"Every morning I break my legs, and every afternoon I break my arms."
Matt Fowler, TV Critic for IGN. Complaining about things in between meals since 1874.
10: Boss – “Stasis”
Not everyone connected with (or even watched) Boss, but I found it to be utterly hypnotic. And unsettling. Yes, with shows like Dexter, American Horror Story and Walking Dead on the air, this was the most frightening series; uniquely operating on both a grounded and heightened level, with absurd Shakespearian power plays being given the overcast, drab docu-feel. In this tragic penultimate Season 1 episode, Kelsey Grammer’s Chicago Mayor Tom Kane surprised the hell out of me with a sad, loathsome last-ditch PR move to save his own ass.
9: Justified – “Cottonmouth”
Much like Boyd himself, it didn’t seem like the writers completely knew what to do with the born-again Crowder clan member at the beginning of Season 2. That is until Boyd deftly and righteously turns the tables on a gang of bumbling bandits out to use, and then kill, him while trying to rob the coalmine he works at. A pivitol episode that allowed Boyd to leave his Season 1-self behind.
8: The Walking Dead – “Save the Last One”
Giving us a nice, demented twist at the very end, this episode took us, via flashbacks, through Shane and Otis’ harrowing ordeal while trying to escape a zombie-infested high school while instantly making Shane into the show’s most interesting character. More than any other episode it made us all ask “What would I do to survive?” as Shane’s questionable actions ultimately saved Carl’s life.
7: Parks and Recreation – “Ron and Tammys”
One of the rare non-Leslie/Ben episodes of this season that saw Patricia Clarkson enter the scene as Ron’s creepy first wife; an overly “integral” person in Ron’s life who was out to, of course, steal his buried gold. Plus, an old-fashioned prairie drink-off FTW!
6: Fringe – “The Day We Died”
Fringe’s Season 3 left us with a great, grim alternate-future episode that culminated in a devastating twist. Unfortunately, Season 4 hasn’t quite been able to match up with events that were set up (and un-set up) in this finale.
5: Boardwalk Empire – “Under God’s Power She Flourishes”
Oedipus Wrecks. While Nucky’s story was told in the usual style, all the scenes with Michael Pitt’s Jimmy were flashbacks to his life just days before he left his pregnant wife to join the army. And as shocking as some of the scenes were (including the infamous scene I hope no one watched with their parents), this episode helped us both understand, and care about, Jimmy for the first time.
4: Community – “Remedial Chaos Theory”
"Just so you know, you are now creating six different timelines." Yes, it’s both a shame, and a big fat “no wonder,” that Community has never been able find a larger audience. Even by a small margin. But “doing something that’s never been done before” in comedy is always going to push you out of the mainstream. And so, with a roll of the dice at Troy and Abed’s house-warming party, Community paradigm-shifted the hell out of NBC’s Thursday night lineup; probably sealing its own doom in the process. But you know me. Any episode of TV that has you consulting graphs and charts afterwards is good stuff.
3: Homeland – “The Weekend”
This was the game-changing swerve episode that AMC’s The Killing made the mistake of trying to pull off in their finale. Homeland did it half-way through the season and beautifully steered the rest of the show into a bold new direction. Claire Danes and Damian Lewis were freakin’ tremendous too.
2: Breaking Bad – “Salud”
This jaw-dropping episode (from my favorite series) saw Walter Jr. track down a “loaded up on painkillers” Walter after he missed his birthday party and Gus take Jesse down to Mexico with a secret plan to rid himself of the Cartel forever. While many will point to “Crawl Space” and Cranston’s final scene of startling mania as an example of his acting, I’d pick this episode, which actually saw his character take a bit of a backseat, as the best example, with a freshly beaten Walter trying to talk to his son about the few memories he had of his own father.
1: Game of Thrones – “Baelor”
Having read all of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (that have been written so far), this was the episode I was waiting for. Because I wanted to see how it played on TV and how Game of Thrones viewers who hadn’t read the novel would react to a great, historic moment of “audience contempt.” And while Sean Bean’s Ned Stark faced judgment on the steps of the Sept of Baelor, poor Daenerys made a pact with a witch to try and save Khal Drogo’s life.