The 11 Best Dramatic Episodes of 2012
This year, we have left our weekly episode rankings to the purview of our new Station Agents podcast (check it out! We’re still working through the kinks, but it’s immeasurably fun to do), and so do we move our Yearly episode rankings under that umbrella, too. We kick it off with the 11 Best Dramatic episodes of the year, and tomorrow, the other half of the Stations Agents will cover the best comedy episodes over on Warming Glow, and next week, we’ll rundown the best OVERALL episodes of the year on the Station Agents podcast (with a print edition soon to follow).
Here are the 11 best drama episodes of the season, limit one per show. Please to enjoy disagreeing with us in the comments section.
“Boardwalk Empire” — Two Imposters It is often the case that season finales are anti-climactic because climbing out of a hole and tying up those loose ends are often not as fun or intense as the point when a character hits absolute bottom and figures out how to get back up. Here, the season finale of Boardwalk Empire was magnificent, especially for Richard Harrow, but it was the penultimate episode — Two Imposters — that brought all of the wandering Boardwalk characters into Nucky Thompson’s orbit, and featured the best two sequences of the season: An heart-thumping opening sequence in which Nucky is avoiding the gunfire of Gyp Rosetti’s men, and a closing moment that saw the arrival of Al Capone. —DR
“Breaking Bad” — Dead Freight — There wasn’t a bad episode among the 8-episode half season of Breaking Bad this year, and in fact, any of them could’ve been chosen as the show’s representative. The caper-like “Dead Freight” stood out slightly for me because it included mini-heist, and culminated in the most jaw-dropping scene of the season, when Todd took out a kid on a motorbike, fully transforming Walter White from anti-hero to villain. -DR
“Doctor Who” — The Angels Take Manhattan On this show, when a companion (or Doctor) leaves, heartbreak isn’t usually far behind. Karen Gillan played Amelia Pond in 34 episodes (tying Billie Piper’s record exactly) and though she was mostly lovely and Arthur Darvill was always brilliant, it was very clear that it was time for the Ponds to go. The first four episodes of this season were pretty rough, but with the return of the Weeping Angels and River Song, this episode absolutely gave the Ponds the send-off they deserved. In the end, of course, it wasn’t about quips or a menacing (and silly) Statue of Liberty. It was about a few words spoken with as little action as possible. It was swift and, oh, it hurt. -JR
“Game Of Thrones” — Blackwater There really was no other choice this season when it comes to “Game Of Thrones.” Other episodes may have shown more emotional depth and certainly more scope, but the tightly wound 50 minutes spent exclusively at King’s Landing was this show at its finest. From “The Rains Of Castamere” bookend, to the finely balanced back and forth between the battle on the bay and Cersei’s quieter, more vicious attack on Sansa, the episode doesn’t flag for a moment. Rumor has it, the episode cost $15 million dollars, and it was worth every penny. -JR
“The Good Wife” — Another Ham Sandwich — The best part about “The Good Wife,” and what makes it television’s best legal drama, is that it incorporates office politics and the personal lives of the characters into the cases of the week. In “Another Ham Sandwich,” all those elements merged in what is probably my favorite episode of the series, which saw Will Gardner and Kalinda employ a magnificent maneuver to escape Will’s disbarment, dupe Wendy Scott Carr (who had just humiliated Alicia on the witness stand) and save the day. The cherry on top? A mini fist-pumping moment that saw Will and Diane engage in a celebration dance. — -DR
“Homeland” — The Choice This Showtime drama could not possibly live up to all the awards and accolades that it garnered in Season One. Sure, it stumbled. Many great sophomore series do. But what a finale. As far as game changers go, blowing away half the CIA will do quite nicely. And though Carrie and Brody’s mawkish love story was spread a little thick at times, it was nice to see them return to the cabin. Most importantly? That little sh*t Finn Walden is out of the picture. Fingers crossed the Brody family is soon to follow. Of course, this episode boils down to three little words: Mandy Patinkin, holla. -JR
“Justified” — Slaughterhouse Unlike “Homeland,” “Justified” had a rock solid second season, thanks largely to Margo Martindale’s Mags Bennett. Her figure cast a long shadow over Season Three, but the finale stood on its own. After the disarming (sorry) showdown between Quarles and Raylan came the Givens family sucker punch: Arlo not only tried to kill his son, but took the fall for Boyd. That’s a blow that was telegraphed but still packed plenty of heat. But it was the sweet send-off for Winona, one of the shows most controversial figures, that brought us “Justified” at its finest. Full credit to Timothy Olyphant and Natalie Zea for that quiet goodbye. -JR
“Mad Men” — The Other Woman “The Other Woman,” could just as well have applied to Peggy, Joan or the Jaguar at the center of the ad campaign with which this episode revolved. It was probably the ickiest, most morally devastating episode of “Mad Men’s” run, and once again, Pete Campbell was the reptilian weasel that set many of the events in motion by coercing Joan to offer up her body in exchange for the Jaguar campaign. It only cost Joan her dignity, but she prioritized her family over her self-respect. Meanwhile, after Peggy decided to leave Sterling Cooper for another agency, Don got in one last moment of grace, an almost apologetic kiss on the hand that expressed years of gratitude, of friendship, and of love in a shocking conclusion to a gut-wrenching episode —DR
“Parenthood” — Remember Me, I’m the One Who Loves You — What’s great about the smörgåsbord of characters on “Parenthood” is that if you don’t identify with one character or situation, there’s likely to be another one with which you will. As is often the case, I’m usually most profoundly affected by those plotlines involving the husbands (Joel or Adam) who are called upon to provide emotional support during a very tumultuous time for their wives. This season, it’s been Adam supporting Christina through her cancer, but last season, it was Joel trying to support Julia through an adoption, and it was this completely devastating episode in which Julia would learn that she would not get to keep the baby with which she had already grown attached, culminating in a weeping jag in an empty hospital room that would break even the stoniest hearts. But like all the best Jason Katims’ episodes (here and on “Friday Night Lights”), the sadness is always balanced by the sweetness, in this case the rousing reunion of Crosby and Jasmine during a camping trip with their son. —DR
“Sherlock” — A Scandal In Belgravia This one was probably the roughest choice. It was down to the wire between this episode and “The Reichenbach Fall.” (You hear that, “The Hounds Of Baskerville”? Nobody likes you.) That’s the beauty of Steven Moffat’s “Sherlock,” you see. Each season is so tightly packed with quality that it’s hard to choose. But, ultimately, “A Scandal In Belgravia” won out because, barring “Blackwater,” I can’t think of a more cinematic episode this year. The clip-clop pace, the brilliant guest appearance by Lara Pulver and the always excellent chemistry between Holmes and Watson made this episode an absolute delight from start to finish. Now dammit, Moffat, give us more. -JR
“The Walking Dead” — The Killer Within Whoever thought “The Walking Dead” could be this good again? Who thought it could come back so strong after last year? We’ve been waiting all season for that baby to come. For something to take Lori out of the picture. But even the staunchest Lori haters had to feel something at that exit. Even the most hardened Carl despisers had to admire that kid. For f*ck’s sake, this episode was so grim, Rick fell down with grief. We’ve seen a million kills on this show. Death is this show’s most relentless character, it shuffles after our heroes at every turn. But this death. This was, shockingly, the one that hurt the most. -JR
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