Halfway Mark: The Best TV Episodes of 2014 (So Far), Part 2

Arrow, S02E23, "The Unthinkable"

TwoPlaneRides

Girls, “Two Plane Rides”
Written by Lena Dunham
Directed by Lena Dunham
Aired March 23rd, 2014

Do you remember how last season’s Girls run ended? Well this season things culminated in an entirely different tone. This time, there were no grand gestures or fireworks. Season three isn’t quite as dark as season two, but man is the finale rough. If the season two finale frustrated fans because it suggested that Hannah might be too dependent on the man in her life, the season three finale seems intent on underlining that Hannah’s ready to move on, with or without Adam. And she isn’t the only one moving on, but she seems to be the only one moving in the right direction: Hannah gets into the country’s best grad school, Adam gives a truly “bad” performance in his Broadway debut, Marnie finds herself in another destructive relationship, Shosh desperately tries to get back with Ray, and Jessa helps an old lady attempt suicide. Nobody seems happy when the episode ends except Hannah, who for once, actually seems grateful for something. That last shot of Hannah, smiling, proves just how much this series has matured, even if the characters haven’t. — Ricky D.

BroadCityLastSupper

Broad City, “The Last Supper”
Written by Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer
Directed by Amy Poehler
Aired March 26th, 2014

The cult hit web series Broad City comes compliments of the collective brains of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, who star as outsized versions of themselves. Called sneak attack feminism by the Wall Street Journal, the series follows two friends in New York City who spend most of their free time on crazy, drug fuelled and/or sex craved adventures.

The series which is profoundly funny, bawdy and affectionate has a lot in common with Girls, and while it might not be as good as Lena Dunham’s series, it sure is a lot funnier. “The Last Supper” is a mostly self-contained episode with a reduced cast (save for a guest appearance by Amy Poehler and Seth Morris), but no other episode of TV had me laughing as hard this year. In just 10 short episodes, this show has gone from the most promising comedy on TV to a bonafide classic. Broad City had one of the strongest freshman outings in recent history, and “The Last Supper” is just one of ten reasons why. — Ricky D.

The Americans, S02E06, "Behind the Red Door"

The Americans, “Behind the Red Door”
Written by Melissa James Gibson
Directed by Charlotte Sieling
Aired April 2nd, 2014

The Americans came back for its second season with a bang, immediately upping its stakes and focusing in on leads (and undercover Russian spies) Philip and Elizabeth’s roles as parents. “Behind the Red Door”, however, puts this thread on hold to explore intimacy. Elizabeth (the fantastic Keri Russell) pushes Philip (the equally great Matthew Rhys) to introduce her to his alter-ego Clark (who is sexually aggressive, to say the least), in a moment that quickly becomes painful to them both and feels like a betrayal of the safe space they’ve created. While other series use sex and violence as narrative shortcuts, looking for the prestige and perceived intensity some viewers associate with them, “Behind the Red Door” uses sexuality to explore its characters—who they are and where they’ve been. A flood of emotion is unleashed for both and the strength of the couple’s bond is shown not in this moment, but in their ability to come back together afterward.

The preciousness of this connection is underlined throughout the episode. The audience is reminded of Elizabeth’s history and just how long she’s been doing her job as she walks Lucia through her first seduction and murder (at least as a Russian operative). Lucia does not have a Philip to go home to, and as her body language indicates, Elizabeth knows what a mission like Lucia’s will cost her. Claudia is on the other end of the spectrum, and yet is just as alone. There’s plenty more of note in this episode: the introduction of the series’ best antagonist yet, Andrew Larrick, the further adventures of Oleg and Stan, and of course Paige’s continuing interest in that most dreaded of teenage temptations, church. However it’s the nuanced look at trust, intimacy, and the damage these two have done to themselves that drives “Behind the Red Door” and makes it one of the best episodes of the year. — K.K.

Bob's Burgers, "Equestranauts"

Bob’s Burgers, “The Equestranauts”
Written by Dan Mintz
Directed by Tyree Dillihay
Aired April 13th, 2014

After a legendary third season, the fourth season of Bob’s Burgers often felt like it was trying to regain solid footing. Still one of the networks’ best sitcoms, it wasn’t able to pick up momentum this season until the back half of the episodes, and even then the stretch of winners was relatively short. Yet no other episode from this year demonstrates the strengths of Bob’s Burgers than “The Equestranauts,” the series’ homage to the “brony” culture of My Little Pony fans.

While the episode is fantastic just in terms of concept, Bob’s Burgers is at its best when it sneaks in material that has something to say about the ties of family. “The Equestranauts” has this material in spades. The lengths Bob goes to support his eldest child, Tina, is worthy of Father of the Year consideration. Any episode that centers around Tina’s tribulations is usually a safe bet for occasional viewers of the show, but “The Equestranauts” allows the rest of her family to embrace her ridiculousness in a way that doesn’t come off at all cynical or judgmental, and the episode is elevated because of that. The Belcher family is one built on support and when an external force threatens Tina’s happiness, they rally and stand by her side.

Many of the characters that populate the world of Bob’s Burgers are almost supernatural in their foreignness. The other “bronies” that Bob interacts with are certainly among them, but the series has respect for the culture it parodies and somehow manages to craft a world in which Bob can empathize with Tina’s lifestyle in the strangest and most hilarious of ways. — S.C.

inside amy

Inside Amy Schumer, “A Chick Who Can Hang”
Written by Various
Directed by Ryan McFaul
Aired April 15th, 2014

Before “A Chick Who Can Hang” gets to its signature sketch, it’s already one of the best episodes of the season, led by a hilarious take down of the “girl bro” fantasy, where in a group of males realize that they don’t want a manly woman to be their girlfriend: they actually want to have sex with dudes (“My friend has this girlfriend named Glen… she has a prominent dick!”). But that’s only the primer: after the episode gets past the funny, if-drawn out Girlfriend Birthday Cake and Time Warner Cable sketches, Inside Amy Schumer unleashes its single greatest offering to the sketch comedy universe: “The Foodroom”, an Aaron Sorkin parody of epic proportions.

Set at a McDonalds-esque location, “The Foodroom” pokes at every single known facet of Sorkin’s work: everything from the walk-and-talk to the woman who has the right solution, but lets the man choose anyway (“Change the game!” she tells her boss, a hilariously on-point Josh Charles) is on the table, and it’s perfect. The cadence of dialogue, the rapid sense of movement, the increasingly thin-minded rhetoric on females and America: it’s all there in “The Foodroom”, and it’s absurdity only plays better set in a fast-food restaurant. Others have done Sorkin parodies before (shit, 30 Rock even got Aaron Sorkin in their Sorkin parody!), but there’s never been anything so on-point as “The Foodroom”,  a sketch that both admires and skewers the Sorkin we know and love. — Randy D.

Arrow, S02E23, "The Unthinkable"

Arrow, “Unthinkable”
Written by Greg Berlanti (story); Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg (teleplay)
Directed by John Behring
Aired May 14th, 2014

To cap off a breakthrough second season, Arrow delivered its single strongest episode to date in “Unthinkable”. While it’s easiest to praise this series for its action pieces, led by one of television’s best stunt crews, the second season finale recognizes the established bar and demolishes it, giving viewers sequences that are both fun and cathartic. The season-long conflict with Slade Wilson is handled in beautiful parallel scenes that cut back and forth between the past and present, as Oliver Queen and Wilson try to settle their differences. But each character in “Unthinkable” gets an adrenaline-heavy moment to shine, including two small armies going at it in one of Starling City’s tunnels.

Even in an episode that manages to define the high-stakes nature of the third act of screenwriting, “Unthinkable” doesn’t skimp on big, effective character moments. The Oliver-Felicity fanbase gets to go through various emotions that are brought out thanks to a smartly executed sleight of hand, and supporting characters like Diggle, Deadshot, and Lyla get to challenge the established authority of Amanda Waller and A.R.G.U.S. as another potential city-wide hazard threatens Starling City.

By sticking the landing with “Unthinkable” after its greatly improved second season, Arrow proves it can hang with the best television has to offer, giving viewers something exciting to look forward to week-to-week. And with the episode’s potential shake-ups for when the series returns in the fall, Arrow fans couldn’t have been left with more to look forward to. — S.C.

Orphan Black

Orphan Black, “Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est”
Written by Tony Elliott
Directed by Helen Shaver
Aired May 17th, 2014

Starting out simply as “the show that comes on after Doctor Who”, Orphan Black used some strong storytelling and fantastic performances to carve out its own identity in the first season, amassing fans along the way. With a season finale that promised an elevation of stakes, the second season did not disappoint, as the show managed to delve into the more complex issues surrounding bodily autonomy and what people and companies have a right to, while still staying true to its characters and moving the plot along at a nail-biting pace. In the midst of the season came one of the best episodes of the television year.

One of the strongest aspects of the show has been its development of characters, and this episode is a great display of how to properly flesh out a new arrival. As the new entry into the show, Rachel gets her moment to shine in this episode, and what emerges is a great portrait of someone who’s power-hungry, yet not as devoid of emotions as she would have everyone believe. In particular, the episode does a great job of painting her contrast to Helena. While both seem like vastly different individuals, the writers wonderfully portray the similarities between the two, in a subtle manner that proves how good the writing is. The last scene is a great example of how both women go about getting what they want and the ruthless manner in which they remove anything they perceive as obstacles.

As strong as the episode is at developing Rachel, it also does a wonderful job of showing the characters’ relationships to each other, particularly Sarah, who increasingly finds herself at the centre of her new makeshift family. A lack of foreshadowing about Paul’s actions makes the scene in the loft between him and Felix truly terrifying, a further testament to the show’s ability to be unpredictable, underlined by seeing the extent of the Proletheans’ punishment of Grace. All these factors, coupled with a fantastic performance by Maslany, especially in a scene involving Rachel, Sarah, and Helena together, combine to make this one of the best episodes on television so far. — D.S.

Veep, "Special Relationship"

Veep, “Special Relationship”
Written by Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche (Story); Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche (Teleplay)
Directed by Becky Martin
Aired May 18th, 2014

With the VP’s team in London – and Dan essentially running the show as Selina’s campaign manager – the stage is set in “Special Relationship” for shit to hit the international fan. And in predictable Veep fashion, “Special Relationship” does exactly that: led by Dan’s nervous, Red Bull-accentuated breakdown, “Special Relationship” is a fuck-up of epic proportions for the veep. From her My Fair Lady-esque hat, to her inability to hold a simple conversation with a local bartender, Selina’s trip is a complete disaster – which is even funnier in retrospect, considering what would soon follow in the final episodes after her return for the states.

The best part of the episode, however, doesn’t come from Dan (or Gary) freaking out or Ben’s hilarious asides about Ray (comparing him to a goat trying to use an ATM) or Mike’s long, ardous journey to nowhere. No, the highlight of this hour is Amy, who starts leaking information to Jonah to undermine Dan’s position at the top of the minion power pyramid, a devilish move that reminds us exactly why Anna Chlumsky is an Emmy-nominated powerhouse on this show next to Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. Her English accent (which she employs to fool Jonah) is the single funniest gag in the episode – and in a half-hour that features Gary’s hilarious “competition” with Ray (hilarious guest star Christopher Meloni), Sue drawing a line in the sand with Kevin, and Mike writing his “masterpiece”speech, Chlumsky steals the spotlight with her vicious, silent take down of all those standing in her path to power. “I’d shoot him [Dan], but there are no guns in this country!” she yells to Mike at one point, just one of many examples why I love Amy, and Veep, so damn much. — Randy D.

Fargo, Buridan's Ass, S01E06

Fargo, “Buridan’s Ass”
Written by Noah Hawley
Directed by Colin Bucksey
Aired May 20th, 2014

With its familiar setting, characters, and of course title, much of the early conversation around Fargo centered on comparisons of the series to its cinematic inspiration. By episode six however, most conversation around the series had died down to a low rumble, with the show flying under the radar despite its growing confidence and excellent central performances. “Buridan’s Ass” changed this, putting the show front and center in TV fans’ minds, with two of the series’ main arcs coming to a head in harsh, extreme bursts of violence during the onslaught of a massive blizzard. The storm and ensuing fight sequence is one of the most impressive technical achievements on television this year (and given the feats accomplished in notable episodes of True Detective and Game of Thrones season four, that’s saying something). Characters flit in and out of sight, ghosts emerging from the void, with the only threads our heroes have to hold on to false ones (Malvo’s blood trail, Molly’s voice), whether or not they’re intended as such.

While the action centerpiece of the episode is striking and the cliffhanger devastating, the build is just as successful. Despite everything he’s done, up to this point Lester has a chance for redemption. In “Buridan’s Ass”, he becomes a new kind of monster as he calculates in his hospital bed. While Chumph and Milos are chewed up and spit out by Malvo, Lester is transformed and starts down a new and darker path. Molly and Gus are left fighting the malevolent forces around them, but they’re outnumbered and nature itself does not seem to be on their side; in the end, viewers are left wondering how good can possibly prevail in a world that brings this kind of suffering down on criminals and innocents alike. It’s an intense, thrilling hour and its tremendous success both narratively and technically makes it one of the best episodes of 2014 (so far). — K.K.

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five

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