Punishment, or, Television in 2013

Spoilers ahead for that thing that happened in Game of Thrones this year that everybody is always talking about. For real. Don’t read this if you aren’t finished with season three.

Watching television in 2013 was like getting your teeth kicked in while simultaneously throwing up your lungs after being gut punched with a steel gauntlet.

And it was great.

More like Breaking Sad.

More like Breaking Sad.

There were bright, comedic spots scattered throughout the year; Parks and Recreation is still fantastic, Comedy Central stumbled upon sketch comedy gold again and again and Brooklyn Nine Nine actually got me to watch FOX. But all of the most talked about moments this year came from serialized dramas, and they were all absolutely devastating.

Let’s talk Game of Thrones. Also, spoilers. God.

For a show that’s staple is brutalizing its audience with quick and brutal deaths the penultimate episode of season three sure managed to really brutalized its audience with quick and brutal deaths. Even those of us who’d already lived through the events of the Red Wedding in the novels couldn’t help but die a little when Game of Thrones slaughtered the brightest, most handsome star in Westeros.

But that wasn’t quite enough, because television in 2013 is far more dismal than any late 90s novel. Not only did the King in the North meet a swift an unjust end and suffer nauseating postmortem desecration, per author George R. R. Martin’s book A Storm of Swords. His wife and unborn baby were also murdered in cold blood with a dozen or so shanks to the fetus.

Good times.



But “The Rains of Castamere” was only June of 2013. There was still all kind of punishment to be dulled out.

Let’s talk Breaking Bad.

Your heart probably already hurts. “To’hajiilee,” “Ozymandias,” and “Granite Slate” were the three episodes preceding the show’s series finale and each of them were nearly impossible to watch, not because of gratuitous sex or violence or because they were boring, but because they were straight up emotionally abusive.

But it wasn’t just established television shows that managed to throw our hearts into vice grips. The best new show of 2013, NBCs Hannibal, was also one of the year’s most taxing television experiences. The first handful of episodes of Hannibal were viscerally abusive displays of artful violence, but as the season pressed on, episode after episode proved to be a 44-minute stomach ache as Hannibal Lectre played the rest of the cast, and the viewers, like a harp.

Also, I hear watching Homeland this year was pretty punishing. Bu-dum-cha!

But I guess utter bleakness is to be expected when the most popular show on television, The Walking Dead, is essentially a prolonged study in the perpetually bleak. Week after week millions or viewers tune in to watch a ragtag group of sad sacks fight and die for their right to continue fighting and dying in a world that rests on a thick foundation of stone cold bummers.

I’ve watched The Office since I was in high school. There was a point in my youth where Jim and Pam’s relationship was the most important romance in my life. And yet the end of The Office this year with the season 9 finale is little more than an asterisk when I look back on television in 2013. Probably because after getting beaten with the sock full of nickels that is the rest of the television landscape it hurts to laugh.

But why is it that such punishment has become so undeniably popular?

Is it because it reminds us, sitting comfortably on a couch, that our own lives could always be worse? After a particularly taxing day week at work does watching Rick Grimes shoot people and cry validate a week of pencil pushing? Does the misery of fiction twist day-to-day monotony into a privilege by comparison?



Or is it that the despair on our TV screens enables the more fortunate of us, in some small facsimile of a way, to access a part of the emotional spectrum we pray we’ll never truly experience? You’re probably never going to be murdered at a wedding. But are you dying to know how it would feel?

Is it a pursuit of justice that drives us to watch shows that kick us while were down? Is it not just the experience of a wretched crime but the following week to week pursuit of fictional justice that makes shows like Breaking Bad so appealing? How often do we see justice carried out to its fullest? How often do we see the scales balanced? Maybe I kept watching Breaking Bad through every beating because I hoped against hope that when all was said and done my horse in the race would beat back.

Or maybe we just like seeing bad things happen to good people. Tragedy and timing right?

Whatever it was the drove the demand for such a heaping supply of emotional obliteration this year, it seems like maybe, just maybe, 2014 will at least let us stand up on our feet before it kicks us in the genitals again.

Breaking Bad is over. Just typing that loosens the muscles in my neck. Can its impending spinoff, Better Call Saul, really be as bleak a portrait? No way, right? Right? No way.

And so far as Game of Thrones is concerned, each year brings the tank of characters who don’t deserve to be brutally murdered closer to empty. I mean sure, the battles of Westeros are always going to be a terrible, murderous affair, but it’ll only be so much longer until everyone we love it dead. And after that, who cares?

Anyway, I’m bummed.

Time to go watch Breaking Bad on Netflix.