Monday, March 5, 2012

Spartacus: Vengeance, Episode 6 – "Chosen Path"

All the Gannicus goodness you can handle in Spartacus: Vengeance's sixth episode, "Chosen Path." Full review behind the cut. SPOILERS!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Best TV Episodes, February 2012

10. The Walking Dead, Season 2 Episode 10 – "18 Miles Out"

By finally letting the long-simmering tension between two characters explode into fisticuffs then having a roaming horde of zombies bring the already intense scene to a logical boil, a series that often feels pathologically resistant to the dread and heightened emotion that should define its post-apocalyptic zombie world finally lumbered, itself zombie-like, back into the realm of dramatic relevance. The best episode of an otherwise disappointing second season.

9. Spartacus, Season 2 Episode 2 – "A Place in This World"

Between a moderately badass raid on a Roman villa by Team Sparty, the introduction of promising new character Nasir, and a fun (if mildly predictable) twist ending that brought an absent character back into the fold with a bang, this was just a good solid Spartacus outing.

8. The Office, Season 8 Episode 14 – "Special Project"

The Office had honestly come to feel even more bland and directionless without Steve Carell than I first feared when his departure was announced two years ago, but with "Special Project" the show introduced the Florida story arc that would split the cast in an interesting new way, introduce some fresh settings, and just generally grab a sedate show and shake it awake. It wasn't uproarious, but it at least set a lost ship on course, which alone warrants ovation.

7. Fringe, Season 4 Episode 14 – "The End of All Things"

Along with the stylish, creepy return of a villain from the show's distant past, the last episode of Fringe before a month's hiatus brought about an unprecedented advancement in Olivia Dunham's mysterious abilities, developed Peter's arc in a way that feels like its setting up the end of the season, and most importantly explained a four-years-in-the-making mystery with a concrete, satisfying, and above all science fiction answer that, after the magical fantasy mumbo jumbo of Lost's final year, was such sweet relief.

6. Parenthood, Season 3 Episode 18 – "My Brother's Wedding"

The generally excellent and tightly-serialized third season of Parenthood concluded with this literally-named finale which proved moving and funny in equal measure. A few of its resolutions to long-running storylines were a bit too pat, but among other excellent qualities it featured a grown man dumping a bowl of salsa over another grown man in anger, one of the most admirably understated, zero-angst teen virginity loss storylines I've seen on TV, and had Derek Phillips (Billy Riggins from Friday Night Lights) playing a character named Billy who behaved exactly like Billy Riggins. Hard to argue with that.

5. Parenthood, Season 3 Episode 17 – "Remember Me, I'm the One Who Loves You"

... However, it wasn't quite as good as the episode immediately preceding it, which impressively scored its seven-minute final act to more or less the unbroken entirety of Death Cab for Cutie's "Transatlanticism," a deeply moving montage of scenes cut together with the gradually crescendoing emotional power of a superb music video. Powerful performances from Erika Christensen and Rosa Salazar in this episode too.

4. Spartacus, Season 2 Episode 3 – "The Greater Good"

"The Greater Good" brought the three-episode arc of Team Sparty's initial mission in Spartacus: Vengeance to a heart-pounding climax. Spartacus and crew took aim at their biggest Roman target yet in a sequence that appeared to stretch the show's budget for special effects, new sets, and fake blood, and damn, did they pull it off. And if that weren't enough, the episode featured the reunion of Oenomaus and Ashur, a harrowing sequence in which secrets years in hiding came out and altered key character relationships forever.

3. 30 Rock, Season 6 Episode 8 – "The Tuxedo Begins"

Proving that it's still got some wind in its sails even past its hundredth episode, 30 Rock embraced its most joyously goofy instincts with this four-years-late (or five months early, depending on how you look at it) Dark Knight parody, wherein Liz gradually becomes Heath Ledger's Joker and Jack Batman over the course of twenty deliriously absurd minutes, with a climactic rooftop confrontation that would make Chris Nolan proud. Even Jenna's romance with the cross-dressing Paul, a story I thought had a near-supernatural ability to destroy all comedy in episodes past, found a new angle that actually made me laugh out loud. Funniest sitcom episode of 2012 so far.

2. Fringe, Season 4 Episode 12 – "Welcome to Westfield"

A huge, twisty, ambitious disaster film in every way except for not being feature-length, "Welcome to Westfield" is my favorite episode of Fringe's fourth season and on my shortlist of best episodes of the series. Our heroes happen to be in exactly the wrong town at exactly the wrong time as it begins to blink out of existence, its city limits warped in space and time such that leaving is literally impossible. It only gets worse when horrifying, psychotic semi-humans with multiple faces on one head begin attacking as Walter and crew desperately try to figure out what's happening and how to save themselves and the few remaining townspeople from the consuming nothingness.

The production values are awesome, the action scenes intense, the whole thing huge and imaginative and massive in scale and better than almost any actual disaster film I've seen in years (talking to you, 2012!). But even amongst all this, the otherwise standalone episode still finds time to advance the season arcs of its central heroes, particularly Olivia, as memories of the lost blue universe begin flooding their way back into her mind. When you mix the epic and the intimate this well, that's just spectacular television.

1. Spartacus, Season 2 Episode 5 – "Libertus"

If "Libertus" were the tenth episode of Spartacus: Vengeance rather than its fifth, it might just go down as one the best, most utterly climactic season finales I've ever seen. I don't know that I would place it above Spartacus: Blood and Sand's finale, "Kill Them All," but if not it's just one small step down. I can't even believe they did something this goddamn huge just five episodes in. As is, its place at the season's midpoint speaks to the depth of Spartacus showrunner Steven DeKnight's ambition and sweeping vision for this project.

I know I'm being purposefully vague as hell, but for real, what goes down at the end of this episode is some of the most insane shit I've seen on television in years, and I don't want to give anything away lest any unconverted reading this take my word and catch up on this great show down the line. I'll just say that it's huge, fiery, violent, destructive, contains the deaths of no less than three major characters in a five-minute span, and generally had me gaping awestruck at what was unfolding before me. A truly badass sequence that I'm dying to see whether or not this show can ever top again.