Wednesday, 12 July 2017

The Best TV Episodes of 2017 So Far

Well, we've already done it with film, so why not TV too, right? Here's a lowdown of some of the TV highs from 2017 so far.

"Beneath Her Heart" - Orphan Black
[IMDb Score - 8.4]
Even in its final season, Orphan Black is looking pretty unlikely to recapture the glory days of its first two years. "Beneath Her Heart", however, is the show's best episode since 2014. Detached from the main narrative, it's a heartbreaking hour of television that fully examines the unimaginable life its characters go through. It focuses on Alison, detailing the downfall of her once happy existence and allows us a rare glimpse into how affected by the whole clone ordeal she really is. If its devastatingly honest final scene doesn't make you well up, you're probably worse than Rachel Duncan. "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" has never been more emotional.

"Birth Day" - The Handmaid's Tale
[IMDb Score - 8.5] 
After a solid if slow premiere, The Handmaid's Tale launched into something great in its second hour. "Birth Day" is almost unbearably tense even if not much really happens, merely showcasing the series' knack for stomach-churning atmospheric work and misery-drenched cinematography. Anchored by an excellent performance from Elizabeth Moss, the episode perhaps peaks during a Scrabble game that Offred shares with her Commander - it should be one of the show's more light hearted moments, but you can feel the atmosphere pressing down like a blade's edge. How many points is "Masterful" worth?

"The Book of Nora" - The Leftovers
[IMDb Score - 9.6]
The Leftovers was one of those shows that improved every year. Its brilliant third and unfortunately final season capped off with "The Book of Nora", a finale that had a daunting amount of work still to put in but never bats an eyelid at such a tough task. It manages to be both conclusive and open-ended, highlighting The Leftovers' unique ability to tackle unanswerable questions in deeply satisfying ways. As well as shining a new light with which to look at the show on every inevitable re-watch, "The Book of Nora" is an exceptional finale that understood everything that needed to happen but took us to an emotional hell and back before we could get there. 

"Chapter 7" - Legion
[IMDb Score - 9.5]
I expected great stuff from Legion before it even began, but I don't think anyone could have predicted the levels of brilliance it would reach in its penultimate hour. The show had been weird all along, but in "Chapter 7" show runner Noah Hawley just abandons normality entirely. Aubrey Plaza took her demented character to insane new heights, David quite literally talked himself into working out his own family history, and there's even an elongated, old-timey black and white action sequence set to Maurice Ravel's "Bolero". I mean, why not, right?

"The Doctor Falls" - Doctor Who
[IMDb Score - 9.1] 
Coming off the back of its best season to date, Doctor Who's tenth season couldn't help but feel a tad disappointing. It still had a decent handful of great episodes though, peaking with its flawless finale. Never before has a season of Doctor Who ended with so much optimism and so much heartbreak walking side by side, all while two versions of one of the show's most iconic characters essentially prove to be each other's - and, in that, their own - undoing. It never gets caught up in plot mechanics though, ending with a home stretch that's as emotionally rich as it is narratively satisfying - and Peter Capaldi relishes in every last moment of it. I still don't want him to go.

"Series Three, Episode Five" - Catastrophe
[IMDb Score - 8.2]
After a brilliant first season followed by a lacklustre second, the jury was out as to which way Catastrophe would lean in its third year. Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan's show ultimately got back on track though, delivering its strongest season to date in a number of ways. Episode five may even be the show's finest half hour, it's brilliantly funny from the get go but refuses to sacrifice the pain and upset its characters have been going through. Rob's eventual re-descent into alcoholism is soul-crushingly sad, and the moment he turns up on Sharon's doorstep only to find out she hasn't had the best of days either represents the biggest emotional gut punch any comedy series has pulled this year. 

"The Law of Non-Contradiction" - Fargo
[IMDb Score - 8.3]
Fargo had a hell of a lot to live up to after its stellar second run - my all time favourite season of television, by the way - but its third year is shaping up nicely. The season's finest hour to date is its third, in which most lead characters were pushed aside to make way for the lovable Gloria Burgle, played beautifully by Carrie Coon (who is also sensational in The Leftovers, she's really dominating this list). The whole episode is narratively pointless, but its an exercise in voluntary futility, fleshing out plot points that serve no purpose solely to point out the purposelessness of the act of trying. It's also interspersed with animated cutaways that don't really tie into the episode's themes until the very final one, but the moment you pull the two together and start making sense of it all is quietly one of the year's best TV moments so far.

"The Most Powerful Man In The World (And His Identical Twin Brother)" - The Leftovers
[IMDb Score - 9.7] 
The only show to claim two spots on this list, I'll confess to having no idea what to say about The Leftovers' insanely surreal penultimate episode. It abandons narrative entirely, taking place almost fully in a world that doesn't exist, yet it feels more real than anything else we've seen from the show. Due to its horrendously low ratings, The Leftovers is likely to be forgotten about in the near future. Episodes like this shouldn't suffer such a burden, this is groundbreaking television in each and every way - it just might take us all a year or two to fully appreciate why.

"Thanksgiving" - Master of None
[IMDb Score - 9.5]
After such a brilliant first year, part of me feared Aziz Ansari's Master of None would slump in its sophomore season. I could not have been more wrong. The season peaks with its eighth episode, pushing protagonist Dev into a supporting role to allow gay friend Denise into the spotlight. The episode kicks off at Thanksgiving 1995 and ends on the same day in 2017, detailing Denise's upbringing as she discovers her sexuality and slowly breaks it to her family over the years - as Denise says, "LGBT issues are tough in black families". It's beautifully written and exceptionally well acted, a truly unforgettable piece of television.

"Trials of the Darksaber" - Star Wars Rebels
[IMDb Score - 9.1]
Star Wars Rebels is yet to offer a consistently great season, but at least once a year it puts aside its normal conventions and sets its sights on something wholly unexpected, and it absolutely nails it every time. The show's third season was wildly uneven, but if you just watched "Trials of the Darksaber" you'd never guess that in a million years. It's visually stunning and it pours more emotion out through one short sequence than perhaps every other episode combined (Tiya Sircar's performance here is sensational) - it was the absolute pinnacle of the show's third year by an incomprehensibly wide margin.

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