Photo-Illustration: Rowena Lloyd and Susanna Hayward; Photos: Courtesy of Netflix and FX
If you’re not crying while watching TV, are you even watching TV at all? I’m inclined to say no, and if you are, too, then you’ve come to the right place. This one’s for all the people who have wiped away tears after seeing their favorite TV characters get their happy endings, for those who have silently wept when a fictional person dies, for those who have sobbed so loudly they had to pause because they were missing parts of the episode when, oh, I don’t know, a really attractive TV couple hold hands as they ride a train together into the Hereafter or whatever — I’m just spitballing; this isn’t based on actual experience or anything. Anyway, you are not alone! In fact, it’s time to celebrate all the tears we’ve cried this year while watching the joy, the pain, the catharsis that TV has provided. It’s time to relive the weepiest moments on television in 2022.
Somebody Somewhere, “Mrs. Diddles”
When we meet Sam (Bridget Everett) at the start of Somebody Somewhere, she is a woman stuck — stuck in her small Kansas hometown where she doesn’t fit in, stuck not knowing what exactly she wants from her life, stuck in her grief over her late sister, Holly, whom she moved home to take care of when Holly got sick. It’s been six months, and yet Sam still cannot bring herself to sleep in Holly’s empty bed, opting for the couch instead, a powerful insight into her current state. To sleep in that bed would be admitting that Holly is really gone. Over the course of the season, thanks to an unlikely friendship with former classmate Joel (Jeff Hiller), Sam opens herself up to the possibility of what comes next. It’s no surprise, then, that the last scene of the season follows Sam as she moves from the couch into the bed for the first time, teary-eyed but still able to fall asleep, finally able to move forward.
Queen Sugar, “For They Existed”
Sending the Bordelons off into the sunset after seven seasons was always going to be a bittersweet affair. Leave it to series creator Ava DuVernay, who directed and wrote the final episode, to make the whole thing as gorgeous and emotional as possible. The show ends with a montage letting us know that each of the Bordelons is getting their version of a happy ending, but it’s not just that we get to see Nova (Rutina Wesley) pregnant on a porch swing with Calvin (Greg Vaughan) or Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) walking the farm — now completely back in the hands of the Bordelons — with his son. It’s that we’re seeing it alongside Ernest Bordelon (Glynn Turman), the family patriarch whose death kick-started all the drama that befell his family. He gets a front-row seat to his family’s victories, to his children’s happiness, and now he can move on, too.
It’s just like Olivia Colman to show up for, like, three scenes of a TV series and still completely destroy us. Why is she so good at her job? By the end of Alice Oseman’s lovely, joyful Heartstopper, Nick (Kit Connor) has fallen so hard for classmate Charlie (Joe Locke) that he wants to share their official boyfriend status with everyone. He comes out to his mother, played by Colman, in a simple scene that draws much of its impact from the two actors’ believable mother-son chemistry and shared ability to do so much with a facial expression. The fear Nick has that his mother might not understand his relationship is palpable, but the moment he tells her, all she wants to do is shower him with love. “Thank you for telling me. I’m sorry if I ever made you feel like you couldn’t tell me that,” she says as she hugs him. He’s holding back tears! She’s holding back tears! We’re all (unsuccessfully) holding back tears!!
A League of Their Own, “Perfect Game”
There is so much crying in baseball! While there are scenes throughout A League of Their Own that will elicit healing waters from your eyeballs, the whole season leads up to one in particular. It’s the final game in the World Series, and, despite all odds, you’re hoping with everything you’ve got that the underdog Peaches can pull out a win. We love them. They deserve it. Sure, it’s complicated because former Peach Jo (Melanie Field) was traded to the opposing team after getting caught in a raid at a gay bar — one her teammates had convinced her to go to. There’s resentment and guilt all over the place. And then when Jo hits the game-winning home run but can’t make her way around the bases because of an injury from the raid — and isn’t allowed help from her own teammates because ’dems the rules — it all becomes so uncomplicated: Of course the Peaches are going to come together and carry their friend to home plate and secure a victory for her team. They love her. She deserves it. And some things are bigger than the game (that thing is female friendship).
Stranger Things, “Chapter Nine: The Piggyback”
Even though season four of Stranger Things is storytelling on an epic scale, it is full of intimate, emotional character moments (the show’s secret weapon). Still, there was one moment — one line, really — that has replayed in my head over and over since the season premiered this past summer: Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), holding a broken, blinded, dying Max (Sadie Sink) in his arms after her final encounter with Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower), yelling out “Erica, help!” to his sister (Priah Ferguson). His voice and his face are so full of desperation it wallops you. For my money, McLaughlin and Sink give the standout performances of the season, and there’s no better showcase of that than here, as a terrified Max clings to life and a helpless Lucas begs the girl he loves to hang on just a little longer. Anyway, I’m crying again.
Dead to Me, “We’ve Reached the End”
Judy (Linda Cardellini) gets diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer earlier in the final season of Dead to Me, so we were kind of prepped for an emotional ending to the dark comedy, but this? THIS?! The best buds are biding time in Mexico after Judy falsely confesses to the murder of Steve (James Marsden), but even after they get the clear to return, Judy decides she’s going to stay behind. She’s dying and she doesn’t want to put Jen (Christina Applegate) through watching it happen. When she tells her, in what turns out to be their last night together, the ladies sob as they tell each other how much they mean to the other — you can feel the real love Applegate and Cardellini have for each other coming through — and then, in the same way their friendship started, they settle in to watch reruns of The Facts of Life. “I’ve had the best time,” Judy tells Jen. We all have, Judes. WE ALL HAVE.
The Patient, “Ezra”
I didn’t think it would be the show about a serial killer who kidnaps his therapist that did me in this year, but here we are. And that’s because The Patient is so much more than that premise. While being held captive, Dr. Alan Strauss (Steve Carell) has time to process his difficult relationship with his son, Ezra (Andrew Leeds), whose decision to join the Orthodox Jewish faith caused a rift in their family. After realizing that he’s actually to blame for so many of their problems, Alan desperately wishes he could ask his son for forgiveness. He doesn’t even think Ezra would notice he’s gone. He doesn’t know how wrong he is! Alan will never know it, but Ezra is adrift with grief over his missing father. Not knowing how else to fill the space in his dad’s dark, quiet house, he eventually picks up his late mother’s guitar and sings a few lines from John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” It’s beautiful and sad all on its own, but once you realize it’s the same song Alan sang to another hostage to comfort him earlier in the season, that this song has meaning in the Strauss family, that it ties father and son together, well, that’s when the sobs come in.
Pachinko, “Chapter Four”
Sunja (Minha Kim) suffers such immense loss in such a short amount of time. It’s one journey from Busan to Osaka, and through that, Pachinko’s young heroine must say good-bye to her mother (Inji Jeong), to her homeland, to all the dreams she had for her life. The fact that she has no real choice but to move to Japan with the kind pastor (Steve Sanghyun Noh) who offered to marry a young pregnant woman he barely knows only makes the loss that much more heartbreaking. Things will only be harder for her and her mother if she stays. Up to this point, teenage Sunja has always seemed older and more mature than her age. Yet in this moment, sitting at the dock waiting to go off to some unknown land, some unknown life, and having a conversation with her mother that both women are acutely aware will most likely be their last, Sunja bursts into sobs, reminding us that this is a child being ripped from her mother. Kim and Jeong’s performances are gutting.
Station Eleven, “Unbroken Circle”
“I have found you nine times before, maybe ten, and I’ll find you again. I find you because I know you and we are the same,” reads the graphic novel Station Eleven, the story at the center of the one we find here. The sentiment applies all over this miniseries but perhaps is most emotionally tied to Kirsten (Mackenzie Davis) and Jeevan (Himesh Patel), two people who found each other first by circumstance and then a second time, 20 years later, by fate. The moment that Kirsten and Jeevan lay eyes on each other in the Severn City Airport and tearfully embrace has no dialogue — and thanks to Station Eleven’s gorgeous writing and two knockout performances from Davis and Patel, it doesn’t need it. We already know how much this moment means to them and how much they mean to each other: Earlier in the episode, Kirsten tells another character that almost “no one finds people from before,” so “it matters, getting anyone back.” Jeevan emphasizes how “having just one person” can change everything. They had only one year together, the little actress and the kind stranger who offered to walk her home before everything changed, but it doesn’t matter — neither would’ve survived without the other. In the early days of the pandemic, they became each other’s family. And now, against all odds, they have each other again.
Reservation Dogs, “I Still Believe”
Catharsis can do a real number on the ol’ tear ducts. What makes this specific moment of release — when Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), Elora (Devery Jacobs), and Cheese (Lane Factor) finally make it to the beach in California to honor their friend Daniel (Dalton Cramer) — so healing is that the series has been building up to it for two seasons. We’ve watched the four friends slowly grow apart and attempt to deal with their grief on their own, but finally they realize the only way for them to truly move forward is to let go of that pain together. It’s all done with signature Reservation Dogs humor — Willie Jack’s song, Cheese’s rambling prayer — that’s woven into something much more serious: Four teens grappling with the loss of a hero, a brother, a best friend, hope. They realize they need to hold on tighter to one another, both figuratively and literally, as they stand in the ocean. Then, suddenly, Daniel’s spirit is there with them, the Rez Dogs together again.
From Scratch, “Between the Fire and the Pan”
The thing about From Scratch is you’ll be crying long before this moment and you’ll be crying long after. It’s a tearjerker flat-out, and you need to know that going in. So why this scene? It’s emotional for the obvious reasons, but the choice to keep it quiet — the wailing comes later — is what makes it excruciating. Lino (Eugenio Mastrandrea) is on hospice, and both he and his wife, Amy (Zoe Saldaña), know he won’t make it through the night. She lies with him, she offers him comforting words, then she simply repeats “Ti amo” over and over again until she falls asleep. Suddenly we’re back at another rainy night, when Amy and Lino first realized they never wanted to be apart and he waited for her out in the rain, never giving up hope that she’d show up eventually. When she wakes up in Lino’s bed, he’s still alive, but just for a few more seconds — just long enough for him to look into her eyes one last time before he goes. “You waited for me,” she says. She means both times: there at the start and here at the very end. I don’t know — have you ever yelled out “Fuck you!” to a TV show while sobbing so hard you can’t see the screen anymore? That’s the general vibe here.
This Is Us, “Don’t Let Me Keep You”/ “Us”
Is it cheating to include two moments from This Is Us here instead of choosing just one? Yeah. But I don’t care, and you can’t do anything about it. Plus, it feels right to give a little extra space to a series that, from the beginning, seemed to be on a mission to see how hard it could make its audience cry. Usually: pretty hard! In its final season, though, holy hell did it go for the jugular. But there are two moments that I still can’t shake. First, that gut-punch of a scene that ends the episode in which Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) travels to Ohio to bury his mother. After everything, while Jack watches his kids eat the same meal his mother used to make for him, he has to excuse himself from the table. Rebecca (Mandy Moore) finds him in the living room, and he blurts out, “I don’t have a mom anymore,” before bursting into tears for the first time since she died. The revelation is so sudden and so devastating that it takes his breath away. It’s Ventimiglia’s best work in the entire series. I’m crying just thinking about it, so there’s that.
Then, in its final bow, This Is Us gets to use all the emotion and affinity for its characters it’s been piecing together for six seasons to deliver one last wallop. By this point, we had already seen that while Rebecca was dying, she found herself on sort of a This Is Your Life train ride, but the show saves the end of that ride for the final moments of the series. At the end of the train, Rebecca finds Jack waiting for her. There they are, mom and dad lying in bed together for the last time. Rebecca’s scared and sad to leave her kids, but Jack calms her, telling her that she’ll still be with them, just in a different way. “Babe, we did good,” he says. They say they love each other. She squeezes his hand. They cut between scenes of Pearsons then and now, together, full of love. They did good, indeed. I mean, as if This Is Us would go out any other way. But still — the silent weeping that ensues! Let’s never forgive them.