Sunday, December 1, 2013

Best TV Episodes, November 2013

I'm gonna level with y'all straight up: Since I started doing these monthly Best TV Episodes lists, there has never been a single month I've had a harder time whittling down to just ten. As I type this, I'm staring at a list of over twenty episodes that aired last month and struggling to cut a single one. So I'm going to break protocol and do some (alphabetical, unranked) runners-up. I might also keep my episode blurbs a little on the short side, because I'm working on some other posts for December. I hope you'll forgive me my trespasses.


• Almost Human, Season 1 Episode 3 - "Are You Receiving?"

Almost Human gets a thumbs up from me so far. I enjoy its Fringe-meets-Blade Runner-meets-Robocop vibe. This hostage thriller episode added Die Hard onto the list of influences, so no wonder I dig it.

Arrow, Season 2 Episode 7 - "State v. Queen"

Seth Gabel returns as Count Vertigo, the most enjoyably over-the-top, Dark Knight Joker-esque villain in Arrow's rogues gallery. The episode's courtroom scenes weren't exactly the best, but I still enjoyed it on the strength of Vertigo and the final plot twist, which has far-reaching ramifications for the series.

• Awkward, Season 3 Episode 17 - "The Campaign Fail"

Protagonist Jenna Hamilton's face-heel turn provided MTV's high school sitcom with one of its stronger story arcs since season 1, but this episode, with her returning to good and seeking forgiveness from the friends and family she's wronged, is stronger still.

• New Girl, Season 3 Episode 8 - "Menus"

Not gonna lie; this episode is here almost exclusively for Nick's line "What's up, Jason Street?" to wheelchair Winston. That's literally all it takes to get me to love your show: Throw in a Friday Night Lights reference, win my undying allegiance.

• Revolution, Season 2 Episode 9 - "Everyone Says I Love You"

With the possible exception of The Newsroom, Revolution is easily 2013's most improved show. I'm actually enjoying it now, which is just crazy. This episode was pretty freakin' crazy too. Hopefully Revolution's upswing continues into 2014.

10. The Legend of Korra, Season 2 Episodes 13 & 14 - "Darkness Falls" & "Light in the Dark" (two-parter)

Much like season 1's closing moments, Korra season 2's climactic battle is way too reliant on magical deus ex machina to get the heroes out of the impossible corner the show has written them into. Let me put it this way: I was 100% digging the finale when it was doing its riff on Godzilla. When it turned into Pacific Rim, however, it got kind of absurd. Nevertheless, gripes aside, the action kicked ass and the animation was immensely beautiful. Still-human Unalaq in full Dark Avatar regalia was terrifying.

9. Supernatural, Season 9 Episode 7 - "Bad Boys"

This episode was just a great, nostalgic Supernatural throwback to the days of seasons 1 and 2. No demons, no angels, no heaven, no hell, not a single regular or recurring character save Sam and Dean; just a straight-up ghost story, salting and burning bones and all. It was like the Supernatural equivalent of going back and playing some NES. The good old days, baby.

8. Boardwalk Empire, Season 4 Episode 12 - "Farewell Daddy Blues"

Ok, I'm gonna potentially make a few enemies here: Outside of episodes 5 and 8, which I included in last month's roundup, I'm not sure I really loved this season of Boardwalk Empire. I still liked it, but didn't love it the way I did the last two years. It's still a beautiful and sometimes exciting show, but its rhythms have become immensely familiar. It's just not a show that truly challenges itself on fundamental levels. Ergo, I liked but didn't love its fourth season finale. It did include an amazing, brutal fight scene with Eli Thompson, but the episode's major character death felt sudden and unearned.

7. Scandal, Season 3 Episode 7 - "Everything's Coming Up Mellie"

This episode was just completely and utterly bug-nuts crazy from start to finish, which is the pitch Scandal operates best at. The flashbacks with First Lady Mellie Grant were crazy and went to a shockingly dark place. The present-day Quinn story went to a crazy, dark and blood-soaked place, too. The revelation about the Vice President's husband's sexuality was just the goofily wacky cherry on top. Shonda Rhimes deserves adulation for the way she keeps this show's pacing cranked to a perpetual 11.

6. Homeland, Season 3 Episode 9 - "One Last Time"

Oh hey Homeland! Pretty surprising to see you on this list - I thought you didn't come 'round these parts anymore! What "One Last Time" pulled off in its Brody story that the rest of Homeland season 3 has failed at is delivering a story with clean, coherent and immediate stakes. Even the Dana Brody scene in this episode was narratively relevant and emotionally affecting. That right there may be the single most shocking twist Homeland season 3 has pulled off to date.

5. Bob's Burgers, Season 4 Episode 5 - "Turkey in a Can"

After some episodes earlier this season with almost preposterously high, life-or-death stakes – namely "A River Runs Through Bob" and "Seaplane!" – for its Thanksgiving episode Bob's Burgers reclaimed greatness by returning the Belchers home and setting nearly every minute of the episode there. The concept here wasn't bottle episode, though, but "murder" mystery as Bob tries to track down who in the house ruined his Thanksgiving turkey. Both the jokes and the genre trappings worked completely. Great, fun episode.

4. The Legend of Korra, Season 2 Episode 10 - "A New Spiritual Age"

Korra and Jinora's journey into the Spirit World makes for one of the best episodes of Korra's second season, fully shedding all the techno/steampunk trappings that exist in Republic City and returning to true straight-up fantasy storytelling. The Avatar: The Last Airbender cameos were impossible not to delight at, and the spirits themselves ranged the gamut from adorable to majestic to terrifying. Awesome "Oh shit what happens next!"-inducing cliffhanger, too.

3. Parenthood, Season 5 Episode 9 - "Election Day"

I'm on record as being not exactly in love with Parenthood season 5's mayoral election subplot, but a huge part of that had to do with terror that the story was going to go in a direction it really shouldn't and Parenthood was suddenly going to become The West Wing-lite. Now that I know that wasn't their plan, I dislike it a lot less in retrospect, and its climactic episode "Election Day" was actually quite good. Even aside from Kristina, the Crosby and Max stories were both very funny, and Julia and Joel's story was quite harrowing in a "Mom and dad are fighting!" kind of way. Parenthood is ramping up to a strong finish for 2013.

2. Arrow, Season 2 Episode 5 - "League of Assassins"

Not merely continuing but intensifying and upping the stakes following the revelation of the Canary's identity in the previous episode, "League of Assassins" shows Arrow as the polished, height-of-its-powers badass weekly superhero flick it is. The clock tower action scene was just so cinematic and exciting, and even beyond the wicked fight choreography it was all rooted in character dynamics and high emotional stakes. That's exactly what genre TV at its best is all about and should aspire to. This episode also showed off what a strong character Quentin Lance has become. Once practically the Sheriff Lamb of Arrow, I now ache for his pain as much as anyone else on the show.

1. The Legend of Korra, Season 2 Episode 12 - "Harmonic Convergence"

Despite their identical #1 rankings on my Best TV Episodes lists, no, I do not think "Harmonic Convergence" is anywhere near as good as last month's "Beginnings," an installment that is honestly in contention as one of my favorite hours of TV ever. But that doesn't mean "Harmonic Convergence" didn't kick a lot of ass. The massive, epic plane action sequence as Team Avatar attempts to invade Unalaq's base and reach the southern spirit portal was one of those scenes that truly shows off the potential of animation (plus imagination, of course), and how as a medium it can do on television things that just can't be done in live action sans hundreds of millions of dollars. The episode's ending also deserves credit as arguably 2013's greatest "HOLY FUCKING SHIT I NEED THE NEXT EPISODE NOWWW!!!"-inducing TV cliffhanger.

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