The 10 Best Television Drama Episodes of 2013
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The 10 Best Television Drama Episodes of 2013

By The Pajiba Staff | Guides | December 18, 2013 | Comments ()


Limit one episode per series.

10. Homeland, “The Star” (Showtime) — Whatever you want to say about the rest of the third season, the emotional beauty and truth that ran throughout Homeland’s season finale, “The Star,” made it one of the best episodes of the year. In its images, from the desert ride to the compound where Carrie and Brody found temporary sanctuary, to the execution scene, to the ocean backdrop of Saul and Mira’s refuge; the tone of most of the episode was solemn and sad. It was a proper memorial for these characters we’ve followed these past three years. Brody gave his last great heart-pounding escape attempt, and then the whole mood shifted as it became apparent his fate was sealed. Each character stayed true, and the writers did the only thing that made sense. — Cindy Davis

9. Rectify “Jacob’s Ladder” (IFC) — The final episode of the first season of Rectify brilliantly capped off the most unsettling, captivating, and profoundly moving new series of 2013. Indeed,”Jacob’s Ladder” delivered the single most devastating hour of television I’ve witnessed in my life, and second to only the documentary, Dear Zachary in terms of grief. I honestly felt a kind of televisual PTSD: A kind of numbness, a disbelief, and a sense of helplessness I’ve never felt watching a TV show. The developments weren’t even that surprising; maybe it was the inevitability of it that made it feel so … painful. It’s not quite like anything I’d ever seen on television, but the mood and tone of Rectify, and especially in that final episode, seeped in and clung to my soul like a warm blanket with viper teeth. - -Dustin Rowles

8. Orphan Black, “Variations Under Domestication” (BBC America) — This dark Canadian/British sci-fi drama had a premise so twisted and unbelievable that it took the audience awhile to warm up. But what the show lacked in absolute coherent structure, it more than made up for in a career-making performance from Tatiana Maslany as seven distinct characters. Though the show seemed to enjoy getting the clones in the same room as much as possible and though we’d seen them pose as each other before, this was the first time we’d seen the case of mistaken identity used as classic farce. Think Fawlty Towers with wigs and a vestigial tail. This episode, set mainly at a white suburban party at Alison’s house, was jam-packed with passed out clones, clothes swapping and slamming doors. But it wasn’t all comedy. Between Alison’s glue gun and Paul’s nail gun, there was plenty of room for home improvement-based violence. All in all, this was where we really learned the extent of Maslany’s impressive talent. Joanna Robinson

7. Southland, “Reckoning” (TNT) — “Reckoning” was dark. It was brutal. And it was real. It’s the perfect illustration of what Southland did best: It didn’t tell the big, ratings-grabbing stories. It told the human ones, finishing with one of the most heartbreaking realities of life: Michael Cudlitz’s John Cooper had managed to survive a number of tragedies and emotional traumas throughout the series, but in the end, it wasn’t the job that broke him. It was something as small as the incessant noise of a humming generator that was his undoing. After surviving the life of a beat cop for years, the thugs and the gangsters and the shootings, and after losing his partner to a brutal murder and nearly being dumped into a shallow grave himself, it was something so small, and so human that was the breaking point that cost John Cooper his life. — Dustin Rowles

6. Sons Of Anarchy “Aon Rud Persanta” (FX) — The title is Gaelic for “nothing personal,” an almost ironic title for an episode that felt so intensely personal. For one of the major characters — the Claudius of Sons’ Hamlet — it was more than personal. Clay Morrow’s reckoning day had finally arrived. After taking a hit out on Tara, after beating the snot out of his wife, after killing Piney Winston, and after turning a couple of the clubs’ own prospects against them, Clay Morrow’s debt finally came due with one of the most shocking, jaw-dropping episodes in a series piled with shocking, jaw-dropping episodes. Indeed, the events in “Aon Rud Persanta” reminded me a lot of what Vince Gilligan had said about Breaking Bad, “Ozymandias”: “”It will knock your f***ing socks off. It may be the best episode we’ve ever done. Unfortunately, there’s two episodes after that.” (Sons, like Breaking Bad, would nevertheless end the season with two very good episodes.) — Dustin Rowles

5. The Killing, “Six Minutes” (AMC) — The Killing’s penultimate episode of its third season demonstrated that the series was not only good again (and deserving of another last-minute reprieve from Netflix), “Six Minutes” — featuring an Emmy-worthy turn from Peter Sarsgaard — was the best episode of television over the summer. It was not an easy episode, however. It was one of those rare episodes of television that will leave you distraught and upset, the kind of episode that literally makes it more difficult to sleep at night. It will leave you a shaky, trembling ball of nerves with a pit in your stomach the size of a boulder. It certainly wasn’t escapist television, and I’m still not certain how I feel about having it inflicted upon me by a goddamn show that had not displayed the capacity for this kind of raw, emotional power in previous seasons, but it did a phenomenal job of not only salvaging the series, but redeeming it. — Dustin Rowles

4. Justified, “Decoy” (FX) — As action-packed and tightly paced as any big screen blockbuster, this tense hour of car bombs and abandoned high schools allowed one of our favorite background characters, Deputy Tim Gutterson, a chance to really shine. But as creator Graham Yost promised, the fourth season of Justified did a phenomenal job of drawing out conflict between existing characters and dynamics. Yes, we have Theo Tonin and Drew Thompson and Lindsay and Billy, etc., but “Decoy,” was such Raylan vs. Boyd, Brother against Brother plot. They’re two silhouettes and two sides of the same coin. Boyd said it best when he was asked how he could know Raylan so well: “We dug coal together.” — Joanna Robinson

3. The Good Wife, “Hitting the Fan” (CBS) — This was, simply put, one of the best hours of television we’ve seen all year. I felt as much stress watching security officers quietly escort lawyers from their offices as I ever felt watching Walter White’s meth empire crumble. In one of the neatest tricks of storytelling in modern TV drama history, The Good Wife took their central quartet of Good Guys — Alicia, Will, Diane, and Cary — and pit them against each other in a wholly believable and organic way. We don’t quite know who to root for or who the injured party is or how long-lasting the ripples of Alicia and Will’s complicated entanglement will prove to be. Without a clear moral victor to pin our hopes on, we’re left see who, in the end, plays dirtier pool. Joanna Robinson

2. Game of Thrones, “The Rains of Castamere” (HBO) — Honor and vengeance and victory and tragedy. That’s the simplest way to sum up “The Rains Of Castamere,” the spectacular and horrific ninth episode of the third season of Game Of Thrones. So many threads, once loose and frayed, at last were brought together, and the characters did not escape unscathed. And while there were battles won and celebrations throughout, not all were victories worth celebrating. We’d known — we’d always known — that this world is a dark and treacherous one. “The Rains Of Castamere” likely shocked many a viewer. Everyone knew something was coming. Everyone was probably even expecting a major character to die. But no one could have expected such wholesale slaughter. Such is the world of Game of Thrones, my friends, You thought you knew. But then, as the Starks were broken and butchered and scattered to the winds, you realized — more than ever before — that you were wrong. — TK

1. Breaking Bad, “Ozymandias” — The sixth episode of the final half-season of Breaking Bad left Walt with a pile of money the likes of which most of us will never see, but it was a fraction of everything he’d earned, and all his wealth still couldn’t buy his brother-in-law Hank’safe passage. Walt’s power had became so great he stopped understanding how to control it. That was the real beginning of the end for Walter White. There’s always someone else coming along. The man who worked to take out Gus Fring couldn’t see he was just as vulnerable to downfall. Hank did the work, hunted his man, and caught the one and only Heisenberg, and for his efforts he was dumped in a hole in the ground in the New Mexico desert. That’s the kind of ache the best stories create in you: the pain of watching someone fight so hard and still come to a bad end. Watching Hank fall, and watching Jesse be beaten and caged, is the kind of piercing heartbreak only the best series achieve. — Daniel Carlson

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • lingli

    I only watched two of the shows on the list (I started with Orphan Black and then missed a couple of episodes and never got caught up; the current season of Sons isn't on over here yet, as far as I know; I am only up to season 2 in Breaking Bad; and I have also never heard of Rectify) but that is I think two more than I managed from The Guardian's Top Ten list :) The OH and I caught an episode of GoT in reruns last week and it reminded me why, even though we have seasons 1 and 2 in boxset, we don't rewatch them. It's fantastic, but it's just not easy to watch. And I am still amazed that The Rains of Castamere wasn't spoilered.

    I do like to see some Justified love as it's buried away on Fox (formerly FX) and doesn't get as much publicity. It's also shown a couple of months later here so I'll either have to avoid the recaps or investigate ... er, alternative modes of viewing.

  • Bananapanda

    Didn't Decoy also have the fantastic Art monologue? "This is guy awesome!"

  • Zuffle

    Good list. I'd have put Hannibal on it, but then I've never seen Orphan Black or Rectify.

  • Pat

    I would include Boardwalk Empire's "Farewell Daddy Blues." Narcisse's "Yes...sir" to Hoover was just amazing.

  • I also have NO IDEA what "Rectify" is. Not in the slightest.

  • I only watched the top two, and only the GoT would qualify for me. I guess I was just never that into BB.

    Hmm. Thinking back on it, I really didn't watch a whole lot of new TV this year.

  • Emran Huq

    Looks like this list only includes shows that had been reviewed on pajiba, because it's hard to believe that the season finale (or any episode from the 2nd half of the 4th season) of the Boardwalk Empire could not make the cut.

  • Rocabarra

    #1-4 were dead giveaways and no one, NO ONE, could argue them. But I am so happy to see The Killing and Rectify here. Both of the mentioned episodes left me curled up in the fetal position, sobbing, and wondering how I got to this place in my life that a TV show (!) could well and truly devastate me. Standing ovation to these excellent shows and their entire casts and crews.

  • kimk

    When it comes to tv, I am not much of a full-on drama watcher, but "Rectify" pulled me in, I can't remember the last time a tv show had such an emotional impact on me. It is sort of sad that it got lost in awards season amongst the higher profile shows. But, yes, pleasantly surprised to see it represented here.

  • DominaNefret

    I can watch that Orphan Black episode over and over and over again. It is fabulous.

  • Dave Dorris

    Cool. I saw exactly one of those.

  • Guest

    Wow Mad Men and Elementary really should get some love.

    The Doorway / Season Finale and The Woman / Heroine should be here.

    Also the Misfits Series Finale and HM to Hannibal (pilot and finale).

    +1 for the Southland and Orphan Black.

    *I guess I was the only one disappointed with the Homeland Season Finale.

  • space_oddity

    You weren't the only one.

  • Solid list. Top of the Lake's sixth episode, House of Cards' eighth, and the Mad Men/Americans finale are the only others I can think of that merit mention (Treme is so good all the time that it's tough to spotlight one episode). Oh, and the Bridge finale as well.

    Gun to my head, I remove Killing and Orphan Black for Top of the Lake E6 and The Americans finale. But even that's nitpicking.

  • ZizoAH

    I could watch "Hitting the fan" 100 times and still get excited.

    Actually I already watched it about 15 times, it's so thrilling!

  • Ryan Ambrose

    Great list, "Ozymandias" was quite possibly the finest hour of television I've ever witnessed and no amount of people sniveling "worst shootout ever" will change that.

    And yet I unjustifiably still haven't caught up with Southland somehow.

    I should rectify that immediately. See what I did there?!

  • GDI

    Justified does tend to spoil me with it's shootouts.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    With all the Ozymandias love, I'm going to shill for a friend's symphony, which will be performing an original opera inspired by Ozymandias in January in NYC.


    (I have no idea how the rights/licensing work and I'm afraid to ask)

  • emmalita

    You could ask Mr. LeBeouf. He clearly has a firm grasp on the issue.

  • Megan

    Ozymandias was the most tightly written, perfectly acted 44 minutes I think I've ever seen.

  • Joe Grunenwald

    I was about to say the same for "Hitting the Fan". No network drama, let alone a drama on CBS, has the right to be as excellent as The Good Wife is.

  • MichaelAndTheArgonauts

    BB's "Ozymandias" and Sherlock's "A Scandal in Belgravia" are the two best episodes of television ever created IMO. I remember cooking myself a delicious dinner before watching "Ozymandias" was completely untouched by the time the credits rolled. I just sat there in a ball of nerves and awe until it was over.

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    I should rectify that immediately. See what I did there?!

  • MichaelAndTheArgonauts

    Awesome! I can't wait to quit my job and work there...said no one ever.

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