A great performance. An exquisite technical shot. A devastating twist. There were plenty of amazing TV scenes in 2017, so let’s bitch them out…
A few concessions as we begin TV week:
- In an era of ~450 scripted series, I can’t watch everything so the following scenes come from the ~91 series I watched in 2017.
- The following list isn’t ranked. The scenes are listed alphabetically by series.
13 Reasons Why 1×13: Hannah’s Rape / Hannah’s Suicide
Over twelve episodes, virtually every character verbally, emotionally and physically abuses Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). This includes a horrifyingly long rape scene wherein Langford seems to dim the light in her eyes to reinforce the deadening of her soul. In the final episode of the season, the young teen protagonist of 13 Reasons Why commits suicide in graphic detail.
Suicide is often romanticized or undocumented in media, so it’s shocking to see Hannah slit both wrists and bleed to death in her bath tub. It’s horrible, upsetting, powerful…and necessary. This is what all of the pain, the suffering and the hurt has led her to. After twelves episodes of torture and anguish, 13 Reasons Why refuses to let viewers off the hook by cutting away, rendering us complicit in Hannah’s fate by making us stay with the poor doomed girl until she expires.
The Americans 5×10 “Darkroom”: Exposing Pastor Tim’s Diary
One of The Americans greatest strengths is its ability to match music to image to create the perfect mood. In this case, the realization that Pastor Tim is not only keeping notes on our favourite 80s Russian spies, but critiquing their parenting skills. The fact that Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) are harming their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) with their secret life is hardly revelatory (it’s been a main theme on the show since its inception). Seeing someone else confirm their worst suspicions in the red light of the dark room while Paige looks on, however, is something new. The Jensens are rendered powerless. Unlike the majority of their operations, they can’t shoot, fight or spy their way out of this condemnation. It lands like a punch to the gut.
Better Things 2×07 “Blackout”: No
There’s a double edged relevancy to the inclusion of this scene, easily one of 2017’s most hilarious moments.
- It’s really funny: Like a good comedy bit, it goes on and on, far longer than you think it will. At a certain point it’s too much and you want it to stop, then it circles back and becomes funny again. Adlon’s delivery, the cut to the back of the truck as she continues, is pitch perfect.
- Timeliness: There’s been an undeniable cultural shift in the last quarter of the year as more and more women speak out about sexism, sexual assault and rape at the hands of the men in their lives. There’s comedy in Jeff (Greg Cromer)’s misunderstanding of the situation, but it’s also reflective of how men see sex and innuendo where none exist, forcing women to constantly be on guard and feel unsafe, even around people that they trust or in public.
It’s a funny moment, but also very telling.
Big Little Lies 1×05: Celeste’s Therapy Session
As Celeste, the seemingly in control and perfect mother, Nicole Kidman is a revelation. Throughout the first half of Big Little Lies‘ first season, she maintains an icy facade of domestic bliss. By the time she goes for a solo marriage counselling session, however, that mask is crumbling and the revelation that her perfect husband is physically abusing is confronting. Kidman manifests Celeste’s discomfort in almost entirely physical ways: she squirms in her seat, she paces and, most meaningfully, she clutches at her hidden bruises. Director Jean-Marc Vallee slowly cranks up the tension as Dr. Amanda Reisman (Robin Weigert) probes deeper and deeper, before delivering the knock-out blow with a cut-away to Perry (Alexander Skarsgaard) nearly suffocating her. It’s jaw-dropping and devastating.
Colony 2×12 “Seppuku”: Storming the Red Hand
In an unbroken long take, Will (Josh Holloway) and Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies) Bowman, together with a team of freedom fighters, ambush the stronghold of fanatics The Red Hand in order to retrieve alien technology. The technically virtuoso sequence, running five minutes in a (nearly) single unbroken take, exquisitely moves the group through an old movie house, across multiple levels, shooting and killing numerous foes. It’s a great, thrilling sequence on a show that’s been increasingly willing to push the boundaries of its action scenes over its two season run.
The Fall 3×06: Spector Attacks
For the most part, the final season of The Fall was a slow, methodical crime procedural. It wasn’t until near the end of the series when serial killer Paul Spector (Jaime Dornan) dropped his amnesia act after a rough police interrogation that things took an exciting turn. The cat and mouse interactions between Stella Gibson (an exquisite Gillian Anderson) and Spector have always been the series’ greatest assets and seeing him violently attack her is shocking and frightening. It’s also the natural culmination of their relationship, ending the series on a definitive, shocking high note.
Game of Thrones 7×04 “The Spoils Of War”: Drogon Attack
Forget everything else in “The Spoils of War”- this episode will be remembered almost exclusively for its dazzling dragon attack. The Lannister army never stood a chance when Daeny (Emilia Clarke) decided that she needed to engage in battle, but watching a dragon lay waste to pretty much everything was a perfect marriage of heavily foreshadowed plot and state of the art (HBO $$$) special effects. Incinerated bodies, a giant fucking crossbow and a few near misses for some of the cast’s big names makes this one of the greatest action sequences Game of Thrones has ever produced in its seven year run.
The Handmaid’s Tale 1×02 “Birth Day”: Offred’s Simple Minds Victory
The morning after the world’s most bizarre Scrabble game, Offred (Elizabeth Moss) emerges in slow motion from her prison to Simple Minds’ iconic ditty ‘Don’t You Forget About Me.’ For a brief moment, it seems like The Handmaid’s Tale will allow her to revel in her intellectual victory over her oppressors by sharing the moment with her sole confidant, Offglen (Alexis Bledel).
Naturally this is not to be…after all this is The Handmaid’s Tale.
Instead the happy moment is immediately supplanted by horror. The revelation that Offglen has been replaced by another version without warning is unnerving. This contrast in tone – courtesy of the music, the slow-motion and Elizabeth Moss’ sublime acting – is jarring and heightens how quickly things can (and do) change for the worst in Gilead.
The Handmaid’s Tale 1×03 “Late”: Ofglen’s Reveal
Alexis Bledel won an Emmy for her supporting work on The Handmaid’s Tale and you wouldn’t be wrong for believing she won it for this specific scene. Ofglen sits out most of the episode – the better to heighten Offred’s desperation – so when her fate is revealed in the most horrific body mutilation, her silent scream is not only haunting, it’s absolutely terrifying.
The Leftovers 3×03 “Crazy Whitefella Thinking”: Grace’s Confession
Considering Grace (the superb Lindsay Duncan) is a character that we’ve never met before, it is surprising how much of a wallop her emotionally draining confession to Kevin Garvey Sr (Scott Glenn) packs. It’s in that quiet soul-crushing moment when she reveals that her children died in the Australian outback alone while she grieved, thinking that they disappeared in the Rapture-like event that gives the series its emotional foundation. Credit goes to Duncan for her delivery, but also director Mimi Leder. She lets the monologue play out naturally, uninterrupted by showy flashbacks or editing. In so doing, she proves that the most memorable moments don’t need flourishes to be powerful; sometimes simplicity is perfection.
The Leftovers 3×04 “G’Day Melbourne”: Kevin and Nora Fight
After three seasons of boxing up their emotions, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) and Nora Durst (the amazing Carrie Coon)’s shitty day in Melbourne climaxes in a brutally ugly fight that brings to the fore all of the terrible things in their relationship that have gone unsaid. It also brings out the best in both actors, revealing new performance highs for both Theroux and Coon. The result is the most beautiful shot of the year: a close-up of Nora’s face as she sits on the hotel bed, water from the sprinklers pouring down her face in a way that evokes all of the tears she’s unable to shed. It is gorgeous, breathtaking, and captivating. My favourite scene (and shot) of the year.
Legion 1×06 “Chapter Six”: Lenny’s Dance Scene
Legion‘s first season never suffered a lack of trippy, visually compelling sequences. If anything, Noah Hawley’s X-Men adjacent series seemed to prioritize its psychedelic aesthetics over plot (which occasionally suffered in comparison). Thankfully when Legion scored, it scored big: frozen ice mind palaces, gruesome Repulsion-inspired tableaus and not one, but two dance sequences. The stronger of the two features Audrey Plaza as Lenny, whose interpretive dance is visually fascinating to witness, but also symbolic of her role as the series’ principal antagonist. It’s fun, cheeky and creepy all at once.
The Magicians 2×09 “Lesser Evils”: One Day More
To gear up for battle with a new enemy that will likely wipe them off the map, Elliot (Hale Appleman) is magically prompted (along with the entire Fillory council) to sing the iconic single from Les Miserables to intimidate his opponent, King Idri of Lorian (Leonard Roberts). It’s a testament to the show’s ability to mix silly, amusing pop culture moments into its epic scope. See also: S1’s sing-along to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”
Master of None 2×05 “The Dinner Party”: Dev’s Long Cab Ride Home
After a fantastic evening with Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), Dev (Aziz Ansari) realizes that he has feelings for his unavailable Italian friend in a mostly uninterrupted long take. Aside from Soft Cell’s maudlin 80s song ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’, the scene is entirely silent; a testament to Ansari’s acting talent as we witness him grapple wordlessly with the weight of his emotions in the back of the Uber all the way home from from Francesca’s hotel.
Queen Sugar 2×13 “Heritage”: Impromptu Family Dance
This is a series that isn’t lacking for emotion, but that emotion is so often pain and grief. To see this hard-luck family break free of those shackles – even momentarily – for a little celebratory dance, especially Ralph-Angel (Kofi Siriboe)’s full-on goofy machinations, is a delightful reprieve. Be happy Bordelons, it won’t last!
Sneaky Pete 1×03 “Mr. Success”: Vince’s ‘You Bought It’ Speech
For the first three episodes, it’s unclear why Bryan Cranston took on the role of Sneaky Pete‘s antagonist (aside from the fact that he co-created the series with House‘s David Shore). Then along comes a speech about reaping what you sow that’s equal to his best monologues on Breaking Bad. Suddenly it’s clear: Vince’s lack of pomp and circumstance doesn’t diminish his capacity for cruelty and violence. It elevates it. Anyone can thunder and threaten, but the man willing to spin a three minute yarn before cutting off a toe to send a message? That’s a villain.
Looking for more Best Scenes lists?
That’s my take on the best scenes of the year. What stood out for you? Sound off in the comments below and come back tomorrow for Best Episodes of 2017