In a flashback episode Dorothy recalls a birthday where Rose took her to a Suck E. Cheese's and she had to put up with an obnoxious clown named Mr. Ha Ha. After Dorothy was dragged along with the kids who're also celebrating their birthdays, she was set to shove her cake in Mr. Ha Ha's face, before he stated that's not very adult-like and he'd sue if she tried. Dorothy sat back down when one of the kids came up to Mr. Ha Ha, shoved his cake in the clown's face, and then wished Dorothy a happy birthday.
At the end of "Blanche's Little Girl," Blanche and Rebecca reconcile, and it seems as though their relationship will finally begin to heal, a point proven in later episodes.
"Mother's Day" is made of this trope. The premise is simple: the girls are planning to go to a Mother's Day brunch, but first wait for their children to call them. As they do, they have flashbacks to previous Mother's Days:
Dorothy reminisces about visiting Stan's mother, who is extremely mean and belittling to her. But when Stan leaves the room, Mother Zbornak confesses that she secretly likes Dorothy, and thinks that she's perfect for Stan: "You love him, but you're hard on him." When Dorothy then asks about why she's so nasty to her, Mother Zbornak reveals that she doesn't want Stan visiting, proving that she and her daughter-in-law are Not So Different.
Blanche talks about the last Mother's Day she spent with her own mother, who at that point suffered from advanced dementia. After giving her a lace handkerchief, Blanche launches into a lengthy story about a Mother's Day on which, as a seventeen-year-old, she almost married a much older man so that she could become his daughter's (who was a schoolmate of hers) stepmother and force her to not try out for the cheerleading team. Blanche's mother corrects her—that incident didn't take place on Mother's Day, but Christmas Day. Blanche is shocked that her mother remembers an event from the past so clearly, and Mrs. Hollingsworth explains that, even though she has days when she quite literally can't remember who she is, she has never forgotten anything Blanche has done.
Rose tells the story of a Mother's Day she spent in a bus station as she tried to visit St. Olaf, where her children were waiting for her. She meets an elderly woman named Anna who is also waiting for a bus, planning to spend the holiday with her daughter. The two talk, and Anna eventually reveals that her daughter is dead, and that she visits her gravestone every year to mark the occasion. But this year, Anna ran away from her nursing home to make the trip, and she's afraid that she's going to be found out. Sure enough, a police officer arrives to take her back just as the bus pulls in...only for Rose to stand up and declare that Anna is her own mother, and that they have a bus to catch (the bus station attendant even gets in on this moment by silently smiling and nodding to the two as they walk by, promising not to tell). Anna quietly thanks Rose, who simply says "Happy Mother's Day."
Finally, after all of the flashbacks have been shared, the girls prepare to leave. Rose points out that Janet, Blanche's daughter (with whom she's had a very rocky relationship), has not called her, but Blanche insists, as she's done for the whole episode, that that isn't going to happen...only for the phone to ring as they stand up from the table. It's Janet, and Blanche's voice breaks with happiness as she talks to her.
Many episodes have moments where the four women describe each other - and the offspring of each other - as family. They may argue, bitch, snipe, be sarcastic as is humanely possible to be... but they are, truly family.
The Episode where it is revealed that Dorothy does listen to Rose's St. Olaf stories; she listens enough to tell the father of a family friend one of the stories to inspire him to take back his pregnant sixteen year old daughter. The look on Rose's face when she finds out is so heartwarming that you realise just how much the women, despite everything - all the snipes, sarcasm, bitching, arguing - do listen and respect one another.
When Dorothy's sister visited and offered to take Sophia to live with her, first they worked out their perceptions of Sophia's Parental Favoritism, then when they all agreed that Sophia would stay in Miami:
Sophia: You're both good daughters. Most people my age have children trying to get rid of them. My children are fighting over who gets to keep me.
In an episode where Dorothy gets her aunt Angela (Sophia's sister) to visit as a surprise for Sophia's birthday, the two women have a huge argument over a past misunderstanding. Dorothy forces them to talk out their problems where it was revealed that Angela didn't reveal a secret of Sophia's to a houseful of party guests (which Sophia had assumed) and Sophia didn't kiss Angela's husband. The reveal leads to this sweet exchange:
Sophia: So you didn't betray me?
Angela: Of course not! You're my sister!
In the finale, when Dorothy is on the way to her wedding, the driver is revealed to be Stan. It seems as though he wants to keep her from going, which is what Dorothy expects, but he tells her that he is genuinely happy for her and wants to escort her there as a final parting gift.
In a Season Six episode, Dorothy finds a list of her life goals that she wrote while she was in high school. She decides to tackle one of the items on the list—trying stand-up comedy—by signing up at a comedy club. As she prepares her act, Sophia has nothing but criticism and sarcastic remarks to offer, which eventually pushes Dorothy to the point where she claims that Sophia doesn't support her at all. When Dorothy finally gets on stage, her first jokes fall flat, and it looks like things will end badly for her...until Sophia starts some good-natured heckling from the audience. This prompts Dorothy to start making jokes about her home life, which the crowd absolutely loves. It proves that Sophia, for her all of her snark, does love Dorothy and care about her dreams.
In "Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas," the girls volunteer at a homeless shelter by serving dinner to people on Christmas Day. One of those people is a man in a Santa Claus suit, who turns out to be Stan, who made a bad financial investment with novelty Santas in fire trucks; his third wife has kicked him out because of it. Stan whines about his predicament, prompting Dorothy to point out that he's surrounded by people—and especially children—who are far worse off than he is. After giving him some money and sending him on his way, the girls finish serving dinner, and the priest running the shelter prepares to end the meal...and that's when Stan, in character as Santa, arrives with a bag full of his novelty toys to give as presents to "all the good little boys and girls." The children are thrilled, and Dorothy looks at Stan with a beautiful smile to thank him for what he's done.
One episode's B-plot sees Dorothy writing a letter to her deceased father Sal as a therapeutic exercise. Sophia makes jokes, until the end of the episode reveals that Dorothy changed tack while writing and actually drafted a letter to her. Dorothy explains that she doesn't want to miss out on telling Sophia that she loves her.
In "Heart Attack," Sophia, fearing that she's going to die, tells Dorothy that she truly loves her "very, very much." Later, as Dorothy breaks down in Sophia's room over her fears of losing her mother, Blanche stands at her side and assures her: "We're your family, Dorothy. We may not be blood, but we're here."
In "Isn't It Romantic," Dorothy's friend Jean, a lesbian, comes to visit, and begins to fall in love with Rose. This prompts a few heartwarming moments:
At one point, Dorothy asks Sophia what she would do if one of her children was gay. After some initial confusion—Sophia insists that Dorothy should "stick with what she knows" at this point—she assures her: "If one of my kids was gay, I wouldn't love him one bit less. I would wish him all of the happiness in the world." In a world where most family members reject their loved ones for their sexuality, it's nice to hear that Sophia is so accepting. It's also worth noting that this episode aired in 1986, when the AIDS crisis was at its peak and misinformation about homosexuality was rampant.
When Jean eventually confesses her feelings, she and Rose have a talk the next day. Rose admits that she doesn't fully understand homosexuality, but admits that if she was gay, she'd she'd be flattered that Jean thought so highly of her. She then offers Jean her friendship, and the two embrace.
In "Sister of the Bride," Blanche's gay brother Clayton announces his plans to marry Doug, his boyfriend. At first, Blanche is extremely reluctant to accept this. This leads to the episode's first heartwarmer: Sophia pointing out that Clayton's love for Doug is no different than Blanche's love for George, her late husband, and making a simple yet profound argument: "Everyone wants someone to grow old with, and doesn't Clayton deserve that, too?"
An ever sweeter moment comes later, when Blanche enters Clayton and Doug's room. She says she has an important question, and Clayton remarks that he doesn't want to talk to her—only for Blanche to say that the question is for Doug: "Do you love him?" She explains the Clayton is her baby brother, and she has to take care of him. The three finally come to an understanding and hug.
In one episode, Sophia's friend Lillian is transferred from Shady Pines to Sunny Pastures, the worst nursing home in all of Miami. Sophia breaks Lillian out and brings her to stay with the girls; unfortunately, Lillian is genuinely senile (and possibly suffering from a disease like dementia or Alzheimer's), and they're not able to give her the care she needs. The episode's subplot appears as simple comic relief: Blanche gets a big bonus at work and decides to use it to have her breasts enlarged, which leads to plenty of jokes. But the plotlines cross when, at the end of the episode, Rose reveals that she found another, better nursing home for Lillian. It seems as though the girls can't afford it...until Blanche selflessly gives up her bonus to cover for Lillian's initial treatment. At this point in the series, Blanche's Flanderization into a totally selfish individual was just beginning, so it's nice to see her willingly give up something she truly wants to help a woman she barely knows.
Like the Mother's Day episode above, the Valentine's Day episode that appeared later in the series offers a few sweet moments.
Sophia has a flashback to when she, Sal, and her father were on a cross-country road trip and ended up stranded in Chicago. Sophia's father takes her to task for marrying someone like Sal, and she admits that there's plenty wrong with him—but he still has a special quality that she can't explain. Sal proves that true when he reveals that he bought his wife a big box of Valentine's Day chocolates early in the trip and kept it hidden, quietly keeping track of the days so he could give it to her on the holiday itself. D'awww.
In Blanche's flashback, she reveals that George (her late husband) proposed to her in a particular bar on Valentine's Day; the two made it a tradition to go back every year, and she's kept it up even after his death. As Blanche tells the bartender about why she's ordering two glasses of champagne, a young man overhears and reveals that he too is planning to propose, but can't work up the courage to actually pop the question. Blanche then sits with the young man and goes over every detail of that night; the simple beauty of the story is a nice contrast to the wild tales about her sex life, and proves that she and George really did love each other. What makes it even better is that at the end of the story, the young man decides that he's ready to propose, too—at which point he calls out to his boyfriend as he walks into the bar. It's a funny moment, but also showcases the LGBT-positive nature of the program.
The end of the episode has some behind-the-scenes heartwarming. Sophia is revealed to have a date with none other than Julio Iglesias, who actually appears in the episode. Initially, the producers wanted Iglesias to sing his famous rendition of "Begin the Beguine" to close out the show, but when the time came to film, he was reluctant about his voice not being up to par that evening and said he wouldn't do it. As the showrunners fretted, Estelle Getty herself came to the rescue—she too suffered from bad stage fright (even after the show had become popular) and knew what it felt like. In rehearsal, Getty took Iglesias's arm and started singing the song to him herself; this relaxed him enough to turn the number into a duet, which they perform as they walk out the door for a night on the town.
This adorable exchange between Sal and Sophia, during a flashback to Brooklyn, 1957, in "One for the Money".
Sal: Will you wait up for me?
Sophia: Don't I always?
Sal: *affectionately* I love you.
Sophia: I love you too.
Dorothy: *looks at her mother with a knowing smirk*
Sophia: *shrugs* I look at him, I see Erroll Flynn.
Sophia and Dorothy have one of the biggest ones in the series: when a family of acquaintances from Brooklyn come to Miami and inform them that their daughter and Dorothy may have been switched at birth, Dorothy spends the entire episode fearing that Sophia may not be her mother. Finally, Sophia agrees to get a blood test to find out for certain, and tells Dorothy a story while waiting for the results: on Dorothy's first day of school, a girl picks on her the whole day. Sophia expects her daughter to say she hates school, but instead, Dorothy reveals that she made a new friend. Adult Dorothy wonders how Sophia knew about the whole day, and then it dawns on her:
Dorothy: How did you know what happened? If the teacher didn't see what Debbie was-
Sophia: I saw. I stood at the window and watched you for four hours, in case you needed me.
Dorothy: You didn't.
Sophia: No big deal. Any real mother would do that for her kid.
Doctor: Mrs. Petrillo? I have the results of your test.
Sophia: Thanks. (takes the paper. Once the doctor leaves, she rips it into pieces and throws it into the garbage, and looks at Dorothy.) Let's roll.
Dorothy and Sophia make a bet over a bowling competition. If Sophia wins, Dorothy will pay for a trip to Italy with an old boyfriend that she disapproved of. If Dorothy wins, Sophia will give her a pair of treasured antique earrings. Near the end of the competition, Dorothy sees how happy Sophia is reminiscing with Augustine and purposely takes a dive so Sophia wins the bet. Sophia in turn gives Dorothy the earrings anyway, knowing her daughter well enough that she could have easily made that winning shot.