- Absolutely everything associated with the real life death of John Spencer (Leo):
- "Election Day." Specifically, the end of part one and the opening moments of part two, especially the all-too-real reactions of the cast members as they finally got to acknowledge the death on-screen."Thanks boss."
- On that note, Martin Sheen's quietly dignified tribute before Spencer's final featured episode worked as well as any scripted tearjerker.
- Similarly, when Lou tells Santos not to release a statement because it will allow Vinick to win and "when Leo wakes up, he will kick your ass for letting that happen." At this point the audience knows that Leo is already fated to die because Real Life Writes the Plot, and seeing the characters so sure that he'll be OK is heart-wrenching.
- "Election Day." Specifically, the end of part one and the opening moments of part two, especially the all-too-real reactions of the cast members as they finally got to acknowledge the death on-screen.
- Near the end of "Two Cathedrals", the second season finale. During a tropical storm, the door leading from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden bursts open due to an issue with a faulty latch mentioned earlier in the episode. President Bartlet, having just returned from Mrs. Landingham's funeral, loses his temper and shouts for Mrs. Landingham out of habit. Moments later, she opens the door from the reception office and walks in, saying simply, "There's no need to shout". The two have a conversation, where Mrs. Landingham prods Bartlet into remembering all of the work and good deeds he can still accomplish. She finishes by saying, "If you don't want to run again, I respect that. But if it's because it's too hard or because you're scared, well then, God, Jed, I don't even want to know you" and walks out the door, closing the door behind her.
- The fact that the phrase echoes one that Mrs. Landingham used to get Jed involved in a just cause when he was very young adds more poignancy to the scene.
- The end of "Bartlet for America", where we find out exactly what Leo went through to get Jed to run in the first place. The final line, "That was awfully nice of you," provokes bawling in almost everyone.
- The look on Donna's face when the others tell her that Josh has been shot and might not make it.
- Everyone else's faces when she comes in all anxious and relieved to hear that the President is okay: a lot of frozen expressions, all glancing back and forth, nobody wanting to be the one that says it. This is not helped by having had to deliver bad news shortly before watching it.
- Other heartbreaking moments for her include a shot of her and Mrs Landingham sitting together and holding hands, and later going up to the observation desk to watch Josh's surgery.
- She also comes in utterly pale with no makeup and her hair pulled back in a ponytail. As Janel Maloney notes in the DVD commentary, "you know exactly what happened-she heard the news and threw clothes on and ran out the door."
- When Josh wakes up and asks "What's next?" at the beginning of season 2.
- One of the more unforgettable ones: the 3rd season finale, in which Secret Service agent Donovan, taken out by a common street thug, just as he and C.J. were growing closer, done to "Hallelujah".
- The end of "20 Hours in America", with one of the most heartbreaking speeches in the series (about a school bombing where many people were killed), set to Tori Amos' cover of "I Don't Like Mondays"
- The line "The streets of Heaven are too crowded with angels tonight" is the single greatest line in the entire series, and it will get you tearing up.
- The end of "In Excelsis Deo", where Toby sets up a funeral for a homeless Korea vet and Mrs. Landingham, who lost her two sons in Vietnam comes along. And the rest of the cast listen to a boy's choir sing "The Little Drummer Boy".
- Bartlett: If we start pulling strings like this, you don't think every homeless veteran will come out of the woodwork?Toby: I can only hope, sir.
- And earlier in the episode, the conversation that Mrs. Landingham has with Charlie, where she explains that her sons were killed near Christmas and how she imagines what it must have been like for them to die in a war so far from home, and wishes that she could have been there to comfort them."I miss my boys."
- The whole of Toby's quest to find out who the homeless man was is a slow, painful build-up of just how badly America failed its veterans—the emergency officials in the beginning who treated the death as of little importance, for instance, and when Toby finds the man's brother Walter living under the bridge and has to give him the news. He tries to say that he can arrange a funeral because he is a powerful man, but under the bridge his words and his power are useless and he knows it.
- At a loss for what to do, Toby offers Walter and his friend all of the cash in his wallet, and the other homeless man tries to get him to keep it. He's concerned that Toby isn't going to be able to get home safely without money for the bus.
- Andy telling Toby why she won't remarry him, and likely why they divorced in the first place.Andy: You're too sad, Toby. You bring the sadness home with you. You're just too SAD.Toby: Did you feel that way when we were married? That I was SAD? Did my [voice breaks] friends feel like that?
- All of "Noel", but especially Josh screaming at Bartlet in the Oval Office about the "sirens" and Leo's "man in a hole" speech.
- C.J.'s subplot in "Noel" involves her discovering that an "incident" on a White House tour occurred because a woman in the group recognized a painting that used to belong to her family. They were European Jews, and the painting was seized from her father by a Vichy collaborator.
- Towards the end of Noel, when Stanley tells Josh his diagnosis.Stanley: You have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.Josh: Well... that doesn't really sound like something they let you have if you work for the president.Stanley: Josh...Josh: Can we have it be something else??
- Leo's "guy in the hole" speech in Noel gets a beautiful Call-Back at the start of the aforementioned Bartlet for America.Josh: I'm gonna help you out, you know why?Leo: Because you're so obsessed with everyone you love dying that you're a compulsive fixer?Josh: [smiles] No, Leo, it's because a guy's walking down the street and he falls in a hole, see.
- The moment in "Twenty-Five" when Abbey is briefly determined to go into the press room to make a direct appeal to the people who have kidnapped Zoey, because she'd "seen other mothers do it".
- Earlier, Toby's confession to Leo that he's afraid he won't be able to love the twins "the way other fathers do".
- Earlier still, Toby's return from the hospital to take charge of the message in the immediate aftermath of Zoe's kidnapping. He straight away redrafts Josh's rather boilerplate language into something much more personal and moving; ensures that nothing is going to be leaked and that the White House, not the intelligence agencies, will be doing the briefings; praises C.J.'s performance, sorts out who is going to do what, and then tells everyone to get to work. And then, he fumblingly tells them that the reason he wasn't there earlier is that he was at the hospital because his twins were born, and everyone is stunned. Toby is probably more upset than he's ever been, because of Zoe's kidnapping, but he's also happier than he's ever been. The emotions passing across his face would tear your heart out.
- Whatever people may say about season five, the last sequence of "7A WF 83429", which cuts together scenes of the Bartlets and Charlie attending a private mass, Josh and Donna leaving the White House to see hundreds of tributes to Zoey, and the search for her continuing in the situation room, and is set to Lisa Gerrard's song "Sanvean", is heartbreaking for all the right reasons.
- The scene in the final episode, where current Chief of Staff CJ gives the traditional note to her incoming counterpart, Josh. It simply says "WWLD?": What Would Leo Do?
- The episode "Gaza". The entire thing, from the bombing to the build-up to hearing that Fitzwallace is dead to seeing Donna in the hospital.
- Easy to miss, but the tremble in Toby's voice when he speaks to Andie and asks her to just come home.
- President Bartlet has to tell the President of Equatorial Kundu - a proud and intelligent man who nonetheless has come to the U.S. to beg for the life of his AIDS-stricken continent in the form of medical relief - that his government has fallen to a coup, his wife is in hiding, and his brother and two sons are dead. He is executed in the airport parking lot upon returning home at the end of the episode ("In This White House").
- Towards the end of the second half of "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen," then-Governor Bartlet has a conversation with Josh the night that Bartlet wins the Illinois primary, sealing his position as the Democratic candidate for president and that Josh's father dies of a pulmonary embolism. It rings true of so many parts of grief.Josh: He liked that I was working for you, though. He liked that we were starting to do well. He would've liked tonight. At least all his friends and neighbors will be spared all the-Bartlet: He'd be doing some bragging right about now?Josh: Yeah. Your name wouldn't have come up, by the way. 'My son won the Illinois primary tonight.' [Beat] Another couple of hours, he'd've been able to say that. He'd have been proud.Bartlet: He was already. Trust me Josh, I'm a father. He was already.
- The episode "The State Dinner" ends with resolving a sub-plot, a U.S. naval fleet being caught in a bad hurricane. Bartlet is taken to a briefing room and put on the phone with the only ship with a working radio, a tender ship, and the only crewman available to detail what the fleet is dealing with, Signalman Third Class Harold Lewis. He's injured, scared, and very unsure of what to do. All the President can do is keep talking to him and let him know someone is on the other end. "Two Cathedrals" reveals that the ship went down with all hands lost.
- Worse still, anyone who knows anything about ships can tell as soon as Harold starts listing off the problems with the ship that there is no way they are getting out of it. The real kicker is when he notes that because of some of their system failures they are practically invisible, and theyre all but waiting to be run over and destroyed by the nearby aircraft carrier. Everyone in the room and most viewers at home knew at that point it was just about making sure this terrified crewman doesnt die alone. This is made all the worse by the fact that of the problems they were dealing with at the start of the episode, the hurricane was far enough down the list to only be mentioned in passing, and can be easy to almost forget about until they received word it had changed course towards the fleet.
- From the same episode, another subplot involves a standoff between the FBI and a group of survivalists in Idaho. While the consensus is mostly in favor of sending in a tactical team, Mandy manages to convince the President to send in a negotiator instead to try and find a peaceful outcome. During the dinner, she finds out the negotiator was shot and is in critical condition. She ends up having a freak-out and has to leave the room to throw up.
- Many of the small moments where Bartlet's MS flares up and he doesn't reveal it to his staff or family until much later. This is especially poignant at the end of season six's "A Change Is Gonna Come" after an episode is spent dealing with fallout of the president accepting the Taiwanese independence movement flag, and several people, including Leo, believe Bartlet did this on purpose as a bit of subtle political protest. It's only at the very end of the episode, when sat beside Abby at a concert, that he reveals not only has he been having trouble with his hands, but his vision out of his right eye has been almost completely gone since the previous morning. "I really couldn't see the flag." Bartlet is a man of incredible will, but his body is slowly failing.
- The season six episode where Josh and Toby get into a fight—not just the fight, but the scene afterward where C.J. and Toby talk and it's revealed that Toby isn't angry because his brother died of cancer, but because his brother committed suicide at the diagnosis. As Toby expresses his resentment that his brother killed himself when he could have had more time, and that his wife had to find his body, and that Toby doesn't want to look at a picture because he spent twelve hours guarding his body per Jewish tradition. All the while he is very gradually breaking down in grief... when C.J. asks if he'd like to be alone, he can just barely manage a whispered "No." Whatever you (or Richard Schiff) might think of the later seasons, that scene is powerfully acted.
- The entire conversation between Toby and Judge Mendoza in "Celestial Navigation", when Toby goes to bail him out of jail after he's wrongfully arrested for drunk driving. Edward James Olmos' Tranquil Fury absolutely sells it.Toby: One phone call, Judge. Toby, this has happened. Tell em my names Roberto Mendoza and the Presidents named me to the bench!
Mondoza: They pulled me over because I look like my name is Roberto Mendoza and Im coming to rob your house.
Toby: Let's go.
Mendoza: Where are we going?
Toby: Home. Lets go home!
Mendoza: Im not going anywhere.
Mendoza: Im under arrest, Toby.
Toby: Not anymore. Lets go.
Mendoza: You pull all the strings you want, Toby, but not for me. Come Monday, Im gonna avail myself of the criminal justice system for which I have worked my entire adult life.
Toby: Judge, due respect: get your things and lets go.
Mendoza: My kid was in the car, Toby! They patted me down and they handcuffed me in front of my nine year-old boy. Then he and his mother got to see them put me in the squad car and drive away.
Toby: Hes also seen you wearing a robe with a gavel in your hand.
Mendoza: He doesnt understand that. He doesnt know what that is. He understands what the police are, because he watches television. Thats what hes gonna remember: his father being handcuffed. So America just got another pissed-off guy with dark skin.
Toby: Robbie and Laura. Where are they right now?
Mendoza: Motel a few miles—
Toby: Theres nothing about this that doesnt stink. If it were me, Id want to exact vengeance, and Id say Let justice be done. Id also want to spend some time in a dark room alone, so that I didnt have to face my wife and my son and have them see my humiliation. Rob, I cant get this done if this is the story. Cant get it done. Nothing about this that doesnt stink. And nothing about it that wouldnt be better if you were a Supreme Court Justice. (beat) Let me take you to the motel. Go see your boy.
- Donna's expression in Season 7 when Josh tells her he won't rehire her, before admitting in anguish that he misses her every single day and wants her back more than anything.
- Basically the entire episode "The Long Goodbye", which deals with C.J.'s father's Alzheimer's.
- The season five episode "The Benign Prerogative". Donna, at Josh's behest, is going over 36 files of people who seek presidential pardon, all serving long prison time as a result of mandatory minimums in drug crimes. She meets with the family of one of these people - Donovan Morrisey - his mother and stepfather major contributors to the party. Over the course of the episode the President decides to pardon all candidates - except for Donovan, due to Bartlet and the senior staff worrying it might look like buying favours. They plan on pardoning him at a later time but just before the President gives the State of the Union Donna gets a call from Donovan's sister, telling her he took his own life. As the senior staff gather to deliver the news to Bartlet, Donna walks away. Josh goes after her and comforts her. She says she knows she needs to toughen up and not take these things to heat, prompting Josh to respond he hopes she'll continue to do just that.
- This little glimpse into Toby's past in "Shibboleth", when he reveals why he's been pushing the White House to start a fight over school prayer legislation:Toby: I'll tell you why it should be front and centre. It's not the First Amendment. It's not religious freedom, it's not church and state, it's not abstract.
Leo: What is it?
Toby: It's the fourth grader who gets his ass kicked at recess because he sat out the voluntary prayer at home room. It's another way of making kids different from other kids. And they're required by law to be there... that's why you want it front and centre: the fourth grader. That's the prize.
Leo: What'd they do to you?
[Toby doesn't answer]
- In an earlier episode, Kate makes an offhand comment about being divorced. When "Ninety Miles Away" begins to uncover Leo and Kate's time in the early 90's trying to repair the U.S. relationship with Cuba through Florida, Leo pointedly asks if they ever met. Kate just looks at him and says, "do you remember me?" Leo admits that he doesn't remember much with how much he was drinking. When he asks the same, Kate says nothing, but a flashback reveals they did meet, Kate bearing a black eye from her abusive husband, and driving a very intoxicated Leo away from the broken-down talks that are at the heart of the episode.
- Most everything regarding Leo's death, from Annabeth's reaction when she finds him to the scene where she tells Josh the outcome to the funeral.
- A special mention has to go to Margaret quietly sobbing as she watches his death being reported on the evening news.
- Also the very small moment of Lou greeting Josh with a hug when he returns from the hospital. The two of them usually bicker with each other and don't seem overly fond of one another but at that moment none of that matters.
- Josh telling Toby in "Holy Night", that he "would give anything to have a living father who was a felon, or a sister with a past..."
- Josh in "The Warfare of Genghis Khan".Josh: Voyager, in case it's ever encountered by extra-terrestrials, is carrying photos of life on Earth, greetings in 55 languages and a collection of music from Gregorian chants to Chuck Berry. Including "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground" by '20s bluesman Blind Willie Johnson, whose stepmother blinded him when he was seven by throwing lye in is his eyes after his father had beat her for being with another man. He died, penniless, of pneumonia after sleeping bundled in wet newspapers in the ruins of his house that burned down. But his music just left the solar system.
- Bartlett going thermonuclear on Zoey as he describes "the nightmare scenario" in "Mr Willis of Ohio" is equal parts Tear Jerker, Adult Fear, and Nightmare Fuel, not to mention terrifyingly prophetic."Now we've got a new problem, because this country no longer has a Commander-in-Chief, it has a *father* who is out of his mind, because his little girl is in a shack somewhere in Uganda with a gun to her head! DO YOU GET IT?!
Tear Jerker / The West Wing