Law & Order: Best Standalone Episodes, Ranked


Law & Order premiered in 1990 and would go on to spawn one of the most enduring television franchises of all time. The ensuing franchise would go on to smash records with ease and become an institution on network television. Series creator Dick Wolf has made himself and his series household names, and if one thing is certain, it’s that a Dick Wolf series will always be airing on TV.

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With the soaring popularity of the spinoff Law & Order: Special Victims Unitand the hiatus of the original series before reviving in 2022, it can be easy to forget the charm of the original Law & Order series. However, each spinoff offers plenty of amazing episodes.



10 Blaze – Season 14, Episode 5

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“Blaze” follows an investigation into a deadly blaze at a club that leaves several dead, including a member of the band performing there. Detectives Briscoe and Green are tasked with investigating if the fire was intentional and, if so, who is at fault.

“Blaze” is a great, cookie-cutter example of the highly successful Law & Order series formula. In this formula, fans are guaranteed to find surprising twists and hidden layers behind every seemingly upfront case. When a fan may become certain about a case theory, a new piece of information appears, and the theory must be reorganized. “Blaze” makes viewers think alongside the detectives and is great dramatic television.

9 Compassion – Season 14, Episode 9

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“Compassion” sees Detectives Briscoe and Green investigate the poisoning death of a con man who pretended he could communicate with the deceased to con grieving people. The detectives must investigate the con man’s lengthy list of victims to find out whodunit. Even when the detectives uncover the killer, a quandary ensues because sometimes the killer isn’t always a villain.

“Compassion” demonstrates one of Law & Order‘s signature themes, in which morality and justice don’t exactly line up in the end. In “Compassion,” the defendant is incredibly sympathetic and has fans reeling over her fate during the trial.

8 Payback – Season 14, Episode 12

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“Payback” sees Law & Order take on an intriguing mob story when a hitman starts taking out enemies of a former mob boss who is trying to get back in the game after being released from jail. Mob stories are a classic for Law & Order due to the series being set in the endless streets of New York City. A part of the mastery of the series is that they find new ways to explore the same topic and hold viewer interest.

“Payback” blends the action-packed investigation element of the show seamlessly with cerebral undertones that engross viewers in the story and create a perfectly blended hour of TV.

7 Illegitimate – Season 19, Episode 12

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“Illegitimate” proves that Law & Order isn’t afraid to get a little bit bizarre with its cases in order to create an entertaining episode. This irreverent episode follows Detectives Lupo and Bernard investigating a winding conspiracy that traces back to one man with an odd motivation for his actions that have left a trail of bodies behind him.

“Illegitimate” is a product of a confident and established Law & Order. 19 seasons in, the show developed such a monumental fanbase of devoted viewers. So they were emboldened to be weird in their plotlines, and it paid off with an episode so twisty that it’s hard to look away from this bizarre yet entertaining episode.

6 Bitch – Season 13, Episode 15

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“Bitch” is a classically formatted Law & Order episode with a legal twist at the end that poses interesting questions that the viewer will be mulling over long after the episode concludes. In “Bitch”, Detectives Briscoe and Green’s investigation into the death of a stockbroker leads them to a twisted love triangle and allegations of business wrongdoings.

This episode sees the detectives navigating the high-octane NYC business world, which is full of secrets, and deals are done in the dark. This secretive structure is rife with people hiding secrets behind lives of luxury. This continues well into the trial of the accused as the suspect hides behind a defense that has everyone reeling.

5 Called Home – Season 18, Episode 1

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“Called Home” is the first episode of the 18th season of Law & Order and introduces the character of Detective Cyrus Lupo, played by Jeremy Sisto, who would be a main character for the remaining seasons of the show’s original run. It was a shocking episode for many reasons because Lupo joins the team through the circumstance of his brother being the case’s murder victim.

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This episode turns the show’s format upside down and inside out. The viewer can’t peel their eyes away for a moment, or they’ll miss a plot twist or secret reveal. The story does incorporate a classic Law & Order ripped from the headlines’ topic, but even that is delivered in a whole new way.

4 Genius – Season 13, Episode 17

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“Genius” is an aptly titled demonstration of the genius of Law & Order. Detectives Briscoe and Green investigate the murder of a cab driver, which leads them into the highbrow world of literature and the eclectic minds who may have devolved into murder.

This Law & Order episodedelves into another community and engrosses the reader with genius suspects regarded as titans of the literary world. Their gargantuan reputations make them very interesting suspects, and when the killer is unmasked, a very interesting defendant is determined to make his trial a bestseller.

3 Everybody Loves Raimondo’s – Season 14, Episode 20

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“Everybody Loves Raimondo’s” centers around a double homicide at an NYC restaurant with star-studded clientele, including mobsters, Hollywood celebrities, and politicians. The hunt for the killer takes Detectives Briscoe and Green through the worlds of all these patrons, and it’s one hell of a ride.

“Everybody Loves Raimondo’s” is a demonstration of Law & Order’s not only brilliant storytelling but also the series’ skill at character writing. Even the minor characters feel like important parts of the story and contribute something vital to make this episode’s case come to life. This story feels like a celebration of what makes Law & Order great.

2 Betrayal – Season 18, Episode 11

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“Betrayal” is a dark thriller of a Law & Order episode almost entirely set in the dark corners of people’s minds where hidden desires reside. Detectives Lupo and Green investigate the murder of a therapist who worked with troubled teens and may have had a sinister relationship with one such patient that got him killed.

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This episode is an investigation into the twisted victim and the nature of his relationships, and it doesn’t stop when a suspect is arrested. There is constant questioning of the facts and what’s real and what’s not. It makes for an episode that’s so entertaining it’s borderline addictive, and nobody can guess the episode’s final twist.

1 The Drowned And The Saved – Season 19, Episode 22

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“The Drowned and The Saved” is the finale of season 19 and perfectly combines a multitude of elements to create the perfect Law & Order episode. Detectives Lupo and Bernard investigate a murder case involving blackmail, sex, politics, and drama that are blended into a thrilling episode.

This episode is the perfect Law & Order episode because the investigators and the attorneys break out of their assigned roles and participate in the story in a more human sense. When D.A. Jack McCoy’s career is threatened due to the political implications of the case; we see a raw edge in him and his coworkers that ratchets the episode’s tension up and gets everyone on edge. This episode shakes the heavily established foundation that the series is based on and shows that the heroes are human and just as vulnerable as the victims and killers themselves.

NEXT: 10 Shocking Law & Order SVU Episodes Inspired By Real Events


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