My Favourite TV Scenes:
5) “Hello friend.” (Mr Robot: Season 1, Episode 1)
The opening scene of any series is a notoriously difficult task as writers grapple with introducing characters, plot and hooking the audience into the show. Sam Esmail’s Mr Robot perfectly combines all three in an opening sequence that is grippingly unpredictable. Elliot’s powerful monologue introduces his character as an unstable individual yet him addressing it directly to us immediately draws us into his conspiracy theory about ‘the guys who play God without permission.’ We cut to Elliot meeting a man at a café who through their interaction is revealed to be a child pornographer whom Elliot has reported to the police. We learn so much about his character in these four minutes – his social anxiety, unparalleled hacking skills and his hatred of the company who killed his father – all whilst the content of the scene has us glued to the edge of our seat. On-the-nose writing, Rami Malek’s stunning performance and fantastic audio-visual elements made me a fan of the show after a single scene.
4) Tommy v Alfie (Peaky Blinders: Series 2, Episode 6)
One of British TV’s greatest every episodes hits its dramatic highpoint as Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) and Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy) meet to thrash out a business deal. When Solomons ask for 100% of Shelby’s business in exchange for getting out of his office alive, Tommy attempts to convince Alfie that if he is not out of the office by seven o’clock his associate will blow up the entire building. As the deadline approaches, the tension reaches unbearable levels as Shelby keeps his cool and Solomons begins to panic, leading to Tommy’s tremendous bluff actually working. This scene expertly weaves intensity with humour as the chemistry between these sublimely talented actors elevates the drama to the next level. Hardy is simultaneously terrifying and amusing – with his dismissal of his assistant to the corner of the room a highlight – with the calm and collected Murphy the ultimate badass, making his ballsy success feel all the more satisfactory.
3) “Welcome Back” (House of Cards: Season 2, Episode 1)
The death of Zoe Barnes remains HOC’s most shocking moment as the Season Two opener gave us everything we loved about the first – everything that is, except a Frank Underwood monologue. In the episode’s final moments, Underwood’s stare locks in on the audience as he asks, “Did you think I’d forgotten you?” This chilling, goose-bump inducing speech builds to epic heights as the Vice-President reiterates the ruthless philosophy that defines his political career. By explaining himself directly to us, Frank somehow makes his actions seem justifiable making the audience feel a sense of complicity and guilt. As the extraordinary Kevin Spacey turns away, his present from Meechum is revealed as a pair of cufflinks spelling F U. With the shock of Barnes’ death leaving the audience on the ropes, this breath-taking monologue is the knock-out punch.
2) Box Cutter (Breaking Bad: Season 4, Episode 1)
After killing scientist Gale in an attempt to ensure their importance to Gus Fring’s meth empire, Walt and Jesse find themselves in his lab with Mike and Victor, waiting for the boss to arrive. After an unbearable wait, Gus arrives and silently changes into one of the lab’s orange jump-suits. As Gus picks up a box cutter the audience is utterly compelled as his intentions remain unclear and Walt continues to argue their indispensability to his cause. Every second of this scene oozes tension as the viewer strains to interpret Fring’s movements. What he ultimately does is jaw-dropping in the extreme, whilst staring at Walt he suddenly uses his weapon to clinically murder Victor, leading to his blood covering the lab floor. The characters and audience are left dumbfounded with shock as even Mike briefly points a gun at his partner in astonishment. Before anyone has had a chance to recover, the greatest villain in TV history has changed his clothes and left the lab with a parting “Well? Get back to work.”
1) Nothing to Lose (Empire: Season 1, Episode 11)
As the battle for the Empire nears it conclusion, Luscious (Terrence Howard) challenges Jamal (Jussie Smollett) to write him a hit. This is more than a musical performance. For Jamal it is proving his homophobic father wrong in the very house where he put him in a trash can. Fuelled by uncharacteristic anger, Jamal releases the inner beast Luscious has been begging to see all season as the pair engage in a legendary non-physical fight where these two extraordinary talents continue to one-up each other musically. For Luscious – who the audience is seeing truly perform for the first time – the performance is about reconnecting with his dark past as the track reminds him of the time he brutally murdered two gangsters. The song builds and builds as father and son push each other to their very limits, creating sensational music and even better television. Their confrontation at the song’s epic climax confirms that Jamal is at least his father’s equal and is the defining moment in the season-long battle to become CEO. The sub-text, sound and sensational performances make this Vader v Luke on steroids and without a doubt the greatest scene I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing.