A 15 minute scene in episode 5 of the second season of Homeland pushes the show from good into flashes of greatness. There were elements there is season 1 (that episode at the cabin the woods) and I think the show writers have realised that and are starting to thread the connection between to two main characters, Carrie and Brody, through a twisty and turny season 2. This scene in episode 5 is a master class in acting and I am sure will be on Claire Danes and Damien Lewis’ Emmy show reels, but if I were them, I would not start counting the acting honours just yet, because similar things were said of that season 4 episode of Man Men, The Suitcase. It did not just have 15 minutes of greatness; it was a brilliant hour of television. Centred on the relationship between series leads, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss), it focuses on a deadline for an advertising pitch for the latest suitcase from Samsonite. The push and pull between the mentor/mentee dynamic at work and the deep, complicated, very realistic friendship between Peggy and Don underlines the whole episode, but not in a broad, talky, can’t you see you are watching art, way, but in that, I recognise that awkward silence and conversations that segue into resentful confrontations or unexpected declarations, way. Great writing, great acting, great show.
It made me start to think of other great, standout episodes in the last four years from US television. I have cut it off at four years, because if it was anymore, that would include all five seasons of The Wire, and that is a whole other post. So back to the last four years:
Big Love – Season 3, episode 6: Come, ye saints
The entire family goes on a road trip/pilgrimage to Cumorah, New York the location of an Joseph Smith shrine. It is epic. The show may seem to be about patriarch Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) but it is really about the sister-wives, Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicky (Chloe Sevigny) and Margene (Gennifer Goodwin). Revelations abound in the episode from the kids, the sister-wives and Bill himself. We get to the end and although it all seems like it is going to be ok, the pilgrimage changed the family forever.
Friday Night Lights – Season 5, episode 12: Texas Whatever
Choosing one episode from Friday Night Lights was hard, but I picked the penultimate episode of the last season because it has the most heartbreaking scenes between Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his wife Tami (Connie Britton) as they argue, discuss and struggle through the decision they need to make about whose job offer their family is going to take. It all comes down to one line “I’m gonna say to you what you haven’t had the grace to say to me. Congratulations, Eric.” You feel that a hammer is being taken to one of the best TV marriages. Ever. But this is not your typical TV program, and this momentous decision and the impact on the family is done without a trace of soap suds.
Game of Thrones –Season 1, episode 9: Baelor
Yes, that one. Look away now if you don’t want to be spoiled. Now that is one way to end an episode. You do not really expect that sort of storytelling decision making. You do not typically fell your main character in the penultimate episode of your first season, it certainly makes you think about which character it could happen to next. NO ONE IS SAFE. And no, I haven’t read the books, so I am following the story as they are made for television. The lazy way.
Community – Season 1, episode 23: Modern Warfare
You have to love a sitcom that pays homage to Hollywood action movies through a paintball competition on a community college campus. Pure genius. It is hilarious. You can feel the cast and crew having fun making this episode.
Fringe – Season 2, episode 16: Peter
From the retro title sequence to the brilliant de-aging of Walter (John Noble), the episode takes you back to 1985 and gives you some of the origins of the series. What happened to Peter (Joshua Jackson), Walter's son and how Walter tried to save him by crossing over to an alternate universe and the impact this has on the world and their families It is a monumental performance by John Noble and guest star Orla Brady as Peter's mother Elizabeth.