The most common and problematic critique about the film industry and the major movies which earn enough money to start a sovereign nation is that the premises seem tired and there’s little to no risk taking in the “Hollywood” genre. We’re inundated with bigger, shinier and certainly more technologically advanced products, but at the end of the day, an audience wants to invest in a good, old-fashioned bout of storytelling.
Thanks to devices like DVR and Netflix streaming (along with their revolutionary “all at once” approach to their original content), viewers can now immerse themselves in the trials and tribulations of their favorite television characters – thus allowing writer’s rooms to become a little more nuanced with storytelling – which in turns makes for a more challenging and satisfying experience.
2013 was a year where favorites like Breaking Bad said goodbye and House of Cards said hello. In between, Game of Thrones showed us that there was no such thing as a mid- series slump. Here are our 10 favorite episodes of TV from this past year.
*MULTIPLE SPOILERS FOLLOW*
10. “Pilot” – The Following
While cable television shows seem to get all the press, I can’t deny how entertaining Fox’s event series The Following was. While it had several missteps during its freshman run that relied on a lot of misdirection and “jump scares,” those initial plot devices in the pilot made it one hell of a thrilling watch. While we’ve come to expect certain things from a procedural, Kevin Williamson’s (Scream) approach certainly pushed the boundaries on what the censor’s deem acceptable. Tracking a disgraced FBI agent as he attempts to capture a charismatic cult leader, the first hour leaves a lasting impression.
9. “Reckoning” – The Killing
I know. I know. Everyone hates The Killing because of how things were left after the first season. I’ve kept up with the atmospheric and moody crime drama because I’m of the opinion, “give me a clunky AMC show over almost anything else.” In “Reckoning,” we’re given a punch to the gut when Holder learns that his teenage informant has been killed due in large part to his negligence. In turn, he falls off the wagon and crosses the line with Linden. There were multiple narratives at play in season 3 – specifically cemented as a winning formula due to Peter Sarsgaard’s portrayal of death row inmate Ray Seward.
8. “Chapter 29” – Eastbound & Down
While HBO’s Eastbound & Down chose to explore different facets of the lift of Kenny Powers in a variety of locales, it was his return to fictional Shelby, North Carolina that laid the groundwork for one of the better series finales in recent memory. It’s hard saying goodbye to characters you’ve grown to love; on the other hand, it’s even harder trying to create a justifiable and memorable ending knowing that viewers have spittle accumulating at the corner of their mouths in anticipation of ripping it to shreds. Kudos to Sacha Baron Cohen for his help in securing a terrific finale.
7. “Shutdown” – Veep
The tone of Veep is one that plays in the same arena as when The Office was really hitting its stride. While House of Cards touches on the power one man can have over Washington, Veep is the reciprocal – showing just how thankless and powerless being Vice President of the United States can be. In “Shutdown,” Armando Iannucci’s farcical comedy covered what The Daily Beast summarized as, “Congress and the White House can’t agree on a budget. A revolving door of employees is getting furloughed … and then un-furloughed … and then re-furloughed again. Trash is piling up on the streets. There’s no one to fight bears.” Of course, months later the US would face a very real government shutdown. They say every good comedy has some truth to it, and “Shutdown” really reaffirms that point.
6. “Episode Four” – Luther
The BBC certainly knows what it’s doing. Why stretch a season to 12-13 episodes where writer’s inevitably have to add less interesting b and c storyline filler when they can keep it bare bones and focus on what we really want to see: Luther and the psychopath he’s after. In what is probably the last sight of Luther we will see thanks to Idris Elba’s burgeoning movie career, we get the return of series favorite, Alice, to help the tortured detective avenge the death of D.S. Ripley. What’s going to happen to John Luther? Maybe more importantly, what’s going to happen to that superb overcoat of his?
5. “Moscow Mule” – Orange is the New Black
I must admit, I wasn’t blown away by Netflix original series Orange is the New Black after the first episode. Usually that’s a sign that a program will end up in digital purgatory. But, I kept going and was amazed at what a structural dynamo the show is. While the dynamic in the prison is what drives the show, it’s the flashback of how each character ended up in there that provides a little more pull at the heartstrings. In “Moscow Mule,” the flu ravages the prison as Larry’s New York Times article makes Piper a polarizing figure, and Alex’s feud with Pennsatucky goes to new heights.
4. “Chapter 1” – House of Cards
From the earliest moments of House of Cards, there’s a sense that something is going to unfold that is going to be hard to watch – as if a crash test using real people – but the viewer is inevitably not going to be able to resist seeing the impact. Whether it’s Frances Underwood breaking the fourth wall early on or Claire Underwood’s similarities to Lady Macbeth, “Chapter 1” quickly establishes each character’s motivations in a political landscape where it’s not “dog eat dog,” it’s “dog poison dog.”
3. “Farewell Daddy Blues – Boardwalk Empire
What once was unheard of on television shows is now becoming more commonplace. That is to say, no one is safe. After getting rid of Jimmy during season 1, and bidding farewell to a couple notable foes (mainly, Gyp Rosetti) along the way, the finale provided the excruciating death of fan favorite, Richard Harrow. In speaking to Vulture about his character’s death, actor Jack Huston said, “If he had just carried on, being married to Julia and taking care of the kid, that wouldn’t be fitting. I mean, he’s a wonderful surrogate father, because it was like his pact with Jimmy, taking care of Tommy, was the one thing Jimmy would have wanted, but Richard needs to be fighting for something. What one realizes about tragic characters is the moment they get everything, that’s the moment they die.” Add in all that Chalky experienced in season 4 – culminating in the death of his daughter – as well as Dr. Narcisse being forced to kiss the ring of J. Edgar Hoover and Eli’s change of locale to Chicago following his run-in with Knox, and this is as good an hour of TV that you’re going to get…almost.
2. “The Rains of Castamere” – Game of Thrones
There’s a reason why people’s reactions alone to this episode went viral. Officially dubbed “The Rains of Castamere,” the episode is cemented in pop culture lore for the events of “The Red Wedding” – that saw series favorites like Robb Stark, his mother Catelyn Stark, and most of his 3,500 bannermen slaughtered – as orchestrated by Lord Walder Frey as revenge for Stark’s breaking of a marriage pact. There seems to be a common theme for what we enjoyed – growing attached to wonderful characters and then having them taken from us in as cruel a way as possible.
1. “Ozymandias” – Breaking Bad
This is as good as it gets. Period. End of story. While the finale ultimately provided closure for those that had kept up with Walter and Jesse since season 1, it was “Ozymandias” that really set things in motion. Using some clever cinematography that takes us from Walt and Jesse’s first cook to nearly twenty months later, ultimately Hank is killed and Jesse is taken hostage. Back at home, Walt Jr. finally sees his father for the monster that he has become, and for a moment a knife fight between Walt and Skyler makes it seem like someone wasn’t going to make it out alive.
“A Mother’s Work” – Sons of Anarchy
When a wound is so fresh, it’s hard to place it in context of where it ranks in terms of “best of the year.” With that being said, Kurt Sutter’s Hamlet-esque motorcycle drama delivered an ending to the 6th season that sets the perfect stage for what has already been decided will be the last for the breakout FX hit. Will Jax be charged for the death of Tara and Roosevelt? If not, will he still be at the head of the table after relinquishing the gavel to Bobby? There are so many unanswered questions!