5. “Premature Theories” (“American Vandal”)
This is it. The documentary is viral. Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez, “Every Witch Way”) turns from a high school nobody into one of the biggest names on campus. But the mystery in question is no closer to being solved. In this episode of the year's most unexpectedly poignant and hilarious comedy, Peter and his companion detective Sam (Griffin Gluck, “Back in the Game”) peruse through a series of Snapchat videos taken at an infamous party a couple days before the crime to trace the path of the crime weapon (a spray paint can) and also absolve the number one suspect, Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro, “22 Jump Street”). The episode provides some of the most realistic depictions of teenage social media use and social interactions ever seen on a TV show and makes some substantial progress in actually solving the crime. It features some of the funniest graphical depictions of important events yet and provides the best examples of how the documentary creators treat the most inane of crimes with utmost seriousness.
— Sayan Ghosh, Daily Arts Writer
In just the third episode of the series, “The Handmaid’s Tale” delivers one of the most important moments of the show in the last few seconds of “Late,” and does so without uttering a single word. Ofglen (Alexis Bledel, “Gilmore Girls”), or Emily — as her name is revealed to be in the series — has been silent for the entirety of the 50-minute episode. Yet, enveloped in bare white walls, she turns to the sky and releases a cutting, primal scream that jumps through the screen and sits into every pore of the viewer’s skin. It is a single, remarkable second in an equally impressive episode — one that speaks more towards the anger and frustration that the characters face more than words could. The scream captures desperation and desire, anger and grief, and it punctuates a perfect ending to a brutal, memorable episode. Offred wrestles with the internal conflict of understanding that pregnancy allows her to escape torture, yet birth means having her baby ripped away. There are distinct undertones of control — both the control the patriarch has over these women through such mind games, and the lack of control in Gilead as the Sons of Jacob extend their power. The cinematography in the episode is gripping, and the music that accompanies it ironic yet frightening. By the episode’s end, the viewer is left questioning the sheer horror that taints every aspect of life in this world, and they must prepare themselves for the seven episodes that still remain.
— Samantha Della Fera, Daily Arts Writer
3. “Chapter V” (“Dear White People”)
“Not everything that is faced can be changed,” the narrator laments in the first line of “Chapter V,” “But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” These words not only capture the activist essence of “Dear White People,” but foreshadow the climactic moment that makes this episode as vital as it is. The episode focuses on Reggie Green (Marque Richardson, “Pick Up”) the quiet intellectual in the cast of characters whose dedication to and understanding of civil rights is unmatched by anyone else in his group. In the cold open, Reggie faces all of the microaggressions that any young Black man is accustomed to. A white woman runs from him at an ATM, a coach mistakes him as one of his players, a white professor claims that all men are created equal, no matter what certain “divisive hashtags” say. Reggie knows how his upscale liberal arts college views him, and he’s able to go through his life without giving it much thought. But later in the episode, he faces something that shatters the artificial ignorance he’s built up. The cops are called at a college party, and once the commotion clears, Reggie is staring down the barrel of a police officer’s gun, facing his own mortality and the possibility of becoming yet another “divisive” hashtag. In one moment, a young Black man’s life was nearly taken, giving the characters of the show and the rest of us in the real world reason and motivation to keep fighting.
— Samantha Della Fera, Daily Arts Writer
2. “The Book of Nora” (“The Leftovers”)
Every TV show deserves a happy ending — even one as grim and ominous as “The Leftovers.” Thankfully, co-creators Damon Lindelof (“Lost”) and Tom Perrotta (“Little Children”) delivered a finale for “The Leftovers” that was equal parts immensely satisfying and devastating. A clear-eyed, near-perfect culmination to a clear-eyed, near-perfect season, “The Book of Nora” felt transcendent in its writing, acting, direction, music and cinematography. Not only did it offer some plausible answers to the many ambiguous existential questions posed throughout the series, but it also gave the show’s arguably most afflicted character Nora Durst (Carrie Coon, “The Post”) a hopeful, redemptive sendoff.
So many striking, poignant moments populated the last episode: Nora and her brother Matt (Christopher Eccleston, “Doctor Who”) exchanging their final goodbye, Nora methodically sauntering toward the dimension-switching portal, a reunited older Nora and Kevin (Justin Theroux, “The Lego Ninjago Movie”) slow-dancing to Otis Redding’s somber “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember.” But nothing came remotely close to the last 10 haunting minutes, in which Nora gives a monologue worthy of a standing ovation. She presents Kevin with an explanation to the show’s core calamity: What happened to the two percent of the world’s population that disappeared? Kevin, though deeply heartbroken from years of separation, reaffirms her story with three beautiful words: “I believe you.” The rewarding takeaway from this final scene isn’t just that we find out the truth, but that we recognize that it might not even be the actual truth. “The Leftovers” was never just about how we grapple with loss and suffering; it was also about how overcoming loss and suffering can help renew a long-lost connection.
— Sam Rosenberg, Senior Arts Editor
1. “Thanksgiving” (“Master of None”)
“Master of None” has this sublime quality; it effortlessly acts as a storyteller of the deeply-rooted battles of our generation. The Emmy-winning “Thanksgiving,” written by Aziz Ansari (“Parks and Recreation”) and Lena Waithe (“Dear White People”), shares a coming-out story spanning decades of family dinners, earnestly based on Waithe’s own adolescence. In this 30-minute masterpiece, Denise’s (Waithe) exploration of her true identity is at first repressed by delicate pink dresses and a conservative Black family instilling in her the “proper” way to dress and behave. But with her best friend Dev’s (Ansari) unending support and pop culture’s increasing liberation, Denise progressively embraces all that she is and prompts her family to do the same.
What makes this portrayal all the more monumental is the raw racial and cultural representation necessary for the gradual processing of Denise’s revelation. Throughout the episode, Dev and Denise — two minorities — sit anxiously in Denise’s room, hopeful once again that Denise’s identity will not cause any strain on this year’s Thanksgiving. In a similar way, Denise’s impassioned mother remains skeptical towards Denise’s sexuality — not out of hostility, but out of concern that being a black female lesbian will triple the odds against her daughter.
Ultimately, this episode tops the list because of its honesty — in acting, social commentary and intimate undertones. With a nuanced narration of a real-life occurrence, “Thanksgiving” invites us to journey along the path of self-evolution in search of a point where things are largely alright.
— Morgan Rubino, Daily Arts Writer