Gloria's miscarriage in "Gloria's Pregnancy". At first, everyone's stressed out when they find that she's pregnant, as Mike's between jobs and this pregnancy wasn't planned at all, but they decide to try to make the best of the situation, only for Gloria to then feel horribly sick. This episode is also the first time we see Archie's gentler side, as he's heartbroken that his potential grandchild has been lost to nothing else but a cruel twist of fate and he's clearly at a loss trying to console Gloria as he's hurting badly too. Both Edith and Mike are somewhat shaken up, too.
The Season 8 finale "The Stivics Go West" was both a Very Special Episode and a tearjerker, in that it was the final time all four of the show's main stars Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers appeared together as regulars.note Reiner and Struthers both would appear in two later episodes, reuniting the foursome.
Archie and Mike's final conversation, where Mike thanks Archie for all his support over the years, tells him he loves him, and awkwardly embraces him, is very touching. Shortly thereafter comes an emotional farewell. The final scene has a deeply saddened Archie watch the taxi with his daughter, son-in-law and grandson, Joey, inside drive away. Archie chokes back a sob, a few tears welling up. Edith, who had gone into the kitchen to get Archie a beer, returns to the living room, and sees Archie wiping his eyes. Quickly, she runs back into the kitchen so he doesn't know she's seen him crying, and announces she's bringing him a beer. Archie puts on a braver face when Edith walks in. Edith then sits next to Archie, and they sit, sadly, in the now-silent house.
According to one history of the series, this was a real-life tearjerker, as by the final scene the cast — knowing this was possibly their last time together — were emotionally spent and nervous about doing that final scene. Reportedly, it took 20 takes for an acceptable take to be put in the can, and a frustrated (and himself emotional) Norman Lear was wearing sunglasses as the number of blown takes mounted.
The "Two's a Crowd" episode, where a drunken Archie talks to Mike about his father and reveals where he got his prejudiced views from.
Mike: My ol' man used to call people the same things as your ol' man. But I always knew he was wrong. So was your ol' man.
Archie: Don't tell me my father was wrong! Let me tell you somethin'. Your father who made you, wrong? Your father, the breadwinner of the house there, the man who goes out and busts his butt to keep a roof over your head and clothes on your back? You call your father wrong? Hey, hey, your father... Your father, that's the man that comes home bringin' you candy. Your father's the first guy to throw a baseball to you. And take you for walks in the park. Hold you by the hand. My father held me by the hand, oh, he had a hand on him, I tell you. He busted that hand once, and he busted it on me. To teach me to do good. And my father, he'd shove me in the closet for seven hours to teach me to do good, 'cause he loved me. He loved me. Don't be lookin' at me!... Let me tell you somethin'. You're supposed to love your father. Because your father loves you. And how can any man that loves you tell you anything that's wrong?
Any episode involving Stephanie worried about having to leave was this. Especially when she tried to come up with excuses as to why she can't go back home to her terrible father yet.
Although in "The Draft Dodger" the audience is supposed to see Archie as judgmental and reactionary, the speech he gives is sad in a fridge way, when you remember Archie himself was drafted. This speech, coupled with Carroll O'Connor's masterful acting, strongly implied that Archie was afraid to go to war but he did his duty anyway.
Mike: When the Hell are you going to admit that the war was wrong?
Archie: I ain't talkin' about that war! Goddammit, I don't want to talk about that goddamn war no more! I'm talkin' about somethin' else! And what he done was wrong! Sayin' he won't go! Whaddya think, all the people of this country can say whether or not they wanna go to war? You couldn't get a decent war off the ground that way! All the young people would say no - sure they would! Cause they don't wanna get killed! And that's why we leave it to the Congress, cause them old quacks ain't gonna get killed! And they're gonna do the right thing, and get behind the president and vote yes!
Edith alone in the house with a rapist in "Edith's 50th Birthday". Archie ends up interrupting them, so the rapist hides in the closet with a gun, telling her that if Edith says anything, he'll shoot the both of them. Watching Edith looking so desperate while Archie prattles on about needing a punchbowl, then when he leaves, she cries for him not to go. Doubles as Nightmare Fuel.
At the end of the same scene, Edith, who feels like there is no longer anything she can do to escape, begs her rapist, "Couldn't we do this without kissing?" It seems like a ridiculous request, but the fear and utter despair in her voice is heart-wrenching.
At the end of part one, Edith manages to escape the rapist (a Moment of Awesome), and runs to the Stivics, where a surprise birthday party is waiting for her. As everyone cheerfully sings "Happy Birthday" and "For She's a Jolly Good Fellow," Edith rushes to Archie's arms and completely breaks down, and Archie, who's usually portrayed as totally oblivious, knows that something is horribly, horribly wrong. The episode ends with Edith sobbing and Archie looking genuinely concerned, all set to the irony of the partygoers singing happily.
The second part of the episode is similarly depressing, but in a different way. Edith goes through a period of post-traumatic stress that paralyzes her to the point of being afraid to leave the house. Seeing the normally cheerful, oblivious Edith so broken by her experience that she can't do anything but obsessively iron pillowcases is horrible. Similarly, watching Gloria desperately try to get through to her—and eventually reach a point where she's so frustrated and overwhelmed by Edith's refusal to cope that she screams "You're not my mother anymore!"—is extremely painful.
Remember that Gloria wanted to do everything she could to bring her rapist to justice, only to be steamrolled by Mike and Archie. Remember that her decision was prompted by Edith sharing her story of a similar attack when she was a young woman and her regret over not speaking up and potentially stopping that man from hurting anyone else. Her anger at Edith refusing to help put away the rapist from this episode is hard to watch but fully understandable.
At the beginning of the second part, Edith has to tell Archie what happened, and the pain as she struggles to even say the words is palpable. Later, when Gloria and Mike enter and hear about what happened, it becomes a horrible case of Truth in Television: Gloria wants to call the police and report the attack, as she did when she was almost raped (an event that happened a few seasons earlier). Archie points out that if the case did go to court, the lawyers for the defense would twist the story to make it seem as though Edith was coming on to her rapist, a sadly common tactic in actual rape cases.
It's even worse when you remember that this is the second time in her life that Edith has suffered an attempted rape. The first time, she was a young woman lured by a date under a boardwalk. This time, she's turning fifty and in the assumed safety of her own home.
As the family stays up all night waiting to hear if Archie will be laid off, he remembers how his father was devastated by the Great Depression. "He just kept asking why, and no one could tell him."
"Archie's Bitter Pill". It starts with Archie being frustrated that his bar is going nowhere. Then he takes pills from a friend, and starts roaming around town with enthusiasm on how he'll build a chain of bars. But as his energy dies down, he starts breaking up over the imminent failure of his business. Edith comforts Archie as he comes down from his pill-daze, crying over and over again "I didnt mean no harm, Edith..."
During the show's run, Edith ends up befriending Beverly LaSalle, a cross-dresser who performs as a female impersonator (he's implied to be gay, but not transgender). In "Edith's Crisis of Faith," Beverly and Mike are mugged (off-screen) by a group of teenagers; Beverly protects Mike from being bludgeoned with a metal pipe, but the incensed teens bludgeon Beverly instead (Mike implies that they sensed his being gay), and, while Mike survives the ordeal with only minor injuries, Beverly dies from his injuries. The look on Edith's face when the doctor at the hospital tells her is utterly heartbreaking; even the studio audience reacts. It escalates from there as Edith even starts questioning her religious faith, much to Archie's dismay.
This all overlaps with a moment of heartwarming as Archie and Gloria talk about Beverly, and Archie himself remarks that he/she was a decent person who was a good friend to Edith.
In the first part of the episode, when Barney comes rushing up to the house to tell Archie about what's happened, Gloria starts desperately screaming Mike's name, which is chilling and sad.
A moment earlier in the episode becomes all the more depressing by what follows (and especially on repeat viewings, when you know what's going to happen). Beverly has just been told that he's going to get to do his drag show at Carnegie Hall, and to celebrate, Edith gives him an early Christmas present: a scrapbook full of every newspaper item that mentions him and his act (Edith explains that she's put it together all year). But what clinches the moment as heartbreaking is when Edith tells Beverly that he's "like family" to her. Beverly is normally a jovial man who doesn't take much seriously, but when Edith tells him that, a look of pure joy comes over his face, and his voice breaks as he says "I love you, Edith." Fridge Horror kicks in when you realize that Beverly either doesn't have a family, or, even worse, was disowned when he came out as gay and started cross-dressing. He considered Edith his sister and the Bunkers as a second family...and an hour later, he's gone. Even Archie, who still is quite uncomfortable around Beverly but at least has accepted that he is now "part of the family" to the point where he is cordial around him, is deeply stunned and emotional, as it is clear even he wouldn't have wished this brutal fate on him.
"The Bunkers and the Swingers" is largely a comic episode—Edith inadvertently answers an ad in an erotic magazine (as The Ditz, she doesn't notice the content) for wife-swapping. When Curtis and Ruth, the swinger couple, comes to the Bunkers' home, a lot of errors in communication, plus Louise Jefferson having to tell Edith the truth of the situation, leads to laughter. But at the end of the episode, Ruth delivers a short monologue about how swinging has saved her marriage; her voice trembles as she does so, hinting that she and her husband have likely been constantly judged or ostracized for their choices, and that it's hurt her deeply. What really hurts is that when Ruth says that "we were drowning," and that wife-swapping saved her marriage, Edith replies (rather confusedly, rather than maliciously) that she'd rather have drowned. That gets a laugh, but consider the situation from Ruth's perspective: what would it be like to be told that your lifestyle—something that you, as two consenting adults, freely chose— was so awful to some people that death is considered a better option?
Season 1's "The Success Story" sees Archie's old Army buddy Eddie Frazier visiting New York after making millions as a car dealer in Los Angeles, and Archie organises a reunion of some of his other fellow soldiers with Eddie as the guest of honour. During the party, Eddie excuses himself to make a phone call, and Archie orders Mike to get drinks and ice for his friends. However, as Mike passes the phone, he overhears Eddie's conversation and learns the real reason he is in New York: he is hoping for a reconciliation with his estranged son, Greg. Mike passes Eddie twice on the way to and from the kitchen, and each time the conversation has deteriorated further; knowing no other way to get through to his son, Eddie is reduced to begging and trying to bribe him with $500 for a five-minute meeting, but Greg finally loses patience and hangs up. Eddie forces a smile and tells Mike his son can have anything he wants from him, but when Mike, having overheard enough to know something's up, asks, "What does he want from you?", he is forced to admit that Greg wants him "to stay the hell away from him." He returns to the party, being cheerful and making jokes, but as Archie and the other veterans serenade him with a chorus of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow", Eddie sees Mike looking at him with sorrow, as if to say, "All that money hasn't brought you happiness, has it?", and Eddie lowers his head in grief and embarrassment. The looks on both their faces is pretty depressing to watch. Eddie eventually starts crying, but tries to hide it through laughter. In The Stinger, Archie and Mike are alone in the living room, and a drunk Archie tells Mike it was a night to remember; Mike, clearly thinking better of shattering Archie's gilded image of Eddie, says he'll never forget it. A possibility that makes it even sadder, is that if Greg has children, then Eddie would have grandchildren that he'll never get to see or know, because of the estrangement.
Archie Bunker's Place
The Season 2 opener "Archie Alone" sees Archie in deep denial over Edith's offscreen death (after series star Jean Stapleton decided to leave the show). Eventually frustrated that everyone is talking about it, Archie shouts at the world to go away. He then goes upstairs and sees one of Edith's slippers, before he has his emotional breakdown.
Archie: It wasn't supposed to be like this. I was supposed to be the first one to go. I always used to kid you about you going first. You know I never meant none of that and that morning when yous was laying there. I was shaking you and yelling at you to go down and fix my breakfast. I didn't know. You had no right to leave me that way, Edith... (Holding the slipper to his face, Archie starts to cry) without giving me just one more chance to say I love you.