Year in Review – Television (Part Four)

by deerinthexenonarclights

This is the end, my only friend, the end. So i’m guessing that you’ve already read both the beginning and the middle (Parts One, HERE, Two, HERE and Three, HERE). You wouldn’t have just skipped to the last page to see how things turn out would you? If so, fair enough, I do that too. Anywho, the end and all that, after the jump.

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Homeland – The Weekened

The Weekend was essentially this years The Suitcase, no? And I don’t feel that I need, at this stage, to sum up why that is a strong, strong compliment. Though there was still some other stuff happening off in the show’s sub-plots this episode went from Cold Open to closing credits with its two leads within a twenty metre radius of one another; and as such it was basically a two-hander, playing the protagonists off one another for an hour. I don’t know whether it is correlation or mere coincidence but I have always found that whenever shows do this it tends to lead to an amazing episode (or in the case of The Killing’s Missing a good episode, when good just so happened to be a step-up from  your usual) and The Weekend is no exception.

Homeland is, at the very least, a show as driven by character as it is plot and though that may sound mild it is actually a meaningful statement, because unlike in the world or arthouse film Television – somewhat ironically – doesn’t usually have the time to simply live with its leads outside of the most extraordinary moments of their life. Whereas 24, the previous result of participation between these show runners, managed to exist in real time and somehow still avoid showing any down time Homeland put it out there from the beginning and has benefitted from it greatly.

These moments of minutia – Carrie getting ready for work, Brody cleaning his garage, everybody having sex – though are not meaningless, far from it. Watching them is just as interesting and often more informative than the high-stakes interrogations, because here the characters have their guards down. The Weekend is an hour long example of this, the first fourty minutes of which are perfectly engrossing drama that manages to educate us in small steps about this pair as they finally release the paranoia that possesses them both, but then the smallest of all details sends the show from slow, up, into its highest gear.

Tea, she offers him the right kind of tea and all of a sudden the show’s entire premise is shattered; she is no longer subtly spying on her subject, and he stops being a seemingly innocent man on the surface with some secrets beneath.  When the show discards its one time Omerta it does so entirely, having the characters quite literally throw everything out on the table, even though it is only early on in the game. Choosing not to simply string us along with the one set dynamic is a very bold move, especially for Showtime, a network who specialise somewhat in spinning their wheels (See: Dexter and Nurse Jackie).

The move from the lackadaisical tension of the first two-thirds of the episode to this intense period of revelation is a shock that you never quite recover from, spending the end of the episode stuck to the back of your chair in awe of what is occurring on your screen. The scenes have raised stakes and strong realism at the same time and the characters are extreme but also human beings. It’s the massive moments that make this episode memorable, but it’s the small things that make them mean anything to you. This episode has all of those things and more.

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Breaking Bad – Crawl Space

As I may have mentioned earlier, it took all my existing willpower – which honestly isn’t a lot – to not just make this Top Ten a ranking of Breaking Bad’s fantastic fourth season; so good was the show, yet again. To tell you the truth, that I managed to resist doing so probably has less to do with my own mental strength and more with the fact that the season ran thirteen episodes long and so such a ranking would require me cutting out three episodes; which would make an already almost impossible task twice as hard. How then is choosing just the one – and effectively cutting twelve – any easier? Well because I cheated.

See part of me says that Salud should be here alongside Crawl Space and another argues for Face-Off – hell every episode has a fan in me rooting for it – and I can’t honestly say that Crawl Space is a better or braver episode than those two, but the reason that I chose to rank episodes over seasons was because it allowed me to boil my choices down from the alternating blur of a season to the most prominent moments, it is effectively judging by the outliers, sure, but those have always had the most important impact. So when it came to choosing an episode of Breaking Bad I followed Gilligan’s example and pushed the formula to its most extreme and chose the best moment from amongst those best episodes and it just so happened to be the final, frightening zoom of Crawl Space.

Sure those other episodes had their moments – the extended Mexican monologues of Salud certainly among them – but nothing, nothing quite matched seeing the man we’ve watched for all these years screaming from down underneath his house; knowing as he does that all those years of bending his morals and morality had left him here, broken and no better off for any of it. Seeing it was stunning sure and that alone would have made it a contender for moment of the year but hearing it, that’s what makes it one of the best moments in all of television history. We find out that those screams are not of pain or anguish but laughter: creepy, bone-chilling and blood-curdling laughter. The man’s not just broken physically, his mind is gone too.

There is only one other place where laughter is used in such a manner and that is in the pages of Detective Comics, what Walter White does down there in his crawl space is transform, just for a moment, into the Joker and Cranston’s take is just as terrifying as Ledger’s. Though it may sound like a stretch I do believe that the comparison was intentional, especially since a few episodes later Walter’s binarised Doppelganger is also turned into a Gothamite of note, Two-Face to be particular. What the writers were hinting at with this is that the fourth season – and perhaps the show entire – is about villains and the nature of evil, as the season’s finalmoment attests.

For all the amazing writing, the compelling characters, the stylish shots and the riveting action it is this one simple moment that best conveys that theme, because it hits you in such a primal place; it’s the ultimate origin story and its given to you in just one glance. The shows high stakes plus its patented lack of predictability actually had me worried about Walter in this moment: I thought ‘How can there be two more seasons of the show left to play (as was announced earlier that day), how can there even be two more episodes? Then I got up, clapped my hands and ran around the house like I was a lunatic myself as I do after all amazing episodes of television. I guess it has something to do with wearing out the adrenaline rush that the on-screen action provided and that a show can physically affect you in such a way is wonderful.
 
 

So yeah, TV was pretty good this year wasn’t it?

 

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