In the past six months, we’ve said goodbye to a king and hello to another, met some new clones, traveled the flat circle of time, and had an old friend for dinner. So far, it’s been a stunning year for television. We’ve seen so many wonderful, gripping horrifying, funny, and poignant moments blaze across our television screens in 2014, so it’s hard to fathom that we’re only halfway through the year. Here’s a list of some of our favorite moments in television this year… so far. (Beware spoilers!)
The Mountain Crushes the Viper
Show: Game of Thrones
Episode: “The Mountain and the Viper”
It was all too easy for Oberyn, who was doing backflips and chanting accusations while easily besting the Mountain in combat. But style, grace, and most importantly, honor have no place in the world of Game of Thrones. A lesson the show has painfully reiterated time and time again. What really gets things done in Westeros is brutal efficiency. So when the Mountain grabs hold of Oberyn by the scruff of the neck, unlike his competitor he wastes no time in gouging the prince’s eyes out and crushing his head in horribly graphic fashion. The scene was a disgusting display of SFX wizardry and we’ve been wincing for weeks.
Three Years Later…
Show: Parks and Recreation
Episode: “Moving Up”
For the past six years, Leslie has served Pawnee with moxie and unbridled enthusiasm, but it soon became clear that the devoted public servant was becoming too big for her little Indiana town. Pawnee after all, is somehow simultaneously the greatest town in America and hell on earth for anyone with more than two brain cells rubbing together. We knew Leslie would have to move on eventually, we just didn’t know it would be so soon. In a brave gambit, Parks and Recreation jumps ahead three whole years and catches up with Leslie working a new job in Chicago with three toddler-aged kids. Ben is also inexplicably wearing a tuxedo. We’ve sometimes criticized Parks and Rec for growing a little stagnant formula-wise, and this was a brilliant shake-up for the series.
Show: Orphan Black
Episode: “Governed as it Were by Chance”
At the end of the first season, Sarah shot her “seestra” Helena and left her for dead, but in the second, she found out that it takes more than a gunshot to take out the most unpredictable clone of all. Their reunion in the bathroom is one of Tatiana Maslany’s finest performances, a tense, terrifying moment that highlights the differences between all of the clones. As Helena, she’s creepy and otherworldly and desperate to be loved and protected; as Sarah, she’s terrified and traumatized, shaking uncontrollably and unable to breathe. It’s everything that’s exhilarating and mesmerizing about Maslany’s work on the show condensed into a powerhouse of a scene.
The Dinner Party
Season 2 of Hannibal opened and closed with a deadly dinner that was nothing short of a game-changer. The season’s slow burning tragedy ended with a shocking, bloody, and audacious final 10 minutes that leaves Will Graham and essentially the entire principal cast bleeding out, dead, or dying, while Hannibal escapes into the night. It’s hard to think of a moment of television in 2014 that left us more gutted.
The Long Take
Show: True Detective
Episode: “Who Goes There”
These days, television is on a definite winning streak, with some even proclaiming that the lowly boob tube has even transcended film. TV has certainly come a long way in the past 10 years, and even in the last five, but one area where television has always felt lacking is in cinematography. Directing on television can sometimes feel largely perfunctory, a means to an end. But then we saw the fourth episode of True Detective. And then we forgot what movies even were for a couple days. When undercover cop Rust Cohle is caught up in a white supremacist robbery gone wrong, he escapes in a breathtaking six-minute long take that’s not only absurdly complex and seamless but so unflinchingly thrilling. We can’t even begin to comprehend how Cary Fukunaga put this one together.
The Coming Out Party
Generally, when characters come out as gay on television, they do so through a heartfelt confession underscored to soft piano music. But Mickey Milkvoich is not a typical character and Shameless is not a typical show. So when Mickey came out, he did so by getting into a bar fight with his abusive, homophobic, alcoholic father. It’s a testament to Noel Fisher’s performance that he’s not only turned Mickey from a one-off bully into one of the most sympathetic – if not necessarily likeable – characters on the show, but he also created a scene that it simultaneously touching and triumphant.
Ding Dong, the King is Dead
Show: Game of Thrones
Episode: “The Lion and the Rose”
With the Starks scattered in the winds, Stannis virtually army-less, and Daenerys still tying to be the Abe Lincoln of Essos, we expected Joffery, the cruel boy king of Westeros, to sit on the Iron Throne for decades. to come. Luckily, Game of Thrones doesn’t give a crap what we expect, and in the midst of Joffery’s garish wedding celebration, right when Joffery was being his Joffery-est, the king is murdered. And when the big moment finally happens, it isn’t triumphant or cathartic like we had always imagined, but horrifying. Watching the life slip out of this child (a fact that’s so easy to forget) as he clutches for his mother, and seeing his terrified face go blue then grey, with eyes wild and confused, struggling to understand what was happening, the scene is actually deeply sad. We even felt pity for the poor monster. But we felt even worse for the people caught in the blowback of his assassination.
Mind Your Manners
Show: Orange Is the New Black
Episode: “We Have Manners. We’re Polite.”
You know all that catharsis we were missing from the death of Joffery on Game of Thrones? Well, we sure felt it in spades here. Vee spent Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black terrorizing and manipulating the inmates of Litchfield. So when Rosa crunches into Vee with her stolen prison van, extinguishing the menace for good… Let’s just say we’ve never felt better about seeing someone get hit with a car.
Ginsberg Looses His S**t… and Nipple
Show: Mad Men
Episode: “The Runaways”
Most of Mad Men‘s psychological traumas occur beneath the skin. But Michael Ginsberg, the least “polished” of the Sterling Cooper & Partners troupe, found a way to bring his issues to the surface in one of the weirdest scenes in the series’ history: he removed the valve. He cut off his own nipple, exemplifying a bout with what can only be presumed to be paranoid schizophrenia at the behest of a mechanical interloper. Mad Men is all about metaphors… and we’re still clawing at this one to figure out what it means.
Emmett and Leanne’s Killer
Show: The Americans
On FX, there is a show that is every bit as good as Game of Thrones, Hannibal, or True Detective, but only a scant few are watching. The Americans wrapped up its sophomore season in brilliant fashion, letting loose a twist that shocked to the core. After spending the season searching for the killers of fellow undercover KGB agents, Emmet and Leanne, Philip and Elizabeth discover that the real killer was none other than their friends’ own son, who was admitted into the KGB behind his parents’ back. As the young man revealed his misdeeds between bloody gasps and blind soviet patriotism, everything about the second season was suddenly turned on its head. The most frightening revelation: Paige and Henry, Elizabeth and Phillip’s own kids, are next in line to become operatives. Is it 2015 yet?