Death — television’s most notorious heart-breaker, and a trope you won’t find on this particular year-end list. There’s more than one way to bring a viewer to tears, and that’s just what these nine scenes did during 2017.
Presented in no particular order (do you really want to make me choose which character’s pain is more intense?), here are the top TV moments that made viewers reach for the tissues. Unfortunately, the cancelation of Dark Matter isn’t technically a scene, so you won’t find that particularly painful memory hiding between Jughead’s tragic existence and Barry Allen’s unwarranted arrest, even if it is as heartbreaking as it gets.
Agents of SHIELD – Fitz Exits the Framework
When it comes to the Framework, Agents of Shield provided viewers with enough heart-wrenching moments to last a lifetime. When it came time to pick just one, there were two main contenders — Mack’s (Henry Simmons) fight to save his daughter vs. the moment Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) has to reconcile his Framework memories with the person he is in reality. While Mack’s battle was protracted, the latter provided a quick and dirty take. Short, gut-churning and powerful, this clip nearly brings Fitz to his knees as he struggles to reconcile his sadistic, emotionally-detached Framework entity with the moral, upstanding man he really is. To make matters worse, the battle keeps raging around him, allowing the scientist a scarce few seconds to process the transition before Aida arrives to add an extra level of confusion.
Arrow – Prometheus Breaks Oliver
Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) has no problem keeping his body in peak condition, what with the salmon ladder dominating his workout schedule. No, instead it’s the Green Arrow’s emotional state that needed a little TLC in season 5, particularly after Adrian Chase (Josh Segarra) had his say. Broken down after nearly a week of confinement and torture, the vigilante snapped during “Kapisushon,” admitting his darkest secret.
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The words “I wanted to. And I liked it!” burst out with all the power of 10 years of repression, knocking the fight right out of the seemingly indefatigable hero. Our reaction mirrored that of Amell’s performance — a sudden horror followed by a defeated silence as Oliver’s forced to confront the dark urges he sought to relegate to his hooded persona.
How to Get Away with Murder – Annalise Struggles to Save Laurel’s Baby
It was a tough midseason finale for Laurel (Karla Souza), but “Live. Live. Live.” doesn’t give us a chance to see her reaction to her own predicament. Instead, the episode closes on Annalise (Viola Davis) on the hallway floor, desperately trying to breathe life into a frighteningly tiny infant. Reflecting on her own history, we know this moment will hit the lawyer from 10 different emotional directions once the initial shock wears off. That, combined with Davis’ honest depiction of how we act when life and death situations seem completely out of our hands, gives this scene the emotional resonance to carry viewers across the midseason hiatus with their stomachs in a knot.
Supernatural – Dean Pulls Mary out of Her Brainwashing
True, the Winchester brothers didn’t make it to family therapy until season 13, but that didn’t stop Dean (Jensen Ackles) from laying it all out as season 12 came to a close. From Mary’s (Samantha Smith) deal with Azazel to Sam’s (Jared Padalecki) brief stint as Soulless Sam, Dean let his mother know exactly what mistakes were hers to own. Ackles’ character has always held tight to some repressed pain, always more likely to lose his sorrows in a bottle than talk them out. No more.
Here, Dean lets his mom know exactly what her demon deal left in its wake. A son who had to play mother, father and brother. A father who disappeared in his own problems. A baby whose life would be forever defined by the machinations of the yellow-eyed demon. And for all of that, Dean hates Mary. But, as a child is wont to do, he loves her all the same. If thinking about everything that happened to bring the Winchester clan to this point doesn’t pluck at your heartstrings, perhaps Ackles’ one perfect tear will. Seriously, how does he do that?
The Flash – Barry Is Arrested for Murder
Once again, we find that the shortest scenes can be the most powerful. The Thinker spent the first half of season 4 laying the groundwork for his “Enlightenment,” and although DeVoe’s endgame remains a mystery, framing Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) for murder is key. Accessing his powers allows the speedster a moment to assess the chaos around him — his eyes travel from DeVoe’s body to the bloody knife, from a picture of himself and Iris to the shards of door that splinter and crack like his own future.
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“Don’t run” is the last phrase our hero whispers as a free man, and it draws its weight from Barry’s lifetime of experience. Although he knows the justice system can cause an innocent man to waste away behind bars, Barry’s bond with Iris and faith in the STAR Labs team allows Gustin to play that arrest with an eerily calm resignation. Had Barry opted to flee, this scene wouldn’t have even a tenth of the emotional resonance.
Gotham – Bruce Wayne Stabs Alfred
Pulled from Gotham‘s two-hour season finale, this heartbreaking moment came as Bruce (David Mazouz) struggled to shrug off his fugue state. Despite their earlier spat, the familial love between the future vigilante and his manservant is as strong as ever. If only young Master Wayne could access those feelings without having to see the utter horror of a dying Alfred (Sean Pertwee.) Although we were shaken in the moment, the knowledge that Alfred survives is a balm on this tear-jerker.
Colony – Bram Kills Ambassador King
Childhood is fleeting in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, and that’s a truth the Bowman clan is learning the hard way. For Bram (Alex Neustaedter), his descent into tragic adulthood began as season 1 came to a close. Separated from his family for the bulk of season 2, his time in the RAP work camps set the teen on a dangerous path alongside the Red Hand. Although Bram had played an integral role in the deaths of fellow prisoners when he named names for Snyder, he had never knowingly and willingly ended a life on his own. Until “Lost Boy,” that is.
Told in a non-linear fashion, the multi-perspective episode doesn’t answer our burning questions until the final moments — did Bram kill Ambassador King? Despite what he told his parents, the answer is yes. The following clip drops us into the middle of the teen’s moral crisis, moments after Katie finds him panicking over his choices but before he tells his parents he couldn’t pull the trigger. For one shining moment, we believe Bram’s soul is still intact, if somewhat conflicted. It’s that second of relief that makes the ultimate reveal — the shot of Bram putting King down for good — all the more painful.
Riverdale – Jughead Calls His Mother
Just like Colony‘s Bram, Jughead (Cole Sprouse) had an entire heart-breaking season, not just one scene. Nevertheless, if we had to distill all of his pain down into just one moment, it would be culled from “Anatomy of a Murder.” As this episode begins, Jughead’s entire world has collapsed around him. Just when the Jones males seem to be bonding once more — FP’s (Skeet Ulrich) sober, his son’s back home — FP’s arrest knocks over that house of cards with a vengeance.
So Jughead turns to his mother. Like every other adult in his life, however, Mrs. Jones lets him down…hard. In Sprouse’s performance, the pain is written all over his face. Not only are both of his parents incapable of taking him in, neither seems to want to.
Elementary – Sherlock’s Brain Scan
What happens when Sherlock (Johnny Lee Miller) can’t connect the dots? That’s the question Elementary left viewers asking following the season 5 finale, “Hurt Me, Hurt You.” The final scene finds our intrepid detective at the doctor’s office, accompanied by the mystery woman from his past. Just another symptom of the illness that’s been lurking in the background for episodes, this hallucination is his mother, materializing to urge him to seek medical help.
And that’s just what he does. As Sherlock silently slides into an MRI machine, we’re struck by all the things those scans won’t show, namely his intense fear of losing his capacity for deduction and reasoning, the very abilities that define him. The abilities that define the show, actually. Everything that goes unsaid in this scene is everything that makes it as emotional as it is.
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Stranger Things – Hopper Apologizes to Eleven
Chief Hopper (David Harbour) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) are an unlikely duo, but a necessary one. Each is searching for something — be it a family, a sense of stability in the wake of tragedy or a normal life. Although their window-shattering blowout was hard to watch, Hopper’s apology hits our emotions even harder. Worn out by Hawkins’ latest mystery and his own near-death experience, he knows his extended absence has only compounded an already fraught situation. The ultimate gut punch, however, comes as the camera pans over Eleven’s empty safe house. She isn’t even listening…or so we’re led to believe.
What were the most heartbreaking scenes of 2017 for you? Are we missing one of your favorite clips? Tell us in the comments section!
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Contributing Writer, BuddyTV