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Tear Jerker: M*A*S*H
M*A*S*H is frequently depressing, but the finale? Forget a kleenex, you're going to need an IV for the dehydration from crying.
One of the big ones is The Reveal of what got Hawkeye sent to the crazy house before the beginning of the final episode: that a Korean woman killed her own baby because Hawkeye was hissing at her to keep it quiet so they wouldn't be caught by nearby enemy soldiers.
A near-tearjerker is the look on Hawkeye's face when he gets back to the camp and finds out that B.J. left in the same way Trapper did - no note, no goodbye, and while he was gone. Thankfully B.J. comes back, but the look of devastation on Hawkeye's face...
And speaking of Hawkeye and B.J., their conversation in the tent where Hawkeye acknowledges that they will probably never see each other again after the war. B.J. tries to mutter something about staying in touch or getting together, but he can't even look at his friend. Even if they do see each other again after the war, the relationship that they have with each other now will effectively be gone.
As Hawkeye's helicopter takes off, he sees B.J.'s final message to him, spelled out in white stones: "GOODBYE".
While the finale was a heartbreaker, the moment where peace is declared is a moment of such pure joy. The look of relief on Winchester's face and the happiness afterwards is incredibly uplifting.
Winchester's reaction to the musicians being killed in the series finale. "Those men weren't soldiers...they were musicians!" The heartbreak in that line, and his subsequent smashing of the record of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet...wow.
When everyone is saying where and what they are going to next, most of the stories are humorous (such as Rizzo planning on selling frog's legs to French restaurants or B.J. pretending that he was going to leave Peg on the spur of the moment). Then, Bigelow stands up and says that, between World War II and Korea, she's had enough of the army and just wants to go home.
B.J. almost getting home. He had made several legs of the journey and, while on a layover waiting for his next trip, gets the message that he has to go back to the 4077 instead of home to his family.
The fact that most of them would never see each other again, ever, is very sad despite the entire reason they were lumped together in the first place (most of them unwillingly) was because of a war. It was especially hard even for people like Winchester to say a final goodbye and leave. Chances are, the majority of them lived out their lives and died without ever knowing what happened to the others, as the technology we have today for instantaneous contact wouldn't come until many decades later.
Other than the telephone. Most likely, those who did stay in touch were using that plus letters and postcards. Given BJ's enthusiasm for the idea of reunion parties, he quite likely staged some.
Winchester gets quite a few of these, most likely put in to help differentiate his character from that of Frank Burns, the guy he replaced. Among the most memorable is the plot in "Morale Victory" in which he convinces the concert pianist that his piano skill is not gone just because one of his hands is immobile. One of his best lines ever comes in the coda: "Each of us must dance to his own tune."
Charles: I can play the notes, but I cannot make the music.
The episode where Winchester meets his soul mate, a woman he quickly, desperately loves, and at the end realizes that he can't bring himself to accept her because her values clash with his family's. And yet he still loves her...
His Heroic BSOD storyline in "The Life You Save", where he's desperate to know what it's like to die. All of it, damnit.
"I have a message... Lieutenant Colonel... Henry Blake's plane... was shot down... over the Sea of Japan. It spun in... there were no survivors."
The absolutely poleaxed look on Radar's face when he comes into the room, by itself, is enough to have the Genre Savvy cringing, mentally pleading for him not to recite the halting line above.
Particularly shocking as he was on his way home - and more so again when you remember that his son was born while he was in Korea and they never got to see one another.
That was also a case of Enforced Method Acting, as none of the cast were told of Blake's death until shortly before that scene was filmed. Radar's choked voice as he reads the dispatch isn't an act.
There's a double meaning behind the grief. McLean Stevenson (Henry) was something of a father figure for the cast, as well as an advocate for their needs as actors with the studio (which did not always treat the cast as well as it should). In a documentary that aired several years ago, several actors and production staffers told the story of how after Stevenson left the cast, the order came down in the form of a "studio note" to kill the character, so the actor could never come back to the show. The implied message came through to the remaining cast loud and clear. Thus why this moment is the Trope Namer for McLeaned.
In the same episode, Henry's goodbye hug to Radar: "You behave yourself, or I'm gonna come back here and kick your butt." As a viewer, you're still drying your eyes from that when the final O.R. scene begins.
Made all the better when you know that Radar saluting Henry was ad-libbed by Gary Burghoff, whereas Henry embracing Radar was ad-libbed by McLean Stevenson (who later said of that moment, "You can't write emotion").
"Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler", in which the eponymous Captain Chandler has fallen into a trauma-induced belief that he is Jesus Christ. Especially this little scene:
Chandler: Yes. [through tears] But sometimes the answer is "No."
In "Period of Adjustment", watching B.J. completely come apart knowing that the first man his little girl called "Daddy" wasn't him.
Hell, even Frank Burns has a moment. It happens near the end of "Margaret's Engagement" where he loses his mind and everyone (except Margaret) is giving him a break. But then Radar gets Frank's mother on the phone:
Frank: Nobody really likes me here. Well, there was one person but she was just... pretending to like me. You know, the way Dad used to?
The real kicker? There is no indication that she tries to correct him on this, meaning that even his mother acknowledges that Frank's father only pretended to like him.
There's another one for Frank. In an early episode, he's talking with Trapper and mentions that during his childhood no one was allowed to talk at the table, not even hum, without getting a punch in the throat. Trapper's stunned and says that's horrible. Frank then goes on to say that he thinks that's why he became a snitch, it was someone to talk to. He may be an unlikeable guy, but with a childhood like that, it's not surprising he ended up the way he was.
Another Frank moment comes in his very last episode, when they're all getting drunk at the Bachelor Party: "Stop laughing without me!" He just sounds so pitiful and desperate that you can't help but feel bad for the poor, ferret-faced man.
Not to mention his scene at the end of the same episode. After Margaret flies off for her honeymoon, he just stands there alone on the chopper pad and quietly says goodbye to her. The only moment in which he was afforded any dignity on the show.
Similarly, try every other time a character is on the phone with a loved one back home. For example, "The Late Captain Pierce", when Hawkeye finally gets to tell his dad that yes, he is still alive. Most of the conversation comes across as a very real chat about nothing in particular, and it's still one of the most amazing bits of television ever.
Relatedly, any scene when they watch home movies sent to them by their families, especially that one scene where Blake's wife gets the little neighborhood kids to line up with a sign that says, "Miss you." (Hawkeye: "Henry, if you don't give the order to cry, I will.") Also when they're watching Radar's family and his mom mouths, "I love you", and Radar tearfully mouths back, "Mommy".
Anything involving Henry and his family back home is almost unbearable to watch once you've learned the character's ultimate fate. In his last episode, he's in the middle of discussing homecoming plans with his wife when the phone connection is prematurely cut off, a scene that in retrospect is one of the show's saddest moments in its own right.
Especially heartbreaking now is his storyline in "Showtime". It was pretty sad anyway, coupled with a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming when Radar gives him a Korean child to hold because he can't hold his own, but after "Abyssinia, Henry"? It's an effort just to keep it together.
Or how about his call to his family in "Henry In Love", where he tells his son that he has to be the man of the house, just until he gets back from Korea. Poor kid...
The main plot of "Heal Thyself", in which a front-line doctor replacing the incapacitated Potter and Winchester goes completely insane. Just the helpless look he gives Dr. Pierce and that soft, unassuming voice: "The blood won't come off..."
Henry's speech to Hawkeye in "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet".
Henry: Pierce, is there anything I can do to help?
Hawkeye: It's the first time I cried since I came to this crummy place. I don't understand that.
Henry: Well, Gillis was your friend. I mean, it's only natural that you'd, uh, you know.
Hawkeye: Henry, I know why I'm crying now. Tommy was my friend, and I watched him die, and I'm crying. I've watched guys die almost every day. Why didn't I ever cry for them?
Henry: Because you're a doctor.
Hawkeye: The hell does that mean?
Henry: I don't know. If I had the answer, I'd be at the Mayo Clinic. Does this place look like the Mayo Clinic? Look, all I know is what they taught me at command school: There are certain rules about a war. And rule number one is young men die. And rule number two is, doctors can't change rule number one.
From episode 17 of season 8, "Bless You, Hawkeye", watching Hawkeye as Sidney Freedman (who can somehow cause more Tear Jerkers than any other character) digs into his childhood and brings out the realization that Hawkeye's best friend pushed him off a boat when he was seven. Hawkeye falls apart fairly regularly, but seeing him wail and cry in the bed is heartrending.
Hell, Sidney gets one himself in "Dear Sigmund". Every other time that Sidney is onscreen, he's either working hard and helping someone piece their psyche back together or taking some time off to play poker with the staff of the 4077th, and constantly maintains dry, sardonic composure. But when he tells Hawkeye and B.J. about how amongst a torrent of GIs who had cracked under the pressure, one particular soldier that he thought he'd saved who was hearing voices pushing him towards suicide "listened to the voices," it feels like a punch in the gut to find out that this man was just as vulnerable as the staff of the 4077th.
From "War of Nerves":
Sidney: When Pierce and Hunnicutt lose one, he's out of his misery. When I lose one, I've lost a mind.
Mulcahy: When I lose one, I've lost a soul. I guess it all depends on your point of view.
There was the episode where a soldier came to the 4077th with absolutely no memory of who he was or where he was at all, not even his name. Under hypnosis, it was revealed that he lost it because his younger brother had been killed in action and he felt responsible because he promised his parents he'd look out for him. The hypnosis scene is an all-time weeper. "Oh, Stevie...no, Stevie..."
Looking at Hawkeye, B.J., and Sidney at that moment when they find out what happened to the medic, you see a moment where they all look at each other in horror. You can tell that they briefly wonder whether making this poor kid remember was the right thing to do.
Radar's departure, as he has to say his rushed and confused goodbyes to the others as a load of wounded comes pouring in just as they're planning to get his going-away party underway. In particular, the scene where Hawkeye — who has to go to the O.R. before being able to say anything — glances up while operating, sees Radar peering through the window, shoots him an agonized look, and then fires him a salute.
Earlier in the episode, Radar is packing away his personal effects when he comes upon a familiar item:
Radar: [to Klinger] It's my very own personal-type thermometer. Colonel Blake gave it to me just before he...
Col. Potter choking back tears as he says goodbye.
Potter: Not exactly how I wanted to say goodbye, Radar.
Radar: Me neither, sir.
Potter: [voice audibly breaking] Godspeed, son. [They embrace, while the camera focuses on Potter's utterly heartbroken expression]
Interestingly, Potter's facial expressions and body language in that scene almost perfectly mirror Radar's own reactions when saying goodbye to Henry Blake five seasons earlier, making the scene both a Tear Jerker and a beautifully subtle Continuity Nod.
Not to mention the scene in The Tag of that episode, where Hawkeye, B.J. and Potter return to the Swamp and find Radar's beloved teddy bear lying on Hawkeye's cot — indicating that Radar has left not only the 4077th, but his childhood behind forever.
The end of the penultimate episode. Margaret is putting together a time capsule to commemorate the 4077's presence in Korea. After expressing resistance for the whole episode B.J. and Hawkeye come through at the end.
Hawkeye: [hands over a teddy bear] This belonged to Radar; he left it for me. Let it stand for all the soldiers who came over as boys, and left as men.
B.J.: [hands over a fishing lure] Here, I fished with this a few times. Hawkeye told me it belonged to Colonel Blake. Let it stand for all the men who never came home.
"Dear Sis", the season 7 Christmas Episode (and Father Mulcahy's "Letter Episode"). From the Crowning Moment of Heartwarming ending (and then the truck with the wounded comes in...) from when Winchester saw his childhood winter hat to when everyone is singing "Dona Nobis Pacem", along with moments earlier in the episode of Margaret barely keeping it together in the scene at the Colonel's office and Mulcahy crying because he feels so guilty at punching the jackass soldier... one of the show's most emotional episodes.
Hawkeye's phone call with his Dad at the end of "Sons and Bowlers". He's saying "I love you. I love you. I'll be home as soon as I can," with this really choked up, happy-tears voice.
Hell, any time Hawkeye's dad comes up for more than a few moments, you can tell just how badly Hawkeye misses him and how close the poor guy is to coming unglued.
Hawkeye in "Dr. Pierce and Dr. Hyde". He's exhausted, he's telling chopper pilots not to go up anymore because they always bring mangled kids back down with them and he's so ridiculously vulnerable that you just want to hold him and say it will all be okay.
In "Peace on Us", there is a scene with Margaret and Hawkeye, where she's found out that Donald's run out on her and Hawkeye is pissed because they've changed the point system again. He asks her what she's going to do and she angrily says she'll get a divorce. But then it starts to sink in and she says it a second time while starting to cry.
Doubled when Hawkeye immediately drops his rant when she starts crying, decides he's had enough, and charges all the way to the peace talks to try and get them to end the war.
The Christmas episode where Hawkeye, B.J., and Margaret are desperately trying to save a mortally wounded soldier all day Christmas day, then just trying to keep him alive long enough so that he won't die on Christmas, and not break down. The man finally dies about an hour before midnight, but the doctors turn the clock forward so the time of death will be 12:01, December 26, so that for the man's children, Christmas won't have to be the day their daddy died. It's beyond heartbreaking, especially when one thinks of all the men and women who did die on Christmas, whether in Vietnam, Korea, or any other war, and how painful that loss would be for their families. The scene with the doctors and Margaret silently looking at the pictures of the soldier's children and the letter from his wife just rips your heart out and stomps on it.
Trapper, at the end of the "Kim" episode.
The ending to the episode "Yessir, That's Our Baby". A Korean-American infant girl is abandoned at the camp. The unit quickly adores her but learns as well that because she is of mixed race there is nothing but a grim future ahead of her in Korea. So they attempt to find a new safe placement for the child in the U.S. but for all their effort everything falls through and they must leave the baby at a monastery, a place that will give her a safe but narrow future. Hawkeye's final comment to the baby is a tear bringer.
Hawkeye: You brought a little light to a dark and dismal place. And you’ll never know what you meant to a group of tired people stuck in a very strange time. Be happy.
The note left with the baby, halting English written in a hand that Charles and Hawkeye have to work together to decipher, is worth a few tissues too. In full: "This is my baby. She is good baby. Strong. Beautiful. Father American GI. Gone now. Baby American too. Please, doctors, care for her. I cannot, but I love her."
In "The Late Captain Pierce", after Hawkeye realizes that his dad has been informed of his "death" and there's a communications blackout so he can't contact him to say it was a paperwork error, he has a breakdown and gives up on everything, going so far as to find a morgue bus and try to desert as a corpse. B.J. tracks him down to convince him to come back, and as they talk the sound of approaching choppers suddenly comes up.
B.J.: Klinger says a lot.
Hawkeye: I don't care. I really don't. They'll keep coming whether I'm here or not. Trapper went home; they're still coming. Henry got killed and they're still coming. Wherever they come from... they'll never run out.
One episode has a visiting doctor flown in to explain the newly invented phosphorus-tipped bullet and how to deal with the grotesque burning damage it leaves in the body. Pierce and Hunnicutt lay on the jokes, much to Houlihan's consternation, but to their surprise it's Potter who blows his top at them, but the end of his tirade lets on that there's more than just frustration at their wisecracking:
Potter: Now you tell me this — if people can invent new and better ways of killing each other, why can't someone invent a way to end this... stupid war?!"
Potter himself is practically in tears at this point. The man is tired, angry, and at the end of his rope, and he just wants out.
In "Depressing News," the unit gets a massive shipment of tongue depressors. When B.J. laughs it off as a simple snafu, Hawkeye's awareness of the larger implications behind it (and his disgust and weariness with the same) come bubbling out:
Hawkeye: Snafu, phooey. We wouldn't have this supply if they didn't think there would be a demand. Tongue depressors, doctors, soldiers... we're all the same. [grabs a depressor] Trapper John goes. No problem, there's plenty more where he came from. [tosses it and grabs another] B.J. Hunnicutt. Same size, same shape. [grabs two more] Frank Burns out, Winchester in. Only a hair's difference. [grabs another] Henry Blake... [snaps it in two] Rest in peace, Henry. Incoming, Sherman Potter. My God. Hasn't this elimination tournament gone on long enough? Do they have to stock up so that it can last another five years?
Potter's storyline in "Old Soldiers", culminating in his toast to his buddies who have passed on at the end of the episode. Perhaps the most striking thing is the sight of Winchester moved to tears.
Father Mulcahy's sermon in "Blood Brothers", comparing the selflessness of Patrick Swayze's character in the face of learning he has a terminal disease to Mulcahy's own selfish desires in wanting everything to be perfect in the hopes of gaining acknowledgement from a visiting cardinal. By the end of the sermon he's using "I" instead of "he" to identify himself in the sermon and on the verge of tears.
And then Cardinal Reardon gets up, hugs Mulcahy and gives him a pat on the back, and tells him that he's "a tough act to follow".
Nurse Kelleye, sitting up with a patient who is terminal, comforts him by indulging his belief that she is his girlfriend back home, and in his dying moments they plan a picnic date and talk about the plans they had for a life together.
Radar sobbing after seeing his mother mouth "I love you" on a silent home movie sent to him.