Tag Archives: Greatest TV Episodes

Into The Bunker (S2:E2)

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @Callum Petch)

Spoilers of varying degrees for Gravity Falls abound throughout this article, up to and including a short scene from Season 2 Episode 8 “Blendin’s Game”.  You are strongly advised to go and watch Gravity Falls before reading this article.  Trust me.

gravity falls“Mabel, how can everything be so amazing and so terrible all at the same time?” – Dipper Pines

Throughout Secondary School, I had a crush on a very close friend of mine.  From pretty much the moment I saw her, I was rather head-over-heels – she was funny, tough, kind, smart, good-looking, and she voluntarily chose to acknowledge and associate with me, which meant a lot since my first year or so at Secondary School was a relentlessly lonely and miserable experience otherwise.  We hung out a lot, talked a lot, there were frequent out-of-school-hours email conversations (not IM or anything like that cos have I ever mentioned that I was a really weird kid), and became really rather close.

I also never properly told her how I felt.  I hinted a lot, wrote godawful blatantly manipulative blog posts expressing my feelings hoping that she’d never read them but steering her towards them anyway (because goddamn was I ever a sh*tty teenager), and one time – during a really, really stupid idea that our school only implemented once – I bought her a Valentine’s Day rose from our school reception and explained it away as a friendship thing.  She almost certainly figured it out because I was nowhere near as subtle as I thought I was and she was not stupid, but we never openly acknowledged it, as if we realised that bringing it into the open would make things uncomfortably weird.  And I planned to never tell her, because I could live with just being her friend.

Except that I couldn’t.  I really couldn’t.  Save for one very short and incredibly bad experience at the outset of Secondary School – another reason why my first year or so was awkward and horrible – I had never had a girlfriend (still haven’t to this day), but Secondary School is Secondary School and damn near every last one of my friends – and the majority of the people I was at least on good speaking terms with – ended up in romances of varying degrees of seriousness and success, which left me feeling left out and lonely, because I never had that experience.  Further compounding the problem was that, as friends of mine typically tend to do, we started drifting further apart the older we got, going from tight-knit buddies in Year 8 to very occasional acquaintances by Year 10.

Having realised this, and likely spurred on by the fact that my crush on her just would not die, I asked if she could meet me one lunchtime to talk.  I couldn’t have been any vaguer or, as far as my memory recalls, slightly creepy, which would have been part of the reason why she never turned up.  I took this incredibly personally.  Soon after, I arranged, through the school’s Student Services, to have her meet me for about half an hour so I could get an explanation and tell her everything, as if that would somehow change things.  That second part didn’t happen.  Instead, I non-specifically and non-committedly alluded to things in sh*tty ways, refused to accept her excuse of her having her own life and her own friends, and generally acted like a horribly possessive jerk.  The meeting ended with neither of us satisfied and, for the remaining 18 months of Secondary School and 2 years of Sixth Form that we shared, we basically never spoke to each other again.

You know how I said earlier that I was a sh*tty teenager?  That transcends just being a sh*tty teenager, for me; that was me being a pure bona-fide grade-A asshole.  I have regretted everything to do with it for the past five and a bit years.  I regretted it the moment I stepped out of that room and I still did nothing to make it right due to the resultant awkwardness between us keeping me from trying to make amends no matter how much time passed.  Seeing her was just this constant reminder of how badly I screwed up and how utterly sh*tty of a person I was, how I refused to just accept being friends with her instead of slightly creepily possessively crushing on her, and I honestly don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for it.


The Dipper Pines-Wendy Corduroy runner throughout the first season of Gravity Falls – where the 12 year-old Dipper develops a major crush on the 15 year-old Wendy – is a very divisive subject for fans of the show.  In one camp, it’s a funny, sweet, and often painful to watch plotline that constantly finds new ways to cover seemingly old ground, and excellently and realistically handles the difficulty of being friends with somebody you are quite possibly in love with, especially accentuated by the fact that, since Wendy is 3 years older than Dipper, there is only one way this story can end.  In the other camp, it’s pointless re-treading of familiar ground that wastes Wendy’s character potential by limiting her solely to stories about Dipper’s crush on her and her relationship with jerk-ass teenager Robbie, especially since there’s only one way this story can end so why bother dragging it out.

I fall into the former camp and it’s because of my experience with that girl – whose name I haven’t divulged here because she deserves better than being associated with my dickishness.  That extended awkward push-pull between having a crush that causes you tangible physical anxiety every time you accidentally think of them in that way, versus wanting to not blow that friendship you’ve built up with them by openly admitting that feeling to them, is excellently represented in Dipper Pines, which in turn resonates deeper in me and causes multiple conflicting feelings every time the plotline is brought up.  I sympathise with Dipper’s situation, I cringe and suffer along with him whenever he puts his foot in his mouth, I laugh at his jealous hallucinations of people like Robbie, I desperately root for him to beat his crush or to just admit to Wendy his true feelings, since I’d gone through all of this before myself – just without the age gap as she was in the same year as me.

It helps that Dipper shares multiple aspects with me when it comes to this type of thing: he stumbles over his own words frequently, he overthinks and over-plans every last scenario because he’s terrified of failure, he’s at his best when he just lets the situation overtake him, and he will never admit the truth to Wendy because he’s afraid of what will happen, but he also can’t just stay friends at this moment in time because the crush is killing him.  This is not meant to short-change Wendy, incidentally, who is a funny, cool, sarcastic, well-rounded and flawed character who feels like a person, someone who clearly exists outside of the show’s usage of her.  These two are incredibly well-drawn characters who feel real and that extra resonance that I have with the material wouldn’t be there if that depth wasn’t there.

This all comes to a head in “Into The Bunker”, the second episode of Season 2.  It starts off like it’s going to be yet another episode in which Dipper trips over his feelings, which I don’t have a problem with as again this kind of constant circling really can happen, in a B-Plot whilst the A-Plot pushes forward the overarching mysteries of Gravity Falls, Oregon – which are way too numerous and in-depth to touch on here; seriously, this show has the kind of attention to continuity and plotting (without ever sacrificing them at the expense of character work) that would make most live-action adult dramas feel like they’re half-assing it.

Instead, the mysteries of Gravity Falls take a backseat to bringing this runner to its logical end-game.  Despite his insistence otherwise, Dipper cannot keep hanging out with Wendy without telling her of his feelings.  When he exposes Robbie’s deception and brainwashing in “Boyz Crazy”, he’s mainly doing it out of selfish desires of wanting to have Wendy to himself, although he doesn’t realise so until after he pushes his luck too far.  By “Into The Bunker”, it’s reached breaking point, he even brings along his planned feelings speech, that he scrunched up at the beginning of the episode, in his jacket pocket because he can’t let it go.  His twin sister Mabel, fed up with all of this and realising that the sooner that he admits his feelings to Wendy the better, proceeds to shove the pair of them into what turns out to be a Decontamination Chamber to make sure that Dipper has no way of avoiding the issue.

In the end, his constant dodging and inability to come right out and admit his feelings nearly gets himself and Wendy killed by a shape-shifter, and he once again only realises this when he thinks that she’s been killed.  Running from his problems has solved nothing and if it hadn’t turned out that the ‘dead’ Wendy was actually the shape-shifter and that the real Wendy was just off-screen and heard every word of Dipper’s anguished and regretful admission of his true feelings, then he would have gone through the rest of his life carrying that regret and guilt, never letting him go.  It is, to me at least, the literalising of what metaphorically happened to me, as my refusal to just come out and say it cost me one of the strongest friendships that I ever had.

That’s what makes the conclusion of the episode so goddamn beautiful to me.  With the truth now out in the open, Wendy and Dipper sit down and talk.  They actually talk.  Wendy admits that she kinda always knew – “You think I can’t hear that stuff you’re constantly whispering under your breath?” – she lets him down easy, Dipper understands, and the two resolve to remain friends because that, above all else, is what matters out of all of this.  And though Dipper doesn’t actually feel any better at the time by getting these feelings out in the open, the change sticks and Wendy’s subsequent appearances with the gang exist in awkwardness-free purely platonic friendship stakes.  Hell, to further drive home the point, when Dipper and Mabel travel back in time about 10 years in “Blendin’s Game” and bump into younger versions of Wendy and Tambry, he feels super-awkward when Young Wendy mentions how cute he is, as if he now understands how he made Wendy feel.

And as I sat there watching the conclusion of “Into The Bunker”, through non-stop waterfalls of tears, the awful way that I handled the first friendship that I made in Secondary School came into clear-as-day focus.  I always knew that I treated her sh*ttily, that I should have handled the situation better, that I was as pure an asshole as they come with regards to how things ended, but I don’t think I realised the extent of it and how much different things could have been until Gravity Falls laid it out in front of me like that.  Because Dipper and Wendy are so well-drawn, because the writing felt so natural, because I saw so much of myself and my own experiences in the story’s progression, it hit me like a jackhammer-shaped freight train when the inevitable conclusion came around.  “I should have just told her and moved on,” I thought to myself constantly over the next several days as the episode refused to leave my brain.  “The aftermath may not have been as smooth, but at least we could have moved on.  At least we may still have been friends.”

There is a tonne more to “Into The Bunker” – the absolutely terrifying John Carpenter’s The Thing-referencing shape-shifter villain, the outstanding animation, the way that the narrative excellently pulls the bait-and-switch on the seemingly answers-focussed plotline in favour of character-work, the badassery of Wendy, the way it balances horror and drama with comedy, The Gravity Falls Bargain Movie Showcase – and they are all individually reason enough as to why the episode could be inducted into this wing of Failed Critics, but they’re not the reason why this episode hits me so.  It’s the payoff.  It was always going to be the payoff, and though the show has and will improve even on this in the years to come – “Not What He Seems” exists, after all – for me it’s probably never going to top that final scene in the woods where Dipper and Wendy sit on the fallen tree branch and just talk.  No other scene in television is going to hit me like that scene did the first time.

In a perfect world, I would have been more like Dipper Pines in that moment, where I accepted what happened, accepted the consequences, moved on, and tried to retain that friendship.  I didn’t do that.  That will stick with me for the rest of my days, but at least I know that Dipper will be OK.  He did it right.  One of us did.

Callum Petch has got love to kill from a man of steel.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

100 Greatest TV Episodes: Apéritif (s1 ep1)

It’s about time somebody entered Hannibal into our 100 Greatest TV Episodes series, and Andrew is just the man to do it. Starting with the pilot episode of the hit NBC show about a cannibal psychologist seems as logical a place to begin as any.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

Hannibal 2It was always going to be a tough sell. Basing a TV show or a film on a well-loved book, or series of books, always brings the nutters out of the woodwork. The same can be said when you try to make television shows with a much doted on film series as your inspiration (we all remember that Robocop TV show, right? Or the immeasurably bad decision to make a Rambo cartoon?). So surely any TV exec worth their salt would know not to entertain an idea that would attract rabid, feverish fans from both directions. Surely.

The announcement of a TV show based on Thomas Harris’ novels had many, myself included, going extra-strength crazy at the mere notion. Any project that included the recasting of Sir Anthony Hopkins was sacrilegious and a recipe for complete disaster. The announcement of Mads Mikkelsen taking the role made it even worse. My reaction was not dissimilar to how others have reacted at, say, Heath Ledger being The Joker, or Ben Affleck playing Batman. I’m a fan of Mikkelsen, but I was convinced it was a poor choice. Wait, what? Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford? What are you playing at? I haven’t been so dead against a TV show since someone likened Mad Men to The Sopranos!

A few months later and I’ve given in. I can’t say it’s pants until I’ve tried it. So I grab my coffee and my remote and, not completely willingly, wade in.

Starting in the only way a show with this kind of pedigree in its name could, we are thrown into a fresh crime scene. Blood splattered across walls and oozing across the floor as a corpse is unceremoniously zipped into a body bag. A mysterious figure is standing, watching as police and CSI tackle the unimaginable scene in front of them.

I’m still not convinced.

I turn to my wife. Angry. “They’ve gone and made it a bloody procedural! It’s NCIS-fucking-Hannibal! CSI-Goddamn-psychotherapy!”

Without a word of dialogue being spoken, the figure, which fans will quickly recognise as being Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), appears to walk backwards through the scene. With the crime apparently reversing itself and the bloody display returning to the serene home it was, we begin to see how Graham’s mind works.

Replaying the crime, the psychologist walks us breath by breath through the scene and the events of the evening. Giving us as deep a look at Graham as he wants with the killer, uttering the words soon to become synonymous with Will and his methods, indicating that what was done was planned, premeditated and coldly calculated. “This is my design”. The scene plays out with an air of menace and moves on.

“Ok. I’m up for this. Let’s see where it goes” I say to the other half.

The next ten minutes or so, we are treated to the standard cop drama steps. We are introduced to Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford, the man at the top of this particular FBI food chain and the man about to pull Will Graham into this story for us. Some background info, a little forensic work, lots of scene setting and a quick glance at a suspect and his inspiration. All typical shots for a crime show’s pilot. A post-mortem scene, a stroke of brilliance from Graham and a line of dialogue sure to put some off their dinner softly walks us to what we came for. The first appearance of our titular character.

In a surprise move for a show clearly trying to break out and be its own thing, introducing Hannibal to the viewer with Bach’s “Aria” as musical accompaniment was a strange move. But it works. It instantly conjures up images of Sir Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal and we’re given time to relate to that as we watch him eat.

I wasn’t sure how to react if and when Mikkelsen’s real accent came from my speakers when Lector speaks. It’s not something I would usually fixate on, but it seems an important detail for a franchise known for Hopkins’ dulcet tones. In truth, I was simply indifferent. It didn’t matter. Hannibal’s mannerisms are the important thing and Mads brings them beautifully. His calm demeanour, the air of danger and his penchant for civility all acted in such a magnificent way that even the harshest of critics were starting to relax.

It takes a little over twenty minutes for Hannibal and Graham to be in the same scene. And boy is it tense. Will’s damaged, misfiring psyche clashing with Lecter’s cold calculation. It’s an uncomfortable scene as the men are presented immediately as polar opposites, but there’s a strange and intriguing atmosphere suggesting they are more alike each other than different.

The pair’s next meeting is the most poignant of the episode, and maybe the season. Visiting Will at his home, Lecter brings a dubious breakfast for the pair to share as they discuss Jack, the case, and size each other up. Substituting his couch for the breakfast table, Hannibal psycho-analyses Will over scrambled eggs and a coffee. It’s a beautifully dark scene. Superbly shot and oozing with tension.

It’s this scene you’ll remember. As the episode wraps up and the foundation is set for an edgy thriller, it’s this scene that left an impression. The pessimist in me has accepted the show, it’s been brilliantly introduced and it feels new and I’m very willing to give it a few more episodes to see if it holds up (it does, very well). But that breakfast scene feels like genius the more I recall it. As if they weren’t just talking to each other, they were talking to the audience. Not all of them. Just the few, like me, that went in ready to hate it. We went in jaded and cynical and this tense scene between the pair was absolutely speaking to us as Hannibal suggests that they could perhaps be friends.

“I don’t find you that interesting”

“You will”

‘Brooker’ is the latest debutant writer for Failed Critics (although he has written extensively on video-games in the past) and can usually be found over on Twitter – at least until we coax him back here to write some more! The rest of our 100 Greatest TV Episode articles can be found here.

100 Greatest TV Episodes: The Visitor (s4 ep3)

It’s life, Jake! You can miss it if you don’t open your eyes.
-Captain Benjamin Sisko

by Jackson Tyler (@Tylea002)

ds9 2**WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!**

Choosing a single episode of Star Trek for a list such as this is an inherently impossible task. The strength of the franchise is in its breadth, its innate ability to tackle a multitude of themes and ideas, as over decades, disparate episodes, movies and series combine to form a whole far greater than the sum of its parts.

The main reason for this is that Trek has always relied on the intimacy of television, on the bond between audience and art: much of the franchise would simply not work without prior familiarity and emotional investment in the characters and universe. Many episodes that would rightly be considered the greatest of the franchise are interrogations of the core values within Trek itself, such as “Chain of Command (TNG),” “In The Pale Moonlight (DS9)” and practically every episode of Enterprise. Star Trek’s longevity and consistency is in thanks to the manner in which it is in constant conversation with itself, the writers merely visitors holding the show’s past with the reverence not just to reference it, but to question it, and in doing so, evolve it.

This episode is not one of those. For whilst Star Trek matured and began to use its head more and more, far more important is that when doing so, the show never lost its heart. Really, how could the episode on this list be anything other than a little sci-fi fable?

“The Visitor” tells the story of Jake Sisko, or more specifically, an old Jake Sisko tells his story to a young writer, who arrives at his doorstep in the middle of the night. Jake is a main character in DS9 throughout all seven seasons, despite appearing in less than half the episodes in the show’s run. As the writerly son of Benjamin Sisko, he didn’t often fit into the ensemble plots of the show, which focused on the main Starfleet crew of DS9. Yet episodes such as this make it clear why he doesn’t just earn this status, but plays a crucial part of the show’s dynamic. Jake Sisko is the show’s melancholy heart.

The plot of the episode, described in literal terms, is a mess of sci-fi words and nonsense jargon. When Jake was eighteen, his father, Ben Sisko, was caught in a warp core accident that left him in subspace, causing him to disappear from the known universe except for specific moments in time. Star Trek gets a reputation for being a series bogged down by its own fictional technology, and if you’ve watched more than one episode of Voyager, you’ll know it often can be. But in its best stories, it simply takes sci-fi concepts as narrative devices to explore thematic and emotional content in ways that would be impossible without them. Far from being a story about subspace and warp cores, The Visitor is a heartbreaking tale about the importance of letting go.

For all intents and purposes, Ben Sisko died in that accident. Every time he reappears, he does so for only a moment, enough for he and Jake to chat, but not enough for them to truly connect. When forced to leave the station, Jake assumes there is no way to reach his dad anymore, and lives his life. We see him at his happiest as he meets with Nog, his once childhood friend, and catches up with him about the lives of all those he was close with on the station. Jake himself is a successful author, settled down and married and planning to have children of his own in the future. At this point, Ben reappears, and in the fleeting moment they share, he’s nothing but smiles as Jake tells him of the life he has lived, until he disappears in Jake’s arms.

The unconventional nature of the episode, the narration and flashbacks, are at their most effective in these happier times, it infuses them with a twinge of melancholy, the inevitable fact of life that things are only happy until they are not. But not in a nihilistic way, the bittersweet nature of these scenes plays right into the show’s central thematic thrust.

After seeing his dad again, Jake gives up writing and rededicates his life to studying subspace mechanics in the vain hope of finding a way to save his father. His obsession is so great that he alienates his wife and ends up alone. When he sees his father again, Ben is heartbroken that Jake has sacrificed his own lifetime, his own passions to the futile cause of saving him. Jake takes these words to heart, and in the episode’s final scenes, commits suicide with Ben in his presence, severing the subspace link, and sending Ben back in time to prevent the accident from ever occurring, giving both father and son a second chance.

Jake Sisko sacrifices himself not for his father, not even for his younger self, but the bond that ties the both of them. The Visitor is Star Trek at its most sad and yet most optimistic. Ultimately, it was always a show about people, and the potential of humanity that could be tapped if we were able to truly work together. The Visitor is this idea thematically purified, focusing not on how we as a species could explore the cosmos, but how we as individuals rely on each other emotionally, highlighting the beauty and wonder of simply living a life, and reminding us just how fragile it is.

We could miss it if we don’t open our eyes.

Jackson has previously made a guest appearance on the podcast to talk video game-movies, but makes his solo debut for Failed Critics with this article on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. You can agree or argue with him here or over on Twitter. You can also browse the rest of our 100 Greatest TV Episodes series on the site.