Big 10: TV’s Most Tense Times


I’m incredibly pleased to say that there are some really exciting moments and episodes on TV this year that made my clutch at my chest, even in a sea of boring dishwater sitcoms and other network disappointments. I sure got a lot of adrenaline out of it, half the time thinking, Is this what a heart attack feels like?! And yes, there is lots of death and violence involved. Surely there would be no better way to emotionally beat you up.

If you don’t plan on catching any of these shows, you might just want to look up the episode the scenes belong to. They’re usually pretty worth it as standalones and could give you good reason to eat the whole season up – obviously, these scenes are infinitely more powerful when you’ve understood and seen all that’s led up to that moment.

Chosen for their expertly crafted acting/directing/camera work, I present to you my list of most exciting bits of TV this year!

Boardwalk Empire – Owen-In-A-Box

from Season 3, Episode 10, “A Man, A Plan…”

Everyone was certain Owen was going to bite the dust but nobody knew it was going to be this soon, especially after his long and lovey chat about running away with Margaret. Who knew that the scene of him entering the bathhouse to kill Masseria would be the last time we ever saw him alive? Not showing how his death played out was the smartest editing decision anyone’s made on this show.

And following it up with the extended cut of Margaret and Owen and all the hopes and possibilities they shared together? Never finding out if Owen was bullshitting? The song at the END! Terence Winter, you dangled, you squashed, you gloated, and it HURTS.

Boardwalk Empire – Richard Harrow, the Gentle Killing Machine

from Season 3, Episode 12, “Margate Sands”

We know Harrow to be this gentle soul who wants to be loved, and there are the times when he puts on his scary marksman shoes and murders everyone in sight like a skilled contract killer. 47 would be ashamed.

The situation is that The Artemis Club, overrun by Masseria’s men, is now slowly emptying out as the big boss pulls out his muscle for another deal. Recently banished from the club, Harrow activates Terminator mode to save his late best friend’s son Tommy, and guns down everyone who gets in his way. What a hero. It’s kind of comical, but chilling (that it could seem comical) at the same time.

Sons of Anarchy – Opie Meets A Laying Pipe

from Season 5, Episode 3, “Laying Pipe”


Opie and Jax, BFFs since they were in diapers. After Donna’s death, it was a steady downward spiral of depression and emptiness for Opie, but we always saw it – no matter how deep he was in his pit of despair, he would climb back out of it just for Jax and love him until his dying day, even when they were fighting and disagreeing on all sorts of shit. He was the one who rooted Jax in the club’s vision and pulled him back from becoming Clay.

Forced to give up one of his guys to sacrifice to Damon Pope’s ridiculous demands for tribute, Jax refuses to pick a person, but before he can volunteer himself, Opie steps in for his final act of friendship. Rough enough that it was time for his inevitable end, but worse that Jax, Tig (Pope’s initial request), and Chibs had to helplessly watch it go down. Three prison brutes, beating the crap out of faultless Opie, the rest not being able to do jack except watch him fight for his life, and fall to his knees with a bitter smile at the huge cosmic joke of life. Then he’s overwhelmed, finally meeting his end with a laying pipe to the head. Sniff.

The Walking Dead – Maggie and Carl’s Knife

We’ve spent all season hating Lori and her idiocy, but the moment Maggie laid her down and realised that they had to cut her open, the call of death was clear. As much as I despised the Lori character, it was particularly well-handled and emotional (poor Carl), kept quite realistic and sensible (no lengthy goodbyes, just saying what was needed to be said to help Carl deal with it), and most of all, really awful to watch someone sliced open and have their baby literally dug out of them. Ouch. A life come and gone just like that.

On top of the birthing gore, Carl had to put a bullet in his mum’s head, Maggie needed to make sure that the baby was alive, and everyone outside didn’t know to be happy or sad about the baby being born. That was kind of upsetting.

Breaking Bad – Ninja Train Robbery

from Season 5, Episode 5, “Dead Freight”

breaking bad

If there’s one Breaking Bad episode that showcased killer editing and direction, it’s the train robbery that happens in Dead Freight. Obviously, I can’t put up a video of the entire thing, but I promise that it’s one of the few episodes that can make you claw your face from wondering if they’ll get caught or killed.

The first time you hear them plan their great train heist, you think, “Yeah, right,” because it’s seems near impossible. They have to stop a train along a communications dead zone, siphon out gallons of methylamine and replace it with water, all without letting the transporters know what’s going on OR let the higher ups realise that their goods have been stolen.

But then they actually do it. The cleverness of the plan, along with how brilliantly it was executed is pure action gold. To see them halt the train with a careful distraction, stick to their schedule, and still making sure that Jesse seals all valves before the train continues on its way is nail-bitingly awesome.

Scour the net for this episode, it’s totally worth it.

Dexter – I’m In Love With You, Dex

from Season 7, Episode 8, “Argentina”

After the icky revelation that Deb got from the Worst Psychiatrist In The Universe about being in love with her brother, the topic died off, only to resurface after Deb finds out that Dexter is a serial killer. But thanks to Jennifer Carpenter’s spot-on acting, Deb’s confession to him is extra tragic. The sputtering, how she spends the first minutes of their conversation nearly begging him not to date Hannah like an insecure jealous girlfriend, the way she blurts her confession and how she’s so disgusted with herself for even thinking it – it’s all so sad and pitiful that Dexter’s response only makes it seems like he’s being an asshole when in truth, it’s perfectly okay to not to reciprocate your sister’s romantic feelings for you. This could’ve gone very awfully, but Carpenter nailed it. She played off Hall’s stunned vibes perfectly. Kudos to her for helping in the delivery of a particularly tricky plot milestone.

Game of Thrones – Wildfire at Blackwater Bay

from Season 2, Episode 9, “Blackwater”

Everything’s been building up to this point where all of Stannis’ shit starts raining down on King’s Landing, and it looks like Joffrey’s miniscule forces are about to be crushed like a little insect. Tyrion knows this, and for quite some time now. So what’s a Lannister to do when he knows the odds are against him?

He plans.

As Davos tells his men to stand fast in the face of a single galley – suspicious as it is – he catches sight of neon green wildfire bleeding from the empty ship’s sides. It’s Tyrion’s cunning. Before you know it, Tyrion gives Bronn the signal and he looses an arrow with Olympic precision -with a wrenching pause as it soars through the air – and sends the entire Baratheon fleet ablaze in the grandest pyrotechnic display I’ve ever seen on TV. Beautiful, disastrous, breathtaking, majestic. Wonderfully orchestrated. Even the sense of wonderment and fear on everyone’s face is little but a tiny reflection of my own reaction to it. The show is unafraid of scale, and it’s all the better for audiences who tune in.

American Horror Story: Asylum – Lana Has the Worst Luck

from Season 2, Episode 4 to 7, “I Am Anne Frank”, “The Origins of Monstrosity” and “Dark Cousin”

Lana Banana

This isn’t a single moment, but I’m pretty sure that any time Lana comes onscreen it means that we’re about to be subjected to something very disturbing. Having to be deeply closeted in an era of unforgiving discrimination is bad enough, but being institutionalized for it?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Poor Lana, in a desperate attempt to free herself from being unjustly committed, volunteers to Threadson’s radical aversion/conversion therapy where tries to condition her – warning, this is graphic – by masturbating in front of a waif-like man and ingesting nausea-inducing chemicals while viewing slideshows of sexy women as a means to kill her lesbianism. Terrifying. That’s not all. Not only does Threadson manipulate her into putting all her trust in him, he helps her escape Briarcliff… only to trap her in his torture basement where he reveals himself to be a cold murderer and a rapist with severe mommy issues.

We’re not done. As Lana finds a way out and pulls over a random driver, she discovers that he is a bitter misogynist who kills himself while driving. The car crashes. She wakes up, and oh look, where else could she be? Back in Briarcliff Manor. All irritation I ever had for her in the beginning has drained away like the blood from my face as I witness every horror this show subjected her to. All the more disturbing because as sensational AHS makes the cruelties out to be, they are, in a way, a partial projection of what actually goes on in the world. Shiver me timbers.

Fringe – Peter, Is That You?

from Season 5, Episode 5, “An Origin Story”


Fringe stomped on their pedal and launched straight into season 5, taking huge risks to continue with their plans to survive the dystopian Observer-run world of the future. It’s all fun and games until Peter turns a Resistance mission into a personal avenging of Etta by interrogating an Observer, not to save the world, but to mess with its mind. And mind games were had, let me tell you that, as he tries to gain one over a captured Observer.

A father’s love is forever; this is Peter’s swan song. So when he kills the Observer and extracts its technology only to insert it directly into his own brain, it sets in motion a series of events that you know can only end in misfortune and ultimately, doom. As he slowly takes on the abilities and later on, mannerisms of an Observer at an alarming rate, you realise that we’re at the point of no return, and this final season means it. Oh, Peter. This is not going to end well.

The Walking Dead – Head!Tank Scuffle

from Season 3, Episode 8, “Made To Suffer”

I would’ve put the Daryl and Merle reunion here if we had a little more than just teary eyes and the Governor turning the town against them. Maybe people found that Michonne versus the Governor wasn’t as great as the Dixon brothers’ moment, but I personally thought that the brawl brought the most adrenaline. Really well-choreographed and interlaced with raw emotion, from the Governor begging for Penny’s unlife, to Michonne nearly being zombie nibbles, to Andrea showing up and pointing a gun at her former comrade. Let’s not forget the eye stab with the glass shard either. I nearly bit my tongue when he shoved her head through the zombie head tanks and hoped to god that Andrea wouldn’t shoot Michonne in the back. Whew. High octane stuff. Now we just have to wait for next year to see if the third season of the Walking Dead is, in its entirety, the best television season of the decade.

2 thoughts on “Big 10: TV’s Most Tense Times

  1. Good to see B-walk on there twice. Rewatching the season again I could say the Bone for Tuna episode where Gyp decides he’s going to light the fat Sheriff on fire or the bombing at Babettes to be up there.

    1. Had a tough time choosing for BE, I was thinking of Babette’s bombing but it was more of a snap shock like cutting off Hershel’s leg. Fuck Gyp, man.

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