Part 2 of the best episodes of television this year included some extra special episodes from such series as Veep, The Returned, Grey's Anatomy and more! Here are the next ten:
15. “Savorueux” (Hannibal): The final course is something darkly savory--nothing sweet. Bad things happen to the mentally unstable and they take the blame for it. Beautiful darkness is the ideal sentiment attached to the masterpiece that is this season finale. From the terrifying cold opening sequence to the riveting end, the topper to television’s most atmospheric new series is still sending shivers up and down my spine. As investigator, William Graham continues his psychological downward spiral, the world seems to turn on him by the meticulous hand of the stoically menacing and manipulative Hannibal. The beautifully cinematography and ominous soundtrack are characters of their own. Yes, there are many masterful scenes here and director David Slade is at his best, doing something extravagant with material that is so dark, so twisted and really quite delicious. Operatic and revealing, this final dish leaves us curious for the next season!
14. “White Hat’s Back On” (Scandal): The second season finale is a pretty spectacular capper to an extraordinary season that explored 21st century racial and sexual politics. Everything hit the fan and then some. Olivia Pope and her team close in on the perpetrator of Albatross; Billy Chambers and the happenings all contribute to a bigger picture for the characters and especially for the show as a whole. This is truly a series defining episode that highlights the underlining heart of darkness these characters tread in while dealing with crisis after crisis in a fast-paced world. No character is wasted and the plot helps establish a whole set of bombshells that leave the audience breathless and waiting for the third season (which did not disappoint either). Propelling its characters into the harshness of reality, the finale snaps them all back into form before the hope of happiness causes more damage along the way. While the finale calls back to its season premiere “White Hat’s Off” and insists the return of said white hat, all that the white hat symbolizes has changed--tainted. Above all things, this is a fun, dramatic, fast-paced thrill ride of an episode that awakens the true sin of Scandal with thematic grace and series definition.
13. “The Replacements” (American Horror Story: Coven): Perhaps the most enthralling episode to date, the third episode of Coven is probably the wildest one--certainly one of the more controversial, which is saying something for a series that traffics in taboo horrors! There is a strong thematic resonance in this very eventful installment and some of the best performances we’ve gotten from this entire cast of wonderful ladies. What happens when the one in power is threatened to be replaced? Supreme of the Coven, Fiona Goode finds her life force slipping away and she fixes her eye on the apparent next heir to her powers--young witch Madison Montgomery. The episode delves into some truly horrific character development for a few specific characters; namely Kyle and Fiona. This is the episode where the season’s real momentum kicks in and desperation lights a ferocious fire under our protagonists. From open to close, it is just one thing after another and it is one hell of a disturbing ride that finishes with one of Jessica Lange’s biggest powerhouse performances ever. Out with the old, in with the new? Not if Fiona has anything to say about it. This installment is truly a wild card in a deck full of them. That’s saying something!
12. “Pilot” (Getting On): The pitch black humor that elevates the pilot of this little HBO series is something of a bewildering slap to the face of graying humanity…at its worst. At the bottom of the hospital food chain is the extended care ward of a poorly managed medical institution--the depressing, bleak waiting room between life and death--and somehow it makes for an uncomfortably dark look at human frailty. Based off the British television series, the premiere uses the depressing themes to bring what could have been a very dry show to life. The nurses and doctors that tend to the sick and graying are self-deluded, narcissistic, emotionally spastic and usually incompetent in their work environment. The first shot of the pilot shows protagonist, Dawn playing a game on her phone while holding the hand of an patient unaware that she has passed. There is an excruciating conversation concerning a fecal deposit left on a waiting room chair and a hilarious debacle concerning language barriers. Oddly mining the dark corners of life for comedic value, the pilot of this undervalued series is a silent winner!
11. “Farewell Daddy Blues” (Boardwalk Empire): The entire fourth season of Boardwalk Empire is pretty heavy--everything seems more pivotal, as though coming to an end of something or a game-changing revelation. But nothing was as heavy as the season's restless season finale. Knotting together all of the season’s story arcs, there is an overall sense of dread that rages through this particularly dark episode--an episode that erupts violently as per. These few deaths are all imperative, leaving behind a flurry of waiting consequences. The very real, very ugly business of being a gangster catches up to everyone and they pay for their sins in one way or the other. Every piece of this ensemble shines, especially Michael K. Williams and Jeffrey Wright. Nucky Thompson finds himself questioning his own empire as the rest of those around him, especially his family face the cruelty of his decisions. Dr. Valentin Narcisse’s reign comes to a supposed end, while the writers give one of show’s best characters, Richard Harrow, a tragically beautiful send off.
10. “Ozymandias” (Breaking Bad): Percy Shelley’s famous sonnet by the same name speaks of the inevitable fall of a powerful man’s empire; as per, the last few episodes of Breaking Bad featured the ultimate collapse of Walter White’s meth powered empire. This single episode in particular turned out to be a horror show on wheels. Creator Vince Gilligan marks the episode as his favorite. The pieces of the puzzle fit perfectly together--but you don’t necessarily want them to just because of the crushing impact it has on the characters. There is a cinematic intensity to the events happening on screen as the kingdom crumbles and many casualties fall with it--there is emotional death everywhere--it is literally a massacre! The series as a whole has been building up to this and the fallout is fully realized. Walter White became a monster and he is getting everything he rightfully deserves, but that doesn’t make it any less of a hard-hitting experience. Many are calling it the “single best episode of television in history” and it still has a perfect ten rating on IMBd. I think that is a historical television triumph within itself.
9. “Rains of Castamere” (Game of Thrones): If you find yourself in an especially masochistic mood one day, take an hour out of that day and re-watch one of the year’s most talked about episodes of television. At the pinnacle of tragedy is the renowned Red Wedding debacle that packed a horrific emotional punch and invoked a powerful game-changer in the already blood-soaked lands of Westeros. In an episode that seemed to take its sweet time in building up to a rather devious plot twist, there are many story developments that are imperative and quite moving. The unpleasant surprise is exquisitely pieced together, causing viewers who have not read the books (or spoilers) to fall into a trap of false security. In the end it would make perfect sense; the Stark family had been quite down on their luck in the third season, but the events at the Red Wedding were like a stab in one’s back. The casualties are sorely felt and the whole ordeal unsurprisingly one of the most iconic events in television this past year. Those Red Wedding reaction videos on YouTube are evidence enough. While in Westeros it is wise to remember something: Valar Morghulis.
8. “One Man’s Trash” (Girls): Girls had a triumphant second season run full of some surprising episodes and storylines, but none more iconic of the year than its fifth half-hour. Hannah finds herself enjoying a weekend “sexit” with a middle-aged doctor named Joshua (played by Patrick Wilson) that results in an epiphany--maybe a false one that our protagonist doesn’t fully understand yet, but an epiphany no less. The episode is like a calm fever dream; the plot is almost nonexistent and it’s as if things simply...happen. The viewer doesn’t know where the episode is going or why until the final ten minutes--actually I would argue until the last three minutes. The end of the episode is a montage of Hannah stepping into Joshua’s shoes, as a lonely adult “living the dream” and it is a pretty depressing reality. That is the true epiphany of the episode, not Hannah’s admittance that she too wants to be happy like everybody else. For some reason, some viewers cared more about the aspect of how a handsome middle-aged doctor played by Patrick Wilson could find the young protagonist, Hannah (Lena Dunham) attractive simply because of her body type. All it did was distract from what is an extremely self-aware episode of television. Plus, everyone should be discussing the benefits of naked ping-pong!
7. “The Crash” (Mad Men): How do you know that you really know someone? The persona that is Don Draper has been a slowly unraveling mystery throughout the series and in the sixth season, Dick Whitman’s past fought hard to destroy the fictional man the world thinks they know. In this episode, Don takes a distressing trip down memory lane while he and the rest of the office try to work under the influence of methamphetamines. Don spends much of the installment enduring time lapses that leave him in a state of bewilderment even as he trudges on trying to work as if circumstances around him are normal. Through flashbacks we see that Don lost his virginity to a motherly prostitute in the whorehouse where he grew up only to be punished by his mother. Probably the darkest episode of the season, the hour truly commits to this dramatic leap in character development concerning a character no one else in this world is truly aware of--not even his kids. The situation Don’s kids get into is one in which the viewer holds their breath--and it’s all because of the mystery that is Dick Whitman--Don Draper. This is the ultimate Rorschach test episode with an emotional core, some iconic moments (Ken’s “It’s My Job!” tap dance) and surprising character moments.
6. “Lesbian Request Denied” (Orange Is the New Black): No other episode of television this year seemed as progressive in its storytelling as the third episode of the Netflix original series that took TV viewers by storm! Piper Chapman’s journey in prison continues as she finds herself navigating the pros and cons of having a prison wife--Suzanne “Crazy Eyes”--while also trying to dodge a former lover. Piper ends the episode in “The Ghetto” of the prison, her prison wife welcoming her with an aggressive pool of urine. Quite the bizzare (hilarious) situation. But the true genius of the episode comes from the central narrative that focuses on the prison’s only transsexual inmate, Sophia, who amongst prison life must fight to reclaim her true self in a hostile environment. It is not like Sophia’s environment was any less hostile toward her becoming herself outside the prison walls, but her struggle becomes even more apparent in the penal system. Sophia’s desperation to find her true identity led her to prison where she now faces casual bigotry on a day-to-day basis. In a series that centers around the theme of identity, this episode probably did the best job at illustrating what prison can do to one’s sense of self, while also highlighting a major issue for transsexual inmates and trans individuals altogether. Tragic and eye-opening.
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© Patrick Broadnax 2013