In an age when there are literally too many TV shows for a viewer to watch, how do TV showrunners make their show stand out from the crowded marketplace?
By making the most compelling television possible of course. One way of doing that is by shocking your audience. Pulling the rug from under them. Making them think your show and your characters are about one thing and then in an instant flipping it on it's head, changing everything that will come after that point.
These moments astound audiences, ignite debate amongst them and make them do a double take. They have to restart that moment and watch it again just to make sure their eyes and ears haven't been deceiving them. There have been a lot of TV moments over the years that have shocked audiences. Here's six that have done it best.
***Needless to say we'll be discussing the moments in detail so SPOILER ALERT if you haven't seen Breaking Bad, Love/Hate, House of Cards, Glenroe, Lost or The Sopranos***
1. No More Half Measures - Breaking Bad
There were several huge character moments for Walter White across Breaking Bad's run, but few were as shocking or as powerful as this moment from the penultimate episode of season 3. Throughout the entire season, there had been multiple occasions where Gus Fring and his right hand man, Mike Ehrmantraut tried to convince Walter that it was time to cut loose his unpredictable partner, Jesse Pinkman. Indeed only minutes before this scene, Mike delivers the 'Half Measures' speech to Walter. One of the most iconic monologues from the entire series. Jesse was hell bent on revenge after his love interest Andrea's kid brother gets killed by drug pushers. Everything pointed towards Walt washing his hands of his partner in crime and erstwhile friend. The tension in this scene as Jesse steadies himself to go out and kill the two men responsible for Tomas' death is almost unbearable. Then out of nowhere they're both run over by a car. Out steps Walt, who then coldly finishes one of them off with a bullet to the head before telling Jesse to "Run!". It wasn't the first time we'd seen Walt kill someone but it was the first time we'd seen him do it with cold precision. It was completely unexpected and set up the incredible chain of events that led to Walt and Gus' explosive war in season 4.
2. Finale - The Sopranos
Nine years after it went of the air, the ending of The Sopranos still divides fan opinion. Some love it, others hate it. The tension as we waited for Meadow Soprano to join her family in the diner was unbearable. Is it her that's going to walk through the door? Or will it be Tony's assassin? We never found out. Instead the ending cut to black. What does it mean? We still don't know and we probably never will know for sure. All we do know is that the cut to black ending shocked everyone who watched it and had viewers re-watching the episode multiple times to make sure they didn't miss something.
3. Frank murders Zoe - House of Cards
Image via Netflix
The events of Season 1 of House of Cards on Netflix left us in no doubt as to the lengths Frank Underwood would go in order to get into the Oval Office. The fact that he was willing to get his hands dirty and kill Peter Russo himself proved that. Nevertheless the murder of Zoe Barnes wasn't any less shocking. In the Season 2 opener, Zoe had discovered Frank's dirty dealings and was preparing a plan to bring him down. You don't back somebody like Frank Underwood into a corner though. She thought she was safe in a public place but Frank doesn't take any chances and made sure to lure her into a camera blind spot before he flung her in front of the oncoming train. It all happens so fast you have to rewind it just to be sure it happened. The cold and callous efficiency in which Frank disposes of Zoe and the cool, calm and collected way he exits the station immediately after showed that Russo wasn't just a one off and he truly will let nothing get in the way of his goal.
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4. Miley and Fidelma's 'tumble in the hay' - Glenroe
Of course this happened long before we had the luxury of being able to pause and rewind live TV but for those sensible few who would have recorded it on their VCRs, you can bet your bonnet this one was rewinded until the tape nearly caught fire. It's hard to properly describe how shocking a moment this was for the people that weren't there. It made the front page of newspapers. To see Miley Byrne a symbol of traditional Irish morals engage in an extra marital affair (with his wife's cousin no less) was a shocking moment that to this day, no RTE show has been able to surpass.
5. The First Flashforward - LOST
The first three seasons of Lost had a very clear formula which it didn't stray from. Events happening on the island were intercut with flashbacks to the characters' lives before the plane crash. For the first two seasons of the show it was simple and it worked beautifully. However by the time Season 3 began to wind down, ratings of the show were waning. People were getting tired waiting for answers and the producers of the show weren't ready to start giving them. So they decided to pull a fast one and change up the formula of the show. Goodbye flash backs, hello flash forwards. For the season 3 finale, Jack was the focus of the "flash back" as we saw him struggle with alcoholism throughout the episode and pleading with an unseen character to meet with him. When that character is revealed to be Kate it was the ultimate mind blowing moment. The immediate assumption the audience makes is that Jack and Kate did know each other before the plane crash. Then they talk about events on the island like it was yesterday. YESTERDAY! In the past. We had to re-watch this whole episode let alone this moment.
6. Darren Treacy gets clipped - Love/Hate
For a lot of fans, the complete series of Love/Hate is about the rise and fall of Nidge. Going from right hand man to Kingpin until finally his death. However in the early seasons, it was the internal struggle for Darren Treacy's soul that was perhaps the most compelling storyline. Despite wanting to find out who killed his brother in season 1, he wanted to keep out of the gangland game. Keep his distance from John Boy and his associates. However by season 3 when King Nidge was reigning supreme, Darren was the right hand man. The go to guy for Nidge. There was foreshadowing as far back as season 2 that Nidge would try and off Darren but it wasn't until season 3's dramatic finale that it would come to fruition. Darren wanted out and was going to make a fresh start in the UK. Nidge ordered henchmen Aido and Elmo to carry out the hit we all knew was coming. But they missed. Darren managed to escape alive and called up Nidge and swear bloody revenge. Unfortunately for Darren, Nidge wasn't the only one who wanted him dead. Lizzie, his one time potential love interest, was not pleased that Darren was the one who killed her brother and put two bullets in his head as a result. The fact that it was Lizzie who turned out to be his assassin was shocking in itself but the manner in which it was done, setting up Aido's failed attempt beforehand and luring the audience into a false sense of security that makes it masterful television.
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