Grab your tissues, friends, because it’s time to cry again. Now, you might be like, Holy hell, woman, it’s 2021. Haven’t we cried enough? And to that I say “No.” There is never enough crying, especially at fictional characters who have no real effect on your actual life. Cry away! Cry at the joyful celebrations, the bittersweet good-byes, and the heartbreaking losses. Hey, this year, you can even cry at group-dance numbers. Life is emotional, and so is good TV, so once you’ve steeled yourself, have a look through these 12 TV moments from 2021 that moved us to tears and let it all out.
(So many spoilers below!)
The Big Leap, “What Prevents Us?”
Yes, I cried while watching a flash mob this year. Please leave me alone; I’m fragile. And also know that I even went back and watched this scene multiple times to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. Nope — tears every time. Mike (Jon Rudnitsky) and Paula (Piper Perabo) are two characters who met on the dance-reality show within the show of The Big Leap (also called The Big Leap: Stay with me here). They fall in love quickly, and when Paula’s breast cancer comes back and she realizes she doesn’t have much time, they decide to say “screw it” and get married. Don’t worry — even the show makes a Nicholas Sparks joke. Regardless, the rest of the cast surprises Mike and Paula with a choreographed group dance to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” at the reception. It is so overwhelmingly full of joy and love and very good dancing how does one not weep? Maybe don’t answer that.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “The Last Day”
Brooklyn Nine-Nine really primes longtime fans for a nice cry session by the end of the series finale. It’s the final Halloween Heist, and Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) uses the occasion to announce that he’s leaving police work altogether in order to become a stay-at-home dad so Amy (Melissa Fumero) can take a promotion. The Heist is full of callbacks and cameos from the previous eight seasons, so we’re already feeling nostalgic. Then the final few moments are used so that several character pairings can have their good-byes. The most moving one is easily between Jake and his mentor–father figure Captain Holt (Andre Braugher). Holt, usually not one for talking about feelings, tells Jake, “If I had had a son and he turned out like you, I would be very proud of him.” And then he follows that up with a “title of my sex tape” joke. After all these years, a “title of my sex tape” joke! We never truly deserved Holt, did we?
The Baby-Sitters Club, “Claudia and the Sad Good-Bye”
It would just be, like, very cool if the tiny teens could stop making us cry. Do it for us olds, okay? They did not do it for us olds in season two of The Baby-Sitters Club. No— instead, they doubled down. The season packs some real emotional punches (how dare this show make me crush on Watson Brewer!), but the standout is the penultimate episode in which eighth-grader Claudia Kishi’s (Momona Tamada) beloved grandmother (Takayo Fischer) dies. Artsy Claud is an outsider in her own family, but it was always Mimi who made her feel understood, so this loss — the first real one in her life — hits hard for a lot of reasons. We watch as she tries anything she can to distract herself from feeling everything. Finally, when Mary Anne (Malia Baker) tells her she needs to deal with her grief, Claudia breaks down. Momona Tamada’s performance — the tear welling! — is gutting here. “I feel like my chest is going to explode, like I can’t breathe,” she yells. It is a gorgeous, heartbreaking, so-true-it-hurts portrayal of grief as told by a 13-year-old.
Reservation Dogs, “Hunting”
Reservation Dogs feels so laid back at times that even though poignant, emotional moments are par for the course in coming-of-age stories, the ones on this show catch you off guard. It’s the surprise that sometimes makes those moments so overwhelming. This is especially true when it comes to Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), perhaps the most chill and bearing the toughest exterior of our four main teens. As she and her dad Leon (Jon Proudstar) go off hunting one morning, it’s clear both are still processing their grief over Daniel (Dalton Cramer), Willie Jack’s cousin, who took his own life a year ago. Leon, especially, is carrying around immense guilt — he hasn’t been able to go hunting since Daniel’s death. The emotional peak of the episode comes during a conversation toward the end, when Leon wonders if he failed Daniel and then holds his daughter as she cries. They both miss him, and how annoying he was on hunting trips, more than they can really say. I’ve never been hunting before, but does it always end with gorgeous displays of emotion? Because if so, I could be into that.
Queen Sugar, “May 19, 2020”
Season five of Queen Sugar closely followed the Bordelon family through the onset of the pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, so things got bleak. But the show knew that people were able to find instances of joy throughout all that sadness, and it gave its biggest moment of joy to two characters who have been through so much: Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) and Darla (Bianca Lawson). These two! Many times it felt as if it didn’t matter how much they loved each other; they’d never get here. And then, finally, they aren’t waiting any more — they’re getting married. It may not be the wedding anyone dreamed of — only the Bordelons are there, everyone aside from the bride and groom is in masks, etc. — but it ends up being perfect and romantic and lovely. “This is just about happiness and hope,” Darla says. And it is! Ralph Angel builds a trellis for them to get married under, there are yellow flowers everywhere, and in their vows they both talk about how they shine for and with each other. Weddings, man!
Station 19 (ABC), “Things We Lost in the Fire”
Many times a character’s death is telegraphed by the fact that all seems to be going well in their life and most of their conflicts have resolved themselves. Not for firefighter Dean Miller (Okieriete Onaodowan). He had so much going on. A daughter whose mother abandoned them! Trying to get a fancy new EMT–mental-health program off the ground! And perhaps most heartbreaking of all, he was just beginning to gather up the courage to tell Vic (Barrett Doss) that he had been in love with her for a very, very long time. We had been building up to it for so long. Add to all of that the fact that most of this episode is about Vic being seriously injured and no one saw that secondary blast coming for Dean. The shock of it all turns to gut-wrenching heartbreak when it winds up being Dean’s two best friends, Jack (Grey Damon) and Ben (Jason Winston), who are left in the ambulance, trying to do everything they can to resuscitate him only to realize he’s not coming back. Seattle did Dean dirty!
Good Trouble, “Shame”
Group hugs and character growth are, apparently, the perfect recipe to make a person sob. Over the course of two and a half seasons, Dennis (Josh Pence) has been keeping a secret from most of his friends at the Coterie — he had a son, Jacob, who died of cancer when he was 6. We’ve watched Dennis stumble through trying to deal with his grief and depression on his own and then slowly open up to a few people thanks to his relationship with Davia (Emma Hunton), but it’s this season-three episode in which he takes some major steps toward healing. During a Coterie group meeting, he tearfully tells everyone about Jacob and admits that while he’s not totally okay, he’s working on it. He’s been so afraid to tell everyone, and what do they do? Envelop him in the warmest, most loving group hug you’ve ever seen. It’s such a huge moment for the character. Also, when Josh Pence cries about Dennis’s dead son, I cry. It’s a fact of life.
Never Have I Ever (Netflix), “… Stalked My Own Mother”
Sure, a major draw of this series is the high-school love triangle, but the real heart of Never Have I Ever is the relationship between Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan). In season two, Nalini decides to dip her toe back into the dating world for the first time since the death of her husband, Mohan (Sendhil Ramamurthy), and when Devi catches wind, she loses it (it involves her falling into a hot tub naturally). After a big blow-up, the two sit down and talk it out. Nalini explains that she isn’t ready to start dating; she was just so tired of feeling awful and sad and physically hurting from her grief. Devi is upset because it feels like her dad is “disappearing” both metaphorically and quite literally — all of her dad’s voice-mails on her phone are now gone because of that hot-tub incident. She’s afraid she’s going to forget what he sounded like. To comfort her daughter, Nalini plays a video of her and Mohan deciding what to name Devi before she was born. It ends with Mohan looking right at the camera and saying, “I already love you so much, my perfect girl.” Bless and curse these videos!
WandaVision (Disney+), “The Series Finale”
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the whole “What is grief if not love persevering?” thing really cut to the core of a lot of us. But what really left me reeling was the final (???) good-bye between Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) in the finale episode of WandaVision, which is — surprise! — actually a show about the exploration of grief and loss (and also women who love robots and TV, what up). As Wanda allows the sitcom-friendly neighborhood she created in order to be with her dead great love close in on them, knowing that Vision (and their sons) will disappear once she does, Vision talks about how they’ve beaten the odds before. I mean, the guy’s a being made of wires and blood, so really anything could happen. They have to say good-bye for now, but who knows? They could very much “say hello again” one day. It’s the fact that they still hold on to that little bit of hope, even after everything Wanda has suffered in her life, that will really make you want to bite into a pillow.
Pose, “Series Finale (Part 1)”
The category is: “crying your fucking eyes out.” It’s not so much that the death of Pray Tell (Billy Porter) owing to complications from AIDS is shocking. He’s been dealing with the disease for a while, and by the end of the episode, we know that he knows that the end is nigh. We’ve heard him tell Blanca (MJ Rodriguez) about how he accomplished everything he set out to do when he moved to New York, how he’s happy, how he is overjoyed to see his best friend so happy, too. Plus he gets to walk in one last ball. The man has lived. And not for nothing, but that extended scene of Pray Tell taking all of his makeup off while “I Say a Little Prayer for You” plays is Billy Porter at his finest. Still, the heartbreaking part comes after, when his friends begin to wonder how this could happen so suddenly since Pray Tell was in a drug trial that seemed to be working. Ricky (Dyllón Burnside), who had tearfully shown Pray a lesion he found, realizes that Pray was giving his meds to him (he had told him he had extra from the trial). He sacrificed himself to save his friend, Pray Tell until the very end.
It’s a Sin, “Episode 3”
If you’re watching Russell T. Davies’s miniseries It’s a Sin, you know you’re signing up for heartbreak going in; it’s about the AIDS crisis in the U.K. during the 1980s. While there are moments of joy throughout the series, and it is very much about the power of community, you almost don’t want to get attached to anyone knowing how it is all going to end up. Unfortunately, not getting attached is impossible, especially with sweet Colin (Callum Scott Howells), the quietest and kindest of the Pink Palace crew. Having him be the first of the group (but not the last because, Jesus Christ, this show is sad) to contract AIDS drives home for both his friends and the audience just how pervasive and senseless this epidemic was. What happens to Colin is, simply, awful: He’s locked up and isolated in the hospital, he suffers neurological symptoms, and completely, and quickly, fades away in front of his mother and friends. It’s devastating for them as a group and for us as an audience. There aren’t enough “Las” in the world.
For All Mankind, “The Grey”
For All Mankind’s stunning season-two finale aired in April, and I think I just stopped crying over it, like, last week. It has imprinted itself on me, okay? Astronauts and exes Gordo (Michael Dorman) and Tracy (Sarah Jones) Stevens, who clearly still love each other, end up being the only two people on the U.S. Lunar Base who can stop the nuclear reactor that powers it from melting down, killing everyone there, and rendering the area around it uninhabitable for 1,000 years and basically stopping the space program in its tracks. Here’s the catch: To stop the meltdown, they need to fix some cables that are outside the base — in the vacuum of space — AND THEY HAVE NO SPACESUITS. They will have to do it in under 15 seconds lest they explode or whatever. Gordo volunteers immediately, but you can see it in his eyes, in everyone’s, that there is little chance he survives. Tracy knows the only minuscule hope of pulling this off is if she goes too. They are in this together. They cover themselves in duct tape — the only protection they have — tell each other “I love you,” then run out into the vacuum of space. It is an intense 15 seconds as we watch them change over the cables and stop the meltdown, but it gets bad out there. They’re bleeding everywhere, the duct tape is melting, as one of them falls to the ground the other stops to help them back up. They do make it back inside, but later other astronauts find them dead in each other’s arms; they were out there too long. Their deaths were shocking and heroic and unbelievably moving, providing some gorgeous payoff for the arcs of two beloved characters. Honestly, I can’t believe I just relieved that trauma for you.