Christopher Meloni has returned to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, bringing his character of Elliot Stabler back to reunite with Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) after nearly a decade of being apart. Stabler and Benson worked together for 12 seasons, taking on some of New York’s most heinous sexually-based crimes. Then Meloni abruptly left the police procedural, leaving Hargitay as the series’ sole star.

NBC shared a clip of Stabler’s emotional reconciliation with Benson, where the two hash out their feelings about Stabler’s departure. Watch the moving scene below:

This scene feels so genuine because in a way, both Meloni and Hargitay are having the same heart-to-heart their characters are. Meloni’s initial absence from the show was due to contract renegotiations falling through. Hargitay carried the brunt of Law & Order: SVU’s plot on her character’s shoulders, without her partner-in-crime to play off of. Getting to share the screen with each other after so much time apart must have been sentimental for the actors.

After Meloni left the show, he stayed in touch with Hargitay. Their off-screen friendship gave fans hope that Meloni would return someday. Law & Order: SVU was also smart to write Meloni out of the show in a way that gave him the option of returning. Upon his homecoming, Stabler revealed that he had been based in Europe for the past several years. He didn’t tell Benson beforehand because their goodbye would have been too painful.

This scene was a big moment for fans of the show, who have been waiting for such a moment for years. Sadly, Stabler’s return comes at a tense time in the series — Stabler’s wife Kathy has just died in a car bombing that was actually meant for Stabler. It’s a difficult time for Stabler, but it’s imperative for him to patch things up with his fellow detective. There’s a lot more that Stabler and Benson need to discuss, but this feels like a good start.

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