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Top TV Episodes of the Month: GLOW, Better Call Saul, and The Leftovers

Plus, another brilliant hour from David Lynch and Mark Frost

GLOW
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Look, Twin Peaks is going to make this list until the whole shebang comes to an end in September. That’s just how it’s going to be. At this point, we’re eight episodes into David Lynch and Mark Frost’s outstanding revival, and there hasn’t been a single hour that has felt even remotely predictable. That’s not just great television; that’s unprecedented television, making this the kind of momentous pop-culture event that you have to relish with feverish dedication. To be frank, that’s not very hard.

What’s hard is keeping up with everything else. As we’ve lamented over these past few months, television has never felt more cluttered with gold and garbage, and while it’s not exactly difficult to discern between the two, it’s certainly taxing. For every new winning series like Netflix’s GLOW, there are at least two or three disappointments on par with Spike’s The Mist. So, we’ve become more particular with how we’re spending our time, and that, we feel, is a good thing.

twin peaks1 Top TV Episodes of the Month: GLOW, Better Call Saul, and The Leftovers

Bottom line: It’s okay if you don’t watch everything. It’s okay if you stick with two or three serials. It’s okay to wait and see how things turn out. This will allow you to actually appreciate what’s actually going on in the series you do love. That’s perhaps been the greatest takeaway from Twin Peaks. By being forced to go week to week, we’re actually finding ourselves dissecting these episodes and meditating on the little details that we might have missed by binging at 120 mph.

So, if you’re scratching your heads at why there are some repeats this month in our Top TV Episodes, the easiest and most honest excuse is that we’re indulging in a ‘less is more’ approach. That’s not to say we aren’t watching other things — no, no, no, no — it just means, again, we’re being incredibly selective with what we’re sticking with in the long run. Whether that pays off for us and you, we’ll have to see, but for now, it’s certainly made television a much breezier affair.

Anyways, I digress.

–Michael Roffman
Editor-in-Chief

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Better Call Saul

“Lantern”

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When AMC started promoting the third season of Better Call Saul with the return of Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), it kind of felt like Rogue One all over again. Who cares? We know what will happen! To our surprise, the series used the mild-mannered drug pin sparingly — though, not sparingly enough, to this writer’s chagrin — and instead the show embraced what has truly been one of the most compelling conflicts on television as of late: Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) vs. Chuck McGill (Michael McKean). What “Lantern” does is bring that brotherly rivalry to a tragic close. Seeing how it’s a season finale and all, there’s a lot to address, but writer Gennifer Hutchison does an impeccable job layering the narrative to equal measure. The episode is essentially about torn families, whether it’s the McGills or the Vargas, and watching them finally fall apart side by side brings the whole season to a fiery end — literally. If this really is the last time we see Chuck, rest assured, McKean reached for the gold in this hour, waving at voters for a second time this season and bidding farewell with a vacant stare and a deadly kick.

–Michael Roffman

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The Handmaid’s Tale

“The Bridge”

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Following a pair of episodes that took deeper looks at two of The Handmaid’s Tale’s male characters, “The Bridge” returns to the heart of the story. It’s not so much the entirety of the episode that stands out so vividly as the culmination of the show’s first season, but a single sequence that the episode’s title is taken from. Ofwarren (Madeline Brewer) has been disconnect from reality for much of the series, sadly convinced that her Commander loved her and that running away with him to start a family was a real possibility. And once she gave birth to their child, the revelation slowly came that this wasn’t the case. And so we find her on a bridge, on the bridge, holding a child birthed from rapes based on false promises, threatening to jump and end the lives of both herself and her baby. It’s a sequence full of dramatic shots and emotional outbursts, with two lives hanging in the balance and the audience forced to parse what is actually the preferred outcome for the situation. It’s also a much needed climax for a show so wrought with tension, that it desperately needed this moment of release. –Philip Cosores

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GLOW

“Maybe It’s All the Disco”

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GLOW is an endearingly original series that is often hilarious and features a star-making, Emmy-worthy turn from Alison Brie in the lead. Watching her in the pilot returning to the wrestling try outs after binging on the WWF –face-painted and draped in a cape– is one of the most exuberant comedy scenes of the year. But it’s not her many bat-shit wild moments that stick out most after completing the series. Instead, it’s when GLOW ditches the fake fighting and gets very real.

In “Maybe It’s All the Disco,” both the audience and Brie’s Ruth Wilder both begin to suspect that she might be pregnant. And when she opts for an abortion with very little wavering, we’re brought along with her for the journey. There’s the moment in the car ride over when her closest thing to a friend, G.L.O.W. director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), offers her a drag of a cigarette which she ponders for a split second before taking a puff. It’s this moment where Ruth accepts the events that are to come, but the show spares no punches as it follows her to the sign-in desk, the waiting room, and eventually the doctor’s office for the procedure. “I feel like I’m supposed to ask you if this is what you want?” Sam offers, practicing due diligence for what he thinks a friend should ask. “”Yeah,” Ruth responds. “It’s not the right time, not the right baby.” It’s a clear-eyed look at an experience that some 20-30% of women (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/09/30/the-stale-claim-that-one-in-three-women-will-have-an-abortion-by-age-45/?utm_term=.96274afcf9c3) will experience in their lifetime, served without unnecessary sentimentality. Ruth is a woman that knows what she wants, knows what she needs, and knows what she needs to do to reconcile those two things. The result is a TV episode that feels profound in its commitment to honoring choice. –Philip Cosores
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The Leftovers

“The Book of Nora”

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There was a lot of talk leading up to The Leftovers series finale as to whether or not showrunner Damon Lindelof would deliver. His last series finale (Lost) left many underwhelmed by leaving too many unanswered questions at the table. While The Leftovers story literally ends at a table with many unanswered questions, answering them was never the point of its story. Lindelof and co-writer Tom Perrotta (the novel’s author) pare the entire series down to a pair of leads years into the future. Kevin (Justin Theroux) discovers the whereabouts of Nora (Carrie Coon) after years apart. He spends most of the episode pretending not to remember their romantic past together. Calls are made back home, a nun sleeps with a mysterious man, birds with love notes are released, and there is even a symbolic goat thrown in for good measure.

Effective storytelling all, but it boils down to the final scene. After Kevin comes clean Nora finds the strength to do the same. It doesn’t matter if Kevin or the audience believes that she crossed over to discover what happened to the Departed. All that matters is that they (we) are here. Coon gives TV’s performance of the year with her final monologue, and the whole damn episode is captured beautifully by series MVP/director Mimi Leder. Lindelof had been teasing us since he first featured Iris DeMent’s “Let the Mystery Be” in the season two opening credits. It’s no coincidence the song returned for the finale. The show’s first “Miracle” was relocating the action to that fictional town last season. It’s second was delivering a series finale this satisfying.

–Justin Gerber

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Twin Peaks

“Part Eight”

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Despite all the hoopla surrounding “Part Eight”, the episode is actually one of the more straightforward chapters of Twin Peaks: The Return. It’s David Lynch’s idea of a prequel, and thanks to the ensuing mythology that co-writer Mark Frost has offered over the years (via outside media like last year’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks), the episode connects the dots on a variety of elements that have long mystified fans. Having said that, it’s not as if this thing goes down like a can of creamed corn, either. No, this is Lynch we’re talking about, and while the abstract imagery is surprisingly digestible on a more subconscious level, it’s still a mesmerizing affair brimming with all sorts of perplexing horror and wonder. In fact, if there’s one scrap of recent hyperbole worth agreeing on, it’s that “Part Eight” is unlike anything you’ve ever seen on television.

Recalling his pre-Eraserhead works, “Part Eight” finds Lynch at his Lynchiest, fully embracing everything that lies behind those red curtains that keep us on steadier footing. He even pays homage to one of his favorite directors in Stanley Kubrick with a dizzying atomic bomb sequence that recalls the Star Gate scene at the end of 2001: a space odyssey. Yet for all its stunning beauty, that scene arguably sits shotgun to the second half of the episode, which captures a dreamy ’50s New Mexico, where Lynch makes his own monster movie a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Through lush, black and white portraits, every sequence thrives from his unnerving use of darkness — ostensibly the filmmaker’s comfort zone — and, naturally, what dwells within is the type of stuff we try not to think about when we’re in the shadows. It makes you yearn for a light.

If only this series could go on forever.

–Michael Roffman

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