The Saddest Moments on Television

Category: , , , , By Rev/Views

I'm feeling somewhat melancholic as of late for personal reasons which I won't go into here. But it has left me thinking about the way television has the ability to not only lift the viewer up to the heights of adrenaline or joy but it can also take the watcher on a journey down to the depths of great sorrow. Which is a mark of a truly great show; if it can not only manage to make you laugh, rant, speculate and gasp; but it can also bring you to the point of genuine sadness over the events portrayed in a completely fictional environment.

This list is a tribute to the shows and episodes which elicited frank and open feelings of sorrow, sadness or even despair from me when I watched them. Shows which touched me in ways which most shows fail to do so (as I'm a calloused, jaded and heartless individual with no soul.)

Be warned, the following contains major spoilers for several television shows because it's normally the HUGE reality changing moments which elicit such a response from me. Check the labels at the top of the post to be aware of what shows are going to be spoilered here.

You've been warned.

"Jurassic Bark", "Luck of the Fryish", "Bender's Big Score", "Time Keeps Slipping" and "The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings"

Futurama is an unusual comedy cartoon show in that it consistently shows the ability to portray exceptionally strong and emotionally moving moments and episodes. All of these tend to revolve around Fry, who's a character completely in touch with his emotions, even if his childishness and stupidity often make you forget just how deep his character can run. Jurassic Bark and Luck of the Fryish are the two strongest tearjerkers from the above list - both of which deal with understanding just what Fry has lost when he went to the future. While he may have cheered during the pilot episode when he voiced the thought "My friends, my family, I'll never see any of them again. Yahoo!" these later episodes reveal just how much he lost to both the viewer and Fry himself. While Jurassic Bark has lost a little of it's punch now that Bender's Big Score retconned the events, Luck of the Fryish remains as potent as ever.

The other kind of emotional moments involve Fry's yearning for Leela; he's a faulty, broken down individual in so many ways, but many episodes reveal hidden depths to Fry with astonishing results. In Time Keeps Slipping we see just how much he cares for Leela (also echoed in other episodes) and in The Devil's Hands (plus it's companion episode Parasites Lost) we get to see the potential of Fry if he wasn't so crippled by (frankly) poor and incestuous genetics.

Finally there's Bender's Big Score, which is an intensely enjoyable romp filled with fun that suddenly drags the carpet out from under your feet with a massive and touching revelation at the end of the film regarding one character in it. We learn that Lars, a man Leela has fallen for completely, is in fact a paradoxical clone of Fry - we get to see that given time, loss, yearning and wisdom that Fry is the man Leela wants - or at least he could be, but this is only revealed after Lars' death and that makes it all the more potent.

The Wire
"Final Grades"

Of all the gut punching moments in The Wire, of which there are many, it's the events of the season four closer which hit me hardest. Over the previous seasons I'd come to love and enjoy the show, I'd seen many characters pass in a range of terrible and heart aching situations but the one which actually made me reel was the death of Bodie Broadus in the final episode of the stunning fourth season. He's shot twice in the head by O-Dog because he was seen with McNulty and (incorrectly) suspected of being a snitch.

While Bodie's death is surprising, coming at a point where he seems at his strongest - proclaiming how no-one will run him off his corner before being blindsided and killed - it's more the surprise how much it made me reel which makes it such a sad moment. I'd come to take Bodie for granted, I thought he was always going to be around as one 'smart ass pawn' (to quote the man himself), watching the world and spitting through his teeth until the show ended. I just didn't see it coming, but what I also didn't see coming was the sorrow and loss I felt over his senseless death. Bodie's a drug dealer, a man who killed one of his best friends (Wallace), a thug and a gangster to the core. But he'd completely endeared himself to me, he'd become a rounded and understandable individual - he was a human being to me, not a one dimensional villain. It was the shock over the sorrow I felt about his killing which brought it completely home.

And then we get to see how hard McNulty his hit over this, and it hurts all over again.

Life Everlasting (aka Homicide: the Movie)

Life Everlasting is a melancholic swan song for a magnificent series (which spawned two of the other shows on this list almost directly) filled with sad moments, because you can't expect a show like Homicide to end on an upbeat moment.

There are many to choose from, but the one which haunts me is Tim Bayliss' confession to Frank Pembleton on the rooftop of the police station. Two men, two characters I came to love completely - just talking honestly with each other. But then Bayliss begins to confess to murder, a murder you always knew he committed but hoped he didn't, and you sit there watching Frank break down. Torn between his love for his ex-partner Bayliss, a man who he coached throughout the series (until Frank retired) and watched grow up into a capable and excellent cop. Torn between that and his unbending sense of duty to the law (mixed with Bayliss's request to be turned in). He's left in an impossible situation, but there can be only one solution.

And as such, the name of the man Bayliss murdered - one Ryland - goes from Blue to black, indicating that the case was solved but leaving the man's final fate unresolved.

The Shield
"Postpartum" and "Family Meeting"

The final episodes of the fifth and seventh seasons of The Shield are by far and away the most significant ones. They're also the ones with the hardest hitting punches for the viewer. The fifth season builds up towards it's final episode by having Lieutenant Kavanaugh hounding the least deserving member of the Strike Team, harrying Lem to the point of destroying his career before realising what he's done in his mindless pursuit of Vic Mackey.

Lem is forced to go on the lam, but in a final act of indignity for us we see him head out to meet up with the other members of the Strike Team, but to end up meeting with just Shane. Shane, a man who's got more to loose than anyone (other than Vic), a man with a young family, a man who's desperate. A man who Lem considers to be one of his closest friends, the very man who got Lem into trouble with Kavanaugh in the first place (Lem illegally confiscated drugs from a dealer to gain leverage in order to save Shane in the previous season). He heads over and hands Lem a sandwich before dropping in a live grenade which he palmed earlier.

There's a horrible moment as he walks away, a moment where you realise that this is entirely premeditated murder and then there's an explosion and Shane's running back. And then it hits you, you realise that Lem has lived just long enough to see Shane break down over what he's done. Lem died knowing who killing him.

As if that wasn't hard enough to watch, we then get to see Vic break down over Lem's murder and the entire Farmington district stand around in shock over it.

But if that wasn't enough, Family Meeting manages to top it - both in the betrayal stakes and the emotional ones. Family Meeting performs the amazing trick of taking Shane, a monster who killed my favourite member of the Strike Team, a redneck, racist goofball who's been nothing but trouble - taking him and turning him into a credible human being who you actually feel sorry for. When he calls out those fateful words "Family Meeting", there's a terrible realisation of what he's going to do - which is made even worse by what happens when Claudette finds him. Shane shoots himself and then you realise the full picture, he's gone so far down the rabbit hole that he saw no light at the end of the tunnel other than murdering his pregnant wife, young boy and then killing himself. Vic manages to kill Shane without even firing a shot, he quite literally talks Shane into this.

This is also in the episode where Vic shows his true colours, betraying his last surviving friend - Ronnie Gardocki - in an attempt to protect his wife and children. Protection they don't need because they're already distancing themselves from him. So Vic ends up destroying everything around him that he cared about. In the end, the cheese stands alone.

Six Feet Under
"Everybody's Waiting"

I've saved the best for last. The series finale for Six Feet Under was an absolute tour de force which just swept along with power and potency. While it wasn't surprising that Six Feet Under - a show which understood just how to portray emotions - managed to pull off an accomplished ending, it's the closing montague which just completely blew me away.

It was so completely unexpected, so final, so simultaneously filled with hope, joy, sorrow and loss, that it just caught me by surprise. While I should have expected a show about death to end with the deaths of every single character in the show, I wasn't prepared for the finality and completeness of it all. The way the show gave us each character's final moments and date of death was so poignant because it not only wrapped the end of the show in the way the show carried itself - demonstrating how everyones journey must come to the same eventual end, even if the circumstances and time varied. But it also hinted at the lives lived by these characters before their deaths, many of them lived for many years after the "end" of the story; dying of old age after full lives.

The unexpected power of this finale unhinged me in a way I didn't expect. I'm not ashamed to admit that I weeped openly and uncontrollably while watching this, weeping at the mixture of gladness over the lives they lived and sadness over their deaths. Sadness which mounted as each one of them went, one after another until just Clare was left - and then she died. Closing the show out.

It was an incredible finale; pure, focused and true to the show in every aspect.

So what moments put a lump in your throat?


1 comment so far.

  1. Angelo 11 February 2010 at 17:45
    Hi - would it be okay to mail you a screener for the new season of Southland on TNT for possible review? Let me know! -

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