[SPOILERS for the following shows: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Glee, Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, Parenthood]
Don’t ask me why I was in the mood to get morbid for this issue. Maybe because, as I was writing it, it was the day before Halloween. Or maybe because a lot of the shows I’m watching are showing a lot of death this season—The Walking Dead, American Horror Story: Hotel, How To Get Away With Murder, heck, even Nashville has been killing people off. Whatever the reason, I started thinking back on all the beloved characters I’ve had to say goodbye to in the past. There have been more than you’d ever hope to endure, but here are five that left me devastated. (Yes, I know TV is fiction, but sometimes it feels real!) And again, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers! If you’ve never watched the listed shows and maybe someday plan to (all five are currently streaming on Netflix), you’ve been warned.
P.S. Please excuse the oh-so-crappy video clips. People are obsessed with making terrible music videos, but never actually just posting a scene, as is, to YouTube.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER Buffy Summers Episode 5.22 “The Gift” (2001)
Buffy is my second favorite show of all-time (it falls only behind the legendary Boy Meets World). Joss Whedon was ahead of his time, creating one of the best depictions of girl power ever seen on television. Buffy was progressive and imaginative, supernatural without being silly (most of the time), heart-breaking yet funny. Was it a drama? A comedy? Horror? Who cares, it was just a really good show. Sarah Michelle Gellar was the perfect casting choice as she took Buffy from her angsty teenage years to that of a mature young 20-something eager to embrace her calling—and her finest moment of clarity came when she realized that perhaps the best way to save the world was to sacrifice herself. In a season 5 finale that shocked viewers everywhere, she plunged herself into a giant ball of evil energy and her friends were left to find her broken body. The episode ended in a shot of her headstone, leaving no room to debate that she was really gone. The why hurt more than the how and the voiceover of her final goodbye was a haunting touch: “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” No one knew that better than Buffy.
GLEE Finn Hudson Episode 5.03 “The Quarterback” (2013)
This poor little show about singing high school nerds rarely ventured into actual real-world drama scenarios, but they had no choice when their male lead, Cory Monteith, died of a heroine overdose in the summer of 2013. I still remember reading the news, just shocked to my core. The showrunners were left with the option of somehow explaining away Finn Hudson’s departure or staying true to life and producing one of their saddest episodes ever. They opted for the latter, and it was every bit of heart-breaking as you’d imagine. You couldn’t help feeling like there was no real acting going on; every tear on screen was genuine. I dreaded any scene featuring Cory’s co-star and real-life love, Lea Michele. But what no one expected and therefore couldn’t brace themselves for was a scene featuring his on-screen mother. Her monologue about how she couldn’t breathe, how she woke up in the morning and forgot for that one moment, and how “you have to keep on being a parent even though you don’t get to have a child anymore” ... I had to pause the TiVo, I was sobbing so hard. The episode was a testament to their love for Cory and a devastatingly fitting tribute to Finn.
GREY’S ANATOMY Denny Duquette Episode 2.27 “Losing My Religion” (2006)
Now, I would’ve given this honor to McDreamy except I refuse to accept that his death has even happened; that was clearly a Shonda Rhimes fever dream. (Has she redeemed herself in the eyes of Grey’s fans this season? I wouldn’t know, I’m boycotting the show.) For me, the saddest death wasn’t Lexie or Mark, or even George—though that one was certainly a gut punch. Nope, it was a handsome heart patient by the name of, you know where I’m going with this, Denny Duquette. Back in season 2 when the show was still in its prime, our overly emotionally invested intern Izzie fell in love with a patient. Their story was brief, heart-wrenching, and beautiful. The fact that he died so quickly from something as simple as a blood clot after a successful transplant and a proposal was just, well, a Shonda Rhimes level of cruel. The scene where her friends find her refusing to leave his side is one of the biggest tear-jerking moments in (my) television history. Combined, of course, with Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” again ... pass the tissues, man. Every time.
ONE TREE HILL Keith Scott Episode 3.16 “With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept” (2006)
I always compare any TV show that attempts a high school shooting episode to this one. It will never leave my memory bank as one of the most haunting 60 minutes of my TV-watching life. Jimmy Edwards, a deeply unhappy student and former friend of our main character, Lucas Scott, comes to school with a gun, looking to find justice for the way he’s been treated by his classmates throughout the years. He fires what becomes a warning shot, sending the school into a lockdown procedure, then blends into the crowd, winding up hiding in the tutor center with other members of the show’s core group. The conversations that happen amongst them over the following course of the show paint a painfully true and disturbing picture of life for a teenage outsider. When Jimmy finally turns the gun on himself, his last sentiment is, “I just wanted them to like me.” If you know the context of the show, you know why the moments that followed were so tragic and unforgettable: with barely time to process what just happened, Jimmy’s attempted savior, Lucas’ uncle Keith, is shot down in cold blood by his own vindictive brother. I had chills radiating throughout my entire body.
PARENTHOOD Zeek Braverman Episode 6.13 “May God Bless and Keep You Always” (2015)
Oh, Parenthood. Never has a show kept so many tissue companies in business. So outrageously underrated and full of emotionally-powered performances, this authentic family drama was a show that truly deserved all the awards yet never won any. The series came to a bittersweet close this past January and featured a death we all suspected was coming but nevertheless hated to witness. Patriarch of the Braverman clan, Zeek, sadly succumbed to his heart problems, but not before finally walking his eldest daughter down the aisle and meeting his great-grandchild who was touchingly named after him. The show concluded with the family spreading his ashes in the field at the park and playing a baseball game over him, just as he requested. Fade out. *sniffle*
What are some of your saddest TV deaths? Tell me in the comments and stay tuned (if my heart can take it) for a potential part 2 in the future.