I said this last year but I’ll say it again: we are going through a golden age of television drama. This year there has been an emphasis on the darker aspects to human existence and this is reflected in some of the best moments (not many of them are very cheery, but they are still memorable and superbly done). There is also a particularly tasty scene from House of Cards that sent the twittersphere ablaze with amazement and excitement (see if you can guess what it is!). So, here are the best TV moments of 2014 in no particular order (they are all brilliant). Let’s hope 2015 lives up to such high standards!
PLEASE NOTE: Of course, revealing the best moments of some series involves making plot details explicit. If a show crops up that you would prefer to remain unspoiled (particularly if you have the boxset on your Christmas list because some nasty so-and-so deleted it off your Sky planner when it was originally broadcast) you are advised to move on to the next and not look too closely!
Line of Duty – The shocking first episode kill-off
Series 2, Episode 1. BBC Two.
First episodes can sometimes get bogged down in establishing characters without much actually happening. Line of Duty throws you into the midst of them from the start, lets you get to know them while they are doing their job and then suddenly, in the first episode of its spectacular second series, a major new character is killed off. Yes, Call the Midwife’s Jessica Raine looked set to become one of the new cops of AC12 (Police who investigate Police) and then suddenly, after discovering a murderer in disguised as a nurse trying to kill a witness, she is thrown out of a top-floor window. The most horribly memorable bit is when, for a split second, her eyes cry out in a plea to remain living. Her killer does not grant her such a wish. Tragic and as hard-hitting as a sudden punch in the stomach. Images: World Productions.
Game of Thrones – The Wedding
Series 4, episode 2. Sky Atlantic (Original Channel: HBO).
Weddings in Game of Thrones should come with health warnings and with predictable unpredictability, Joffrey died at his own wedding. This occurred after a particularly tasteless pantomime and his bullying of certain members of his family, so one can’t really say it wasn’t a relief to see him go. But the commotion and shock his death caused was great, leading to a compelling whodunnit plot. Images: HBO.
Ripper Street – Reed commits murder
Series 3, Episode 2. Amazon Prime Instant Video.
My god, this is dark. Ripper Street has always been an unsettling series, set in the East End of London when memory of Jack the Ripper still lingers. Series 2 has been produced by Amazon for their Prime Instant Video streaming service and it has given the show the chance to do things that may not be permitted on BBC One (where the show originally aired). At the end of Episode 2 Ripper Street walked into territory one would usually associate with European hardcore horror or Asian extreme cinema. It’s a moment of brutal bloodiness where Reed, convinced that his daughter has been killed by the man he has in front of him, calmly takes his head and methodically smashes it into the wall. It’s cruel, disturbing and astonishingly effective. This adult show just got very adult indeed. Images: Amazon.
Homeland – Sandy is taken
Series 4, episode 1. Channel 4 (Original Channel: Showtime).
When the CIA come to your rescue you think everything is going to be fine. Not necessarily. In the opening episode to Homeland Series 4, Carrie (Claire Danes) and Peter (Rupert Friend) arrive to save the Pakistan Station Chief Sandy Bachman (Corey Stohl) and, just when you think he’s safe, a mob of people smash into the car in which they are travelling and drag him out to face an awful fate. The sense of panic and mounting terror in this scene is palpable and extremely well handled by director Lesli Linka Glatter. Images: Showtime.
The Fall – The Video
Series 2, episode 5. BBC Two.
Cruel and unusual seems to be a theme of 2014, with TV drama plummeting the darkest things humans can do to each other. This year’s second series of The Fall continue its examination of misogyny via the killings of terrorising of women by the photogenic Paul Specter (Jamie Dornan) and the hunting of him by Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson. One of many standout moments was the discovery of a video on Specter’s phone. It showed footage of Rose, a woman he has captured, pleading into a camera he has set up in the room in which he has imprisoned her. At first she begs with him to let her go, then she tries to appear sexy and seduce him, then she screams at him, then finally she pleads for the chance to see her children again and that she will celebrate life in the face of his attempt to take it away. The video is watched by Gibson and we see her cry in dismay at the video’s contents. As Benji Wilson in the Telegraph described it, it was an ‘absolutely horrific, Cronenbergian showreel of everything we’d like to think humanity isn’t.’ Images: BBC.
The Honourable Woman – ‘They know’
Episode 2. BBC Two.
Hugo Plick’s strange and at times impenetrable series amazed and confused viewers in equal measure. This scene is admittedly a confusing one as it involves our lead protagonist Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal) gets a mysterious phone call whilst delivering a speech. It turns out to be from the kidnappers of a child (a child central to the story) and the episode ends with Nessa crying in the toilets and says to her friend to simple words: ‘They know.’ What do they know? Why is it important? At this point in the drama we had no idea, but as the story progresses the magnitude of this becomes clear. And it leaves you reeling. Images: BBC.
Happy Valley – The murder of PC Kirsten McAskill
Series one, Episode 3. BBC One.
Not a pleasant one this (not many of them are pleasant, but this one is particularly grisly). The handsome James Norton, that cuddly vicar from Grantchester, had another standout role this year: Sally Wainwright’s first-rate drama Happy Valley. Here he was nasty: a rapist and a murderer and in one horrific scene (that drew many complaints) her killed and reversed over (in a Mini Cooper) a young police officer who was getting too close to discovering a dark secret. Her death shakes you up, especially because it came after a light scene involving the officer joking with her superior (the superb Sarah Lancashire) over her radio. Not nice, but amazingly done and portrayed in the way violence should be: aversive, horrific and unforgettable. Images: Netflix.
True Detective – The 6 minute shot
Series 1, episode 4. Sky Atlantic (Original Channel: HBO)
This was a pretentious, frequently incoherent and patience-testing series, but it did contain a jaw-droppingly accomplished single-take shot that lasted for a whole 6 minutes and depicted a police operation going horribly wrong. It’s the kind of show-offy thing a series like this would do, but thankfully it worked brilliantly, with Matthew McConaughey’s character being drawn down a rabbit hole filled with bullets and screams as he and some other officers raid a property in a violent part of town. Shot handheld on 35mm film, the scene has a deep and daunting texture and tone that is rarely seen in television today. Images: HBO.
Line of Duty – The Downfall of DCC Dryden
Series 2, Episode 5. BBC Two.
A police interview. So many dramas on TV have police interviews. Nearly every day there is another one. But not like this. This is searing, gruelling, devastating scene, with an entire 17 minutes devoted to the intense breakdown of DCC Dryden whilst he is questioned by two coppers who are usually under his command. It a disturbing twist, it looks like he has been involved in the horrific murder of a 15 year old girl (she has had her face blowtorched off) and across the extended interview he is emotionally pulled apart by the questioning. It says something for writer Jed Mecurio’s confidence in his writing that he would be able to devote such a large amount of time to just one conversation. Thank goodness he did. It works brilliantly. Images: World Productions.
House of Cards – The Meechum Threesome
Series 2, episode 11. Netflix
After so much blood and gore, it’s nice to get to a scene that isn’t full of cruelty. Instead, it’s an unexpected and superbly directed scene of three-way fun. Don’t get excited, as the scene doesn’t involve any more than some hand clasping and kissing – it would struggle even to achieve a 12A rating – but it is still intensely erotic and makes it clear Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, is bisexual. It had been suggested he had some bedroom fun with his male friends at university, though of course such a reveal didn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t heterosexual. But with this scene, it shows that even in later adult life he is still open to some same-sex activity, even within the presence of his wife, who seems to initiate the event. The most surprising thing about it is that their candidate for seduction is their trusty secret service security guard Meechum. Because of this, the scene has become known as the ‘Threechum’ scene in some circles. Images: Netflix.
The Missing – ‘It’s you’
Series 1, episode 8. BBC One.
The Missing was a series of confusions and doubts and this killer ending still left some room for ambiguity. After hearing that his missing boy has been murdered and isn’t coming back, the grieving father (James Nesbitt) refuses to accept his child is gone and, if the closing scene is to be believed, has gone made with the torment. In the scene he accuses a boy in Russia of being his son and says he has tracked him down, but he gets dragged off by the police before he can make sure. Has he lost it? Or could the Russian boy be his son after being trafficked abroad? We don’t know for sure. And neither does he. Images: BBC.
The Knick – The invasion of the hospital
Series 1, episode 5. Sky Atlantic (Original Channel: Cinemax).
Set during 1900 New York in a hospital set on breaking medical boundaries, this series was directed with raw intensity and stylish precision by Stephen Soderbergh. This whole episode is an amazing exercise in control of tension and suspense, with a group of racists, spurred on by a grieving widow whose husband was killed by an African American, determined to break into the hospital and brutalise any black people they find. Unlike all the other episodes, Soderbergh foregoes the white-grey palette and opts for a colour scheme of burning oranges and browns, as if the whole of Manhattan is on fire with rage. It’s powerful stuff, particularly when we see one of the top surgeons (who is black) having to hide under a medical trolley in order to avoid being harmed. Images: Cinemax.
The Fall – Gibson Vs Specter
Series 2, episode 6. BBC Two.
The Fall again, and this time it’s the feature-length finale. Like Line of Duty, the show devoted an extended amount of time to a single police interview and this was one the nation had been waiting a year and a half to see: Gibson Vs. Specter. Alan Cubitt’s direction and writing is some sublime there are a thousand more moments one could pick out, but this scene was electric with its intensity. And Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan are beyond incredible. Images: BBC.