8 Perfect Television Moments (Drama Edition)

drama collage

Last week I wrote about perfect comedy moments, but comedy doesn’t have the corner market on perfection. Dramas have their fair share of flawless moments too. They’re the moments that make us cry, think or just sit back and say “man, that was cool.” No matter what emotion they evoke, the defining quality of a perfect moment is that it stays with you long after the episode ends and the eight moments on this list are moments that I know won’t be leaving me anytime soon.

Fair warning, there are plenty of spoilers below (dramatic moments tend to be the enemy of spoiler-phobes) so if you’ve been saving Justified season two for a rainy day then avert your eyes now.

Now that the disclaimer’s out of the way, let’s talk about some perfect dramatic moments.

1. Mad Men — “The Wheel”

mad men

Mad Men is basically just one long series of great dramatic beats, but one of the very first moments to take my breath away was the now iconic scene at the end of the first season finale where Don Draper worked his pitching magic so well he made Harry Crane run out of the room crying over his pitch for Kodak’s Carousel.

Harry was not the only one moved by Don’s speech and accompanying slideshow, Don even managed to crack through his own jaded exterior and realize what was most important in life: his family. But as he notes in his speech, nostalgia is fleeting and by the time he gets home his family has already left to have Thanksgiving without him. It was a sobering, heartbreaking end to a classic season of television.

2. Lost — “Walkabout”


Locke. Wheelchair. If you’re a Lost fan, you just teared up a little. It’s okay, you can admit it.

The sequence at the end of the fourth episode wherein John Locke’s man of faith status was solidified and the concept of the island as a place of wonder became an intrinsic part of the series was Lost‘s defining moment. To this day I can’t watch the scene where Locke stands up for the first time in four years without getting goose bumps.

3. Deadwood– “Here Was a Man”

Here Was a Man

People often praise David Milch’s near Shakespearian dialogue. They do this because it is stunning, but it takes a few episodes of a Milch show to grow accustomed to the way he uses language and rhythm. “Here Was a Man” made me a Milch devotee for life thanks to one comparatively small but flawless scene.

History doesn’t come with a spoiler alert, so we all knew Wild Bill Hickok was doomed, but that didn’t make the scene he shared with Alma Garrett any less effective. He comes to her to impart the same warning he gave her husband, but this time he says it “in thunder.”

Hickok’s weariness is palpable thanks to Keith Carradine’s masterful performance as he tells Alma: “Your husband and me had this talk, and I told him to head home to avoid a dark result. But I didn’t say it in thunder. Ma’am, listen to the thunder.” It’s a small moment, but a powerful one.

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer — “Becoming”

btvs "becoming"

Season two was a rough season for Buffy. She didn’t just have to save the world, she had to save the world from her dreamy vampire boyfriend who went all evil after taking her virginity and losing his soul. The metaphor may have been a wee bit heavy-handed, but the pay-off was nothing short of brutal.

Angel gets his soul back a moment too late for it to matter and Buffy is forced to put a sword through her true love and send him to hell. Shocking and heroic all at once, if it wasn’t clear before “Becoming” that Buffy the Vampire Slayer meant serious business it certainly was after.

5. Justified — “Bloody Harlan”


Mags Bennett is destined to be remembered as one of the great television villains. She was ruthless and sympathetic, a woman who dreamed of living the simple life, but just never quite got around to it what with having a backwoods drug empire to run and all. Her exit from the series left such a big hole that the writers were forced to bring in a fistful of villains to fill the void she left behind.

But oh what an exit it was. Margo Martindale thankfully walked away with an Emmy for her performance and I like to think that was thanks in large part to the resigned speech she gave as Mags drank her last glass of Apple Pie and mused that she would finally “get to know the mystery.”

6. Doctor Who– “Vincent and The Doctor”

Doctor Who

It’s not unusual for The Doctor to hang out with historical figures, in the past he has taken his companions to visit Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie, but none of those jaunts were as emotionally rich and rewarding as his visit with Vincent van Gogh. The episode is solid from start to finish, but it is the scene where Vincent, The Doctor and Amy stare up at the sky as Vincent explains to them how he sees the world that has stayed with me.

Throughout the episode, Vincent is standing on the precarious edge between genius and madness, but when he begins to talk about the sky and the image morphs into his classic “Starry Night” painting it’s hard to see anything but beauty. From both a written and visual standpoint, it’s one of the show’s greatest scenes.

7. Battlestar Galactica– “Crossroads”

BSG- Kara

Before I jumped into Battlestar Galactica’s third season, everyone told me it was one of those overly complicated shows that you’re supposed to start at the beginning if you want to have any hope of understanding it. Being contrary by nature, I started with “Crossroads” and fell in love. Most of the intricacies of the plot were lost on me, but I didn’t need to fully understand what a Cylon was in order to appreciate the sheer epicness of the “All Along the Watchtower” scored ending.

8. Freaks and Geeks– “Discos and Dragons”

Freaks and Geeks

The final image we ever saw on Freaks and Geeks was of Lindsay Weir climbing into a bus with her friend Kim with the intention of following The Grateful Dead around instead of going to the academic summit she promised her parents she would attend. Had the series continued, season two would have dealt with the fallout from that decision, but as a capper to a show about youthfulness and self-discovery, I can think of no better, or more hopeful, image to end the series on than with the look of pure joy on Lindsay’s face as she climbed into that bus as The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” played us out.


Now it’s your turn: what perfect dramatic moments would you add to the list?

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