The 10 best TV episodes of 2012

Top 10 Den Of Geek 21 Dec 2012 - 07:01

We've polled our writers, tallied the results, and drawn up a list of Den of Geek’s official top ten TV episodes of 2012…

Contains spoilers for certain episodes.

A fortnight ago, the call went out to our writers to select their top TV episodes of 2012 (barring anything broadcast after mid-December to give us time to collate the votes). Each writer could select up to five episodes, and their ranked lists were then weighted, and the episode tallies stacked up accordingly.

In a mark of unusual concurrence from the site's writers, very soon, a few titles established themselves as clear frontrunners. Having limited ourselves to including just one episode per show on the final list, a certain amount of jostling then went on between episodes from the same series over the two weeks of voting (particularly in the case of two BBC programmes that share a certain showrunner). Eventually though, the positions settled down, and as it turned out, the top three favourites from day one of nominations ended up in the top three spots. Which was nice.

So here they are: the personal choices of our team of writers, democratically processed, in salute to a great year's TV viewing...

10. The Vampire Diaries – Departed 

What our reviewer said:

“Wowsa. There's certainly a lot to get through this week on The Vampire Diaries, with The Departed seeing almost every character maimed, killed, almost killed, or killed and revived, before it settles down for a familiar, yet still exciting, fourth season tease.

Deep breath, the final twist reveals that, after her fall at the end of last week, Dr Fell fed Elena vampire blood. Lying in hospital in a very Bella Swan-like fashion, Elena wakes up, signalling a major fourth season shift. Elena is now a vampire, and when your main character changes that much, the show changes with her. I, for one, can't wait to see what the writers can come up with.”

Also ran: That's your lot. The Departed was the only episode of The Vampire Diaries nominated this year, but it had enough support to squeak in at number ten.

Read the full episode review, here.

 

9. Fringe – Letters of Transit 

What our reviewer said:

“Having watched this episode for the second time, I'm still trying to work out if it was a stroke of insanity or brilliance. The best description I can come up with was that it was like we'd glimpsed an episode of Fringe from another dimension, one that didn't exactly follow the same basic rules as the one we're used to.  

When the show's three creators, J.J. Abrams, Alex Kutzman and Robert Orci get together and write an episode, you know things are likely to get a little unstable, like one of Walter's cooking experiments. So many parts of the reality they inhabited didn't fit with any of the previous universes we've encountered, with bits borrowed from multiple ones, and entirely new elements blended in. When the end came though, it was all too soon, as I wanted it to continue for another forty-five minutes or more.”

Also ran: Some love also came in for season five's fifth episode, An Origin Story, but Letters of Transit was the more popular of the two.

Read the full episode review, here.

 

8. Breaking Bad – Say My Name 

What our reviewer said:

Breaking Bad has always taken pleasure in subverting our expectations – episodes late in the season feel like clinging on to an enormous firework as it spins wildly around the room, out of control, dragging you violently in one direction then another; or, to use a more appropriate, chemistry-based analogy, the closing stages of a season are when the addition of too many reactive elements to the formula finally causes it to become unstable, leading to it corroding and destroying everything that surrounds it. Unlike previous episodes at this stage of a season, however, Say My Name had a quiet inevitability to it.

Jonathan Banks and particularly Bryan Cranston were both phenomenal in this episode, conveying some deeply complex character arcs with an intensity and intelligence that will surely be rewarded during the American awards season."

Also ran: Indicative of the consistent quality across all eight 2012 episodes of Breaking Bad, also nominated were: Fifty-One, and Dead Freight. Say My Name just pipped those two to the post.

Read the full episode review, here.

 

7. Community – Pillows & Blankets 

What our reviewer said:

“A pitch-perfect spoof of the over-earnest civil war reconstructions so beloved by the History Channel, Pillows and Blankets was a joy from start to finish. The photography, the narration, the social media-fuelled communiqués, the comfortably attired armies and feather covered battlefields – every element of the spoof was spot on, and comes as a timely reminder of just how smart this show is. Spoofing TV is one of the many things that Community does well, and Pillows and Blankets may well be the crowning glory of their spoofing efforts.

Fearless, endlessly creative and always hilarious, Community can never be accused of predictability – and while that’s part of the problem, as far the network is concerned at least – it leaves those of us lucky enough to see it happy, hopeful, and with a strange desire to wear pyjamas and build pillow forts. Isn’t that what TV is supposed to do, after all?” 

Also ran: It was a close-run thing with Basic Lupine Urology, which was very nearly a joint-winner for the Greendale lot. Nominations also came in for Digital Estate Planning.

Read the full episode review, here.

 

6. Mad Men – Signal 30 

What our reviewer said:

“That Mad Men manages to produce stand-alone, rounded instalments without missing a beat of the continuing drama is one of the reasons its kernel of devotees (they may not be many, as evidenced by this season’s less-than sensational ratings, but they’re certainly vocal) are capable of such giddiness about the show.

More than any so far this season, and likely thanks to the presence of veteran screenwriter Frank Pierson, this week’s Mad Men had the feel of a Richard Yates or John Cheever short story; a discrete snapshot of masculinity in crisis bracketed by the nagging sound of a dripping tap. Yes, the ongoing narrative moved along – SCDP almost gained a new client, England won the World Cup, Charles Whitman’s shooting spree left 16 people dead – but Signal 30 was all about one man: Pete Campbell, reimagined by Ken Cosgrove’s pen as the man with the miniature orchestra.

The fact that most of us would happily watch a Ken, Peggy, Joan, Pete, Lane, or Roger-centric episode without feeling too keenly the loss of Don Draper is yet more evidence of Mad Men’s powerful characterisation.”

Also ran: A number of nominations came in for episodes from Mad Men's fifth series, with the following episodes also ranked at various places in our writers’ top five lists: At The Codfish Ball, Far Away Places and The Other Woman. All proof that Matthew Weiner's show was packed with high points this season.

Read the full episode review, here.


5. The Walking Dead – Killer Within 

What our reviewer said:

“If you want evidence that The Walking Dead has done a complete one-eighty from the second season, look no further than tonight's episode. Everything the show did poorly last season, from pacing to writing, has been completely redone. For example, this week's episode has major character developments, great dialogue, and some of the most emotionally-wrenching moments in the entirety of the show's history. 

The one constant for The Walking Dead is the high quality of the special effects. There's some pretty brutal stuff in this week's programme, and it seems as though KNB FX can turn just about anything from a cut while shaving to a decapitation in a realistic, frightening manner. There are some stand-out kills this week, some awesomely sickening prosthetic work, and an exuberance towards the depiction of graphic murder that makes the show incredible.

The last ten minutes of the episode are some of the bloodiest, most frightening, and hardest-to-watch in cable history (and not just from a gore standpoint).”

Also ran: The mid-season finale, Made To Suffer, was also put forward as the best of the series in 2012.

Read the full episode review, here.

 

4. The Thick of It – The Inquiry 

What our reviewer said:

“If you came to this hour-long episode of The Thick Of It expecting to rub your hands at a comic skewering of the blundering ethical vacuums that populate the show (and in turn, the real-life public stage), then you’ll have been satisfied. The characters were all done to a turn, exposed as blithering, pompous or idiotic, and perjuring themselves like it was going out of fashion.

But that’s not all the inquiry special was. It was also damned sophisticated drama, and a finely tuned irony extravaganza. We didn’t know it at the time, but every previous episode of The Thick Of It was training us to deal with this one, the moment that the usual format was inverted and we were left to infer what was happening behind-the-scenes rather than be shown.

Yes, perhaps it would’ve been more of a giggle to have been backstage as usual, but what an admirable choice it was to tell the story in this way, and what a showcase it was for the writers and performers. The inquiry special may have proved right those who suggest this series of The Thick Of It has sacrificed laughs for plot, but it proved dead wrong anyone who suggests that by so doing, it’s lost its impact. Bravo to all involved for taking the risk in bringing us this highly-evolved slice of comedy.”

Also ran: It wasn’t even close, The Inquiry was a clear winner by a number of nominations, though some love also came in for the series’ beautifully plotted fourth episode, which saw Nicola Murray MP stuck on that fateful train.

Read the full episode review, here.

 

3. Sherlock – The Reichenbach Fall 

What our reviewer said:

“What a way to bring this superlative series to a close. The Reichenbach Fall gives us another elegant update to past versions of the story, upping the action and emotional wallop of previous episodes to draw to a tearful conclusion

Exciting and affecting in equal measure, with an elegant rug-pull that must have had a few viewers questioning whether Holmes was indeed everything we’d been led to believe he was, The Reichenbach Fall was a worthy send-off for the best drama currently on TV. Now, if only Cumberbatch and Freeman will pause their present assault on Hollywood, we’d like some more please. Applause all round.”

Also ran: A healthy chunk of nominations placed A Scandal in Belgravia as their top episode, but The Reichenbach Fall slightly edged it.

Read the full episode review, here.

 

2. Doctor Who – Asylum of the Daleks 

What our reviewer said:

“Crucially, both Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan are on top form, delivering scenes of the ilk we’ve never seen between Doctor Who companions before. They sell the fact that the horrors that Rory and Amy have been through have both torn them apart, and left them paradoxically inseparable. They’ve both actually needed each other as much all along, and only on the precipice of them splitting once and for all can Amy finally admit that to him. All this in the middle of a Saturday night family show.

It recalls the 2005 episode Dalek in some respects, in the fact that Asylum Of The Daleks does its damnedest to get across that just one of the infernal pepperpots is a lethal beast in its own regard. They feel like a threat again, and that’s no mean feat.

So then: does this all make for the best Dalek episode of Doctor Who? No, but it’s a very good one. Take the ingredients it injects above and beyond battling the Daleks, and it’s better still. With an added sprinkling of Moffat’s witty dialogue, it’s a confident, ambitious start to a big series for Doctor Who. It packs a lot in, and you can sense that there’s been a real effort to deliver the kind of one-off weekly blockbuster that we’ve been teased with. An impressive opener, then.

Isn't it good to have Doctor Who back?”

Also ran: The competition between Asylum of the Daleks and The Angels Take Manhattan was almost neck-and-neck during voting, until a last-minute flurry came in for the series seven opener.

Read the full episode review, here.


1. Game of Thrones – Blackwater 

What our reviewer said:

“Now THAT was an episode!

HBO has a history of, in other programmes, promising big battles but delivering sub-par results. Neil Marshall, who directs this episode from a great George R.R. Martin script, keeps things tight and intense. There are wider shots of what have to be CGI ships in a CGI harbour, but when it comes to showing combat scenes, they're shot almost claustrophobically. There are bodies and hacking axes and slashing swords and I can't tell who is who outside of Tyrion, Bronn, Stannis, and a few other recognizable faces. Still, it doesn't really matter from a viewer standpoint; we're getting carnage and blood and people being cleaved in twain, and that's exactly what you'd expect from a war in the Seven Kingdoms.

The amazing thing about this episode is that, for the first twenty-thirty minutes, there is no battle. There's just tension, and that makes the battle even more effective. You know what's coming, they know what's coming, and it's just stomach-churning to watch these characters we've grown closer to all season prepare themselves for potential death.”

Also ran: There was literally no competition for the top spot. Blackwater was the only Game of Thrones episode nominated by our writers, but it appeared again and again at the top of lists, taking an early lead and quickly cementing its position as the Den of Geek TV episode of 2012.

Read the full episode review, here.


Bubbling under: Nominations also came in this year for (in alphabetical order) episodes of The Accused, American Horror Story, Arrow, The Bridge, The Big Bang Theory, Boardwalk Empire, Dexter, Frozen Planet, Homeland, The Killing, Last Resort, Merlin, Mockingbird Lane, The Newsroom, Red Dwarf, Sons of Anarchy, The Syndicate, Teen Wolf, and True Blood, just not quite enough to place them in the top ten list.

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