Year In Review – Television (Part Three)
If you’re here and you haven’t read the first two parts then i’m assuming that you’ve become unstuck in time, I mean you wouldn’t choose to read out of order would you? Either way Billy the links for the first two features are HERE (Part One) and HERE (Part Two), enjoy. The third and penultimate part is up after the jump.
Justified – Brothers Keeper
Though it began as a simple series of callback’s to the Western, with each episode extolling through it’s anachronistic cowboy cop of a protagonist the potential value of a pistol in the steely grip of someone who knows how to use it, Justified inverted somewhere along the line into a show whose strengths and structure were both built around the power of words. Situations stopped being both set in motion and solved by a bevy of shoot-outs and began to all boil down to edge of your seat, sit down dialogues and none of these chats were ever more chilling than those involving matriarch Mags Bennet; the centre of the shows first over-arching sub-plot and the core of its success this year.
Her story, as it was revealed to us over the season, could on the surface be summarised as a complex Chinatown-esque land grab, one that came together perfectly in a show whose plots were never previously this precariously minute in their machinations – focusing more as they did on white hats and black hats in the modern West – but all of that is actually beside the point. What really made Mag’s worth following for longer than an episode was her family, specifically her three sons and foster daughter, and how their relationships evolved over the course of the year. For characters to be this compelling at all is an achievement, but for it to happen in what is essentially a procedural is almost unheard of.
What makes this episode, Brothers Keeper, stand out above all others is the way that it manages to make the Bennet family storyline into a bridge between what Justified was and what it now was, ultimately showing us just what a TV drama can be. By bringing all of the character’s conflicts to a head, one after another, the show managed to mimic a bursting dam-wall with this episode’s progression; the cracks that had built up over the course of the year were small but they grew more and more violent with each impact until eventually, somewhere towards the episode’s end, the whole thing just burst. As the episodes series of tense stand-offs continually trumped the one before the words eventually evolved back into gunplay, but never in a way that felt reductive or violent for the sake of thrilling.
Hitchcock could learn a lot from this episode, so tense is it’s drama, some of the tensest that I’ve ever seen to be honest. In fact the only downside keeping this episode so high up the list is the fact that it came too early in its own order, there was still a third of the season to come and after this those episodes, which were still great, simply couldn’t compare and so the show was soured slightly.
Community – Remedial Chaos Theory
I can’t really give you a rundown of what this season of Community was like or about, because it was never one cohesive thing. That’s not the shows style, see instead it likes to leap around from one universe to the next, establishing in each a set of rules and running gags that only last the length of the episode. This is both/either its biggest strength and/or its fatal flaw depending on day of the week and your knowledge of particular pop-culture.
Chaos Theory is not just an episode that exemplifies what makes this show work, it’s also a literal exemplar of just what this show is; it boils down that mercurality to its base form and puts it on display by dealing out seven different variations of the one episode. Like Brother’s Keeper this episode echoes the damn-wall, only its water is laughter; each mini-sode is a more ridiculous representation than the last and gets more laughs for the fact with the burst giving Danny Glover one of his best physical punch lines yet.
The unfortunate fact is though that the episode’s progression may for some mimic this metaphor and the show itself in more negative ways; many people are put off by the stylistic roulette and absurdity of the show and they may well find themselves turning off three or four timelines in, like they ultimately did the show. Personally it is that kind of experimentation that makes me come back after one of the weaker episodes, that it also managed to make the emotional side of the story work in wonderous tear-inducing ways is just a salty cherry on top on a possibly burnt cake.
I could go into more detail about it, but to be honest it would be quicker to just watch this episode than to write and/or read any more about it and I know which I’d rather do.
Game of Thrones – Baelor / You Win or You Die
‘You Win or You Die,’ that was the catchphrase used in all the promotional material for this massive HBO drama; one that refers of course to the titular ‘game’. The phrase didn’t seem all that fitting at first, nor did the title -The original name for series, A Song of Ice and Fire, would certainly have seemed more appropriate – because while there was some political plotting going on in the background it seemed far from the show’s focus, which was at that time establishing the many families involved in the fight. Now I, unlike many others, found nothing wrong with those first few episodes, perhaps because I had absolutely no knowledge of the books, but looking back now it is hard to see them as little more than a prologue, an inferior introduction to the brilliance that was to come.
Now, you may have noticed that the list so far has consisted solely of a single episode from each show (Where, after all, is the fun in a list that is all Breaking Bad? Spoilers?) but in this instance I have cheated and named two. The
excuse reasoning behind this is as follows: Game of Thrones is an intensely serialised show, often akin more to a ten hour movie than a piece of television (Though these two chosen episodes do prominently contain at least the one televisual structure, the cliffhanger) and so it is hard to separate one episode from the others; a thread that pays off has been weaving in and out for weeks now and it is impossible then to distinguish clearly where the praise should fall. It is with that idea in mind that I have chosen these two particular episodes out of a stable of stunning late-season hours.
Both You Win and Baelor are finely crafted, full episodes of classy, cable television and both deserve the spot for their own in the moment merits: they are at times thrilling adventures, tragic theatre, titillating exploitation, high fantasy, low comedy and political conspiracy. That though is true of a lot of the shows episodes, what then sets these two apart is where they sit in the seasons structure. If the first few episodes had been the reading of the rulebook and the building of the board then You Win was the casting of the first die, it is where the Game of Thrones truly begins; but with Baelor we are a few turns in and the pieces have all started to converge, it is where the game is hitting its first, frightening peak, where that catchphrase starts becoming tragically true.
I can’t decide between the two, my instincts force me towards the later as it has the biggest visceral highs and lows but my intellect favours the former, I cannot decide between the two. So I’ll leave it to you; Which do you think is more important measure, the heights reached or the leap performed to get there?
Final two entries, Coming Soon…