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Stabler and Benson investigate the murder and castration of a New York cab driver. They discover that the victim had assumed the identity of another man because he himself was wanted by police.


Jean de Segonzac


Dick Wolf (created by), Dick Wolf




Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Christopher Meloni ... Elliot Stabler (as Chris Meloni)
Mariska Hargitay ... Olivia Benson
Richard Belzer ... John Munch
Dann Florek ... Donald Cragen
Gordana Rashovich Gordana Rashovich ... Anya Rugova
Dean Winters ... Brian Cassidy
Michelle Hurd ... Monique Jeffries
Isabel Gillies ... Kathy Stabler
Elizabeth Ashley ... Serena Benson
Ned Eisenberg ... Jerry Kleinert
Tina Benko ... Mrs. Panacek
Ronald Guttman ... Gallery Owner
Mark Zimmerman Mark Zimmerman ... Mr. Dupree
Angie Harmon ... Abbie Carmichael
Mili Avital ... Marta Stevens


Two detectives from the NYPD's Special Victims Unit, Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler, investigate the stabbing and castration of a cab driver, only to learn that the victim had purchased a phony hack license from an inmate (Matt Skollar) at Rikers Island. Further investigation reveals that the dead man was a Serbian soldier named Stefan Tanzic, who had been indicted on charges of ethnic cleansing. Herself a child of rape, Benson has trouble separating herself from the case after realizing that the victim was a rapist. Stabler tries to keep her from crossing the line in her attempts to protect suspects whom she feels were justified in their actions.

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


TV-14 | See all certifications »






Release Date:

20 September 1999 (USA) See more »

Filming Locations:

New York City, New York, USA

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


When Detective Stabler is on the witness stand testifying in the "flasher" case the defendants lawyer was trying to make Stabler out to be a prude who didn't approve of "non-traditional" sexual behavior. Which leads him to ask Stabler if he is "the Ken Starr of the NYPD." Ken Starr is an American lawyer who served as a U.S. Circuit Court judge and also a federal U.S. Appellate Court judge and also served as the U.S. Solicitor General during the Bush (senior) administration. He is best known for leading the independent investigation into the misconduct of President Bill Clinton, specifically the president committing perjury when he lied under oath about being in a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He is the author of the infamous and controversial Starr Report, which detailed his investigation into the presidents alleged sexual harassment of interns in the White House. The report's accuracy and validity has been called into question because it seemed to focus more on the type of sexual acts the President did with Ms. Lewinsky than on any improper conduct he had with other interns in the White House. Many people accused Starr of using the investigation and his report to further his own political agenda, specifically his belief that sex should be just for procreation and nothing else. He even leaked lurid sexual details about the President and Ms. Lewinsky to the media while he was still compiling the report, details that were later proven to be untrue. Starr was charged for violating legal ethics by presenting information irrelevant to an investigation as evidence of legal wrongdoing by the President. None of the investigations into the President's conduct revealed any additional legal wrongdoing, other than the President's perjury. Even Starr's report didn't uncover any unlawful activity. See more »


While Munch is talking about Baltimore with Cragen and Cassidy, the camera shows Cragen. There is a shadow (of Stabler) on the door behind him as if he had just walked in. A few seconds later, Stabler walks in the room again, this time much farther back behind Cragen. See more »


Gallery Owner: My wife's bisexual, but she prefers women.
Detective Elliot Stabler: Oh, lucky for her.
See more »


Featured in SVU: The Beginning (2003) See more »

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User Reviews

Death and retribution
12 July 2019 | by TheLittleSongbirdSee all my reviews

Am a fan of the original 'Law and Order', especially the early Briscoe years, and also watch 'Special Victims Unit' and 'Criminal Intent' regularly. Will admit about being hard on the former years back, feeling that it started off brilliantly but jumped the shark. Although the early seasons in my mind are definitely better when there was a much better balance of case, trial, moral issues and personal lives, that's part of my opinion that has not changed, this show has grown on me over-time.

Cannot believe that "Payback" was the first episode of 'Law and Order: Special Victims Unit'. It honestly feels like a "show hit its stride and in its prime" episode and could easily pass for one, with so much so well established and its different aspects expertly balanced with nothing coming over as questionable. To this day, to me it is one of the show's finest episodes, of its prime years and overall. Everything here just works.

"Payback" to this day is one of 'Law and Order: Special Victims Unit's' most harrowing, most uncomfortable to watch episodes. Not just the grisly case, that the victim is one of the show's nastiest (a reprehensible piece of work indeed) and that one in a way feels sorry for the killer despite not condoning their actions. Also because of the moral issues it raises, in a way that's not heavy-handed and done sensitively, and providing a character that is already remarkably richly drawn in Olivia Benson (one of the show's crowning achievement even when past prime).

It is a complex, disturbing case without feeliing over-stuffed or convoluted, and the personal lives of the team succeeds in making them interesting and it is an aspect that doesn't take over too much or feel too soap-operatic. The writing is taut and thought-provoking, while the direction is wholly competent while with enough personality and style.

Visually, "Payback" is slick and matches the gritty yet layered tone perfectly. The locations are great and made good use of. The music is only used when necessary and when it is used it does stick in the mind and not done so ham-handedly, difficult to forget the main theme too or the opening voice over. The acting is very strong here, excellent in the case of Mariska Hargitay in particular.

Overall, brilliant start that doesn't feel like a debut episode at all. 10/10

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