This post is spoiler free. Unless you think knowing that I cried during certain episodes is a spoiler.
The final episode of season two of The Hour
made me cry. And by that I do not mean that I shed a single demur tear toward the episode’s conclusion. I mean I spent the second half of the episode desperately clutching my boyfriend and sobbing into his new T-shirt. It was messy, ugly, heartbroken sobbing, the kind of sobbing real life events have only prompted in me a handful of times.
When the episode ended, and I’d drunk enough tea to recover slightly, I realised I was actually kind of angry with myself. That hour of television had taken my insides and, ripping them from my body, crushed them into pieces. I was left feeling weak and shaken and emotionally drained. It hurt. And not really in a good way.
I suddenly thought: why do I do this to myself? In real life these are emotions that I avoid, at all costs. They’re horrible, painful, ugly emotions. They mean bad things have happened. And yet when it comes to television, I prize them. I let shows rip my feelings to shreds and then later I rave about it. I often list that moment of emotional turmoil as the show’s crowning glory. I recommend the experience to my friends.
There’s something pretty masochistic about that.
As my friend Noni
said when I posed this question: it hurts because it matters. Invoking that kind of emotion takes a whole lot of ground work. If I didn’t care about the characters there’s no way I would find myself sobbing into anything. TV has made me feel a lot of things over the years but I can count on one hand the number of times it’s really made me cry. Shed a tear, certainly, but not sob until I couldn’t breathe.
One of the keys, I think, to invoking this kind of emotion is making sure your audience believe that you’re capable of anything. They have to believe, honestly, that you would be willing to carry out any, and all, threats. If the viewer is pretty sure that Character X is probably going to survive this boat crash they are unlikely to need their couch pillows to absorb their sadness. The best television defies predictability.
But most of all I think the shows that are the most powerful are the ones that take us by the neck and hold us. The shows that have made me cry are also one which, at that moment in time, I was completely obsessed with. I would organise my life around them because missing an episode was unthinkable. These were shows that I would lose myself in; I’d offer myself completely to their mercy. And then they’d go and break my heart. The bastards.
When I sat down to write this post I found it really difficult to think of examples. I wanted to have five but in the end I could only really settle on four:
The BBC announced last week that they won’t be commissioning a third season of The Hour
. This is, to put it lightly, a travesty. I stumbled into The Hour
while eating spaghetti in my underwear one evening and was hooked before the first episode was through. This was brilliant television. It expected the audience to keep up. It demanded your full attention and, by extension, your full emotional investment. Despite all the things they did and all their faults, I never hated these characters.
Steven Moffat may be responsible for a fair range of the stronger emotions I have felt about television but, before this, he hadn’t actually made me cry. We all knew that the departure of Amy and Rory was going to be emotional and while fans in certain internet circles claim to cry at the drop of a hat, I didn’t really except the sobbing which this episode afforded.
The final of season three of Ashes to Ashes
is probably the best episode of television I’ve ever seen. Following two seasons of Life on Mars
and three of Ashes
, the finale had an awful lot of potential for anticlimax. I went into it afraid that it might let me down. I came out battered and exhausted. I wailed during that episode. I actually cried out several times. I watched the ending play out from between my fingers. I still can’t articulate what it did to me.
Unexpected right? There’s only four shows on this list and one of them is an Australian kids show about ballet? The thing about Dance Academy
is that I didn’t really believe it was capable of anything. Season one was good but it was fluff. It was well-written kids TV but that was all it was. Season two pushed all kinds of boundaries. I have never seen my brother cry the way he cried during those final episodes of season two. It was the twist, the unexpectedness of it that made it so powerful. Dance Academy
is the kind of show you except to watch casually, for fun. You don’t expect tears.
The shows that have made me cry aren’t necessarily the best shows or the ones I’d list as my favourite but, masochist or not, every one of these episodes was significantly memorable. And I do recommend the experience to my friends.