This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
The curse of there being #TooMuchTV and it also being too hard for content about it to grab your attention is that everyone starts talking in hyperbole and hysterics. These BEST EVER! and MASTERPIECE! takes likely don’t reflect critics’ more realistic, muted opinions and lead to the phenomenon where every third week there’s a new “best” thing of the year. (It must be said that I do this constantly. Whoops.)
That preamble aside, I am happy to announce that the two best episodes of any TV drama series air this week, thanks to The Crown and Watchmen. Sorry to the Succession finale!
It didn’t take long for the new cast of The Crown to quell any fears that they might somehow muck up our sumptuous and elegant royal soap opera. Doing the heavy lifting to cast off those fears once the new season was made available for bingeing last Sunday is the spectacular and devastating third episode, “Aberfan.”
The episode revisits the 1966 tragedy at a Welsh mining town. A perfect storm of weather and negligence leads to catastrophe. An avalanche barrels from the top of a mountain to the town below it. It’s a remarkable action sequence that quickly morphs into a horror film: the first building in striking distance is a school. It’s filmed in excruciating, agonizingly realistic detail. From the perspective of the terrified and confused children, you gaze out the schoolroom window as the mudslide heads towards them, eventually enveloping them.
The disaster killed 144 people, 116 of whom were children. The episode skillfully telegraphs the scale of that kind of loss without emotional pandering. There are brutally sad moments: Parents on their hands and knees digging through the rubble, hoping to unbury their children, or waiting in line at a makeshift mortuary to identify unrecognizable bodies in any way they can, be it by handkerchiefs or sweets found in their pockets.
In a rare moment for The Crown, it is in fact emotion, specifically the public display of it, that ties it all back to the palace. Basically, you spend the episode waiting for the Queen to cry, and boy does Olivia Colman deliver.
At the end of the hour, she lets fall a single, solitary tear. It’s so perfect and poignant I was convinced it was CGI. (Fun fact: Hollywood does this often!) But Vulture reports it was indeed real. Colman even managed to miraculously produce the sure-to-be Emmy-winning tear during multiple takes. Olivia Colman: Pretty good actress!
As for the aforementioned episode of Watchmen, I can’t really tell you a single thing about it without ruining it. I don’t know if that’s a fun tease or if it’s insufferable, but it’s in your best interest and also the best interest of me not being yelled at by HBO.
The episode, airing Sunday night, is sensational. For anyone who was a little bit confused, if not downright baffled by some of the series’ earlier episodes, it should prove to be an incredibly gratifying hour that fills in many of the missing pieces of the show’s complicated narrative puzzle. Even yet, from a storytelling perspective it’s exceptionally daring, upending any expectations you may have had for where this season is going or how Watchmen is going to structure its interpretation of the hallowed graphic novel.
If you’ve been watching the show, you know that in last week’s episode, Angela Abar (Regina King) swallowed an entire bottle of nostalgia pills that were left for her by her grandfather. These pills basically help elderly people relive lost memories from their past, but taken in bulk can lead to overdose, blurring the lines between memory and reality as the person slips into a coma. The episode, then, basically plays out with Angela lost in her grandfather’s memories. What she discovers is jaw-dropping.
The whole thing is incredibly stylish, one of the most visually arresting episodes of television I’ve seen, using genre techniques that typically signal one kind of romantic, sweeping mood and then detonating it with an entirely different, confrontational detail or story twist.
After a few weeks defined by the relentless release of new television shows and streaming services that were all kind of just fine, it’s nice to be reminded that there’s still stuff that is surprising, ambitious, and excellent.