2016 MOST SURPRISING EPISODES I SAW THIS YEAR
Game of Thrones s06.e05 - "The Door"
We have hit an interesting period in the history of adaptations: TV shows now routinely outpace their novelized source material. With author George R.R. Martin unable to keep up with the annual production cycle of television, and showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss all out of wordcount to adapt, it's been officially announced that each Game of Thrones series will trace its own end to the story. Many book fans denounce the show for questionable inclusions and crippling omissions, but “The Door” masterfully demonstrates the advantages of visual storytelling. I mean, most of the episode is familiar politicking. New contenders arrive to challenge family titles; wicked red women are summoned to the cause of of royal propaganda; a fan-favourite confronts PTSD watching a peasant play, in which even buffoons mock her father's earnest ignorance. But I’ve scarcely seen movies that squeeze the air from my lungs as tangibly as "The Door's" final reveal, which ties one seemingly meaningless detail into an elaborate, transdimensional plot device which will surely go on to determine the rest of the course of the story. The tragedy of this truth is delivered expertly, incrementally, jump-cutting between characters and moments until all is clear -- this kind of reveal just cannot connect from the page as it can from the screen. All the historic hopelessness and fantastical romance and moral ambiguity in between — the flesh and bone of Game of Thrones, book or show — is on proud display in this mid-season climax, and left each viewer hungrier for more than ever before.
Black Mirror - "San Junipero"
Happiness, sadness, anger, and fear comprise the primary colours of human emotion. But you know what’s missing? Nostalgia. Nostalgia’s all four of those at once — the happy memory, the sadness that it’s gone, the anger that people don’t get it, the fear it’ll be forgotten — but it’s uniquely contagious, too. I think we can feel nostalgic for a youth we never even had, and Black Mirror’s mid-season zinger absolutely nails this. Saturated pink-and-teal neon signs, shoulder-popping dancefloor swagger, oversize wool blazers, brazen mullets and the dull pounding of drum-machine synth pop through the club’s backdoor deliver us to the richest, most earnest throwback to the naive charm of the 1980's I’ve seen in years. San Junipero casts this era as somehow intrinsically nostalgic, enviably familiar - even to those of us who may not have lived it. Either way, the episode implies that every timeline exists in this ideal hologram, populated with the digital ghosts who remember it from the prime of their own lives. Most of Black Mirror deviously excludes happiness from its Sisyphean speculations in the Five-Years-From-Now future setting, so it seems only fitting that writer Charlie Brooker’s only depiction of the past is also his happiest. San Junipero lives in the key of teen romance. The whole arc of the episode is setting you up, as the audience, to appreciate that death isn’t the end; it is merely the transition of your soul into another world, a world forged from all your best dreams and memories. There are cynical turns - its version of VR heaven really is a place where nothing ever happens - but for the absolutely vividly portrayed lead characters, this story could not have ended more happily.
The X-Files - "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster"
Something didn’t sit right with me about the X-Files reboot premiere early this year. It was quaint and quirky and admitted to its own silliness. But it picked up too close to where it left off, and it was hard to tell what the creators were getting at with their tone, like that awkward reunitement with an estranged friend, where handshakes squirm into misbegotten demi-hugs. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, eerily stiff-faced as they were, felt to me more like reenactment than revival. So when Episode 3 busted out with paint-huffing crackheads, a pre-intro shot of a B-movie monster, and Scott Mulder throwing pencils into his I WANT TO BELIEVE poster, I got giddy. When it went on to feature comedians Kumail Nanjiani and Rhys Darby and banana-for-dicks ridiculous shenanigans, I was fucking overjoyed. This is the flat irony of The X-Files at its best, pushed to the extremes of the 14-Years-Later future of 2016. It plays like fanfiction run wild, relishing in its own ridiculousness without losing out on the pure and simple heart of the original series. Rhys Darby’s closing statement alone is a must-see.