“Fringe” — “Letters of Transit”
As a very, very picky viewer of sci-fi as a genre, the fact that I’ve watched “Fringe” from beginning to soon-to-come ending should say something about how much I like the show. And season 4’s “Letters of Transit” is my favorite episode of “Fringe.” Ever.
The concept of this episode is as simple as it is bizarre. In the dystopian world of 2036, humans have been conquered by a race of bald, semi-human Observers from the distant future. A few rebels — including Etta (Georgina Haig) and Simon (Henry Ian Cusick) — are all that stand in the way of total Observer domination.
Or are they? As anyone who watches “Fringe” knows, Etta and Simon are not the heroes of the show. That would be Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) and Walter Bishop (John Noble). This remains true, even when the central characters barely figure into the episode’s plot.
Instead, with one masterful stroke, “Fringe” expands its world into a future with new enemies and even a few new heroes (especially the brave and tragic character of Etta). Most shows would introduce this setup painfully and over time. “Fringe” just dives right in. Honestly, “Letters of Transit” could have been a pilot for a brand-new show.
I would have watched that show. As it was, I got a surprising and incredible introduction to the ending of “Fringe.”
“Castle” — “Always”
Love is awesome.
Television doesn’t always go with this theory, but audiences love it when true and valid love comes our way. And after four full seasons of will-they-or-won’t-they tension, “Castle” gave us love.
The season 4 finale of this cop drama/romantic comedy isn’t just about the inevitable relationship building between leads Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion) and Kate Beckett (Stana Katic). That romantic payoff would have made for a fun but uninspired episode.
“Always” takes another route altogether. By throwing the ongoing pain of Beckett’s mother’s murder (a plot in use since the show’s first season) to the forefront, the episode is able to bring both Castle and Beckett to an emotional breaking point. No matter how glib, sarcastic and immature these two are on a day-to-day basis, the revelations and near-death moments of “Always” cut through all of that. It has to be either true love or the true end of hope when Beckett shows up, soaked by the rain, at Castle’s door.
Thank goodness “Castle” — a show that understands humor as well as mystery — goes with love. Because love is awesome.
“Suits” — “High Noon”
It’s easy to overlook a show like “Suits.” This is unfortunate. “Suits” is one of the best shows on television, and “High Noon” is its best episode to date.
The culmination of 10 episodes of plot, “High Noon” focuses on the brief victory of Daniel Hardman (David Costabile) over control of the Pearson Hardman law firm. This win means nothing but loss for the usual heroes of “Suits” — arrogant super-lawyer Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) and almost-as-arrogant fake-lawyer Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams). With Hardman in charge, the men suffer a blow to both pride and job security.
Harvey and Mike come out on top in the end — barely — but it takes a bromance-filled night of pot-smoking and punches to the face to get there.
This is where “Suits” stands high above most other dramas on television. It isn’t afraid to use humor and brains to solve the toughest of problems. Even when the chips are as low as they can get, the show makes us laugh. While we expect Harvey and Mike to win in the end, it takes every ounce of the men’s brilliance (and arrogance — a huge key to their success) to avoid complete failure.
We believe that these guys are smarter and harder-working than the rest of us. They’d have to be to keep on winning. And thank goodness for that.
Whether you agree or disagree about this list (you should agree, by the way), these three episodes represent some of the finest dramatic moments of 2012.