The 9 Saddest 'ER' Episodes Of All Time Will Make Even The Toughest Fans Sob
The traumas, the dramas — for over 15 seasons, ER took us right into County Central Hospital's heart of chaos to follow the rollercoaster ride of a day in the emergency room. If you still can't get enough of the beloved show, get out your economy-sized box of tissues, because here are the saddest ER episodes of all time.
The genius of the show, aside from regularly using super long (and difficult) tracking shots to put audiences in the middle of the action, was establishing real emotion amid chaos. Setting a show in an emergency room may seem contradictory for writing juicy drama, but ER managed to pull at our heartstrings all the time with its emotional plotlines and moving character arcs. And even re-watching the episodes today (as you now can on Hulu), it's clear that the show still packs a serious punch. 15 years is a long time to produce new, compelling content week after week, but it's a testament to ER's impressive writers' room that they created so many heartbreaking storylines that turned all of us viewers into total mush every time we watched.
So, without further ado, let's revisit the saddest and most moving episodes ER ever aired.
1. 'Love's Labor Lost' (Season 1, Ep. 19)
Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) follows a pregnancy all the way to its bitter and unexpected end. Preeclampsia's killed a number of characters to heartbreaking effect (see Downton Abbey), and this was no exception. Just when we think everyone's in the clear, Dr. Greene has to tell a new father he's lost his wife. This was only Season 1, people.
2. 'All In The Family' (Season 6, Ep. 14)
The second half of a cliffhanger that left the fate of Dr. John Carter and his student resident Lucy Knight uncertain, this episode at first seems like the calm after the storm. But this episode gave hope only to snatch it away as Lucy's health takes a sudden downturn. Saddest of all, she diagnoses her own condition as she realizes it's ultimately fatal.
3. 'Life After Death' (Season 15, Ep. 1)
Slapping fans in the face, ER's 15th season opens with a bang — literally, as Dr. Greg Pratt (Mekhi Phifer) is severely injured in an ambulance explosion. More than half the episode is spent messing with our emotions as his health and fate fluctuate — he's stable! He's crashing! — and the rest is spent watching his coworkers and family mourning Pratt's loss after he's determined to be brain dead. Make some mozzarella sticks ahead of time to toast with, and it might help soothe the sadness.
4. 'The Gallant Hero & The Tragic Victor' (Season 12, Ep. 21)
This was all the more traumatic for including Dr. Michael Gallant's on-screen death, especially waiting for the other shoe to drop waiting for his wife (Dr. Neela Rasgotra) to hear the news. The extra sadness? Realizing Pratt's anger isn't just due to his trauma returning from Darfur, but at hearing about a friend's death that could've just as easily been his own.
5. 'Be Still My Heart' (Season 6, Ep. 13)
Oh, don't think Part 1 of this traumatic double-header was gonna be left off the list. Not only does it end with two beloved characters stabbed and likely dying, but watching Kovack, Finch, and Benton try and fail to save two parents as their kids (including a wee Anton Yelchin, a sad note all its own) watch.
6. 'On The Beach' (Season 8, Ep. 21)
This might be the ultimate tearjerker. With many seasons following Dr. Mark Greene's ups and downs, there were several episodes devoted to his coming to terms with terminal illness and attempting to settle his life, but none have anything on this final goodbye. As if "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" wasn't heartbreaking enough to hear on its own.
7. 'Night Shift'
It feels odd to call any episode featuring Kirsten Dunst brutally beaten up "typical", but this hour of ER starts slow and ramps up to a shocking finale that sees the show losing one of its own. Carter and Benton's selfishness results in stressed-to-the-point-of-snapping student Dennis Gant's surprise ER visit and suspicious death.
8. 'Midnight' (Season 10, Ep. 21)
Dr. Carter and wife Kem (Thandie Newton) go through expectant parents' worst nightmare when their child stops kicking in utero. Addressing a pain not often acknowledged on television, watching the couple deal with the devastation and perceived failure of a stillbirth is beyond heartbreaking, as they mourn the loss of the family they never even had a chance to be.
9. 'And In The End...' (Season 15, Ep. 22)
Partings are such sweet sorrow, but the final episode of ER piles on the emotions in addition to acknowledging the end of an era. There's another mother dying in labor, an AIDS patient choosing death over treatment acknowledging the epidemic's massive loss, and Carter choosing the trauma room over his relationship, as everything comes full circle.
ER ran the full gamut of emotions, so don't worry; there are plenty of upbeat, action-packed, and straight dramatic episodes to watch after you're done sobbing over these.