action series of all time. has got 538 episodes in its catalog which makes a definitive ranking of its best almost impossible. That said, we're going to take a shot at it. Below is a roundup of the best Law & Order: SVU episodes of all time, ranked.

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Editors Warning: Due to the episodic contents of Law and Order: SVU, the episode descriptions below contain mentions of rape, incest, and other sexual crimes along with murder.

30. "Risk"

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Season 4, Episode 12

  • IMDB Rating: 8.3/10

Let's start this list of the best Law and Order SVU episodes off right. Originally airing in January 2003, "Risk" was a departure from the standard SVU cases as the Special Victims Unit team was dealing with the issue of baby formula being laced with cocaine, and a huge merry-go-round of a drug trafficking ring. With the pressure on and time ticking, tensions were flying in this episode as it was ultimately decided upon Detective Stabler going undercover to meet with a dirty cop to secure the bust. A captivating episode that once again departs from the standard SVU storylines.

29. "Merchandise"

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Season 12, Episode 4

  • IMDB Rating: 8.4/10

"Merchandise" is another great episode in the series. What started as an investigation of a malnourished teenage girl being hit and killed by a car, ultimately concluded with a full-fledged investigation into human trafficking, sex trades, and illegal labor. As it turns out, the girl had been sent by her father along with a brother to go work at a farm due to their family's financial situation, and this "farm" was actually a setup for that human trafficking, sex trades, and illegal labor we just mentioned. It was up to the SVU team to bring the organization down, and as usual, they are successful.

28. "Scavenger"

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Season 6, Episode 4

  • IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

While the general consensus at the time of SVU's premiere was that Law & Order was the series that dealt with murder crimes whereas SVU was the one that dealt with sexual abuse crimes, it didn't take very long for episodes to be rooted in the former. "Scavenger" is considered to be one of the series' best in this area as it dealt with a serial killer leaving a series of puzzles and clues across the whole of NYC. Eventually the team is able to zero in on the killer (who went by the name RDK) by locking him in a closet. An unconventional method for sure, but hey, they got it done.

27. "Choreographed"

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Season 8, Episode 1

  • IMDB Rating: 8/10

Bob Saget was the familiar face guest star in 2006's "Choreographed," who took on the role of the suave manipulating Glenn Cheales, who winds up being the prime originally unsuspected subject in the Central Park murder of a model named Danielle Masoner. There was something of a love affair going on in this episode as Danielle's husband Wesley was having an affair her friend Naomi Cheales (the wife of Glenn). Naturally, one would one suspect Wesley of being the one to commit the crime as "getting rid of his wife so that way the two could be together" would be a motive, but the killer winds up being...Glenn, who was unnaturally obsessed with Danielle. Wild.

26. "Born Psychopath"

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Season 14, Episode 19

  • IMDB Rating: 8.8/10

Some use the term "demon child," while others prefer the more politically correct "bad apple." Whatever term you use, a 10-year-old boy with psychotic tendencies in the unusual suspect here, as the SVU squad are called in to investigate the home of a young girl after she is pushed down the stairs. The brother is the one responsible for that and the other abuse going on in the home, and while he tries to lie and push the blame on others, and doesn't take long to discover the culprit is actually him.

25. "Gambler's Fallacy"

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Season 17, Episode 17

  • IMDB Rating: 8.7/10

Another spin from traditional SVU, Detective Amanda Rollins has a hard-to-control gambling addiction that has led her to a world of debt. The debt (and her inability to get the problem under control) leads to Rollins striking a deal with the managers of a gambling club, and her downward spiral is an wildly captivating one to watch with her holding folks at gunpoint and everything.

24. "Alternate"

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Season 9, Episode 1

  • IMDB Rating: 8.8/10

I specifically remember watching "Alternate" when it aired live in 2007, and it was one of those episodes that I was still thinking about the next morning when I woke up. Many avid SVU fans felt/feel the same way about this one as it dealt with the topic of Multiple Personality Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder. Cynthia Nixon was the guest star as she played the mother of a missing child whom she may or may not have killed. Nixon's performance was phenomenal and wound up garnering her a very well deserved Emmy.

23. “Ridicule”

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Season 3, Episode 10

  • IMDB Rating: 8.7/10

Taking it back to 2001, "Ridicule" was about the investigation of a young woman who just so happened to be recently accused of harassing of male stripper. At first, her death is blamed on a kinky moment gone bad, but the SVU teams uncovers that there's more to her death then meets the eye at first glance.

22. “Hooked”

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Season 6, Episode 15

  • IMDB Rating: 7.9/10

In "Hooked" the SVU team is presented with a case where an HIV-positive teenage prostitute is murdered. Her case has a lot more going on then originally expected and she was connected to a lot of folks with shady backgrounds and behaviors. Hayden Panettiere was the guest star of this episode, and she was awesome.

21. “Ritual”

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Season 5, Episode 14

  • IMDB Rating: 8.3/10

"Ritual" begins with two garbage collectors discovering what they originally is an animal sacrifice. Upon further investigation, they unfortunately realize that it's the gruesome remains of a young boy. The Special Victims Unit crew is called in to take over, and it's eventually revealed that there's been some sort of Satanic rituals taking place, to which the SVU team is met with a whole child smuggling ring going on.

20. “Theatre Tricks”

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Season 13, Episode 11

  • IMDB Rating: 8/10

Fans of Adam Driver might want to consider checking out "Theater Tricks" as he guest stars in this episode. A rather disturbing episode, the rape of young actress takes place during live theater performance. At first people aren't concerned as they think it's a part of the show, but as we soon find out, the events were not. Aside from the investigation, the episode also gives you a deeper world into the world of interactive theater, which is something that some may find interesting.

19. “Nocturne”

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Season 1, Episode 21

  • IMDB Rating: 8.6/10

First airing in 2000, "Nocturne" is another early episode that set the tone for what would later follow when it came to the cases surrounding sexual abuse. In short, a piano teacher has been abusing children while instructing them during their lessons, and the prime witness that's set to testify starts dealing with issues in relation to his past. There's a dynamic cycle of abuse that's much more complex than originally assumed once the SVU teams looks further into the matter, making this one the best early episodes of the series.

18. “Selfish”

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Season 10, Episode 19

  • IMDB Rating: 7.9/10

2009's "Selfish" saw Hilary Duff guest starring as a young mother accused of killing her child, when in reality the child was the victim of a measles outbreak (yikes). Upon realizing what the child died from specifically, Cabot makes the decision to go after the mother of the child who infected him as she refused to have him immunized. Certainly a frustrating episode to watch from start to finish, but a very well acted one.

17. "Heartfelt Passages"

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Season 17, Episode 23

  • IMDB Rating: 9/10

Corrections officer Gary Munson is really starting to feel the heat in his investigation, so he and his team decide to take things to the extreme with threatening the lives of the SVU team and Barba with death threats, and a hostile hostage situation to which Dodds and Munson are facing off in Munson's home. A solid "newer" episode to say the least, this one is up there for best Law and Order SVU episodes.

16. "Paternity"

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Season 9, Episode 9

  • IMDB Ratings: 8.7/10

"Paternity" is a whirlwind of an episode that starts with the paternity of a missing boy being questioned. The exploration leads the SVU squad to a case where a nanny was raped and murdered, and to make matters worse, Benson, Stabler's wife, and their unborn child's lives are all placed into danger upon getting into a car wreck. "Paternity" is a dramatic episode full of twists and turns.

15. Pretend

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Season 8, Episode 21

  • IMDB Rating: 8.3/10

Another episode full of dramatic twists and turns, "Pretend" deals with the extreme fighting death of a teenage boy. Within the investigation, it's discovered that a 28-year-old woman has been posing as a 16-year-old high school student (one of the elements of "pretend"), but she is not the killer. The killer is actually somebody who was very close to the victim...

14. "Girl Dishonored"

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Season 14, Episode 20

  • IMDB Rating: 8.3/10

A college fraternity is called into question in "Girl Dishonored," as the SVU investigators are handed a case that involves the rape of a sorority member. As it turns out, this isn't the only accusation against the fraternity members, but there's been a lot of covering up and victim shaming going on to prevent the truth from coming out.

13. "Townhouse Incident"

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Season 17, Episode 11

  • IMDB Rating: 8.6/10

Detective Benson finds herself in the middle of hostage situation where she's held at gunpoint after her babysitter alerts her of suspicions regarding another family she works for. Benson is in a jam that's for sure, but she's able to get herself out of it as usual.

12. Dominance

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Season 4, Episode 20

  • IMDB Rating: 8.8/10

First airing in 2003, "Dominance" starts with the killing of four people at a dinner party, and as the Special Victims Squad soon finds out, those killings are just the beginning of a series of killings take place in the area. A pre-Vampire Diaries Ian Somerhalder is a part of the cast for this episode which is something to note because if you are like us, then you're always interested in seeing the roles actors were playing prior to their big breaks.

11. "Zebras"

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Season 10, Episode 22

  • IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

"Zebras" begins with a tourist being found dead in Central Park, but there's more to the story. The victim has the word "Guilty" written across her forehead, and her baby (who's found nearby) has the word "Innocent" written on their forehead, which adds to the complexity of the case because clearly the killer is trying to send a message. Detective Stabler starts to look deeper into what's going on, which leads to his life being put in danger because he's getting a little too close for comfort.

10. "Shadow"

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Season 11, Episode 12

  • IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

An heiress is at the center of an investigation as Detective Benson and Detective Stabler believe she is the one that brutally murdered her parents. The pair also believe the young woman to have sociopathic tendencies, which could explain the potential reasonings and motives behind the murders as there are certain points within the investigation where you're almost convinced she is grieving daughter. A great episode for sure.

9. "Authority"

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Season 9, Episode 18

  • IMDB Rating: 9/10

Robin Williams was the guest star in the 2008 episode "Authority," and he was brilliant as usual. In it, Williams plays a man who's been found not guilty of impersonation along with other crimes, and uses that to his advantage as he becomes something of an advocate in trying to lead people to life of crime and defying authorities. Not your typical SVU episode, but still a great one. Of course the great Robin Williams would appear in one of the best Law and Order SVU episodes ever.

8. "Conscience"

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Season 6, Episode 6

  • IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

In "Conscience," a young boy named Jake O'Hara murders another young boy who wanders away from a party, and it doesn't take long to discover from a deep dive into his life that Jake is a sociopath with no awareness or remorse for, well, anything. Things take an unexpected turn, however, when Jake's father kills him after coming to the realization that he is indeed a sociopath which leads to the question of whether he killed him because he snapped, or because he knew Jake would continue his disturbing patterns.

7. "Raw"

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Season 7, Episode 6

  • IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

"Raw" was an intense and very emotional episode as it focused a terrible school shooting attack that winds up being tied back to a Neo-Nazi group. Marcia Gay Harden guest starred in the episode as an undercover Investigator, for which earned her an Emmy nomination.

6. "Ballerina"

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Season 10, Episode 16

  • IMDB Rating: 8.5/10

Fans of Matthew Lillard might want to check out the episode "Ballerina"as Lillard was the special guest in this one. "Ballerina" is a rather odd episode that starts with a murder suspect being thrown out the window to his death, and ends with a closer look into their family dynamics which is...interesting to say the least.

5. "American Tragedy"

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Season 15, Episode 3

  • IMDB Rating: 7.7/10

"American Tragedy" focuses on a celebrity chef that shoots and kills a young Black teenager under the claim of self defense and insinuating that the Boy was a serial rapist. It's left up to the SVU team to decide rather she had a justified reason for killing the boy, or shot him for no apparent reason at all.

4. "Undercover"

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Season 9, Episode 15:

  • IMDB Rating: 9/10

In what remains one of SVU's best episodes, Detective Benson risks her life for an undercover prison mission after a teenage girl is found raped in a garden. The girl tells Benson that a corrections officer is the one responsible for the crime, which is what leads Benson to going undercover in the first place. It's a risky move, but one that Detective Benson is able to pull off because she is, well, Detective Benson.

3. "Revenge"

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Season 20, Episode 4

  • IMDB Rating: 8.2/10

What appears to be a singular break in assault winds up being much more as it leads to a series of regular assaults that are increasingly more violent with each attack, which leads the SVU squad to being pressed for time as they try to capture the person behind the attacks.

2. "Surrender Benson"

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Season 15, Episode 1

  • IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

The Special Victims Unit crew is on another time-racing mission, this time for one of their own as a serial rapist and killer by the name of William Lewis abducts Detective Benson from her home and proceeds to hold her captive and torture her in his Long Island home. The SVU team is left with very little pieces to work with as they frantically search for her before it's too late. This definitely ranks as one of the best Law and Order SVU episodes ever aired.

1. "911"

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Season 7, Episode 3

  • IMDB Rating: 9.3/10

And the best of the Law and Order SVU episodes is... "911," aka the episode that won Mariska Hargitay an Emmy. The episode starts with Detective Benson receiving a call from a little girl telling her that she's all alone and trapped in a room. Everyone around Benson thinks the call is fake but upon further investigation, Benson discovers the child is actually a victim of much bigger criminal activities at hand.

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