According to calendars, summer doesn’t officially start until June 21st, but in the TV world, you know it’s summer when you have a chance to catch your breath after half a year of crazy plot twists. What were some of the scenes and moments that left us gasping for air? You might have your favorites, but nine of ours are below.
“Game of Thrones”: The Purple Wedding
Okay, maybe it wasn’t a huge shock that a wedding reception in Westeros didn’t end well. But for anyone who hadn’t read the books, the conclusion of (the awful) King Joffrey’s wedding to Margaery Tyrell felt both drawn out and awfully abrupt at the same time. Joffrey’s comeuppance was more than overdue, and what ended up happening was both the most apt sort of justice and oddly not quite cruel enough. The shock was that it happened at all; the chaser was that it still fell short of what Joffrey deserved.
(Meanwhile, according to those who have read the books, this Sunday’s season finale will likely blow the Purple Wedding out of the water. So get ready.)
“Scandal”: Dying in the Street Does Not Look Like Fun
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Some would argue that Season 3 of “Scandal” pushed the show over the edge from captivating drama to captivating trash, but that’s the price a show pays when its reputation is based on amazing twists and shocking moments. And “Scandal” harnessed the power of the serialized narrative like no other show this year when episode 13, “No Sun on the Horizon,” ended with a classic “Who got shot?” cliffhanger that nonetheless left us gasping for a whole week. When the victim was revealed in the next episode, it wasn’t a huge surprise, but it was still a game-changing moment for the series with major repercussions.
“The Good Wife”: Dying in a Courtroom Also Looks Unpleasant
The Julianna Margulies-starring legal drama had never been a hot topic of conversation (despite developing a reputation over five seasons for quality acting and writing). That all changed, though, when series regular Josh Charles left the show in one of the most permanent ways possible. Yeah, that’s a spoiler, but it’s hard to imagine that you missed hearing about the dramatic and unexpected shooting that killed off Charles’ character, completely changed the tone of the season and broke my heart just a little bit. But there was one minor bonus: It did bring Michael J. Fox (who had some time on his hands) back to the show for several episodes.
“The Americans”: The Tragic Loss of “Comrades”
Undercover Russian agents Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) have always seemed relatively isolated by their secrets, but the Season 2 premiere of the FX drama revealed that they did have a few friends who understood them — specifically, the Conners, another pair of spies also raising teenage children in America. However, almost as quickly as they were introduced, the Conners met a bloody end, and the mystery of who was behind their deaths haunted the rest of the season. The only thing more shocking than the moment when Philip discovered the bodies? The season finale, which revealed whodunnit in the most tragic way.
“Mad Men”: Ginsberg’s Nipple
That’s all I need to say to “Mad Men” fans about this scene from “The Runaways,” in which the always vaguely unstable Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) reveals to Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) just how far he’d fallen. This season, Peggy was a harder character to like than usual, but in that moment she and the audience were on the exact same page.
“True Detective”: A Star Wins an Oscar, Because of TV?
Thanks to the revolution of great television that’s occurred in the last decade or so, established and respected movie stars are no longer strangers to TV drama. But when Matthew McConaughey won the Oscar for Best Actor this spring, the reason might have had less to do with his work in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” and more to do with HBO’s critical darling “True Detective.” As our on Ben Travers wrote earlier this year: “The recent Academy Award winner could not have had a better campaign than voters watching ‘True Detective’ every Sunday night from January to March.” Is this the first time an Oscar has gone to an actor who was at that time crushing it on television? History might have other examples, but it was certainly a groundbreaking moment.
“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD”: Rescued by Captain America
Expectations were high for the Joss Whedon-created series, which aimed to bring Marvel’s blockbuster superhero franchises to ABC on a smaller scale, with a smaller budget. But “SHIELD” stalled out in its early episodes, due to weak scripts and a cast that struggled to gel, and things weren’t looking great — to the point that Marvel, not willing to give up on television, began developing another spin-off series (“Agent Carter,” which was greenlit for midseason next year).
But when April’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (literally) blew up the SHIELD organization, that game-changing plot twist ended up being the best thing that could have happened to “Agents.” The episodes that followed “Winter Soldier” not only acknowledged the events of the film, but used them to bring new energy to the series. “SHIELD”‘s first season wrapped much stronger than it started; given the show’s very rough start, that in itself was a shock.
“Parks and Recreation”: The Great Leap Forward
Ever since “Battlestar Galactica” leaped forward a year at the end of its second season, time jumps have become a great way to shake up the status quo of a series. But while you don’t see it happen all that often on a sitcom, if any comedy was going to try it it’d be “Parks and Recreation.” The final minutes of this spring’s season finale jumped three years forward, allowing Leslie Knope to leapfrog over the professional and personal milestones she was facing and tease viewers with a whole new set of challenges — like Jon Hamm not being perfect at something. (That was a pretty big surprise, too.)
“Hannibal”: Pretty Much EVERYTHING
The second season of “Hannibal” packed more crazy twists and beautifully shot grotesquerie into 13 episodes than “Game of Thrones” has managed in four seasons. There was the face-eating, the art piece made of people sewn to other people (thankfully, not “Human Centipede” style), the extremely stabby season finale, the maybe-fivesome that included a metaphorical stag… Not to mention Gillian Anderson showing up! The biggest shock of all might be that this show not only airs on network television, but got renewed for a third season, but we’re glad it did. Each week, “Hannibal” found new ways to horrify its audience, but those moments proved more than bearable — because they were so much FUN. Isn’t that what makes these twists so exciting?