Ah, the gotcha moments: Some of the most memorable scenes on television are the ones that no one sees coming. They sweep you off your feet and slam you to the floor. You’re appalled, angered, overjoyed, jumping up and down or utterly speechless. These are TV’s most shocking moments, and 2017 has already seen its fair share of stunning twists.
Below, we’ve collected the most shocking scenes of the year so far. Some are dramatic and overpowering. Others are hilarious and exciting. The only mandate is that they happened on TV in the past six months, so sit back, relax, and prepare to be stunned all over again… and again, and again, and again.
[Editor’s Note: We’ve done our best to keep spoilers out of the bolded titles and photos, but read the explanations with caution if you’re worried about being exposed to major secrets.]
Literally everything about “Twin Peaks” has been surprising — Dougie, talking heads floating through space, its very existence — but when “The Return” revealed a character we’ve never seen before, her arrival changed the game forever. For years, decades even, there was an argument over whether or not we should have ever seen Diane, the mysterious secretary Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) always spoke to when recording his thoughts. Some argued we had to meet her, now that “Twin Peaks” was coming back, while others said it was better to keep her a mysterious, inexplicable force in Cooper’s life. Still others thought she didn’t even exist. Well she does, and she looks a lot like a pissed off Laura Dern. Whether you love her, hate her, or still think she’s a figment of Cooper’s imagination, the arrival of Diane is a major shift for a series built on constant unpredictability.
“The Detour,” aside from being one of the most loving portraits of family on TV right now, has never shied away from especially disgusting moments. (This was the show, after all, that prominently featured projectile vomiting during Season 1’s roadtrip from hell.) But early on in this second season, as a jarring wake-up call to the realities of life in the Parkers’ new home of New York City, father Nate comes face-to-face with a very unexpected consequence of home birth. Running around his neighbors’ apartment, Nate tumbles headfirst into a kiddie pool filled with assorted, natural by-products of the birthing process. As Nate emerges from the pool with his face covered in stringy goop (the makeup/effects team earned their paycheck on this one), the look of sheer terror on Jason Jones’s face is a fair representation of what we’re guessing the average audience reaction was. The baby turned out just fine, but the miracle of life has never been quite this surprising.
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Throughout the opening episode of John Ridley’s miniseries about underground revolutionaries in 1970s London, there’s an undeniable feeling that a storm is coming. As the pieces are meticulously set in place for the drastic action of freeing political prisoner Dhari Bishop, one of the bits of preparation involves preparing shards of shattered glass. Watching Freda Pinto’s Jas have to smuggle the mixture into the prison is harrowing enough. But when the time comes for Dhari to make his escape, he takes some of the glass in his hand and considers it just long enough before swallowing all of it whole. It’s a horrific sequence to imagine, delivered with enough patience for the audience to realize what’s about to transpire mere seconds before it happens. Nathaniel Martello-White — the series’ unsung, simmering standout — plays both the act and the aftermath with the fortitude to make the viewer care about his cause.
It’s not so much what Hannah (Katherine Langford) did in that bathtub that was shocking — it was how much we saw happen. All season long, we’ve known that Hannah took her own life, but the series leaned on a mystery format to draw us in, make us work for the details… until we get a painful amount of information, all at once. Hannah cleans her room, climbs into a full bathtub, and slits her wrists, complete with a close-up on the actual razor slicing her skin.
It’s one of the most controversial moments of television this year, with many critics deeply concerned that it was so explicit that it bordered on exploitative. In a recent interview with IndieWire, director Kyle Patrick Alvarez said that he felt “it needed to be presented, because I think that omitting it, in fact, actually creates more trouble. It actually creates the ability for the audience to romanticize or kind of glorify in their minds.” Whatever side you fall on, there’s no doubt that it left an impression.
We’ve seen it before: flirtatious strangers at a bar who eventually end up back in someone’s bedroom for a impromptu encounter. What happened shortly thereafter in the pilot episode of “American Gods” set it apart from all other 2017 sex scenes entirely. Right at the height of passion, the unsuspecting, unnamed man slowly finds his way being willingly absorbed directly into his partner until he disappears. Bilquis’ sheer ecstasy of power made this more than just a dominant show of sexuality. It was a reminder that in this world, anything can happen, especially when the insatiable needs of the gods of lore demand to be met. We can’t wait to see what more Yetide Badaki gets to do in Season 2 (and we’re wondering how this changes the way we’ll rewatch Freddy Rumsen episodes of “Mad Men”).
Losing any of the beloved “sestras” on “Orphan Black” was bound to be painful in the final season, but the manner in which the show viciously kills off MK (Tatiana Maslany) is a scene we wish could’ve been rewritten. When Ferdinand (James Frain) sees MK in a Rachel (Maslany) wig and realizes who she is, his crazed brain conflates the two: he hates MK for past indignities and stealing his money and still desires his ex-lover Rachel, who recently rebuffed his sexual advances. Ferdinand basically stomps MK to death by slamming his foot into her chest repeatedly. The camera doesn’t cut away fast enough, and her death is all far too convincing and inevitable. “Orphan Black” may be ending, but it will not go gentle into that good night.
Continue reading for more shocking moments from 2017, including traitors, snakes, and one doozy of a time jump.
“The Keepers” proved to be a bit mysterious initially, luring us into the series by introducing a murder mystery (“Who killed Sister Cathy?”) and the two former students who haven’t given up on investigating it. But Episode 2 escalated the level of drama — maybe even horror — by putting on screen the testimony of Jane Doe, whose sexual abuse by two priests may be intricately tied to that murder. With just her words, Ms. Doe’s survival itself becomes a remarkable thing. Perhaps the most shocking thing about this episode is how brave she is, in confronting her past.
With any other actor, would this episode — this moment — have worked quite as well? Luckily, Matthew Rhys said yes so we’ll never have to know. In a one-off appearance as Chuck, a writer who invites Hannah (Lena Dunham) to his apartment for an intimate discussion about power and consent, Chuck is forthright in his belief that he’s done nothing wrong in his interactions with young women, but is also likeable and relatable enough that when Hannah goes into his bedroom, we feel like there’s a chance that things won’t get weird.
Of course, then things get super-weird, as Chuck exposes himself to Hannah and Hannah, almost unconsciously, engages. It’s not so much that we saw a (fake) penis, but that we saw Hannah’s reaction to it. A masterclass in awkward horror, “American Bitch” lingers with us — even if the penis was fake, that didn’t make the scene feel any less real.
Given the fractured way that most of us experience TV these days, the number of these types of shocking moments that everyone experiences collectively is getting smaller and smaller. It’s what made this year’s completely unprecedented Oscars ending so unfathomable in the moment. The instantaneous swirling emotions of joy, confusion, triumph and bewilderment, all in the span of 45 seconds is something we’ll simply never again. And unlike so many of these other moments that took weeks and months to make their way into the collective social consciousness, there was no spoiler alert needed (or possible). Jordan Horwitz instantly sailed into the meme pantheon and Barry Jenkins and the “Moonlight” team accepted their honor with similar grace and respect. A twin reminder of unpredictability and humility, the end result is a Best Picture winner that has more than earned its spot among the greats.
In both its first and second editions, “Planet Earth” hasn’t been afraid to get dark. Sure, the BBC docu-series is as inspiring as it is gorgeous in the long run, but discussing life on our planet can’t avoid certain tragedies inherent to nature (as well as mankind’s interaction with it). So when an unsuspecting iguana was surrounded, chased down, and enveloped by a herd of snakes, it felt like the end of our new little reptilian friend.
But hope springs eternal, just like the iguana sprung from the clutches of a snake pile and bounded to freedom. Even after escaping what looked like certain death, it was inches from being dragged to its death. The quick fella ascended to safety instead, in a chase to rival any other this year in both drama and beauty. The brief scene went from heartbreaking to inspiring as fast as the internet made the clip viral, but “Iguana v. Snake” will be a terrifying success story we won’t soon forget.
Even with Giancarlo Esposito’s clever foreshadowing, we didn’t see this ending coming. In the fifth episode of “Dear White People,” the socially conscious Netflix comedy shifted gears from dissecting the ignorant motivations of a blackface party to tackling one of the most frightening recurrent racial problems in America. And it started at another party.
When a white friend wouldn’t stop loudly rapping the n-word, even when asked to stop by Reggie (Marque Richardson), tempers flared and a ruckus started. Though it never got out of hand, the cops were called and a gun was pulled… on the black kid, of course. Reggie, an advocate for racial equality and increased diversity all his life, suddenly faced a harsh reality impossible to imagine no matter how aware you’ve been, and “Dear White People” brought nuanced drama to a sharply satirical comedy.
It introduced fear into a world that should be without it, and that’s what made the twist (if you can even call it that) so effective. No one wants to think it would happen to them, especially during a fun night out, but this issue won’t go away simply by forgetting it exists.
While “The Handmaid’s Tale” has always included difficult subject matter given its premise — a world where fertile women are treated as property to be raped for the prestige breeding of high-ranking government men — it surpassed even those horrors in the series’ third episode, “Late.” We see one woman swiftly, almost casually hung for being a “gender traitor,” aka homosexual, and after her lover Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) witnesses this, she has her own punishment to face. Because she is a fertile woman and still has value in Gilead, the court shows “mercy” by forcing her to undergo female genital mutilation. In a world where this sickening abuse is still practiced, “The Handmaid’s Tale” took the Margaret Atwood’s next logical, awful conclusion. Ofglen’s face as she silently screamed anguish still haunts us to this day.
“Who the hell is Sarah?!” It was the shout heard round the world at the end of a stirring Season 3 premiere, when a sudden jump to an unknown time and an unknown place revealed a woman who looked a lot like Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), but had to be at least 15 years older. She also went by another name, Sarah, and claimed a little too emphatically not to know anyone named Kevin. How is that possible?
The quick scene shared just enough to prompt dozens of theories: Sarah is Nora’s twin sister! Sarah is Nora’s evil clone! Sarah is Nora in Kevin’s hotel world! But we didn’t get a definitive answer…well, ever. Not really. We were eventually told that Sarah was Nora, a few decades in the future, but we’ll never really know if she went through the LADR or not. That’s more than fine by us, but what’s important about the twist to end Episode 1 is how well it set up a season of surprises. We were ready for anything after Sarah’s reveal, and “The Leftovers” gave us more than we could have ever imagined.
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