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The 11 Best Dramatic Episodes of 2012

By Dustin Rowles and Joanna Robinson | Seriously Random Lists | December 19, 2012 | Comments ()


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

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"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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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • William Frederick


    For Breaking Bad, if we're going to talk about "fully transforming Walter White from anti-hero to villain", I think we've got to highlight his meeting with the Bikers/Aryan Brotherhood members and the subsequent montage, over the song "Start Over Again" (what a GREAT choice).

    For me, anyway, that was the moment that he completed his transformation. The kid on the bike was merely a matter of him rationalizing what someone else had already done. However, the prison party was entirely premeditated, self-preservative, and made victims of people who were nowhere near as "guilty" as his previous victims.

    Regardless, I completely agree that there wasn't a single bad episode in that half-season. Hank sitting on the toilet, flipping through that book, would have obviously been another strong candidate.

    Great list!

  • logan

    Sons of anarchy. The episode Opie was killed. I wont forget that for awhile.

  • csb

    The end of "The Angels Take Manhattan" is week, it really didn't do the characters justice. They should have went with the ending that was originally in the script, it was so much more powerful.


  • 1- The Killer Within is easily the best episode of the series. Both Maggie AND Rick *almost* had me in tears. It's the show that forced everyone, myself included, to have a new found respect for Carl, formally known as that brat, Carl.

    2- I'm surprised American Horror Story isn't on the list, either. Dark Cousin was a gut-wrenching episode and Sister Jude's imagined suicide was pretty effin' dramatic.

  • Michelle

    Oh, that episode of Parenthood. That KILLED me. Erika Christensen did a fantastic job throughout that entire story arc.

  • Hazel Dean

    All great choices. But what about the series 2 finale of the Hour? Peter Capaldi and Anna Chancellor were amazing in that scene (if you watch the show, you know the scene to which I'm referring).

  • JoannaRobinson

    It hasn't aired in the US yet!

  • Hazel Deal

    Oh! I see. I hope my comment was vague enough to have avoided spoil anything, then! I also hope they make a third series of that show. No official word on that, yet, sadly.

  • Hazel Dean

    And gosh, please excuse all above the typos! I even spelled my name incorrectly! Yeesh!

  • JoannaRobinson

    No spoilers as far as I could tell!

  • That is just embarrassing

    (And that one, too)

  • duckandcover

    Honorable mention of a show set to air on PBS in January.

  • JoannaRobinson

    *Ugly, snot-filled sobs.*

  • duckandcover

    Have you seen the special's trailer?

  • DeistBrawler

    I hope you're right that the Brody family is about to be out of the fucking picture because I can't stand them. I don't mind Chris though. He barely speaks. As for Jessica's constant back and forth of "trust me" "tell me" "don't tell me" "where are you right now?" and Dana's constant fucking whine bitching...

    I've wanted to murder them all season.

  • becks2point0

    I agree that Dana and Jessica were turned into very whiny and wheel-spinning characters but i think I hated Chris most of all. If I had to watch that lame 13 year old look wildly hopeful and then completely crestfallen in rapid succession one more time I was going to gouge my eyes out. When Chris starts to look happy you know the shit's about to hit the fan.

  • "Come along, Pond. Please." *ugly cry*

  • ed newman

    Great list. I might have chosen At The Codfish Ball or the One Where Roger Trips Balls over The Other Woman but that's nitpicking.

  • dizzylucy

    Great list, and thanks for including Justified and Parenthood (but especially Justified), two really great but vastly different shows that often get overlooked when it comes to handing out awards.

  • DominaNefret

    What an awful, disappointing episode. The Angels are not scary, they just zap you back in time, wherein you peacefully live the rest of your lives! They were great for a single, standalone episode, but were overdone as soon as a second episode was made.

    Asylum of the Daleks was a far superior episode with a much sadder ending.

  • DeistBrawler

    The Weeping Angles are my favorite Doctor Who villains. You're outta your damn mind.

  • Jezzer

    The angles only weep because of their acute pain.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Mine, too. Doesn't change the fact that that episode was shite. Or rather half shite, because the first 20 minutes worked.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    The only way the Angels work is with great big heaping doses of atmosphere. The horror movie approach in "Blink", and that first 20 minutes of pseudo-noir in "Manhattan", were both f*cking awesome, and only partly because they didn't feature the dumbass unnecessary expansion of the Angels' power in the two-parter.

    As mentioned above, the Angels are not, in terms of the ultimate fate they deliver, all that scary. Yeah, no more iPhone, and you'll have to buy your porn in stores with sticky, sticky floors like everyone else, but you still live. The scary part is the suspense of knowing it's coming and knowing there might very well be nothing at all you can do about it, that while your fate might not be all that terrible, it is very likely going to unavoidable, and that was exactly what the two-parter lacked and which these two eps kind of had in spades, mainly by virtue of atmosphere and then in the case of "Manhattan", by virtue of our attachment to Rory (sorry, Ames). "Blink" more than "Manhattan" of course, because any ep that features a lot of Doctor is an episode that doesn't fully succeed when the murder weapon is a great big ball of timey-wimey.

    Long-winded point being, they're scary, it's just that it's a different kind of fear. It's more abstract, less about the part where you die, and more about the part where you lose everything you thought you were going to have.

  • John W

    Honorable mention: the ep where Lane commits suicide on Mad Men.

  • apsutter

    Oh man....what a devastating episode!! Mad Men was so damn good this season. I always keep the eps on my dvr to re-watch them and I watched that one a couple times and it was still so hard to watch every single time.

  • Blake

    + 1.

  • QueeferSutherland

    Damn good list, guys. Comprehensive, well thought out, and included all the biggies. Really jazzed Parenthood made the cut, too.

    Of course, what's an internet comment without criticism? I'd have removed Doctor Who in favor of Treme's outstanding finale, "Tipitana," (although I understand that, for whatever reason, no one watches this weekly display of brilliance from David Simon), and swapped the Homeland finale with "Q&A," which was the incredibly executed jumping off point for the second part of the season.

    A couple more in the honorable mentions category:

    -- The fourth episode of Luck, where the main characters' horses converge in a high-stakes race for the first time, was outstanding.

    -- The Hunted pilot, which took the Much Better Than It Needs To Be For Cinemax Viewers crown from Strikeback. A legitimately well-written, entertaining series.

    -- The Newsroom pilot, if for no other reason than to honor how well Sorkin and Daniels dominated those opening 10 minutes

    -- The Killing finale's end credits, because it meant the show was over for good...OR WAS IT?!?! (f*ck you, AMC)

  • Three_nineteen

    I like Treme, but don't love it. I'm in it mostly for the music. But if I wasn't watching it, I wouldn't have seen the amazing scenes between Clarke Peters and Khandi Alexander.

  • Idle Primate

    I think Treme is one of the greatest things ever produced for television. I'm grateful they keep making it even though no one seems to like it

  • lowercase_ryan

    Luck was amazing. It still hurts, imagining what we all missed out on.

  • Blake

    No Fringe episodes? One or both "The Bullet That Saved The World" and "An Origin Story” should be on this list.


    And we haven't even gotten to the finale yet.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I love Fringe, and I agree it's been good. But it has yet to blow me away this season.

  • Miss Kate

    At the end of that Boardwalk Empire episode I hooted loudly and said to my husband, "I'VE NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY TO SEE AL CAPONE!" What kind of a show is this that makes people feel that? Pure brilliance, I tell you.

  • Natallica

    The Cersei-Sansa confrontation on "Blackwater" is particulary awesome because you can bear witness to the deep change Sansa's soul is experimenting, learning some lessons about the games of power. It was almost like watching a baby's first steps: on Sansa's face you could feel the fear but also the pride of overcoming it. Also: Valyrian fire!

  • Yup, this list gets it all just about right. Good work, Rowlebinson!

  • lowercase_ryan

    wow, this list, seriously this list! Of the shows here that I watch, you nailed them. The Homeland finale was infinitely more satisfying than I thought possible. Saul on the phone with his wife... I don't have words. Just amazing.

    Also: Justified is back January 8th. MOAR TIM GUTTERSON!!!


  • prince_of_montagu

    I only watch two of the shows on this list (The Good Wife and Mad Men) but you guys really nailed it with both choices.

    With The Good Wife, "Another Ham Sandwich" is my favorite of the series so far too. I loved how the "case of the week" hit home and my favorite Good Wife villain, the deliciously evil Wendy Scott-Carr (i sincerely hope to see more of her) got her ass handed to her.

    With Mad Men, i spent that episode feeling all of the emotions. A travesty that Christina Hendricks didn't get her Emmy because this was flat-out her best season. Plus, Don clinging to Peggy and the recurring of their hands touching? Geez.

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