‘I want to control my fate’: The Good Wife is network TV’s best drama

Josh Charles and Julianna Margulies in 'The Good Wife'. CBS Broadcasting, In.c

Josh Charles and Julianna Margulies in ‘The Good Wife’. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

By Jake Pitre

Elevators. It has always been elevators with Will and Alicia. Missed connections, conversations had and conversations abruptly silenced, and of course, passions ignited. Opening and closing doors are a pretty perfect metaphor for their relationship, since their timing was never quite right. It wasn’t ever going to work. Was it?

With the possible exception of NBC’s Hannibal, The Good Wife is the best drama series currently on network television. I give the edge to TGW, though, because it is in its fifth season and how many shows are not only still strong this far into their lifespans, but are also in the midst of their best season yet? The show has always been rather fantastic, but this season has propelled it to new heights and it has been thrilling to watch. And then, The Thing happened on Sunday night. Spoilers follow, obviously, up to and including this Sunday’s episode. Go watch all of TGW, first. I’ll wait.

Done? Great. I have been awestruck in the last couple of days at the amount of digital ink spent on The Good Wife. Maybe I just follow too many TV critics on Twitter, but the amount of conversation this legal procedural in its fifth season has generated is impressive to say the least. This is a show that has been quietly brilliant for years, and is now blowing up as more people begin to realize what an enigma it is. It is often, perhaps understandably, dismissed because on the surface it does look like just another law procedural, dealing with a case per week and never really taking any risks. The difference, quite simply, is that The Good Wife takes plenty of risks.

Margulies and Matt Czuchry. Photo: David M. Russell. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Margulies and Matt Czuchry. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Actually, that’s only one difference. There are many things that make this show stand out. Some background, then. Its showrunners, Robert and Michelle King, are not only extremely talented writers, but they also care deeply about their show and their characters. Its actors, from Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick, our good wife, to Alan Cumming as Eli Gold or Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, are all superb and at the top of their game. The massive roster of rotating guest stars is staggering and particularly rich, including Michael J. Fox as a rival attorney, Carrie Preston as oddball lawyer Elsbeth Tascioni and plenty of unique and charismatic judges, such as Jeffrey Tambor. The topical, ripped-from-the-headlines cases are always handled with nuance and insight (especially when it comes to technology – this is your first reminder that this show is on CBS). The pace is crazily quick, and the dialogue is witty and often sassy. The typical 22-episode network season is excruciating and creatively draining for any show, but almost every episode of The Good Wife manages to be wildly entertaining and fulfilling, which is something that cannot be said about any other 22-episodes per season series.

That is all very impressive, no doubt. Then, in the fourth season finale, an unbelievably exciting thing happened: Alicia and Cary Agos (played by Matt Czuchry) decided to leave their somewhat struggling law firm, Lockhart/Gardner, and start their own. The show’s central premise was effectively upended (in a move rather ingeniously deployed this season by Archer, as well), and the fifth season began with excitement far higher than what came with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce or The Michael Scott Paper Company. The shit hit the fan, as it were, in the season’s fifth episode, “Hitting The Fan”, which aired in October. Will Gardner (played gracefully with smarminess and charm in equal measure by Josh Charles) bursts into Alicia’s office once he discovers that his former lover had betrayed him and is leaving (not to mention stealing clients), sweeping her desk clean with aggressive power in a scene filmed with kinetic energy unusual for the show. It was a horrifying and impossibly satisfying moment, because this was the peak of more than four seasons of building tension.

The Good Wife is the unparalleled master of the slow burn. For four seasons, we had watched Alicia struggle with her relationships with her disgraced politician husband, Peter (Chris Noth), and her boss, Will. We had also watched Alicia (and Cary) rise in power, and her ambition followed suit. This development was the tipping point for everyone involved. The rest of the season, until this past Sunday, has been about the fallout (the next three episodes were called “The Next Day”, “Week” and “Month”, respectively). The catharsis of that episode (as heart-wrenching as it was), made all the more powerful because of all we’ve come to know about these people in the past few years, kicked the show into a gear unlike anything it had been in previously. In short, this procedural legal drama on CBS took a gigantic risk and it has paid off with a truly phenomenal run of episodes.

Alan Cumming and Margulies. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Alan Cumming and Margulies. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

The Kings weren’t done, though. On Sunday, in a move that rocked viewers, they killed off Will Gardner, Alicia’s will-they, won’t-they love interest and the primary male star of the series. What seems to have angered many viewers is the way it was handled: a completely sudden, unforeseen random act of violence. Will is killed by his client in a courtroom by a stray bullet. Everything slows down. We’re at the hospital. One shoe is missing. Someone needs to call Alicia.

On a purely formal level, the scene is directed with great skill by Brooke Kennedy, who has been with the show since the second season. It is a scene more suited to an action-centred crime procedural, and it is directed in a way that builds a massive amount of suspense in a short period of time by choosing its angles carefully and using sound design and clever camerawork to its advantage. Many initial reviews of the episode failed to notice or mention this, which is just the latest example of the show being dismissed as little more than a procedural (the comparisons made to latter-day Grey’s Anatomy for this episode feel especially offensive).

The Kings and Josh Charles were immediately upfront online about how this shocking twist came to be: Charles informed them that he wanted to leave the show, Margulies suggested he stick around for half a season to be written out in a strong way, and Charles and the Kings obliged. Contractual obligations can drag a show down or come off as overtly obvious or trite (the Kings, in a letter addressed to Good Wife fans about the episode, made reference to George Clooney’s character on ER being sent “off to Seattle”). For this reason, I understand why some viewers were uncomfortable with the sudden act of senseless violence being their resolution to Will’s story on the show. In many ways, it feels like the obvious way to do it in this age of television where this kind of thing happens so often. I’m not so sure.

This is far different than if a lesser character on the show had asked to leave. This is Will Gardner. For many, the Alicia/Will romance was the foundation of the show (I disagree – more on that in a moment). The Kings had every reason to appease their audience and give Will his own kind of off-into-the-sunset/Seattle farewell. This would allow for potential future guest spots, and would keep the will-they, won’t-they on the back of viewers’ minds in Alicia’s decisions. The possibility (even, say, in the series finale) of a rekindled relationship would be ever-present. The Kings decided to answer once and for all: they won’t. Will is gone. Will is dead. Will is not coming back. There were other choices, and they boldly shut those doors.

Margulies and Charles. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Margulies and Charles. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

That said, there is a little of having their cake and eating it going on here. The Kings have this strong justification, while also giving the audience something shocking and the network something to heavily promote. Only, beyond telling us something BIG was going to go down, this was held under wraps. No foreshadowing. No promos promising a “SHOCKING DEATH”. This was one of the most legitimately shocking episodes of TV I have ever seen (this was on CBS, by the way), even though I saw some comments on Twitter beforehand warning of something crazy happening. Plus, it was absolutely sudden. It is settled very quickly that, yes, he’s dead. No deathbed final words. It’s over. Alicia’s phone rings.

Setting aside the fact that such a major plot twist was kept secret in this day and age, without even a hint of a major death, I also welcome this for its clear-eyedness. For me, the Will/Alicia romance long ago lost its inherent power, and I think the same happened for the Kings. They split them up, then made great entertainment from their rivalry between law firms. And finally, in choosing to definitively kill him off when they could’ve sent him into the sunset, it reminds us what this show has always been about: Alicia. Or, as the Kings wrote in their letter, “the Education of Alicia Florrick”. How will Alicia (and the other characters – this death affects them all, not least of which Peter with his election-stealing investigation that Will was key to) react? What are the consequences? The Kings could still screw that all up, and this gut-punch could be the beginning of the end, but I am intensely interested in finding out – and I have faith in them.

Mark Harris, a writer for Entertainment Weekly and Grantland, summed it up nicely on Twitter: “Thrilled that a year-5 twist on a network drama has sparked real debate over what the whole series has been about.” I think its clear that the show has always been about Alicia, and Will’s death only cements that. For a long time, this choice – between Will and Peter – has been crucial to Alicia’s character. She has never wanted to come firmly down on one side or the other, preferring to keep both options relatively open, but this choice has partly defined the show (and, to some, completely defined it). What this episode seems to be saying, in a way that rings true, is that sometimes in life, you don’t get to make that choice. We will not know what Alicia’s choice would have eventually been, because Will is gone, and now the show is faced with what to do without that choice. Luckily, there’s much more to The Good Wife and to Alicia than just Will. If you were watching and thought their relationship was the most important thing about it and that the show will be nothing without it, I think you may have been watching it wrong. I don’t like to tell someone that they are watching something wrong, but if you don’t think that The Good Wife is about much more than Will and Alicia, you should rethink. Which isn’t to say that Will is not wholly significant. Now we will see how Will changed her, how his death will change her, and how she undoubtedly battles through. She wants to control her fate, after all.

However you feel about Will’s death, whether that it happened or how it happened, it was an admirable risk, and one that is only in keeping with the show’s long history of ballsy risks (albeit a little more showy). This season of The Good Wife has been more entertaining than most other things on television, and it’s time for it to stop being ignored by non-TV-critic folk (and old people who fall asleep with the TV on after The Amazing Race). This recent rush of discussion has been invigorating to watch and read through and participate in, and I hope it continues. So often, we waste endless thinkpieces and essays on TV shows that simply don’t deserve it, and the stuff we should be paying attention to passes us by. The Good Wife is doing something different, and succeeds partly by subverting those expectations laid on it. It did something, just this week, totally unlike itself and caused a firestorm of debate and conversation. This is only one part of a fifth season that has been on fire since the beginning, and will hopefully continue to be. Alicia now needs to figure out how to define herself without that relationship. How much does she let the loss, and the man, define her? How does it change those around her? How much will she be able to control her fate, when the world tells her you can’t? I don’t know, but I’ll be watching.

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Best TV Episodes of 2013

By Jake Pitre

'Orange is the New Black'. Netflix.

‘Orange is the New Black’. Netflix.

2013 provided us with so many good TV shows, both new and old, that this list could potentially contain dozens of phenomenal episodes. In fact, there was so much excellent television in the last twelve months that it felt far too intimidating to list and rank the best shows, so I decided to focus on specific episodes instead. Much more manageable. And yet, I still struggled immensely in sorting through all the amazing stuff I watched this year and then picking out the best of it. The episodes gathered here are my absolute favourites, the ones that blew me away.

I watched a lot of TV this year, easily the most that I ever have, but there is still plenty I have not yet had the chance to catch up on (although I’m working on it). This includes Orphan Black, Broadchurch, Rectify, Scandal, Trophy Wife, Hello Ladies, The Bridge, BunheadsTop of the Lake, and the most recent seasons of Bob’s Burgers, ElementaryBoardwalk Empire, Treme and Person of Interest. I’ll do all that, I promise. I think that this is indicative of just how much great stuff is out there (and how I shouldn’t have wasted my time with The Newsroom and Under the Dome).

As we watched the fall of the anti-hero in 2013, we marvelled as diversity and originality burst forth on our televisions in so many ways. Orange is the New Black, my favourite new show of the year and a Netflix exclusive (as if we needed yet another source of essential original content), came out of nowhere in the summer with its unparalleled ensemble cast and total female domination with its rich and complex characters. Hannibal turned the serial-killer glorifying procedural genre on its head with its cinematographically gorgeous attitude toward the grotesque and thematic depth. The Americans turned a spy show into the most meaningful exploration of marriage on television. Everywhere you looked, and no matter how you watched, there was brilliant writing, distinctive directing, perfect performances, beautiful imagery and purely original storytelling. Here are my favourites.

20. Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Vulture”

From Michael Schur and Dan Goor, the masterminds behind Parks and Recreation, this cop comedy starring Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher hasn’t been around very long but has already established its ensemble cast splendidly. This episode, where they all work together in order to solve their case before the titular vulture, Detective Pembroke, who sweeps in on practically-solved cases and takes the credit. The ensemble, which also includes the hilarious Chelsea Peretti and Terry Crews, is one of the best currently assembled on television, and this episode is the best-so-far example of that. “You can join my dance troupe, Floorgasm.”

19. Futurama – “Meanwhile”

This beloved animated sci-fi from Matt Groening and David X. Cohen never really captured the same magic in its rebooted material as in the original four seasons. These last few seasons have mostly run from mediocre to good, with the occasional great episode. But the series finale (evidently for good, this time) was a perfect farewell. Combining a clever sci-fi concept (a time-travel device that only goes back 10 seconds) with powerful emotion (Fry and Leela’s relationship) is classic Futurama, and it works wonders here to provide a truly satisfying ending.

'Sleepy Hollow'. Fox.

‘Sleepy Hollow’. Fox.

18. Sleepy Hollow – “Necromancer”

This show needs and deserves a bigger audience. When at first it seemed pointless to reboot the story of Ichabod Crane and place him in modern times, it has proven to be one of the most delightful shows in TV – and even, occasionally, legitimately frightening. This episode, without spoiling too much, has the Headless Horseman finally captured by Crane and Abbie as they figure out what to do with him, and the results are both hilarious and chilling. Tom Mison (right) and Nicole Beharie have outstanding chemistry, and the often ridiculous situations are propelled by them – and their fist-bumps. “Dead guy, mental patient, and a time traveler from the Revolution.” “That’s our team.”

17. Masters of Sex – “Catherine”

One of my favourite new shows of the year, Masters of Sex isn’t really about sex – although, there is a fair amount of it on-screen and it is what Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson are researching. But the show is really about intimacy and our struggle for it and our complicated issues with it. The performances of Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan anchor this show, and this episode contains perhaps my favourite moment between them all season. It comes after an otherwise excellent episode, with shocking moments like Libby, Bill’s wife, standing up and Bill pointing out her blood-soaked dress, and the first appearance of Allison Janney as the wife of the provost (she better get some Emmy attention for this role next year). But at the end, when Bill finally breaks with only Virginia in the room, he asks her to close her eyes. He can’t bear to have her see him like this. It is a powerful and strangely elegiac moment, and one of the most lasting of the year.

16. New Girl – “Cooler”

They might as well have called this episode “The Kiss”. This was the episode where the show’s writers decided to quit the will-they-won’t-they game and answer with a strong, “They will”. And Jesus Christ, what a kiss. It was so unexpected (up until that point it had looked like they were going to walk right up to that line but refrain from crossing it) and so perfect, you know? There are so many ways this development could go wrong and throw the show off the rails (we’ve already seen some problems in the new season), but we trust in the writers and actors to carry this. “The Kiss” was fantastic, and we even got another rendition of True American, which there better be one of at least once a season.

15. Archer – “Live and Let Dine”

When this show is on the ball, it kills. And it works best when the entire ensemble is together, particularly in an enclosed space. The ISIS crew are called in to work security at a restaurant called 16 (pronounced ‘seize‘) to watch over talks between the States and Albania, and it’s all captured as part of a reality show, Bastard Chef. The chef in question is Lance Casteau, beautifully voiced by Anthony Bourdain, who is perhaps the best utterer of the term ‘cockwits’. Even deep into its fourth season, Archer manages to find fresh ways to take off on the spy genre and do so hilariously. “Not you, Chet. You look like a dinosaur’s tampon.”

'Girls'. HBO.

‘Girls’. HBO.

14. Girls – “On All Fours”

The second season of Girls was a little messy at times, but it would be hard to argue with this standout episode. Yes, this is the Q-tip episode as it has become known, and it shows these occasionally despicable characters doing pretty ugly things. Hannah is falling apart, all alone. Marnie is covering Kanye West’s “Stronger” for Charlie, and it is something you cannot look away from. And then she stumbles back into hooking up with Charlie, as she wants to be saved and he wants to save her, sort of (even though it’s doomed to fail again, almost immediately). Then there is Adam’s dark and deeply disturbing sexual experience with Natalia. This scene polarized some fans, and it is understandable from how horrific the scene is. But this episode is about how these characters can’t escape their pasts and how their pasts keep dragging them down, and Adam is the culmination of this. Girls in uncompromising, at least give Lena Dunham that.

13. The Americans – “Duty and Honor”

I could have picked several episodes from the stellar first season of The Americans, which tells the story of two Soviet KGB officers posing as an American couple in Washington D.C. during the Cold War. More than that, it is a show about their marriage, which started fifteen years earlier as just a cover (the first time they met, they were told they were to be married for the mission) but has turned into something real. This episode splits them up as Philip (Matthew Rhys) goes to New York City for a mission. While there, he sleeps with another woman, and his wife, Elizabeth (Keri Russell, who was robbed of an Emmy nomination this year), decides she wants to work on their struggling marriage. The ending, wherein she tells him this, asks if anything happened between him and that other woman and he lies, is the bedrock of their relationship, which is plagued by lies and passion in equal measure and in alternating roles.

12. Parks and Recreation – “Leslie and Ben”

'Parks and Recreation'. NBC.

‘Parks and Recreation’. NBC.

This episode was written (by Michael Schur and Alan Yang) as a potential series finale when the show’s future was uncertain, and it would have been a beautiful send-off. Luckily, that wasn’t the case, but it still stands as one of the show’s best episodes, which is saying something. The relationship between Leslie and Ben, who are absolutely perfect for each other, was slowly developed in order to strongly hit every emotional beat and significant milestone. It was all leading up to their wedding, which is thrown together at the parks department after some setbacks and yet is still completely suitable for these two and totally rewarding. Amy Poehler and Adam Scott sell the hell out of this episode, and it all hits exactly right with, “I love you, and I like you.” I got teary-eyed at that. Fuck.

11. Justified – “Decoy”

If there has ever been an episode to convince someone that Justified is worth checking out, this would be it. In its first couple seasons, the show was too obsessed with telling interesting, stand-alone stories rather than serializing. This changed more and more every season, and this – the fourth – was easily the most serialized and far better for it. Raylan Givens, portrayed by Timothy Olyphant who is peerless in delivering one-liners, is trying to get Drew Thompson out of Harlan County before the Tonin crew can get him. This results in an exciting episode, but one that still has plenty of time for what this show does best – clever dialogue. This mostly comes from Drew waxing nostalgic about Raylan’s father, trying to get into his head, but Raylan is having none of it, of course. “Playing the part of a lawman doesn’t mean you know shit about shit.” Amen.

10. Enlightened – “Agent of Change”

'Enlightened'. HBO.

‘Enlightened’. HBO.

I may have enjoyed the Tyler episode, “The Ghost Is Seen”, more than this, the series finale, in terms of my emotional response, but “Agent of Change” is far more exemplary of the show as a whole and is a testament to its form of storytelling and how cruel it was that the show was canceled by HBO. It is a relatively happy episode for a show that usually was not, ending on an uplifting note to Amy Jellicoe’s journey (a word she would no doubt choose). In her search for self-actualization, Amy hurt people, but also helped them. Tyler grew out of his shell, and his future with Eileen is assured and utterly heartwarming. Jeff’s article is finally published, and Amy stands up to Charles Szidon. It is resoundingly cathartic when Amy says, “I’m just a woman who’s over it. I’m tired of watching the world fall apart because of guys like you. I tried to take a little power back,” and all Charles can do is sputter in rage and call her a “cunt”. Amy wins, and although her story is now over, what a way to go out.

9. Hannibal – “Fromage”

'Hannibal'. NBC.

‘Hannibal’. NBC.

There are several episodes I could have chosen to highlight here (“Amuse-Bouche”, “Savoureux”, “Coquilles”), but I think “Fromage” was the best exploration of Will Graham’s deteriorating psyche and the show’s penchant for beautiful deaths. This is a show obsessed with death, all angles and aspects of it, and it chooses to depict it in exclusively creative and often gorgeous ways (the angels in “Coquilles”, the totem pole in “Trou Normand”). In this episode, a musician was killed, his throat opened, and a cello neck was inserted through his mouth. This is about one killer sending a message to another, and the episode ends up being more action-packed than Hannibal usually is. But what is truly significant is Graham’s rapidly worsening mental state, as he is having more hallucinations. Graham has been hesitant about doing this police work since the beginning, uncomfortable with what he is seeing, and all the while he is being manipulated by Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen, another actor robbed of an Emmy nomination). Hannibal blindly (or not) confesses to his therapist that he thinks he has found a true friend in Graham, and it all puts Graham in a box that he can’t escape from.

8. The Returned – “Camille”

'The Returned'. Sundance.

‘The Returned’. Sundance.

This beautiful French show, which aired on the Sundance channel this year, is kind of a zombie show, but it’s really not. In this, the pilot episode, characters who died years earlier are returning from the dead, ostensibly healthy and normal, although ignorant of what happened to them. The pilot is all mood-setting and mystery-establishing, and it accomplishes this in spades. There is a distinct influence that can be felt from Twin Peaks, so I’m already inclined to like it, but it has plenty of its own style. It is haunting and contains several frightening images, but it mostly works through the emotion and conviction (or lack thereof) of its characters. The camera lingers at the end of the episode over Camille’s family (pictured above), shaken by her return, confused, happy, afraid. Her twin sister is terrified at first at the sight of her sister, four years younger while she herself has aged. The Returned is concerned with what these characters do in the face of the unexplainable, and it’s thrilling to watch.

7. Mad Men – “The Crash”

'Mad Men'. AMC.

‘Mad Men’. AMC.

The sixth season of Mad Men was, in my mind, the one-hour drama equivalent of the messy second season of Girls. High prestige shows under similar amounts of pressure (one in living up to its terrific if divisive first season, the other in reaching towards its ending), sometimes succeeding and sometimes not so much. “The Crash” was the best episode of this season. It is a drug episode, as everyone in the office takes an unspecified drug and we watch the outcomes. It deals in surreality, as most of what happens is probably real but it’s difficult to be sure. This episode would probably have earned a place on this list just for the immortal gif of Ken Cosgrove tap-dancing on a bad foot, but there’s more going on. It’s an episode, like many episodes of Mad Men, about loss, and about Don’s self-destructive tendencies. He destroyed what he had with Sylvia, indirectly but inevitably, and he doesn’t know how to deal with that. He becomes careless and seems to be aimless and afraid. Tell me about it, Don.

6. American Horror Story – “Madness Ends”

'American Horror Story'. FX.

‘American Horror Story’. FX.

I’m still not entirely sure what to make of American Horror Story‘s third season, Coven, which I have been enjoying immensely but feels like a less-focused step down after Asylum. That season was kind of a beautiful mess, too, but it led to “Madness Ends”, a surprisingly poignant and affecting finale that expertly wrapped the story up. This is a show where you are constantly baffled as to what you’re watching. It is daring, but also pretty stupid sometimes. Some of it can feel ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous. But there are moments of real brilliance, and this finale is full of them. The entire sequence of Sister Jude’s last days living with Kit and his family is among the best of the year, as she struggles with being her old self and helping to raise Kit’s children as a kind of surrogate grandmother. And when she dies, this woman we have watched do horrible things, it is so sad. This is partly due to Jessica Lange’s nonpareil performance, but it is also thanks to the writers having sketched this arc and drawing it to this emotional conclusion. American Horror Story is capable of such beauty and poignancy, but also of hilarious one-liners and embarrassingly stupid moments. There’s nothing else like it.

5. Game of Thrones – “The Rains of Castamere”

'Game of Thrones'. HBO.

‘Game of Thrones’. HBO.

As with every other fan, “The Rains of Castamere” was tough for me. I know that Game of Thrones, or rather George R.R. Martin, are not afraid to break your helpless little heart. I also knew going into the episode that something called the Red Wedding existed and that it was going to be “crazy”. It was. Outside of the Breaking Bad finale, I can’t think of a more talked-about episode of television this year. Deservedly so, as we watch the writers ruthlessly kill off multiple beloved characters all at once with such confidence unseen in any other TV show. It happens so quickly, and it is so horrible. After, it cuts immediately to the silent credits. Sit with that, the show seems to say. The world isn’t fair, whether your world is Westeros or Earth, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. The whole situation was set up brilliantly, as we slowly come to realize that something is not right here. The sequence was done so perfectly, and I kind of hate it for that because it makes me want to bawl just thinking about it.

4. 30 Rock – “Hogcock!/Last Lunch”

'30 Rock'. NBC.

’30 Rock’. NBC.

I’m cheating a little since this is technically two episodes, but together they made up the series finale for one of my all-time favourite shows, and it was a completely satisfying goodbye to Liz Lemon, Jack Donaghy, Tracy Jordan and everyone else. While working in a little feminist commentary about women-in-the-workplace, Tina Fey gave Liz the best possible ending, as she is happy with Criss and their two children (mini-Jenna and mini-Tracy) after putting on the final episode of The Girlie Show (and a future in television). Right to the end, 30 Rock was the best at rapid-fire jokes (Kenneth is immortal, “Goodbye Pete Pete, I will forget you.”). But it handled its emotional moments very well, like Liz and Tracy saying goodbye in the strip club they met at in the pilot (“But because the human heart is not properly connected to the human brain, I love you and I’m gonna miss you.”) and Liz and Jack’s flawless final talk (“There is a word, a once special word that’s been tragically co-opted by the romance industrial complex and I would hate to use it here and have you think that I’m suggesting any kind of romantic sentiment let alone an invitation to scale bone mountain…”). I couldn’t have imagined a better ending, and then Jenna sang the wonderful and bizarre “Rural Juror” song.

3. Breaking Bad – “Ozymandias”

'Breaking Bad'. AMC.

‘Breaking Bad’. AMC.

It’s not that I prefer to consider “Ozymandias” the series finale of Breaking Bad (as some do), it’s that in years to come when I think about 2013 as the year that the show ended, I will think of this episode. I think most people will. This was, along with the ending of “The Rains of Castamere”, the most punishing hour of television I saw this year. It was relentless and heartbreaking, and yet still felt somehow inevitable. Hank dies, and it hurts. But the most shocking moment of the episode for me was Walt spitting in Jesse’s face, “I watched Jane die.” This vicious and devastating line, delivered with a crazy amount of venom by Bryan Cranston (who is in a league of his own), didn’t emit a gasp but a yelp of disbelief. In an episode full of horrifying moments, that is the one that has stuck with me the most.

Directed by the great Rian Johnson (who also directed “Fly”), everything disintegrates in spectacular fashion. Walt tries, deludedly, to save Hank, but it fails (we at least get some relief from Hank dying with his dignity and identity strongly intact). He tries to tell Jesse that he means nothing to him by telling him about Jane, but we know better. Jesse becomes a slave. Walt kidnaps Holly in an act of pathetic desperation. This episode is an exhausting run of wholly devastating moments, and even though it destroyed me, I could not look away.

2. Orange is the New Black – “Lesbian Request Denied”

'Orange is the New Black'. Netflix.

‘Orange is the New Black’. Netflix.

I could have chosen practically any of this series’ excellent first season episodes, and I can’t disagree with many TV critics that put “Tall Men With Feelings” on their own lists. It’s a fantastic episode with a killer montage and thematic resonance. I wanted to choose “Lesbian Request Denied”, though, because this was when I knew this show was something special, and it is my favourite example of the show using Piper Chapman as a gateway to tell the interesting stories of other characters. In this case, it is the story of Sophia, a transgendered woman in the female prison with Piper. Creator Jenji Kohan knows what she’s doing with Piper being at the centre (in this interview, she even refers to her as their “gateway drug”), and she knows that Piper’s story can easily become the subplot while someone like Sophia, with a captivating and complicated story to be told, can become the focus.

Sophia’s forced switch to a lower dose of estrogen is something that affects her deeply and threatens her body, and we see through tragic flashbacks that she traded in one prison (her body) for another. On a lesser show, this would come off as trite and on-the-nose, but here it is beautiful and heartbreaking. Laverne Cox does an amazing job portraying Sophia’s struggle, and the complicated issue of transgendered people is dealt with maturely and movingly. This gives us a much stronger hold on who this character is when in the perspective of the prison, and her fight to find herself is depicted with tremendous care and passion. Again, this is a remarkable episode of the best new show of the year and is only one example of how it tells a compelling story about complex female characters.

1. The Good Wife – “Hitting The Fan”

'The Good Wife'. CBS.

‘The Good Wife’. CBS.

Few television shows, particularly procedurals on broadcast networks, are willing to go for the slow burn. This is when you spend a lot of time putting pieces into place, developing strong relationships, and laying foundations…in order to, eventually, burn it all to the ground. The writers of The Good Wife, led by series creators Robert & Michelle King, this year pulled off one of the best blow-ups in TV history. It is almost as if the entire show, which is currently in its fifth season, had been leading to this episode. I’m not overstating it, either. When the fourth season brilliantly ended earlier this year with Alicia Florrick inviting Cary to her home to tell him that she’s in (referring to abandoning their firm and starting their own), there was a flurry of excitement from the show’s fans. This is a show accustomed to good season-ending cliffhangers, but this was something else.

It may seem strange to those that do not watch this show that it is my choice as the best episode of the year. What you would need to understand, without going back and watching the whole thing (which you should do), is that this has been a long time coming. The splitting of the firm, yes, but more so the implications of this. Several episodes later, we are still watching as these characters struggle to process and deal with this change, especially as Will tries to understand Alicia’s betrayal. They are former lovers, and I cannot think of a more charged moment this year than Will storming into Alicia’s office and, as pictured above, throwing everything off her desk in an emotional act of anger and hurt feelings.

That moment, and the episode in its entirety, was what we’d been waiting for. The show has been building to this, and it earned the right to destroy everything it had built and start again, as Alicia and Cary are at Florrick Agos. I found myself rooting for them, very excited about the prospect of them starting their own firm, but I was also deeply sympathetic towards Will and Diane, blindsided by this betrayal and disloyalty. Beyond the desk-destruction, two other moments made this episode the best of the year for me. The first was Will, calling Alicia but instead getting her daughter, and he is very polite to her amid the chaos. A small moment, but a significant one putting the mayhem in perspective. The second was Alicia entering the elevator, up until that point remaining strong and steadfast, but then breaking down in tears. This isn’t what she wanted. Perhaps she was naive, but now it’s real and Will has told her, full of rage, that he was the only one that would take her in. And once she is alone, all she can do is cry.

Honourable Mentions

  • Eastbound & Down – “Chapter 26”
  • The Colbert Report – “Daft Punk”
  • Arrested Development – “Off the Hook”
  • Veep – “Running”
  • The Office – “Finale”
  • House of Cards – “Chapter 8”
  • South Park – “Informative Murder Porn”
  • Getting On – “Born of the Fourth of July”

Emmy Predictions, Because Why Not

Following the long tradition of writing things because why the fuck not here at Arbitrary Analysis, these are my Emmy predictions. The nominations will be announced Thursday, July 18th.

Outstanding Drama Series

608

This, the biggest category, is pretty much anyone’s guess at this point. Mad Men won four years in a row, until Homeland beat it last year. The second season of Homeland was more divisive and left many unfulfilled, and ditto for Mad Men‘s sixth season. Due to this, it’s more or less up in the air, but it definitely leaves things open for Breaking Bad to win for the first time. Either way, those three are locks to be nominated, as is Game of Thrones considering its solid standing as the cultural phenomenon of the moment. Beyond that, it gets hard to call. Downton Abbey, despite its comparably poorly received third season, is likely to take the fifth spot, but the last spot is totally up for grabs. I would put my money on Netflix’s House of Cards – everyone (at least on my Twitter feed) was talking about it and the new ways to do television (along with Hulu, Amazon, etc.), so that’s what I’m going with. Boardwalk Empire (which had its best season yet but the Emmys typically ignore it), The Good Wife (the only broadcast network show even in the running anymore) and newbie The Americans are all also contenders.

The Nominees

  • Mad Men
  • Breaking Bad
  • Homeland
  • Game of Thrones
  • Downton Abbey
  • House of Cards

Unless…

  • Boardwalk Empire
  • The Good Wife
  • The Americans

I Wish…

  • Hannibal
  • Justified

Outstanding Lead Actor – Drama Series

627

Another three-way battle between Homeland, Mad Men and Breaking Bad – or rather, Damian Lewis, Jon Hamm and Bryan Cranston, respectively. I can’t speak towards Cranston’s season five performance, but he appears to be the overall favourite to win. In any case, Kevin Spacey is a lock for House of Cards, but then it gets tricky. Matthew Rhys for The Americans and Steve Buscemi for Boardwalk Empire are good bets to round out the nominees, but there are several others on their heels.

The Nominees

  • Damian Lewis, Homeland
  • Jon Hamm, Mad Men
  • Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
  • Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
  • Matthew Rhys, The Americans
  • Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire

Unless…

  • Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
  • Timothy Olyphant, Justified
  • Michael C. Hall, Dexter
  • Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey

I Wish…

  • Hugh Dancy, Hannibal
  • Joel Kinnaman, The Killing

Outstanding Lead Actress – Drama Series

45

This category, unlike the other big drama awards, remains unchanged from last year. This is Claire Danes’ to lose, and she deserves another win for her brilliantly erratic performance on Homeland. Julianna Margulies and Michelle Dockery are good bets, and especially after this last season, as is Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss. I would then put Keri Russell in, and the last slot could go to anyone but there has been a surge of online support being thrown towards the underdog, Orphan Black‘s Tatiana Maslany. And I like an underdog. Kerry Washington is the dark horse here ready to spoil, though.

The Nominees

  • Claire Danes, Homeland
  • Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
  • Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
  • Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
  • Keri Russell, The Americans
  • Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black

Unless…

  • Robin Wright, House of Cards
  • Connie Britton, Nashville
  • Kerry Washington, Scandal

Outstanding Supporting Actor – Drama Series

67

This is an extremely packed category, one of the hardest to call. Peter Dinklage and Aaron Paul are really the only definite locks. Mandy Patinkin was, outrageously, snubbed last year, but his added presence to Homeland‘s second season should secure him a spot. Corey Stoll held his own against Kevin Spacey’s more showy performance on House of Cards, and  Sam Waterston was probably the most bearable person onscreen during The Newsroom. Most are giving the last spot to Jonathan Banks for Breaking Bad, but I’m going for Nikolaj Coster-Waldau for his standout role in the third season of Game of Thrones.

The Nominees

  • Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
  • Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
  • Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
  • Corey Stoll, House of Cards
  • Sam Waterston, The Newsroom
  • Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones

Unless…

  • Jonathan Banks, Breaking Bad
  • Noah Emmerich, The Americans
  • John Slattery, Mad Men

I Wish…

  • Mads Mikkelsen, Hannibal
  • Alan Cumming, The Good Wife
  • Walton Goggins, Justified

Outstanding Supporting Actress – Drama Series

56

Just give the fucking thing to Maggie Smith already.

The Nominees

  • Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
  • Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
  • Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
  • Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
  • Monica Potter, Parenthood
  • Morena Baccarin, Homeland

Unless…

  • Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife
  • Kate Mara, House of Cards
  • Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey

I Wish…

  • Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
  • Jessica Pare, Mad Men

In a Just World…

  • Michelle Fairley, Game of Thrones

Outstanding Comedy Series

43

Even though no new comedies really managed to give any lasting effect, this category is still packed with worthy contenders. Modern Family is a sure thing if there ever was one, but I sincerely hope it doesn’t win again. Girls and Louie will be nominated but will not win. The Big Bang Theory will continue its general domination of our culture, and Veep may be beaten out by Arrested Development‘s Netflix experiment (or will it be ignored?). But 30 Rock will get its final hurrah with at least a nomination (and, if it were up to me, a win).

The Nominees

  • Modern Family
  • Girls
  • Louie
  • The Big Bang Theory
  • 30 Rock
  • Arrested Development

Unless…

  • Veep
  • Parks and Recreation
  • New Girl

I Wish…

  • Enlightened
  • Archer

Outstanding Lead Actor – Comedy Series

23

Despite his recent, er, publicity issues, Alec Baldwin is a lock for 30 Rock. Jim Parsons, duh. Louis C.K., of course. After that, well. We can assume Jon Cryer will be there, for whatever fucking reason. Following that, I’m going for Jason Bateman and (fingers crossed) Jake Johnson for his breakout year on New Girl. But Don Cheadle is likely to take Johnson’s place, for some shit called House of Lies? What even is that? Does anyone watch it?

The Nominees

  • Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
  • Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
  • Louis C.K., Louie
  • Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
  • Jason Bateman, Arrested Development
  • Jake Johnson, New Girl

Unless…

  • Don Cheadle, House of Lies (what)
  • Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
  • Johnny Galecki, The Big Bang Theory

I Wish…

  • Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation (who is, weirdly, considered a lead)

Outstanding Lead Actress – Comedy Series

15

If there is any right left in this world, Laura Dern will get a nomination. She won’t win, that’s okay, I accept that. But a nomination. Please. Otherwise, this is Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ category. Her titular role on Veep is just the kind of thing Emmy voters love. And if Laura Dern can’t win, I would give it to Tina Fey – not only for a great performance on 30 Rock‘s final season, but also as testament to that show and to her for bringing it to us. But really, it would be okay if Amy Poehler won, too. Or Lena Dunham, my beloved Lena! Zooey? You can clap politely for one of these other women, but take solace in a job well done.

The Nominees

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
  • Lena Dunham, Girls
  • Tina Fey, 30 Rock
  • Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
  • Laura Dern, Enlightened
  • Zooey Deschanel, New Girl

Unless…

  • Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
  • Melissa McCarthy, Mike and Molly 
  • Martha Plimpton, Raising Hope

I Wish…

  • Portia de Rossi, Arrested Development

Outstanding Supporting Actor – Comedy Series

12

I don’t fucking know which but someone from Modern Family is going to win, until everyone in the cast has at least two.

The Nominees

  • Ty Burrell, Modern Family
  • Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
  • Ed O’Neill, Modern Family
  • Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
  • Will Arnett, Arrested Development
  • Max Greenfield, New Girl

Unless…

  • Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development
  • Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live
  • Simon Helberg, The Big Bang Theory

I Wish…

  • Adam Driver, Girls
  • Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation
  • Aziz Ansari, Parks and Recreation
  • Tony Hale, Veep/Arrested Development

Outstanding Supporting Actress – Comedy Series

11

Fucking Modern Family.

The Nominees

  • Julie Bowen, Modern Family
  • Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
  • Jessica Walter, Arrested Development
  • Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
  • Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
  • Allison Williams, Girls

Unless…

  • Kaley Cuoco, The Big Bang Theory
  • Merritt Weaver, Nurse Jackie
  • Betty White, Hot in Cleveland

I Wish…

  • Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation
  • Anna Chlumsky, Veep

Oh and Behind the Candelabra gets ALLLLLLLLLL the miniseries/TV movie awards.

4

– Jake