“The Keepers” – The Testimony of Jane Doe
“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.
“Girls” – The Penis
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.
“The 2017 Oscars” – The Mistake
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.
“Planet Earth II” – The Iguana and The Snake
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.
“Dear White People” – The Cop Call
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.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” – The Gender Traitor
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.
“The Leftovers” – The Time Jump
“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.