Picking the ten best episodes of genre TV from the year is tough. Each season there are more genre shows on the air, and for the most part, the quality gets better and better. I know this is a "Best Of" list, but I need to call out True Blood for not making my list this year, for the first year ever. While there were certainly enjoyable moments here and there, for the most part this season was uneven, unfocused, and an utter disappointment.
With that out of the way, I present to you my ten favorite genre episodes of the year.
American Horror Story - "Home Invasion" Episode 102 - October 12, 2011
I don't know if it is a bad sign that the strongest episode of this show is the one that had virtually no supernatural aspect. In "Home Invasion," Ben flies back to Boston to "deal with a patient" when that "patient" is actually his barely-legal mistress and her to-be-aborted fetus. While he is gone, his wife and daughter are left alone, which would be fine... until a trio of murder junkies break in, tie the girls up, and attempt to murder them in mimicry of a murder that happened in that house forty years prior. It is a fierce ordeal that is made all the more intense with the utter insanity of the kidnappers, and the fact that Violet and Vivien didn't just sit there like idiots. They fought back mightily, and made good choices throughout. It is always the real-life stuff that is the scariest.
Death Valley - "Zombie Fights" Episode 105 - September 26, 2011
While I felt the zombie fights conceit was underused, it is still one of my favorite moments in the show. The rest of the episode was kind of weak, but zombie fights makes up for it. Better than a fight club, less offensive than bum fights, zombie fights are the greatest fight scenario ever. One zombie tore off a zombie's arm and beats him over the head with it. Another has a sledgehammer where his arm should be. Pig entrails are given to one zombie to lure the other into beating him up for his snack.
Fringe - "The Day We Died" Episode 322 - May 6, 2011
This episode took place almost entirely in the year 2026, and in the Fringe universe, it was a wholly realistic future. Both universes were only concerned for their own survival, and only one could win. Walter believes Peter can go back in time and make different choices to prevent that from happening, and he does: by damaging both universes a little bit, they have to help each other. It was a little bit kumbaya in theory, but not once does the show turn sappy. Plus, in the future, Peter and Olivia are married, and I totally dig that. I guess I am not quite as soulless as people think I am! It was a fairly epic season finale that, for a time, looked like it could have ended up being a series finale. I'm glad it wasn't, but it would have at least been satisfying
Supernatural - "The French Mistake" Episode 615 - February 25, 2011
I still stand by this episode as one of the most entertaining hours of television ever. Sam and Dean get sucked into an alternate universe where they are actually actors named Jared and Jensen. They star in a TV series called Supernatural and play characters named Sam and Dean. While not a particularly horrifying episode, it was one of the funniest episodes of any TV show this year. In this alternate universe, Jared and Jensen hate each other and are total prima-donnas, and Misha Collins (Castiel) is a Twitter addict who desperately wants to be accepted by the cool kids.
Supernatural - "Shut Up, Dr. Phil" Episode 705 - October 21, 2011
Season seven of Supernatural has been excellent on every level so far. Episode 705 was particularly stand-out to me, but maybe not for the "right" reasons. First off, the episode title: "Shut Up, Dr. Phil." There is nothing I like better than insulting Dr. Phil (except maybe insulting George Lucas). Second: the guest stars. Charisma Carpenter and James Marsters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer play witches whose marriage is on the rocks. Charisma Carpenter will forever be Cordelia in my mind, and I kind of like that. The two have a proven rapport, making the humor effortless - especially when paired with Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. It wasn't a "scary episode," but it was charming and entertaining.
The Walking Dead - "What Lies Ahead" Episode 201 - October 16, 2011
The zombie herd in this episode was one of my favorite scenes in the series thus far. For about 20 minutes, a herd of hundreds of zombies stumble along the highway where our survivors are parked. They hide under the cars and hold their breath as the seemingly endless stream of walkers stumble by. Most of the scenes are shot tight on the humans, or from the humans's point of view, which adds to the tension and claustrophobia of the scene. I found myself holding my breath along with Rick and Lori.
The Vampire Diaries - "The Sun Also Rises" (Episode 221) and "As I Lay Dying" (Episode 222) - May 5, 2011 and May 12, 2011
The last two episodes of season two almost felt like a two-part season finale because episode 221 was as epic as the finale. Between the two episodes there were the final (so far) deaths of Jules, John, and Aunt Jenna, the temporary deaths of Elena, Jeremy, and Elijah, and the return of dead characters Vicki and Anna. That's an awful lot of main-character death. I love a show that is not afraid to kill off characters. Jules and John were inevitable, but Jenna... that was a big one. Took me by surprise. Beyond just the deaths, the two episodes were non-stop action and intrigue with none of that ridiculous smoochy-smoochy, teen-angst crap that occasionally creep into the series (after all, it is a CW show).
Being Human - "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Me Killing You" Episode 113 - April 11, 2011
I had a hard time picking an episode from the US version of Being Human. Generally in each episode, I find some really amazing aspects, and some annoying aspects. For example, I find the chemistry between the three main actors to be some of the best on television, but sometimes they can get whiny. I love that a TV show with a punchline for a plot (a werewolf, a ghost, and a vampire share a house) is incredibly well-made, not cheesy, and utterly endearing but am annoyed at how the American show is, in some cases, a line-for-line remake of the British original. Regardless, I am dying for the new season to start in January (and am equally excited for the next season of the British version, allegedly due out by summer).
Dexter - "This Is the Way the World Ends" Episode 613 - December 18, 2011
I specifically asked my editor for an extension on this assignment just so I could include the season finale of Dexter. I had a hunch it would be good. So if you haven't watched it yet, STOP READING RIGHT NOW.
For most of the episode, I was disappointed - kind of. It was still enthralling, but it wasn't really a "best of the year" episode. It all played out pretty much as I expected. I am still having a hard time accepting this whole "Deb in love with Dex" thing, but honestly, it has been a long time in the making and doesn't seem like it came out of nowhere. No, it was the last 15 seconds or so of the episode that catapulted it into "best of the year" territory. For six seasons, fans have agonized over when Deb will find out Dexter's dirty little secret. Held their breath through countless near-misses. Wondered if she would ever piece it together. Well now she has. She has indisputably seen, with her own eyes, Dexter commit a premeditated murder. It was so simple, it was so sudden, it was so unexpected yet not out of left field... I am flummoxed. A TV finale hasn't had this much of an impact on me since Rita died at the end of season four.