Best Law & Order Episodes, Ranked By IMDb

Law & Order: Detective Ed Green, DA Jack McCoy, and Attorney James Smith

For over three decades, the Law & Order franchise has dominated prime-time television. Dick Wolf’s original Law & Order started in 1990. Although one of its spin-offs, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, outlived and surpassed the original series, Law & Order has made a comeback.

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The original series ran for 20 seasons from 1990 to 2010. Over a decade later, in 2022, Law & Order returned to the small screen. Now in its 22nd season, the show has proven that it can endure the tests of time. Even in a show so massive, there are still some episodes that are considered top dog. IMDb has a list of every episode ranked by overall rating.



10 American Dream (Rated 8.4)

Season 4, Episode 8

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In 1993, American Dream aired. This episode told the story of skeletal remains uncovered on Roosevelt Island, which led to reopening an old investigation. ADA Ben Stone won a case that put Phillip Swann behind bars for murder. During the initial trial, the victim’s body had never been found, but Stone had a testimony from someone who claimed he helped bury the body in New Jersey.

When the remains surfaced on Roosevelt Island, it called the original trial into question. Swann, who was serving his sentence, represented himself in his appeal case. This episode was one of many Law & Order episodes that shined light through the holes in the justice system, making it an engaging watch.

9 Refuge: Part 1 (Rated 8.5)

Season 9, Episode 23

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Sam Waterston as Jack McCoy in Law & Order.

Refuge: Part 1 is the first half of a two-part season 9 finale. Like many episodes of the infamous crime-fighting show, this episode dealt with a sensitive subject. When a Russian man is murdered, the investigation uncovers that his death ties in directly with the Russian mob. Most of the witnesses are compromised or otherwise unreliable.

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This creates a domino effect, because the only solid witness that they do have is a young boy too afraid to say anything, let alone testify. The episode also brings up the seriousness of violating civil rights because many of the witnesses must be detained to safely continue the investigation. This episode showed how messy the law can be, and how getting an answer to a crime may create even more crimes in the process.

8 Identity (Rated 8.5)

Season 14, Episode 6

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Law & Order cast in interrogation room

After depositing $400,000 into his bank account, a man’s gunned down. The investigation reveals that the victim had been entangled in some elaborate identity theft operations that targeted elderly individuals. One of his victims, the man believed responsible for his murder, lost his home and everything he had.

Identity hit home for a lot of viewers for many different reasons. The most obvious, of course, being the very real fear of identity theft. It can happen to anyone and these days, it’s easier than it’s even been. It also struck a cord with the elderly abuse displayed and how cruel it is to take advantage of someone who can’t fight back. It made viewers question how far they would go if they found themselves in a similar situation.

7 Rubber Room (Rated 8.6)

Season 20, Episode 23

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Law & Order: Rubber Room - jeremy sisto & anthony anderson

Until Law & Order returned in 2022 with season 21, Rubber Room was the final episode of the entire series. To this day, it’s still considered one of the best episodes the show has ever put forward, and for good reason. Rubber Room tells the story of Detective Lupo and junior detective Bernard as they attempt to hunt down a student threatening to bomb a school online.

As they track down the kid before he can follow throw with his plans, they eventually discover that it’s not a student at all, but a teacher. Not only did this episode play on every parent’s worst fear of a teacher harming their children when they aren’t around, it also brought the very real issue of school bombings and shootings to the small screen in an uncomfortably realistic way.

6 Refuge: Part 2 (Rated 8.6)

Season 9, Episode 24

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Law & Order: Refuge Part 2 - Two detectives meet up with first responders

Naturally, since the first half of this two-parter was so highly rated, Refuge: Part 2 was also praised by fans. This episode continued the story of D.A Jack McCoy going after the Russian mafia after the death of a Russian man. This episode ups the ante when the mafia sends hitmen after the remaining witnesses to wipe them out.

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The witnesses the mafia wants dead aren’t the only ones in danger, however. A bomb scare targeting the police precinct forces McCoy to deviate from his orders and pushes him to take his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. While Law & Order has always been a high stakes series that focuses on realistic crime, the stories never usually get quite this massive, and fans loved it.

5 Bodies (Rated 8.6)

Season 14, Episode 1

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Law & Order: Bodies - close up of Serena Southerlyn

Bodies, the Season 14 premier, focused on the bread and butter of any good crime-fighting drama: a serial killer. Needless to say, most episodes are about crimes that happen far more frequently. Serial killers, in comparison, are relatively rare. That’s what makes episodes like Bodies so exciting, though.

After discovering the body of a teenage girl, the detectives’ investigation uncovers the tracks of a serial killer. Although a suspect is detained and brought in for questioning, the killer refuses to cooperate, keeping the identities and locations of the bodies a secret.

4 Couples (Rated 8.7)

Season 13, Episode 23

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Law & Order - Detective Ed Green pointing past his coworker

Even in a city that never sleeps, like New York, there’s a limit to how much crime one set of detectives will come across in a single day. Couples, however, takes viewers on a wild ride as Detective Green and Detective Briscoe uncover three murders (one of which somehow connects to a 10 years old murder case) and a kidnapping in the span of 24 hours.

As the detectives investigate the odd string of crime, they connect each one to a domestic dispute that ended in tragedy. This sort of storyline pops up relatively often on Law & Order, because domestic violence and other forms of issues within close relationships are often the most common form of crime.

3 Invaders (Rated 8.8)

Season 16, Episode 22

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Law & Order: Jack McCoy standing in a court room

In the season 16 finale, Invaders, A.D.A. Borgia dies. Alexandra Borgia appeared in 34 episodes of Law & Order between 2002 and 2006, making her a relatively important character. Despite the dangerous jobs depicted in this show, major deaths didn’t happen often, so Borgia being killed off meant that the episode would likely go above and beyond to avenge her.

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Jack McCoy turns to Ritchie Coster, a crooked DEA agent, to help him lure Borgia’s killers out of hiding. Needless to say, what McCoy ends up doing doesn’t just put his career on the line, because he’s throwing the law out the window to bring Borgia’s killers to justice.

2 Pro Se (Rated 8.8)

Season 6, Episode 21

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Law & Order - Denis O'Hare appears as James Smith in the episode

Pro Se handles a very delicate matter by pulling focus to mental illness and what might happen when someone who desperately needs medication doesn’t take it. This episode is also easily recognizable due to guest starring True Blood and American Horror Story’s Denis O’Hare as James Smith, an attorney with schizophrenia who refuses to take his medication.

This episode tells the story of Smith defending himself against multiple murder allegations. As the trial goes on, it’s revealed that ADA Claire Kincaid made a plea bargain with Smith in the past, which leads the families of the deceased to blame her for what’s happened to them.

1 Aftershock (Rated 9.1)

Season 6, Episode 23

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Aftershock was the season 6 finale and perhaps one of the more unique episodes offered by the franchise. In this episode, Briscoe, Curtis, McCoy and Kincaid witness the execution of an inmate that they helped put behind bars.

This episode explores how each of them copes with the reality that although the inmate was a criminal, they all aided in the death of another human being. This episode brought up many questions about the justice system, what proper punishments actually are, and what is considered inhumane.

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