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Tear Jerker / Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

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  • "Ridicule": A male stripper is raped by a group of women, and most of the legal authorities he goes to refuse to take his report seriously. Even most of the guys of the SVU don't believe him because he had gotten an erection during his rape, which is as horrible as saying a woman wasn't really raped because she became wet during it. The ring leader of the rapists gets away scot-free while leaving her friend to be declared guilty on the rape charges instead of her. Luckily she's arrested for the murder of her friend, who wanted to inform her husband of the group's actions so hopefully she could be declared guilty over that. This Double Standard episode will most likely hit the sore spots of those who experienced unwanted sexual advances but were considered overreacting or those who know those who had experienced situations such were they sexually abuse at an age consider legal and thought to be at fault mostly for a variety of reasons such as occupation, gender etc.
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  • "Alien": A girl is bullied at school to the point she stabs someone in the spine, but that's not the worse part. After the stabbing and the death of the little girl's mother, the grand parents accuse the other mother of sexually abusing her and evidence seems to support their claims. However, after sitting in on Benson's interview of the "victim", Huang disagrees, concluding that the "molestation" described by Emma was a legitimate, medical procedure, which her grandparents had manipulated her into believing was something sinister. But it turns out the grandparents themselves were manipulated by a homophobic lawyer who told them that gay parents are more inclined to molest their children and gave them false evidence to do so and only did it to try and "prove" it's not helathy to have gay parents. That scum is called out and the grandparents decide to testify against him, but the damage is already done. Even though they apologize to Zoe for hurting her. Zoe, who retains custody of Emma, refuses to forgive and forget and announces that she will be denying them access to Emma. So in the end because of some scumbag homophobic lawyer some innocent grandparents ended up mentally scarring their granddaughter and severing any relationship they had with daughter in law.
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  • "Honor": A young daughter of an Afghan diplomat is violently injured and later dies as a result of an honor killing. Despite living in America, her father was a strict believer in Sharia law and was enraged that she was going to school to be a journalist, working, and was in love with a fellow Afghan immigrant. The honor killing was carried out by her brother after he and their father discovered that she had accepted her boyfriend's marriage proposal and lost her virginity to him. If it wasn't tragic enough, it turns out that her brother has mixed feelings and multiple personalities as a result of their upbringing. He has been suffering nightmares and flashbacks for years as a result of watching his grandfather slit his aunt's throat after her husband alleged she had been unfaithful. The mother, who no longer cares about herself after losing her daughter, decides to testify about how her son was forced to carry out his sister's murder by her husband, who was the first one to stab her. Unfortunately, it doesn't help; the son is still convicted and, when Benson and Stabler go to the family's apartment, they discover that the father had killed his wife for speaking out against him by slicing her throat before fleeing back to his homeland.
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  • Despite being based off of a fairly simple premise, "Baby Killer" honestly has to be one of the most tragic and depressing episodes of the second season. The detectives are forced to arrest a 7-year-old Hispanic boy for murder after he shoots and kills a 6-year-old classmate at school. The detectives, but especially Alex, struggle with the slippery slope of charging a child with a capital crime. Alex's superiors see the case as both a meal ticket and a chance to show that they are serious about stopping child-on-child violence. Unfortunately, Alex doesn't see it that way; especially when evidence surfaces that the kid was exposed to gang violence and and witnessed a murder committed with the gun he used. Then she learns that he was trying to protect himself, shooting at the gang member who had committed the murder because he thought the man would kill him as a witness, and hit the little girl by mistake. Upon being asked what he thought his punishment should be, the little boy drew himself surrounded by pink swirls and tells his shrink that he's scared God's going to make him burn in hell for killing his friend. In the end, Alex decides to follow her gut and the child isn't charged. The mother of the girl he killed is alright with it and tells angry protesters to go home to their own kids and stop similar situations from happening, and everything seems like it is going to work out alright. Unfortunately, the squad gets a call just as they are about to go out and celebrate; after he was chased away by a group of children for being a killer, the 7-year-old was ambushed and beat to death in the street on his way home. By a 12-YEAR-OLD FROM HIS DAYCARE. The killer says that it was justice because "You can't kill little sisters and get away with it." A numb Benson remarks "The cycle of violence—it never stops, and it never will" to a stunned Eliot as the screen fades to black.
  • The episode dealing with John Munch and his mentally disabled uncle, played by Jerry Lewis; especially the end, where the uncle kills the main suspect of the case by pushing him on the NY Metro railroad to get him hit by a train and then refuses an insanity plea, preferring to spend his last days in prison rather than in a mental institution.
  • The end of Loss.
    • "Alex? ...Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no. Someone call an ambulance! Call 911! Now!! Alex, it's okay, Alex, look at me, it's okay, sweetie, stay with me, stay with me, you're going to be okay, Alex, you're going to be okay, do you hear me? You're going to be fine, you're going to be just fine, stay with me... Alex, it's okay... Alex? Alex...?"
      • And then immediately following that first stomping of viewer hearts, the DEA agents summon Stabler and Benson to close out the case. They reveal in the process that Alex isn't really dead, but has been put into witness protection. Olivia's heartbroken expression and hitching, choked voice in that scene has to be seen to be believed:
    Olivia: (whispers) Your funeral's tomorrow.
    • The emotional whiplash-inducing final scenes of "Ghost." Just as the squad is celebrating, the case has been won... "She wanted me to tell you goodbye."
  • "Fault"
    Olivia: What about your kids... what about me?
  • "Rage" - Elliot has all of his confidence and self-worth ripped to shreds by a criminal who bests him intellectually. All he can do is break down and beat his locker, because he has nothing left.
  • "Guilt"
    Elizabeth: "Of course. You did it for the greater good. The safety of society. Bull. You did this for you."
    Alex: "I did this for hundreds of Barnett's future victims."
    Elizabeth: "One. One victim. Sam Cavanaugh. Did it work? Did it assuage your guilt?
    Alex: " I don't think that's gonna happen anytime soon.
    Elizabeth: "I got news for you — it won't happen. Ever.
  • In "Careless", the initial belief is that the victim, a child, was smothered by a faith healer trying to cast demons out to cure his epilepsy. A bit off the wall? Yes. But it is directly mentioned that the man is a man of genuine faith, who believed he was helping. His breakdown in the interrogation room is just sad. He's a genuinely good man who believes he killed a child. And the truth is, he didn't. The kid was already dead.
  • The ending of the episode "Legacy". The story revolves around an abused little girl who has fallen into a coma. Munch eventually found out that her mother did it. The case hits particularly close to home for Munch because when he was a kid, he was aware that a little girl on his street was being abused by her mother, but said nothing. The little girl ended up dying. At the end of the episode, Munch visits the victim's hospital room with a copy of the Dr. Seuss book "Oh, the Places You'll Go" that he found in her bedroom. He reads a passage from it and the screen fades to black. It's just... heart-wrenching.
  • The episode "Ripped", where Stabler talks about the abuse he suffered from his father. Elliot just gets this thousand-yard stare and talks about how his father ruined the diorama he made for school when he was eight, and when he started crying-
    "He took off his belt and he... he beat me with it."
    • The fact that Elliot went to a psychiatrist also counts: considering his rather tense relationship with shrinks after one nearly got him fired, his going to one willingly is a big sign that he's in some very dire straits.
  • The episode Hell... just... it made em cry so much in the end... manly tears...
    • Elijah using his last words to tell the girl he viewed as a sister that he committed Suicide by Cop so that people would see the other child soldiers.
  • "Painless" so, so much, especially Munch begging Marlee Matlin's character to live and revealing that his father had committed suicide and that he blamed himself for it. Combined with the Reality Subtext, it's completely heartbreaking.
  • The ending of "A Single Life", where the victim's sister read the victim's obituary (that the victim wrote right before committing suicide) to the father that molested them both for years.
  • The episode "Locum" has a girl who has been adopted by a couple whose daughter was kidnapped years prior; her new mother has her chipped, dyes her hair, forces her to get a nose job and wear the kidnapped daughter's clothes, all in an effort to replace her. And then we have the ending: The original daughter is found and her parents are so happy to see her... but the adopted daughter, with her dyed hair and mutilated face, is standing in the background, forgotten and discarded.
    • And then there's the story of what happened to Ella, the kidnapped daughter, during the ten years she was missing. She was abducted by a man who had recently been left by his wife and wanted Ella — a ten-year-old child — to take her place. Ella appears onscreen only very briefly and has only one line, but her actress uses her silence and facial expressions very effectively to communicate the horrors Ella's been through. Despite what it means for Mackenzie, Ella finally getting to come home to her loving parents is an incredible moment.
  • The episode "Baggage" features a detective Stabler works with to catch a serial killer, whose wife and daughter left as a result of his being obsessed with his work and were involved in a car accident, the wife dying on impact and his daughter in a coma for five months when the episode takes place. At the end of the episode, the detective is sitting in the hospital, telling Stabler his daughter was in surgery. A few moments later, a doctor asks him if he wants to see her. After he says yes, doctors are seen carrying coolers with organs to be donated. The detective says it's a second chance, and everyone deserves one...
  • "Selfish" deals with a young girl going missing. The girl's grandfather, Ralph, who got on the wagon when she was born, fell off during the ordeal. Stabler helps him to get back on while the police search for her. Sadly, she turns up dead. A woman whose son was not vaccinated, caught measles and spread it to the infant girl (who was too young to be vaccinated, herself) is arrested and tried, but found not guilty. Ralph helps his daughter, the victim's mother, see that there is hope for the future and that the best thing to do is to live a life her daughter would be proud of. Sadly, his idiot wife talks them both into trying to get revenge, which culminates in Ralph storming the defendant's house, proclaiming that she took two lives, and turning a gun on himself.
  • The surprisingly graphic scene of Olivia being sexually assaulted and nearly raped towards the end of the episode "Undercover". The very sound of Olivia screaming and pleading as she attempts to fight off her attacker is enough to reduce anyone to tears. Also in the following season at the very end of the episode "Trials" where Olivia is describing to the therapist about nearly being raped and how the event has taken its toll on her mentally and emotionally; specifically when she says in a broken voice, "I feel like he stole something from me."
  • The episode "Rescued" is a particularly hard-hitting episode. A few episodes earlier, Olivia became the legal guardian of a junkie's son, then this episode comes and, without going into too much detail, it gets wrested away from her.
  • "Wonderland Story" has the plot of a girl who was raped a second time in the series by a different perp, and doubting whether she can trust men again. But the true tearjerker comes into play with the side plot of Munch's retirement. The episode ends with Munch questioning Cragen about where all the time went, and then has him sitting at his desk, flashing back to his time in homicide before receiving a phone call from a victim, and declares "homicide" before correcting himself and saying that he'll get a detective on the line.
  • The children dying at the hands of a cult leader in "Charisma." And Melanie, a twelve year old girl, sobbing after she kills said cult leader. She did the right thing, but damn. It's hard to not want to give her a hug and tell her it'll all be okay.
    • Before that, the opening fifteen minutes of the episode are hard to get through. The squad walks into the aforementioned cult leader's home and the camera closes up on each of the detectives' faces when they find a pile of dead children. During mandatory psych evals, Munch admits to Huang that the terrifying part about this job is finding out that people are capable of becoming more depraved than he knew was possible, and Liv admits that she doesn't know if she can handle it. Following interviews, Fin willingly takes leave when the case makes him rethink his relationship with his son and Elliot is taken off the case after telling Huang that one of the kids was wearing a night-shirt that his daughter also had.
      • It's not just that he mentioned the night-shirt, it's that he started to go there and immediately shut it down. They're worried (and rightfully so) about the fact that he's not allowing himself to feel the emotions that were triggered by the incident. Which becomes an even bigger Tear Jerker given that in the next season, Elliot reveals (to a therapist and the audience) why he has that problem — his father taught him (through abuse) not to show emotion, and now that "lesson" is getting in the way of his ability to process a traumatic event.
  • "Shattered". If Sophie's breakdown doesn't get to you, the lullaby she sings to her dead son will. Guaranteed.
    "Je t'aime... je t'aime, Nicholas..."
  • In "Russian Brides", Captain Cragen goes undercover as bait for a mail-order bride service that targets lonely and vulnerable older men. As he plays the part, he begins telling the potential bride about his late wife and the worry he has for "his people" — he obscures the details, but he's quite clearly talking about his real life and his real worry for the SVU squad. To top it off, he knows they're listening on a wire.
  • The ending of "Snatched." "Sometimes, even if you want something real bad, you shouldn't have it." Said about a Papa Wolf of an ex-con who got himself sent back to prison specifically to get his beloved daughter sent into foster care, because he thinks she's better off without him.
  • In the episode "911" when the little girl Maria tells Olivia "Most of the time there's only his footsteps. Other nights it's more. Those are the nights I feel like dying."
  • In "Stranger", a missing teenage girl returns home after being kidnapped and held as a sex slave for four years. She is eventually exposed as an imposter, but Olivia discovers that she's actually a different missing child and her story of abuse is not only true but it was even worse: she was held for longer than they believed, and her abuser was her own father who kidnapped her after her mother was awarded custody. When Olivia asks the girl why she didn't go home to her own mother, she replies that her mother died, her father showed her the obituary. Olivia reveals that it was a lie, her mother is alive and wants to see her. If the look on the girl's face at hearing that doesn't get the tears flowing, the subsequent scene of her finally being reunited with her mother will.
    • Then there’s the reveal of what happened to the real Heather. Her sister Nikki murdered her after Heather caught Nikki doing drugs, and threatened to tell their parents. Their mother found out the truth afterwards, but kept it a secret because she “couldn’t lose two daughters”. But it’s eldest sister Erica’s reaction that’s the most gut-wrenching. She yells at her mother, “You knew? You knew this whole time?!” and can barely bring herself to even look at her.
  • The ending of the episode "Personal Fouls", when basketball star Prince Miller testified about his childhood sexual abuse to the grand jury, and then held a press conference about his sexual abuse.
    • In that same episode, Aaron Tveit's character breaking down in tears over being molested by the same basketball coach is pretty heartbreaking, mostly because he's just so convincing doing it. Made worse by the fact that his character dies later in the episode.
    • The coach's current victim breaking down while watching the press conference.
  • The episode "Liberties" is a strange tearjerker episode that is very complicated to explain. But the short story is that the rapist originally on trial is revealed to be the son of the judge. His son had been kidnapped by a man who sexually abused him and after all those years, the judge and his son were reunited. In spite of all the ugliness that surrounded it, it was really tearjerking to see the two reunite.
  • "Bullseye" begins with a girl named Rose, who, on top of having been raped, has parents who are complete and total gaming addicts, neglecting her in favor of video games. To make matters worse, Rose's mother suffered a brain injury in a car accident that caused her to be unable to recognize Rose as her daughter, thinking Rose had been replaced with a doppelganger. When they talked over an intercom, Rose's mother told her she loved her, but when Rose ran in to hug her, Rose's mother slapped her across the face.
    • The second arc about Edwin is even sadder. Sure he committed an awful crime in his past, but the guy seems like he genuinely wants to change his life and when he's brought into this case and hope his poor wife (who is also carrying their child) doesn't find out. Sadly she does. This is the final straw for Edwin he commits suicide probably not wanting his poor child to know about him and to add insult to injury the cops think he did it out of guilt for his "crime" when in reality he was innocent, the guy who was crushing on Olivia, Erik, was the real culprit. The guy only killed himself because he knew his life was over. Damn.
    • And poor Erik's sister! The guy is a serious sicko, but to lie that his sister was raped and that she committed suicide from it just so he could look innocent. While knowing full well that she was alive and he was the rapist is really sad, but adding to that sad fact is he she believed he'd never do it again, but he continued to rape her numerous times. The hatred she shows towards him and seeing her destroy that creepy potrait would make anyone cry.
  • "Careless" involves an epileptic child with ADHD being suffocated, and from there, things get even more depressing. The social worker who was repeatedly called by the exasperated-to-the-point-of-tears foster father of the child neglected to help, and, after her name was besmirched and she lost her job, she kills herself. After this, it is revealed that there was another, previously unknown, foster child living with the family, who witnessed the death of the boy, but was carted off to a psychiatric ward without anyone believing her. Fin gets her out, but it is also revealed that the foster mother would seriously abuse each of the children who came into the home, leading to them running away, and was the one who killed the boy. At the very end of the episode, Fin, who saw the suicide and found out about all of the other events, is visibly disturbed and emotional, which is telling, considering how much of a hardass he usually is.
  • Mother of mercy, "Painless", particularly the ending. Marlee Matlin plays a woman named Amy Solwey dying from kidney failure and is facing a retrial for a murder she did which ended in a hung jury, but ends up receiving a kidney through a donor. Knowing she will go to prison, she refuses to accept it until Munch convinces her to take it by letting her know her life has value and that he shares her sense of guilt over the death of another person by admitting to her, and only her, that his father committed suicide when he was a child and that his last words to him were that he hated him. Knowing that this has Reality Subtext to it, seeing Amy's reaction to his admission and her words of regret and seeing the usually stony-faced Munch on the verge of tears and telling her he doesn't want her to die is just heart-wrenching.
  • "Swing" shows us an angle of Detective Stabler he'd rather keep secret: when his daughter Kathleen is diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a B&E and a drug overdose, Elliot knew she got it from his side of the family, since his mother Bernadette has it. When Elliot went to visit his mother and ask her to go to tell the judge of the family's history of mental illness. It goes poorly, as Bernadette breaks down into an almost child-like state, building a sand castle while reminiscing about a family vacation to the beach in Elliot's youth. Elliot's recollection of the vacation was not as fond: during a particularly bad manic episode, she took his father's sidearm and tried to shoot them both — fortunately, his father always made sure the gun was unloaded because she had threatened to use it on them multiple times. Later, when Olivia talks to Bernadette to try and help Kathleen, she reveals that after the incident, she was committed to a mental facility and given medication that made her feel so miserable that she'd rather die than take them. Needless to say, the relationship between Elliot and his mother was rather troubled since then.
    • For an added stinger, when Olivia is talking to Bernadette about being committed, she does everything she can to leave out why, making it sound like her husband did it for his own cruel reasons. Given that she tried to handwave the attempted shooting away to Stabler himself earlier, it makes her look like a really selfish individual. She arguably redeems herself when she does go to her granddaughter Kathleen in prison and tells her about an incident in which she took Stabler for a drive in the middle of a snowstorm, flooring the accelerator in a manic-induced fit of glee until she crashed the car right into a lamppost, giving her son a broken arm. This persuades Kathleen to admit to herself that she is bipolar and agree to undergo rehab rather than being imprisoned.
  • The last half of "Parts" involves a heartbreaking test of morals for both Munch and Stabler. The detectives are forced to question people that need kidney transplants regarding a kidney that was illegally harvested/sold beyond NTCC regulations. Munch re-encounters Amy Solwey, who gives up the name of the doctor transplanting kidneys illegally because Munch and Stabler threaten to re-arrest her (though they are clearly uncomfortable doing so). Munch and Stabler get to the hospital in time to stop the doctor from transplanting a kidney into a young boy whose family gave up nearly all of their money for the chance to save him. Munch and Stabler are then told that because the kidney was sold, the NTCC can't use it, but Munch attempts to sneak Solwey into the hospital for the transplant since she was next on the NTCC list any way. However, doing so puts Munch's entire career at risk and Stabler and Novak tearfully go out of their way to request that the doctor and Solwey not report Munch's actions, lest he be jailed. Munch angrily asks Stabler if he wouldn't do the same if Stabler's son was in the same situation and Stabler doesn't have an adequate answer for him. Later on, Stabler has to arrest the father of the boy who needed the transplant, and Stabler has to explain to the boy that his father is in jail for trying to save him. The boy can't figure out what his father did wrong if he didn't hurt anybody and again, Stabler doesn't have an answer. Munch and Stabler barely manage to patch things up when Stabler mentions the boy was prioritized on the NTCC's list and that Solwey is right after. Munch visits Solwey to ask why she gave up her chance at a kidney for someone else, she says that she can wait for his sake, because she and the boy would both be getting kidneys if it had not been for her earlier actions. Munch asks her if she can wait that long, she takes his hand and says, "I'll take my chances." Given that we never see her again, it's doubtful she made it. Really, the entire episode is a sobering reminder that though people may have the best intentions, things don't necessarily work out well for everyone.
  • "Choreographed," the episode immediately following "Cage," Beck's last. Elliot has trouble letting go, a lot, showing they had really made a connection in their short time together. Maybe also combined with his guilt in putting Dani in such horrific situations; they were part of the job, but her sympathy for the victims totally overwhelmed her, a Tear Jerker in itself.
  • Darius Parker was a murderer and a toxic influence on Finn's family, a despicable man all around. Nonetheless, he is at least somewhat sympathetic: he was a Child by Rape to Finn's ex Teresa Randal (to her own father) and was threatened by both Teresa and Finn to stay away from their son Ken. He spent the majority of his life believing he was just Ken's cousin, and when he found out the truth of his parentage, was absolutely livid. Near the end of the episode "Venom", when he's promising Finn to bring him, his family, and his co-workers down in the coming criminal case against him; and in "Screwed", when he's cross-examining Teresa, one can see that intense pain in his face, a lifetime of being The Un-Favourite of the family manifesting in barely-contained rage and despair.
    • The final shot of Darius at the courthouse. All his efforts and planning have finally paid off, and he's gotten everything he ever wanted: the detectives of the SVU are facing justice, the mother who loathed him from the moment he was born has been humiliated in front of the whole world, and he's literally gotten away with murder... and he has nothing to show for any of it. He just goes back to the same life he had before he was arrested, only now he knows the Awful Truth and, now that he's ruined any chance of reconciling with his family, he'll have to go through it without the one person in his life who ever cared about him.
  • Cheryl Avery from "Fallacy", who could go down in history as the biggest Woobie in SVU history. She's a transgender woman who was viciously harassed after she started living as a woman, and is abandoned by her family (excluding her sister) as a result, completely unsympathetic towards the multiple attacks she endured. When start looking up when she finds a loving relationship, the guy's Jerkass brother finds out she's transgender and threatens to out her, prompting her to kill him in self defense, then claim he tried to rape her. When the detectives find out, they tell the boyfriend (under the assumption that he already knew and killed his brother to protect Cheryl) and the boyfriend rejects her, calling her a "freak" and later killing himself. And just when it seems that Cheryl is going to win out in the end (she's able to get a good plea deal), she finds out that if she takes the deal, she'll be put in a men's prison. This forces her to go to trial to hope for acquittal. And as a cherry on the Woobie sundae, Cheryl is found guilty and sent to the men's prison, where she is then gang raped. Even worse is that we never see her again and don't even know if she survives the attack. Even the hardest heart has to break for the poor woman.
  • "October Surprise," while not as traumatic nor as saddening as some examples on this list, falls into this by the end of the episode. ADA Barba is trying to hold himself together for much of the episode, suffering criticism from two of his closest childhood friends, and Amaro for his inability to choose whether his loyalty to his friends or his job to do what is right is more important. He spends much of the episode trying to deny his friend could cheat on the woman he himself was once in love with, but ultimately chooses to report Munoz when enough evidence comes to light. When Barba, holding back tears, attempts to confront Munoz and offers him a way out, Munoz taunts Barba with the fact that he's married to his childhood love and then humiliates Barba publicly. Barba is seen drinking with Olivia and Nick later, and when it is implied that Munoz ultimately avoids a formal trial and continues his run for mayor, Barba is seen sitting at the arraignment with a look on his face that just tells you he's wondering if his sense of justice was worth losing his friends and reputation.
  • The episode "Inconceivable" that had the detectives attempting to find a cryotank full of embryos that were 'kidnapped' from a clinic. The detectives hear the stories of the various families and women that had their embryos removed for some reason or another and become more determined to find the tank in the three days they have before the liquid nitrogen in the tank runs out and renders the embryos invalid for implantation. It turns out the tank was taken by a couple that were attempting to raise awareness for their cause (the cause being condemning the fertility clinic in question as a death camp that discriminates against certain kind of eggs that may carry genetic defects). With the 'kidnapping' story bringing the attention they wanted, the couple attempted to return the embryos via delivery, on the last day they could have done so, without considering that the delivery may be late. The detectives get to the tank, but once they get to the clinic, the doctor confirms that the embryos didn't survive. One of the extremists responsible ends up getting killed outside the courtroom and the detectives are forced to investigate all the families as suspects in the extremist's murder, including a couple of little people that wanted their child to look like them, a couple who was worried their family line would end with their disabled daughter (that one's a little creepy in execution, but the worry is still a valid concern in real life), and a woman who had her eggs fertilized and the resulting embryos frozen because she needed to undergo chemo which would make her sterile (that one's especially heartbreaking because while the other couples could at least start the process over, her eggs are gone and she'll never be able to have a biological child). It turns out the man that murdered the extremist was the husband of a woman in the armed forces who had her eggs frozen so that her husband could have a child to remember her by if she was a casualty in Iraq — and she died within a few days of the incident, close enough that her body was flown in on the same day as the arraignment. Without a wife and without a child, the man murdered the extremist in revenge. Regardless of how you feel about the subject matter, it's really hard not to feel sorry the families whose last chance to have children were in that tank, and it's especially hard not to feel terrible for the widowed man at the end who lost everything in a matter of days.
  • Padre Sandunguero. Dear lord, Padre Sandunguero. If Amaro's abusive father coming back to Nick's life to tell him he's marrying a woman younger than Amaro, and his family getting angry at him for being reluctant to accept the wedding invitation isn't enough, there is also said father promptly being arrested for assaulting his new wife, which terrifies Amaro's daughter, Amaro being forced to testify against him, thus alienating his family, Barba revealing that his own father is dead, and hinting that he may have been abusive at that, and finally, Amaro's father being declared not guilty and getting one last power trip on him, ending the episode with Amaro looking completely dead inside.
    • The really scary/tragic part about the conclusion of the episode is arguably the fact that Amaro's father is completely right about Nick letting his anger at his father get the better of him - Amaro Sr. wants Nick to lay it all out on the table over dinner, but Nick isn't having any of it since Amaro Sr. should have gone to jail. Amaro Sr. tells Nick that as long as he insists on keeping it bottled up, his temperament is just going to get worse and makes it a point to admit that that's exactly what happened between him and his own father, which is what led to him becoming the man he currently is. Amaro Sr. then tells Nick that he'll be there when Nick will finally want to have that talk and you can't help but feel that though he's definitely a dick, he's completely right. It may be hard for any of the viewers to admit that what Amaro Sr.'s saying is true, but anyone who's been in that situation or has been following the show since Stabler's time, (who is Nick's predecessor and with whom Nick shares many similarities with INCLUDING unresolved problems with his father) can probably testify as to the importance of the closure that Amaro Sr. is offering.
    • It's also a tearjerker even if you take the Alternative Character Interpretation that Amaro's father isn't truly offering closure; he's in the phase of the cycle of abuse in which the abuser apologizes and makes nice with the victim as a way of trying to keep the victim from completely breaking free. The younger Amaro's dead-eyed expression would then suggest he realizes on some level it's part of the cycle, and that for all his efforts to oppose or break away from his father, he will never truly be free of the man's psychological abuse.
  • December Solstice. The case itself is sad, but even sadder is Barba's sidestory, where he has to put his grandma in a nursing home. And then she dies in the very last scene. Esparza's acting is heartbreaking as he comforts his mother and can barely hold it together. And worse, he tells her it's all his fault for putting her in the home. Talk about being The Woobie!
  • The entire plot of "decaying morality". A young girl, Jenna, claims that a young black man named Jerome raped her in the bathroom at the pizzeria that he worked. When SVU has to release him, due to a previous rape accusation and a pending police harassment lawsuit, Jenna's father kidnaps him and tries to force a rape confession from him, only to accidentally kill him. When SVU investigates they find out that Jerome really was innocent;a Jenna was drugged and later consumed alcohol to try to make herself feel better. She was confused when she named Jerome as her rapist and only continued accusing him to protect her father; the real rapist was her uncle, an acclaimed dentist, philanthropist, and NYPD consultant. The uncle turns out to be an utter Manipulative Bastard ;he riled his brother in law up and made him go after the innocent suspect, convinced his sister that her daughter faked the attack after partying, and sent his niece to a therapist that convinced her that the police pressure made her think that he was her rapist. It turns out, he has been a Serial Rapist since he was a college freshman; he raped and groped fellow students, patients,and his sister's friends and her daughters. As Carisi pointed out the family will be ruined forever; the father will be sent to jail and forced to live with the fact that he killed and innocent man, the mother has had her heart broken and has become mentally unstable, and Jenna will be scared for life. The clincher is the ending, where Barba is talking to the angry, racially charged mother and grandmother of Jerome; they find out that Jenna's father will most likely get off easy because of the circumstances behind Jerome's death and the rape. They are understandably upset that the real rapist gets jail time, but their child/grandchild gets to be killed as collateral damage. Barba ends the show by saying that he wishes that Jerome hadn't been killed, but he can't change the past, as the women stare sadly at him.
  • Close to the end of "Spectacle", where the police finally know who kidnapped the perp's brother. It's a woman who lost her 3-year-old son to leukemia...and kidnapped the perp's brother in order to fill the void. As the police find the perp's brother and rescue him she's screaming and crying that they can't take him because he's her son...She's crazy, yes, but it doesn't help that she was obviously psychologically broken by her son's death.
    • Of a oddly happier sort of that episode, the brother finally gets his brother found after eight years only to have to go to jail for what he did.
  • Benson's reaction when she finds out that Elliot won't be coming back, made all the worse by the fact that he didn't even tell her himself. At the end of that episode, she can only lock herself in an interrogation room and cry at losing her best friend.
  • "Friending Emily": The detectives are hunting a child pornographer who has kidnapped a girl on a class trip, and their only lead is Wendi, a former victim who he has twisted into supporting him. He has deluded Wendi into believing he is the only person who cares about her and that her family didn't even report her missing, so Olivia gets her mother and sister on a video chat to tell her how much they love her and miss her and how they never stopped looking for her. Wendi breaks down and tells Olivia everything.
  • Surrendering Noah. Amaro gets serious about trying to become sergeant, only to be told he will never be higher ranked than he is now because of his previous actions. He throws his study book away, and then later in the episode he gets shot in the liver and knee shooting a perp opening fire in the courtroom. He lives, but has a serious knee injury that may never recover. He accepts that he has no future with the NYPD and decides to retire, in his thirties, and move to California to be with his son and daughter. The last scene has him and Olivia hugging and promising their friendship will last for life. As if he wasn't a big enough woobie already!
  • The ending of the episode "Parasite." "Irina can rest in peace now."
  • The ending to "Intimidation Game", where Rena Punjabi(an Expy of Anita Sarkeesian) is so badly traumatized from being abducted, assaulted and raped by a group of misogynist assholes who hated her just for being a woman trying to make video games, that she decides to give up on creating games, saying that "they've won"
  • In "Grief", a distraught father of a raped and murdered victim hunts down the perp himself and kills him, and then goes to the park his daughter loved, intent on killing himself. Elliot, who's empathized with him the whole episode, talks him down, convincing him that his daughter wouldn't have wanted this, and that her memory lives in him. It's a very moving scene, especially as Elliot approaches him and hugs him, taking his gun from him.
  • "Institutional Fail" is a heavy episode, full of child abuse and the failure of the system. Guest star Whoopi Goldberg delivers a heart-rending "The Reason You Suck" Speech when she's put on the stand. (Yes, it's ultimately a huge Never My Fault, but still.)
    I'm asked to do what the courts can't do. What the cops can't do...God himself could not do this job. You want to judge me? You wouldn't last an hour in my world. And if I go, who's gonna be on the front lines? You? You dump the most hapless cases on us every day. More and more, we get the dregs of humanity, children raised by wolves. And you see them come in this court, in and out, week in and week out, they come to you as criminals. Do you ever stop to think gee? What happened before that? ...It's impossible, and you all know it. But you want to scapegoat me... You want to pretend that there aren't poor people out there. Broken people. You don't turn away from the homeless guy on the subway? Of course you do, because it's too much. You want to put me in jail for this? Look in the mirror, my friend. Look in the damn mirror.
  • "Gambler's Fallacy," at the end, when Benson figures out that Rollins was caught in an illegal casino. She chews Amanda out and says that even if Lt. Murphy trusts Amanda, she does not and wants to, but can't, transfer her to another department. Rollins breaking down in tears over how badly she messed up her friendship and relationship with Benson is painful to watch; it even looks like Benson is saddened as well.
    Rollins: (sobbing) "Um... I don't know if I can get back into your good graces, but I'm gonna try, Sergeant."
    Benson: (frostily) "Okay. We're done here."
  • The end of the episode "Wildlife": Stabler has been undercover in an animal smuggling ring. When he busts it, it turns out that one of the smugglers was also an undercover cop. As he's being arrested (so he can become a Deep Cover Agent in the prison gang that masterminded the smuggling op), Stabler asks him if there's anything he wants Stabler to tell his family. The guy answers that he doesn't have a family anymore: They left because his lifestyle was too much for them to handle. It's the actor's delivery that really sells how heartbreaking that is, especially since a major theme of Elliot's character arc is the effect that his job has on his own family life.
    • What really seals it is the next scene, where we see Elliot with Kathy and Eli. He's clearly decided he's not going to let that happen to him (and, indeed, they don't have another incident like that one for the rest of Stabler's time on the show).
  • The opening of "41 Witnesses". It's so hard to watch. A young woman is gang-raped in the courtyard of her apartment complex. Over half of her neighbors witness the act, yet NO ONE does a thing to help.
  • The little girl from "Sick," upon learning that her grandmother had been poisoning her just to garner sympathy for having a child dying of leukemia. The Woobie Up to Eleven.
  • "Uncle" is a massive Tear Jerker for John Munch. Stabler and Beck find his uncle Andrew dirty, unshaven, injured, and with no memory of who he is. They treat him like a perp, putting him in a holding cell where he's huddled in a corner under a blanket. John takes him in and helps him get his proper medication which seems to work...until Beck drops the Idiot Ball and interviews someone involved in the case in front of Andrew without having him leave. To make things worse, Beck tells the woman she would put the needle in the perp's arm herself and Andrew takes it seriously. He then has a manic episode and pushes the perp into an oncoming train when he's let go due to lack of proper evidence. Rather than take the insanity plea to get help, Andrew chooses not to get help as a way to atone for what he had done. The normally unfettered John Munch looks ready to burst into tears when his uncle walks away after saying good-bye in a very somber voice.
  • In "Sheltered Outcasts" Carisi goes undercover as a sex offender in a sex offender rehabilitation center where he befriends an exemplary parolee who was arrested for raping a woman while intoxicated and believing she was a prostitute. The man is trying to rebuild his life, but recent rapes in the area lead Carisi and SVU to believe he's relapsed. Carisi sticks up for him the whole episode, but evidence points to him as the suspect and they have to make an arrest. It turns out he isn't the culprit, the culprit is the lawyer working with the offenders, as the police would be more likely to suspect them than him. At the end of the episode, Carisi apologizes for suspecting the man who was just trying to make a second start, and the man tells him that it isn't his fault. Because he's a sex offender, people will always be suspicious and distrustful of him, and there's nothing he can do about it, and he tells Carisi of everything he's lost because of one drunk mistake. With all the horrible monsters on this show, seeing a man genuinely trying to start over and be a better man, but being unable to do so due to his past crime is quite heartwrenching.
  • The death of Mike Dodds in "Heartfelt Passages".
    • Made infinitely worse by the very promising Hope Spot.
    • Not to mention the tiny moment of Dodds Sr. completely breaking down in his son's hospital room when he tells Benson that Mike is essentially brain-dead.
  • In "Pornstar's Requiem", a female college student has been doing rape porn to pay her tuition. She ends up being raped for real by two guys, although one of them was tricked by the other into thinking it was all fake and feels horrible for participating. The girl's parents (especially her father) think mostly about how this affects them and not the fact that their daughter was raped. As expected, she ends up being slut-shamed and ostracized, and the university expels her, ostensibly for filming porn, even though it's heavily implied that it's for putting the university into a bad light for allowing rape to take place on its grounds. There is a Hope Spot when the jury finds the two guys guilty, only to be squashed when the judge overturns the verdict and declares that, in this case, "no" did not mean "no". Barba is shocked and outright tells the judge that he's just set back rape law by years. He files for an appeal, but the girl has had enough. She ends up leaving her home and becomes a porn star full time, claiming that there's nothing else out there for her anymore. At least, in the adult films, when she asks them to stop, they stop. The last shot is of her walking topless into a crowd of dozen male actors. Unlike certain porn starlets or those who are just in it for the money, Evie looks like she is literally dead in eyes and voice: utterly dehumanized by people outside of porn. Of course, the worst part is that there will always be people, who think that she got exactly what she deserved.
    • What really hits hard is that the woman DID everything a rape victim is told to do. She fought back and reported her rapists and continued to lose because of political influence. She saw her claim thrown out just because of a few porns she did herself just to pay the bills (and, despite improvements, porn still remains a VERY exploitative industry). Porn to pay for bills and tuition is becoming a rising thing hampered by the negative viewpoints connotations against it; but tragically and disgustingly...the more awful stuff like the rape porns Evie starred in will pay more money.
    • Also, the judge states that Daniel was showing behavior that a rapist wouldn't. This is despite the fact that Daniel was continually noticeably smiling for the entire duration of the first day of trial, showing a mindset of "I'm about to get away with rape." It's utterly crushing to hear the judge's logic being that Daniel seemed genuinely remorseful for his actions while Evie needed to learn to treat her body with more respect, when all she was trying to say was that regardless of her choices, she shouldn't have gotten raped.
  • "Patrimonial Burden", which is inspired by the Duggar controversy, features a thirteen year old girl from a religious reality TV family who is impregnated. The heart wrenching part is that the parents, who seem to only care about their reputation and their TV show, are completely genuine in their faith, despite not being infallible and subject to the same moral failings of any human being, and do love their children and their interest's more than their fame. They finally have to confront their failure and the evil in the world when they realize that their pastor was not only the father of the thirteen year old's unborn child, but that he had previously abused one of the girl's older sisters and gotten her pregnant as well (the parents simply assumed she had a covert relationship and her baby was passed off as another one of her mother's many children). When the pastor is finally arrested, the look of heartbreak on the parents' faces (not to mention horror at the realization that they almost married off their daughter to her abuser) just makes you want to cry; the little girl, who initially was very committed to god and being a virgin, believe that what happened to her is holy and romantic. Remember that this is the SECOND one of the many daughters that were brainwashed by the priest.
    • Add to this the fact that this poor family that was considered very beloved to their community was able to have a lot of disturbing people get close to them. A pedophile priest was able to seduce and brainwash two of their girls and get them pregnant, their oldest son has mental issues that could turn him into possible sex offender, and the camera man who practically helped raise the kids was secretly filming the girls for dozens of years.
    • You also have to pity the poor son, Graham. Yes, he has gotten into trouble in the past for sexual misconduct and groping women who worked with his family, but it is not entirely his fault. He has issues and needed psychological help, but was instead sent away from the publicity to various Christian reform camps because his parents treated it like a spiritual problem. Not only that, his parents send him away again during the episode because they seriously think he raped and impregnated his two little sisters; he may have been lewd to them and mentioned inappropriate things in front of them, but he never actually assaulted any family members or did anything that would be remotely considered threatening. You can only imagine the trust issues the kid will have after his parents believed he was capable of incestuous rape. Not only that, it is also quite possible he feels guilty for not protecting his sisters.
  • In 'Authority', Merritt Rook's backstory. Basically, he lost his wife and unborn baby in childbirth because, even though he could see that things were going wrong, he thought her doctor knew what he was doing and didn't challenge him, only to realize after the fact that if he had, he could have saved her life. While his actions are still inexcusable, it's clear that at the core, his worldview is about what he wishes he had done that day.
  • "Real Fake News" delves into the dangers of lies on the internet. A Jerkass Conspiracy Theorist posts about a restaurant being a front for an underage girls trafficking ring online. The owner, employees, and patrons, one of which is a congressman, receive threats and even a man with a rifle storms in looking for the supposed girls. At the end of the episode, the congressman tries to help the restaurant's publicity by taking his daughter there for lunch, but another believer mistakes her for a teen prostitute and shoots him. The restaurant owner asks if this madness will ever end, but Liv can't give him an answer as the daughter cries over her father's dead body.'
  • Olivia's breakup with EADA David Haden is hands down the saddest breakup on the show, because their feelings haven't changed one whit — but their jobs are now tearing them apart. You're left with the strong impression that things might have actually gone right for Olivia this time, if it wasn't for their mutual dedication to their work — which is one of the things that brought them together in the first place. The irony and sense of utter loss is excruciating.
  • 'Hothouse' really gets going once the detectives find out that the girl found in the Hudson River wasn't a prostitute, but a genius in an academy. It turns out the girl had been put through Training from Hell to make her smarter by her gambling-addicted father, as shown by her sister, whose knees had pieces of rice embedded in her knees where he forced them to kneel in it while they worked. The sister was tossed out of the house because she couldn't be as smart as the victim (and because she was such a young age, she couldn't even get a job to take care of herself) and the father would use the winnings the daughter made to fuel his addiction. And his wife sat around and let it happen. It gets worse when they finally catch the culprit — a fellow student who was once thought friends with the victim. Pressured by the hardships at the school and how easy the victim had it at the school that she began abusing drugs and suffering sleep deprivation. This ultimately leads to her broken admission of guilt at how she killed her, which was actually an accident caused by a psychotic break, then tearfully asking her mother if she's happy she's smart now.
    • The reaction on the perp's mother was just as heartbreaking. Imagine you wanting to be a good mother, so you get your daughter the best education a child could have only to find out long after shit has hit the fan that your daughter cracked under academic pressure and became utterly psychotic due to stress that you never knew she was enduring.
    • Even the detectives know a difference between a child who kills with glee and a child who killed out of a psychotic episode as Jennifer did. Jennifer has absolutely no recollection of what's going on because the desire for her to succeed is so massive she is taking pills that prevent her from sleeping for days!
  • Olivia's entire situation in "Gone, Baby, Gone". Noah has been kidnapped and the team has no idea where he could be. It's so heartbreaking to see someone as strong as Olivia be so helpless and break down in her office to Barba — and Barba's helpless, devastated compassion for her just makes it worse. He has no idea how to help her, and it's killing him.
    Barba: I don't know what to do. Um. Do you want coffee? Do you -
    Benson: (voice breaking) I just want my son back.
    • Sheila's betrayal. As Olivia says, she's a good woman, but she lost her chance to join Liv's family and be a grandmother when she gave into her desires to have Noah for herself.
  • Sonny finding out that Amanda hooked up with a guy the night after he attempted to declare his feelings for her. Peter Scanavino really makes his character look like a sad puppy in that scene.
  • "Pathological" has a young teen in a wheelchair with various symptoms having sex. During the investigation, it turns out her mother has been a major case of Munchausen Syndrome, making her sick constantly. At one point, she races to see her daughter in the hospital with the girl screaming on how her mother has made her life a living hell keeping her ill all this time and hates her. She cries to her father and Rollins and how all she wanted was to feel "normal" but now realizes she has no idea what that's like thanks to the damage her mother has done.
  • "The Undiscovered Country". All of it. The case matter in of itself is an extremely emotionally draining and controversial topic but then there's also the fact it results in Barba resigning from the team.
    • Barba's goodbye to Olivia is basically tailor made to rip the audience heart's out. He confesses to Olivia in a beautiful speech the depth that she changed his life, only to end it with telling her he needs to leave. The look on her face is devastating. Then he kisses her on the forehead before walking away, looking equally devastated.
    Barba: The world was an old movie. It was all black and white and it was high noon. I was Gary Cooper. I was absolutely sure absolutely who were the good guys, who were the bad guys. And then you, you started to weasel your way into my world, and the black and white became different shades of gray... Before I knew it, there were blues and greens and yellows and reds. I'm you now, Liv. You opened my heart. and I thank you for it.
    Olivia: And?
    Barba: I've got to move on.
  • "The Book of Esther" has Rollins helping a young woman who's clearly been starved and abused by her overly religious father. An attempt to help out causes a gunfight between the family and the cops where the woman is killed. Rollins is naturally rocked by it as she berates the father for what he's done. Then Benson has to break it to Rollins that the ballistics show it was Rollins who fired the fatal shot on the very girl she was trying to help. Her My God, What Have I Done? breakdown is truly heartbreaking.
  • The episode "Bombshell" is just heartbreaking all the way around. A father is stabbed coming out of a swingers' club. It turns out it was done by his wife, who wasn't jealous and had in fact endorsed the idea of the club to spice up their marriage, but was instead angered over the fact he'd fallen in love with a woman named Cassandra at the club, and was emptying their bank account and even their daughter's college fund to give this woman money. The wife clearly didn't do this out of malice, just out of drunken frustration and helplessness.
    • The guy himself comes off as really sad when it's revealed that he's been played for a sap by two con artists. The kicker comes in that he's still in love with Cassandra, posting her bail with what's left of his money, and stating she's his soulmate. When Benson and Stabler reveal she's in a relationship with her twin brother, the other con artist, his expression becomes heartbreaking. He finally descends into Sanity Slippage and decides to kill her brother so she'll finally be with him. When instead of running into his arms like he thinks she will, and instead seeing her crying over her brother's dead body, the expression on his face suggests he's only now realizing that he's just ruined his entire life for no good reason.
    • Even Cassandra comes off a little as a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. She and her brother may have been con artists that fleeced men out of their money and murdered one when he got too close to figuring things out, but she was in a genuine relationship with her twin where they both loved each other. The detectives call it Squick, but she states they're destined to be together forever since they share a bond no one else will ever understand. When he's killed, the last shot is of her sobbing and pleading over his dead body to Please Don't Leave Me.
  • The episode "Spiraling Down" starts badly, with a runaway teenage being taken advantage of and pimped out. It turns out one of her customers was an ex-NFL player who is suffering from CTE. This is eventually revealed in court as his lawyer fight to prevent him from going to prison. Watching the ex-player break down on the stand and the reactions of everyone in the classroom as they see a New York City icon fall apart before their very eyes is just heartbreaking. The ending is even worse.
  • "Send In the Clowns," an episode that began with a relatively routine case of a teen-aged girl disappearing on a spring break trip and being last seen with a Monster Clown — ends with several shocking revelations, namely, the father of a statutory rape victim learning from his wife that she had a secret affair 17 years earlier with the man that became their daughter Haley's music teacher ... and then learning that from that earlier sexual liaison ... came Haley ... and learning all of that just mere minutes after learning about that Haley had been seduced by her music teacher. One would have to feel for the poor father ... and one can only wonder how he'd react if he learned his daughter was an Ungrateful Bitch (she was shocked by learning that the man she slept with was her biological father ... but so taken by him is happy, as she deep down resented her true father's blue collar background as a refuse collector). In any case, unable to make sense at this turn of events, he lunges at his daughter's assailant wanting to beat him to death, but is stopped and the two are separated.

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