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Tear Jerker: Cold Case
In most cop dramas we only get after-the-fact descriptions of the murder/crime and the events leading up to it. Cold Caseshows us these things via flashbacks. Every episode shows us a new group of people, most of them happy, just trying to live their lives. Then it show the events that lead one of them to taking the life of one of the others.
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Love Conquers Al involves the 1981 murder of Paige Pratt (Summer Glau), a high school track star. She became friends with a male track runner from another school. The male track runner is dating Jane, a cheerleader at his school. When the cheerleader won't have sex with him, he loses his virginity with Paige. Jane finds out and they decide that if he kills Paige then he will prove his love to Jane and "restore his virginity".
The ending of the A Time to Hate which involves a college baseball player, found beaten to death in an alley behind a gay bar in 1964. For one thing, it's set, as you may have guessed from the title, to The Byrds' "Turn, Turn, Turn." For another, it also heartwrenchingly ties up all the plot threads in the episode in just a few minutes; the dead man's friends build a memorial to him where the bar used to be. The perp not only cracks and confesses, but also gives up his two toadies who were accomplices to the crime (who are dragged into the station just as the song hits "A time to kill"). And finally, the victim's ghost appears to four people: Lilly, to whom he gives an approving nod, the then-rookie cop who was persuaded by a bigoted superior to look the other way on the murder (something that came to be his biggest regret; he ends up giving the cops the doer in the end), whom he flashes a forgiving smile to, his old boyfriend, now a judge, whom he embraces, and finally his mother, whom he tips his hat to before fading away.
Fly Away, about a mother and child who apparently fall to their deaths out of a high window. It turns out that the mother was so desperate to prevent her child being taken away by a pedophile social worker that when she thought she heard him coming, she grabbed her daughter and jumped. The child died. The mother survived.
Volunteers, A young hippie couple secretly working for an underground abortion agency go missing. They were killed by the leader of their hippie commune, who was also secretly a government informant. When they discover him spying on them, he forces the couple into their car where he shoots the guy in front of his girlfriend, who's terrified because she knows that she's next.
Greed (a.k.a. Greed is Good). It doesn't seem particularly sad at first: the victim was a Depraved Bisexual stockbroker who'd cheated and conned many people out of money, as well as sleeping with / hitting on every person he met. The sad part was the character of his boyfriend, who was also one of the young men that worked for him. His boyfriend was the only person who acted decently. It turned out that it was the boyfriend's mom that had killed the victim. The reason? He'd slept with both her and the boyfriend, and broken her son's heart by dumping him hours before he died. Twenty or so years later, the boyfriend is still in love with and mourning the victim. It's only when the case is reopened that he learns about what a jerk the victim was. The last scene is of him and his mom, now in handcuffs, hugging and crying.
It doesn't help that the boyfriend's younger self was played by Bones' TJ Thyne, a perfect Woobie actor or that the montage music played over the aforementioned final scene is Cyndi Lauper's "All Through the Night".
The Plan. When the killer confesses to murdering the Asshole Victim, who was a pedophile. Not just because the guy had abused him, not because he kept his mouth shut and therefore felt responsible for the fact that he went on to abuse more kids, but because he himself was beginning to look at little boys in an improper manner and knew it was only a matter of time before he acted on his impulses and so turned himself in order not to ruin children's lives the way his had been.
The Season 1 finale, "Lovers' Lane". An adorable and likeable victim (Mae Whitman) who you really don't want to see die plus a particularly repulsive doer plus a very sympathetic key witness who hasn't stopped loving the victim in almost twenty years plus Stevie Nicks' "Leather and Lace" plus the implication at the end that the victim is perfectly happy on the other side equals many tears of both sadness and happiness.
Daniela, It's one of the only cases that turned out to be something other than murder (suicide, in this case). The title character, who was a male-to-female transsexual, just wanted was to be loved for who she was, not to be hated for what she was. When her boyfriend's father finds out about the two of them, he tears them apart and forces them to never see each other again. Her boyfriend returns for her that night, but arrives only seconds after she shoots herself in the head.
The Sleepover. Three popular girls invite their classmate Rita to a sleepover, just so they can humiliate her. At one point, two of the popular girls tease their other friend and tell her that she'd be better off hanging out with the Rita, who they considered a loser. Rita and the other girl then leave and walk home through the forest. Rita tries to comfort the other girl by asking if they could be friends, but she gets upset and pushes Rita into the river, killing her.
Red Glare, a teacher in the 50's is accused of being Communist. He loses his job, the respect of his community, the love of his family and is finally murdered by his friend who was a Communist because he was afraid he would be ratted out.
In Time To Crime a 6 year old girl who is killed in a drive by shooting in 1987.The killer is revealed to be the girl's then 12 year old brother because he was trying to kill the guy their mother was cheating on dad with and mistakenly killed his sister instead and the during the Medley Exit, (which is set to Michael Jackson's "Man In The Mirror") the girl's ghost looks as if she is really sad and lonely on the other side. It also didn't help matters that TNT broadcasted this episode the day Michael Jackson died.
Wishing: about a mentally handicapped teenage boy. In the episode, he was accused of sexual assault and beaten, when the girl actually let him kiss her, but then her boyfriend walked in. His mother was dying of cancer, and his father didn't want him. In the end, he's told by someone who had been helping him and his mother to stand on train tracks and make a wish for his mother to get better, as a train fast approaches... It seemed to be more sympathetic than an actual murder. And it was just saddening.
Strange Fruit, a young black man in the 60's moves into an all-white neighbourhood with his parents. He ends up befriending the wife, daughter and black maid of a man who lived in there. When the daughter accidentally reveals that the boy had been spending time with them, the man and his brother take him out to the woods, beat him, and lynch him. During the murder scene, Dr. King's legendary "I Have A Dream" speech playing in the background, and during the ending montage, Jeffries sees the victim's ghost in the playground where his body was found.
Best Friends. It turns out that this too is one of the rare occasions where it wasn't murder. It was supposed to be a double suicide, with the young couple driving off a bridge into the water below - only one of them doesn't die. Why did they feel they had to commit suicide? It was the 1930s, and they were an interracial, lesbian couple being chased down by the white girl's insanely possessive older brother. The end is a more bittersweet moment, when the one girl's ghost reaches out to the other, with the impression that they are both dead now, but reunited.
George Marks's backstory as reavealed in The Woods. His mother kept him locked in the attic and blamed him for everything wrong with her life, calling him "the darkness"; he killed her when he was still a little boy, after she told a burglar to rape him instead of her. No wonder he went crazy.
The end of Family. A high school couple get pregnant. The initially decide to give the child up for adoption; specifically to a teacher and his wife who cannot have children of their own. After seeing his girlfriend with their baby daughter, he finally steps up and tells the teacher the deal's off in the most moving, heartwrenching way possible... and the teacher hits him with his car and leaves him to die. Not only that, but he never had a chance to tell the girlfriend how much he loved her and their daughter.
The Promise: An overweight college girl is invited to a frat party by her friend who is a pledge. It turns out it was a pig party with lots of other overweight girls. The victim gets crowned the pig while her friend looks on, guilty. He apologizes to the girl, only to have the frat boys show up, knock him out and lock the girl upstairs. The friend tries to get her out, but the head Jerk Jock throws the key away and runs off like a dirty coward. It turns out it was one of the girls at the pig party who started the fire to get revenge. The friend stays with the girl, promising he'll get her out but knowing there's nothing he can do. After all this, what does the girl say to him? It's not his fault. She then dies of smoke inhalation. The ending, however, was rewarding, as the Jerk Jock is carted off in handcuffs, all the girls are there taking pictures of him with their cellphones the way the jocks did to them at the pig party.
Bad Night, a girl paralyzed in a car accident, and her friend who caused it is murdered months later by the fireman who "saved" her, who she married. Her friend found that it was the fireman's carelessness that crippled her. The real kicker is that her old boyfriend who abandoned her after the accident did so because he was ashamed of not being able to save her. He is last seen working late, implying that he has not reconciled with her and probably never will.
Jeffries' Imagine Spot during the ending montage of that episode wherein he pushes his wife out of the way of the hit-and-run trucker that actually killed her.
The stories of the killer and accomplice in "Committed," especially the killer. He was an incredibly handsome, black orderly at a mental hospital, friendly and beloved by all the (white) female patients. When the victim starts a secret art class, against the rules of the hospital, she and her friends got the orderly to model for them (nude), but they were caught by a nurse. After the incident one of the patients (a very talented artist who by modern standards shouldn't even be in there) was ordered to get a lobotomy. After much convincing, the victim persuaded the head nurse to let her get the lobotomy and not the artist since she really wanted to see her son again. It was supposed to be all cloak and dagger, but a snowstorm ruined their chances and the head doctor found out. To preserve the hospital's reputation, the head doctor blackmailed the orderly into killing the victim, threatening to turn him out into the street and charge him with attempted rape of the women in the art class, which, since this was the '50s, would have almost certainly resulted in a conviction if not a lynching. Once the crime was committed, the head had the nurse cover it up. When we flash back to the present, the orderly and nurse, now quite old, are led to lock up, aghast and on the verge of tears at what they had to do, and to make matters worse the real villain, the head doctor, had died years before and thus could not be punished.
Saving Patrick Bubley. Over the course of six years, 4 Bubley brothers all have been shot to death and the mother turns to drugs to deal with the pain. Patrick is the only brother left and Lily is determined to save him. She finds out why his brothers have all died and it was because some Latino gangbangers stole Patrick's scooter that he won in an essay contest when he was a little kid. He wrote the essay about W.E.B. Du Bois and thus he and his brothers named the scooter WEB D. The oldest brother was shot trying to get the scooter back. All of the other brothers were shot by the same gang members for various reasons but they all led back to that scooter. It's a tearjearker because it really shows how senseless violence is and it's bawl-worthy at the end when Patrick decides to go back to school and he sees his brothers at the fence watching him and cheering him on.
A Perfect Day, A housewife tries to escape from her abusive policeman husband with her two twin daughters. When the father catches them trying to leave, he takes them to the bridge over the Philadelphia river and holds the two girls over the edge, threatening to throw them in if his wife leaves. Their mother cries for the father to let them go, and when she reaches to get them from the father, she only manages to save one. The other one is thrown in the water. She drowns.
"Detention": A lonely teenager named Trevor in 1994 is depressed about Kurt Cobain's passing, because Nirvana's music made him feel less alone. Cobain's death leads Trevor to eventually bond and fall in love with a bookish classmate named Dawn. With her he finds happiness, and vows to rescue her from her abusive stepfather. In doing so, he reneges on a suicide (and later murder) pact he'd made with another teenager named Boris. When Boris attempts to jump off of the school roof, Trevor stops him, and in the scuffle Boris knocks Trevor off of the roof, killing him in what looks like suicide. At the end of the episode, everyone — Trevor's parents, Dawn, and another girl — find closure and put up a shrine in the same spot that Trevor had put a Kurt Cobain shrine in 1994. All while The Smashing Pumpkins' cover of "Landslide" plays.
The whole episode captures the different degrees of soul-crushing loneliness that teenagers feel, and the saddest part is, when one teen overcomes it through personal growth, he's killed.
Debut features the 1968 death of a young woman killed on the night of her debutante ball. She was killed by her boyfriend. She told him that she didn't want to have to lie about her family's background just so they could stay in the high society's good graces, like how he lies about his family's Jewish heritage. In anger, he pushes her down the stairs, which ends up killing her. The victim's kindly mother, who insisted that she join the debutante season in the first place, ends up regretting this for the rest of her life. She finally gets to see her daughter's ghost during the ending, which is set to a beautiful rendition of "Moon River".
Dog Day Afternoons has Roween, a Shrinking Violet bank teller who gets charmed by a man she meets, named Julius, into helping him rob the bank where she worked. Roween is killed during the heist by Phil, an alcoholic that Julius had also manipulated into working for him. Roween tried to back out at the last minute and tried to convince Phil into going to the police with her, but Julius convinces him to kill her, which he reluctantly does.
Sanctuary, which presents us Valens' ex-girlfriend involved with a drug trafficking ring. Seeing the victim be killed by her only friend, and seeing her dreaming about herself happily working in a office like she always wanted...
One Night. The killer, who has a degenerative disease, abducts teenage boys, because they think they're going to live forever and he believes that they need to learn that they're not. He lets them choose where they're going to be buried alive in a box. Justin, the latest victim and a prostitute, chooses the place he and his mother rode horses at a fair because it's the last place he meant something to someone. He writes his goodbye note and tells the killer that he should have asked his friend Valentino if he wanted to come when Justin left, one more time like Valentino asked him to do seconds before Justin was abducted- Justin seems to be in love with Valentino. As if that's not enough, Justin asks if he meets his mom is Heaven, will she remember him? Thankfully, at the end, Justin is saved and he and Valentino held hands with each other.
Death Penalty: Final Appeal, a young teenage girl is found raped and murdered after having just moved to a new house. The alleged killer, a black man who was one of the movers, insists that he is innocent and ends up being executed before his innocence was proven. The real killer was the other mover, who raped her because she reminded him of his own runaway daughter, whom he had also sexually abused when she was younger.
The Downer Ending isn't even the worst part. the ending montage has the victim's father, Stillman, Jeffries, Kat, and a priest at the black man's funeral, while the song "Hallelujah" is played in the background. The alleged killer then appears first dressed normally then in his orange prison suit, looking at them.
The River consists of a gambling-addict doctor who makes his friend kill him in order to protect his family from his self-caused poverty. And during the end, Valens mercilessly beats the crap out of a man who is suspected of being a paedophile.
Rampage, an episode about two teenaged misfits shooting up a mall. The whole sequence with the identity of the 'third shooter' was absolutely heartbreaking. The girl realizes exactly what's been done and you see her break again— amidst quick shots of the carnage and the screaming and cutbacks to a scene earlier where she's frantically trying to talk a security guard who's been shot in the chest out of dying. Then, once it's over, you see the two boys come forward to one another, congratulate each other the ways teenage boys do, for a split second just look at each other, giddy and scared, and then you hear the shots. Keep in mind that you get this whole flashback while Lilly talks the girl in question (eleven years later) out of shooting herself as well in the same mall. The worst part? It all started because the girl wanted revenge against a specific group of other boys who had just sexually-assaulted her in a back room at the mall.
In Sandhogs, a 1947 miner tries to start up a union because one of his friends died with the boss/company taking absolutely no accountability. His friend and his friend's widow (Alice) are black, and he is white, which starts up some tension right there. By the end, Alice and the (married) miner are head over heels in love with each other, but due to some friendly backstabbing by another miner, the boss is onto his union idea and goons are hired. The miner tells Alice that he doesn't love her after all and that she should go off somewhere in an attempt to protect her from the bad guys. He is, of course, murdered and she spent all those years thinking that he really didn't love her, and had refused to listen to their song that had been played throughout the episode. The ending sequence has her younger self and the spectre of the miner dancing together to the song.
Saving Sammy is pretty bad as far as tearjerkers go. It has everything needed to jerk tears. Disabled/mentally disordered kid witnessing his parents die? Check. Disabled/mentally disordered child of the dead parents extremely close to a pet? Check. A fairly sympathetic killer, who only killed because he didn't want to lose the love of his life when the family moved to Vermont, only to lose her anyway due to her heartbreak? Check.
Static, a popular radio DJ dies while on the air. He was just trying to be a father to his daughter, however belated, and her mother ruined all that by killing him.
It doesn't help that the episode had a heartbreakingly lovely original song called "Scarlet Rose", which was written as a lullaby by the murder victim for his baby daughter—and recorded In-Universe by said daughter when she was a teenager. Even worse was was that the record was playing on the victim's radio show at the moment he was murdered.
Fireflies, which had two young girls, one black and one white, growing up to be friends in a racist neighbourhood. A young boy was angry at this, and shot at them in order to scare them, but ended up shooting the white girl, while the black girl ran away in fear. He picked up the white girl and dumped her body in a different state. She would've died if it wasn't for the fact that the fireflies she and her friend always played with told her to stay awake. She was saved and lived the rest of her life in that state, having lost her memory. Until, of course, the Cold Case gang came back to start a tearful reunion.
Another episode with gay themes is Forever Blue about two gay cops in love and having a secret affair in 1968. One of them is shot, and the other hides his true feelings until the case is reopened. Even then, he denies he's gay and in love with his partner, right up until the very end, where he admits it with tears in his eyes. He tells Lily that he's still in love with and missing his partner. The end montage features the Byrds doing Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages" with the lyric 'Ah, but I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now'.
The Good-Bye Room in season four, set in 1964, involves a teenage single mother being forced to give up her child for adoption.
The ending of Shuffle, Ball Change. When the killer (the victim's brother) is brought into the police station, the looks exchanged between him and his father are priceless and without any dialogue, convey:
Young/Older Grant: Dad, I'm sorry. I let you down.
Young/Older Father: No, I'm sorry. I should have told you both how much I loved you.
Capped it off with Lily seeing the victim dancing and being bathed in a white light before fading away, all to the tune of "I Wanna Know What Love Is", and the whole sequence doubles as Crowning Music of Awesome.
A Dollar, A Dream, a young widow is forced to live out of her car with her two daughters. She disappears one day after dropping them off at school, and the two girls eventually end up in foster care, where they are both split apart. The elder daughter ends up hating her mother all those years for believing she had abandoned them. She was killed by a homeless man she had befriended that was helping her adjust to homelessness. The two of them had decided to split the winnings of lottery ticket he gave her if it won anything. He was unable to accept that it wasn't the million dollars, and ends up destroying the cake she bought for her daughter's birthday while searching for her half of the money before killing her.
A happier one is Jeffries finally making peace with his wife's death after confronting her killer, who is just a broken man who feels genuine guilt for his actions. It ends with him finally listening to Miles Davies for the first time in 12 years.
Stand Up and Holler. The victim died because she stood up to the Alpha Bitch and her best friend helped cover it up because couldn't give up her popularity.
In The Good Death, we have the victim Jay, a Jerk Ass dying from a brain tumor who decides he's going to beat the disease no matter what and gets into a lot of arguments which makes him unpopular with many people. He also experiences strange hallucinations of a beach that seem to imply he did something terrible in his past. It turns out he's actually reliving one of the few happy memories he had with his wife and son. When he asks his son about it on his deathbed, he lies about remembering it (which he regrets years later) and his wife rushes to the hospital for one last time where he asks her to help him die as he had already given up on life and hopes she will remember him as the man he used to be and not the man he had become.
"Devil Music" is essentially Pleasantville with a sad ending. A teenager in the 1950s is growing increasingly-uncomfortable with his seemingly-idealistic, Leave It To Beaver-style neighborhood, believing there must be something greater out there. Over the course of the episode, he starts ferreting out dirty secrets about the community, most notably the fact that its female and African-American residents have been pretty much brainwashed into subservience. He encourages the other characters to do what they want to do with their lives instead of what society expects of them, which ultimately gets him murdered by his cousin, who blamed him for "breaking" the community (the saddest part, of course, being that it was broken to begin with).
In World's End there's the case of a woman murdered during Well's War of the Worlds radio show. And her old lover was still alive, as well as her now very senile husband and murderer. The final scene has her ghost and the old lover dancing together at the dance hall like they used to.
The ending of It Takes A Village, which had the three of the killer's victims looking on while the detectives put away the case files, and found the grandmother of the final victim sitting on her porch, listening to his iPod. She looks up and sees his ghost standing before her. He smiles and nods before fading away. Particularly touching considering that that was how the episode had started, with them chatting on the porch, and a very fitting way of the victim assuring his loved one that he was at peace.
Boy Crazy: An early-1960s teenage girl looks, dresses, and acts like a boy but still likes boys, so her classmates ridicule her and her only friend, another boy, shuns her when she reveals her feelings for him. After she gets expelled from school, her widower father puts her in an asylum. She rebels against the doctors' attempts to make her a "lady," so a guilt-ridden nightshift nurse (who was also the high school's nurse) lets her friend into the hospital to help her get out. He finds that they've given her enough electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) to brainwash her and leave her half dead in a red dress. He then smothers her with her pillow and drops her body in the lake to fulfill the pact they made there to "never let them change us—be free or die trying." It's an absolutely heartbreaking look at the fluidity of gender and sexuality and the pain that comes when it's met with harsh intolerance.
Sadder still, the victim only appears to the friend who mercy killed her and not to her father. He's just sitting there looking at her photo as a child, living the rest of his days regretting leaving her to that hospital.
Justice: the reunion of the four women who, in the 80's, plotted to kill the Jerk Jockwho raped each one of them and then got off scot free? Only to chicken out when they had the asshole at their mercy... and then have one of the girls's little brother grab a gun and kill him, as revenge as well as "atonement" for not being able to help his older sister.
Family 8108, set in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Seeing the father get murdered by the boy who was once his son's friend is awful, especially after it becomes clear that the killer still feels guilt for what he did (albeit he tries to cling to his racism in order to live with it).
Then there's the end where instead of period music, we hear the victim's son's (who died in war) last letter to his father.
Only The Heartless wouldn't react to the reunion of Max and his mom in Ghost of My Child.
Roller Girl, a girl in the 70's is found dead at the bottom of a ravine. She just wanted wanted to be seen as grown up, gets a makeover and she and her girl friend go out on the town. Instead they get exposed to alcohol, drugs and date rape. She runs into her boy friend and they spend the next few hours frolicking, recapturing their youth. Everything goes well, when he tries to kiss her. Considering everything that's happened earlier, she freaks out and accidentally falls to her death.
Shore Leave, but it hits home at the end, with a beautiful rendition of 'Taps' and the correction of his status.
Triple Threat involves the 1989 murder of Nadia Koslov, a teenage opera singer originally from Russia. She and her family defect to the U.S. and she enrolls in a performing arts school. She decides to change from opera to pop/rock. Initially her father is against this change, but finally comes to accept his daughter for what she wants to be. That night, she is killed by one of her teachers because the teacher is jealous of Nadia's future.
Jackals, a biker couple try to cut ties with a notorious gang. The gang leader finds out and kills the girl, right in front of the guy who couldn't stand up for her. The leader even told him to get some shovels.
Soul about an up and coming record producer killed because he was Oblivious to Love until it was too late. The money he spent the whole episode collecting so he can start his own label is used by the girl who killed him to buy his tombstone.