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The 10 Best Television Drama Episodes of 2013

By The Pajiba Staff | Guides | December 18, 2013 |

By The Pajiba Staff | Guides | December 18, 2013 |

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

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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