Making a list of the best television episodes of 2013 is a fool’s errand. We know that. There was just too much good television, between all the new contenders, returning favorites, and dramatic farewells. Even just starting the list was a daunting task, because after “Ozymandias” and “The Rains of Castamere” it was kind of a crapshoot, and we knew we’d have to leave off a bunch of very worthy episodes. Example: Mad Men, Eastbound and Down, and Orphan Black were all terrific this year, and none of their episodes made the list. That’s just ridiculous. I don’t even know why we tried.
But we did. Dustin, Josh, and I weeded through an entire year of excellent television and selected our nine favorite episodes (kind of), and each wrote up entries for three of them. There’s a pretty decent balance between comedy and drama, and network, cable, and streaming, which happened mostly by accident, and was a little surprising. I’m sure you have your own selections, and thoughts about ours, which you are free to share in the comments in all-caps, profanity-filled missives should you so desire. That’s half the fun of lists like these — everyone starts yelling at each other and no one ends up happy. We might as well be family.
Anyway, without further ado, here are our top nine episodes of the year.
Game of Thrones, “The Rains of Castamere” — I spent as much time watching The Scene in “The Rains of Castamare” as I did watching my then-fiancée watch The Scene in “The Rains of Castamere.” I’ve read the books, so I was well aware of the horror to come, but I tried not to be smug about it to her — better for her to be surprised than to be met with a constant barrage of “HO HO HO JUST YOU WAIT” winks from me every time Robb did something dumb. Then The Scene happened, and holy sh*t, I still don’t think I’ve recovered. It takes approximately eight minutes for Cat Stark to go from party guest to lifeless clump on the floor, but watching The Scene live, it felt endless. It was one of those milestone TV moments, the ones where you’ll never forget where you were when it happened, and who you were watching it with. Slightly over a month later, “The Rains of Castamere,” both the episode and song, reappeared in my life: at my wedding, where I surprised my now-wife by playing the National’s version as our first dance. Only one person laughed. It was not my wife. — JK
Breaking Bad, “Ozymandias” — As a movie critic, I see well over 100 films a year, but it says something about the Rian Johnson directed episode of Breaking Bad that it was better than any movie I’ve seen this year. Or last. The episode took its name from the haunting, despairing poem from Percy Shelley, and the episode — which saw the death of one major character, and saw Walter White ruthlessly turn Todd against his own former partner, Jesse Pinkman — may well survive as long as Shelley’s sonnet. The words of Ozymandias — “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair” — could have also been the thoughts of every other television showrunner looking upon Vince Gilligan’s finest episode in a series full of fine episodes. “Ozymandias” wasn’t just the best episode of television in 2013, it may well be the best episode of television we will ever see. — DR
I’m sure there are more professional ways to start out a recap than by typing “holy crap” in all caps, but seriously, HOLY CRAP. How good was last night’s episode? The scene at the beginning with Nicky and Boyd, the whole standoff between Tim and Colt (especially the phone call), Drew telling Raylan about meeting Arlo in Vietnam, Ava going FULL Ava Crowder on Nicky and Johnny, Constable Bob turning an enforcer named Yolo into beef stew, all of it. Any of those scenes could have been the high point of another episode, but instead Graham Yost and crew stacked them on top of each other like a gun-toting, wise-cracking, 30-foot tall sentient totem pole, and the result was one of the most enjoyable hours of television in recent memory. — DG
Yup, I stand by all of that. If any episode of television approached the territory of the first two entries on this list, for my money, it was this one. Stay frosty, Justified.
Veep, “Running” — The episode of Veep that snagged Julia Louis Dreyfus yet another Emmy may have been the finest, funniest episode of the series’ run. Taking its inspiration from a similar incident in which series creator Armando Iannucci walked into a glass door and shattered it with his face, Vice President Selena Meyers does so at one of the more crucial moments in her career, the day before she decides to resign from the ticket and run for presidency, though in her chemically imbalanced state (hopped up on anti-depressants and St. John’s Wart), she inadvertently misleads the press into thinking she’s running sooner than she meant to suggest, after she announces she’s “running” in a 10K the next day. The entire episode smartly mixed slapstick, the show’s cutting verbal insults, drug-humor, the honesty that comes from intoxication, and the biggest plot turn of the series run in brilliant, hilarious fashion. — DR