We’ve been spoiled for quality TV this year, with everything from sprawling fantasies to nerve-shredding political dramas. Here are our top ten episodes of 2013 (we’d have mentioned the episode of X Factor where Dermot O’Leary danced to ‘What the Fox Say’, but there just wasn’t room).
Needless to say, spoilers abound from here on in.
Luther: season 3, episode 1
This comeback episode is so rich with lazily increasing terror that you find yourself wanting to turn off the TV but unable to tear your eyes from the screen. There’s an exceedingly creepy murder, a slightly melodramatic internal investigator on John Luther’s (Idris Elba) tail, and apparently a new interior decorator, as Luther’s flat is now all rundown vintage chic.
Arrested Development: season 4, episode 14: Off the Hook
A brilliant, but deeply worrying, insight into the psyche of mother’s boy Buster Bluth (Tony Hale). In this amazing episode, he cuts the apron strings, goes on a juice binge with Liza Minnelli, joins the army and becomes sort of polyamorous. And it’s hilarious – the series reboot was worth this episode alone.
The Returned: season 1, episode 4: Victor
One main question in this atmospheric series about a troop of pouty French undead people returning to their hometown is this: who is creepy little Victor (Swann Nambotin)? Why won’t he speak? Does he have magical powers? How come he was in front of the school coach when it crashed? This episode doesn’t answer even half of those questions, but it’s a gripping watch nevertheless.
The Fall: season 1, episode 2: Darkness Visible
We watch Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan, whom we’ll soon see in Fifty Shades of Grey) linger almost lovingly over the corpse of his most recent murder victim, while detective Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), wanders almost laconically ever closer to his discovery. Just like the series, this episode is cold as ice, and gripping.
Orange is the New Black: season 1, episode 1: I Wasn’t Ready
This Netflix original drama about a nice middle-class lady who ends up in jail isn’t the zany, fish-out-of-water comedy you might expect. From the moment the protagonist (Taylor Schilling) has to fashion slippers from sanitary towels to the first bite of a very unsavoury sandwich Star Trek: Voyager’s Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) serves her, you realise you’re in for something a little different.
The Walking Dead: season 4, episode 5: Internment
Poor Herschel (Scott Wilson) is taking care of everyone in the prison, where flu is ravaging through the population quicker than any zombie crisis. This riveting mid-season finale does a great job of ratcheting up the tension, and makes sure viewers will wait out the long winter for more.
Game of Thrones: season 3, episode 9: The Rains of Castamere
Even for those who'd already read the books, the 'Red Wedding' episode was the most traumatic of Game of Thrones' entire run thus far. Everyone knows that this is a show in which nobody is safe from George R.R. Martin's bloodlust, but the final minutes that saw Catelyn Stark, her eldest son Rob, plus his wife and their unborn child all viciously murdered was...no, sorry, we still can't talk about it.
House of Cards: season 1, episode 1
No one was sure whether Netflix’s reimagining of the BBC’s political drama was going to be a blunter, anodyne version. But we learn better when, just after the opening titles, Congressman Frank Underwood (a dead-eyed Kevin Spacey) calmly strangles a dog while expounding on his Machiavellian ideologies. It’s genius.
Homeland: season 3, episode 7: Gerontion
With entire episodes where either nothing happens, or Dana Brody (Morgan Saylor) throws a teenage strop, fans have wondered whether Homeland was playing a long game with season 3, or just losing its edge. But when Saul (Mandy Patinkin) locks the testy Senator Lockhart in a conference room, then turns off the lights – just because he fancies a chat – we’re back on awesome TV territory again. Phew.
Breaking Bad: season 5, episode 14: Ozymandias
When empires fall there’s always some admin to do afterwards. But when you’re science teacher turned meth cook Walter White (Bryan Cranston), that admin involves death, betrayal, and nostalgia. This is one of the strongest episodes that lead up to the supernaturally satisfying Breaking Bad season finale.
(Images: AllStar, Channel 4, BBC, Netflix)