I think sex should be one of the best parts of life, not the worst.
~ Stabler on why he protects victims of sex crimes

Detective Elliot "El" Stabler was one of the protagonists of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and the main protagonist of Law & Order: Organized Crime.

He is portrayed by Christopher Meloni.

Early life

Stabler was born on October 20, 1966. He came from an Irish American Catholic family with three brothers and two sisters and went to Catholic school Sisters of Mercy School. He was a devout Catholic whose faith sometimes complicates the cases he works on.

His father, Joseph Stabler, was also a police officer. He lost his job and his pension when he refused to testify about fellow police officers.

Stabler had a difficult relationship with his parents; his father physically and emotionally abused him, while his mother Bernadette Stabler suffered from bipolar disorder and once nearly killed him during a manic phase. As a result, he has "erased his childhood" and maintains little contact with his mother.

After he left the Marines, Stabler attended Queens College where he earned his B.A.

He served in the United States Marine Corps and has a USMC tattoo of an eagle, globe, and anchor on his forearm. He also did a tour in OP Desert Storm.

In SVU

Stabler is partnered with Detective Olivia Benson. They have an extremely close, brother and sister-like relationship, and have more than once chosen each other over their duty to their jobs. They are briefly separated when Benson goes on an undercover assignment, and Stabler is partnered with Detective Dani Beck, with whom he shares a unconsummated sexual attraction. Beck ultimately transfers out of SVU when she decides she cannot live with seeing children being abused, and Benson becomes Stabler's partner again.

Stabler is married to his high school sweetheart, Kathy, with whom he has five children. His job nearly costs him his family when Kathy leaves him, having grown tired of his anger and emotional distance, both occupational hazards of dealing with horrendous crimes every day. They are estranged for two years and nearly get a divorce, but ultimately reconcile after Kathy gets pregnant with their fifth child.

Of his children, he has the most trouble with his daughter Kathleen, who acts out against her parents in ways such as stealing Stabler's credit card, having sex with multiple boys from her high school, and getting into a drunk driving accident. Stabler eventually learns that Kathleen's behavior is the result of undiagnosed bipolar disorder, which she inherited from her grandmother, and helps her get counseling.

In the 12th season finale, "Smoked", Stabler is forced to shoot and kill a teenaged girl after she opens fire on her mother's murderers in the middle of the SVU squad room, inadvertently killing a nun in the process. As this is his sixth career "good shooting", the NYPD tries to force him to undergo counseling, anger management, and other administrative "hoops" in order to keep his job; he instead tells them "to go to hell", and retires.

He will return in the 13-episode spin-off series Law & Order: Organized Crime where he returns to the NYPD to battle Organized Crime after a devastating personal loss. He will reunite with his former partner, Olivia Benson, and will apologised for leaving the squad without saying goodbye. He will also return in the twenty-second season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in the episode "Return of the Prodigal Son".

Personality

Stabler often mentions his family, particularly his children, sometimes as a way to gain trust with the victims. He is protective of his children and becomes defensive if a suspect asks about his family. Stabler once revealed that he helped deliver all of his children to that point, and he sees aspects of them in every child molestation victim. As a result, he has an intense hatred of pedophiles, once admitting to a police psychiatrist that he sometimes fantasizes about killing them; he almost loses his job as a result. Stabler finds it particularly disturbing when he sees aspects of himself in a child abuser; in one instance, an abusive parent reminds him of a time he lost his temper and slapped his then-toddler daughter Maureen. While he restrained himself from hurting her further, he was frightened by his loss of control.

As a result of his turbulent upbringing and the horrors he sees at his job, Stabler harbors a great deal of anger that sometimes explodes. He has physically harmed suspects to elicit confessions, sometimes getting dangerously close to excessive force; in one case, he forces a serial killer who suffers from emphysema to reveal the location of his victims' bodies by cutting off his oxygen supply.

Stabler often connects with child victims on a fatherly basis, and has been very willing to use physical force to apprehend a suspect that he believes to have harmed a child. In turn, many victims tend to respond to him very warmly. For example, Stabler successfully reaches out to a 15-year old girl who had regressed to a childlike state after being sexually assaulted by her father.

Return

In 2021, after spending ten years working and living in Rome, Stabler returned to New York where Kathy died of her injuries after being caught in a car bomb meant for Elliot. Elliot was reunited with SVU as they investigated the case, but they were ultimately taken off of it. Benson provided Stabler with all of the information and evidence she had on the case and Stabler, who hadn't come back for her awards ceremony, provided his old partner with the speech he had planned to give. Stabler successfully fought to be allowed to join the new Organized Crime taskforce that was being formed and survived another attempted assassination.


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