The Top TV of Twenty-Twelve (Part Three)
OK, so these are the final four shows in my top ten (though you may well note a flaw in that statement once you’ve read what is to come). If you want to start at the beginning try HERE, the Middle HERE and if you’ve read both click ahead.
Luck – Chapter Five
Unfortunately (pun perhaps intended) Luck was over long before it ever really began; the ratings of the high-class, high-cost show low even by HBO’s hard to decipher standards because it told a strange, slowly unfolding story of which we have still only seen the opening stanza. This episode shows that entire journey within the space of an hour; marking both the beginning and the end of what has become the second stunning failure of Milch’s post-Deadwood career.
The plot of the episode, in so much as this show ever had one, was based around the fact that five horses are needed before a race can be run, commenting perhaps on the fact that it takes about five episodes before a HBO style show like this has really begun. The characters vie and, quite literally, jockey to get the horses into position so that the race will be run; the do it for the profit, the prestige and the philosophical gild that a good race can give all involved. It’s not only what the show was best at, but what it did exclusively and this episode does it as we’ll as any other in the short run. What cemented it as my choice though was the climax in which the camera’s drift and longer, slowly showing all of the characters collapsing into sleep after their big day. It’s a sublime and effecting ending, a moment that the show was never given the time to top.
Original Review: HERE
Mad Men – Commissions and Fee’s
Mad Men is another slow show, another show for serious viewers to deconstruct and consider as they watch. It’s the marker people hold up when they want to argue the maturity of the televisual medium and so given the story and themes of this episode – SPOILERS: it covers suicide – it seems obvious that this episode, the title of which I am constantly reversing, made it onto this list for those very reasons. Not so. Commissions is here as a representative of the comedy field. Yes it features much crying and one crushingly tragic revelation, but more than that it features the culmination of a joke a ridiculously long time in the making, perhaps the longest walk in televised history, and it does this in the midst of all that great sadness without once feeling tonally inconsistent. It’s the good and the bad, the highs and the lows of life all wrapped in one.
Original Review: HERE
Breaking Bad – Fifty-One
While the fifth season of Breaking Bad delivered the first drop in quality that the show has seen since it first started all those many years ago it still managed to deliver episodes like this, episodes that will stand as the best ever made when the run comes to a close sometime soon. Fifty-One exhibited everything that we love about the show: it was marvelously shot by Michael Slovis, the script by Sam Catlin was unrelentingly suspenseful despite the stakes being low by TV show standards (it was one of those ‘suburban’ episodes of the show) and best of all it made a showcase of the series’ most unique feature: its institutional memory. Both major characters and minute facts are remembered and referenced throughout this birthday episode; bringing our memories back to all those good times of the past even while we hesitated about what was to come in the future. But why worry? If the final eight shows another drop but delivers even another one episode like Fifty-One then I will still be a happy man.
Mad Men ( Far Away Places)
Commissions and Fee’s may have managed to merge two totally disparate elements together into a singular episode but Far Away Places bests that by one; telling as it does three consecutive but separate short stories over the space of a single day. Normally anthology episode’s such as this would settle on telling simple, safe tales in each of these slots, letting the novelty of the structure stand as the week’s subversion, but Mad Men is a show that never settles. The three tales told here are among the most daring and dangerous that the show has ever covered: Roger’s drug addled trip is the most fun that the show has ever been – with some of the strangest visual flourishes – and the depths that Don reaches in his fight with Megan some of the most frightening.
You could approach this episode from almost any possible perspective – light hearted, heavy hearted, brain brimming or on the edge of sleep, as a fan of the show’s formalism, a friend of its characters or highly critical of both – and it would surely satisfy. Approach it from all at once – this is a show highly supportive of that kind of contradictory or ambiguous alignment – and it is something very amazing indeed. The stand-out in a pretty stand-out year for television.
(Original Review: HERE)