Breaking Bad 4x8
Or I could begin with a caveat that I'm sure fans probably don't want to hear: that an episode like this one is best evaluated a week or two after it airs. On a TV series like "Breaking Bad," which prides itself on "Oh my God, I can't believe they did that!" moments, a setpiece of slow-build bloodletting can leave viewers dizzzy, and inclined toward superlatives. I call this reaction "adrenaline inflation." I remember experiencing it right after the season 3 "Sopranos" episode "University," the one where the loathsome Ralphie Cifaretto beat his pregnant stripper girlfriend Tracee to death. That sequence and its aftermath (Tony thrashing Ralphie) were so overwhelming that it took a few days for me to admit that the episode as a whole was basically an inferior, x-rated attempt to one-up a similarly structured (and similarly titled) season one episode, "College", but with schematic parallels between Ralphie's sexist cruelty toward Tracee and Meadow's psychological abuse by her college beau. The bloody horror depicted in "University" overwhelmed close readings right after the fact; in the hours after it aired, I thought it was groundbreaking, when in reality it was mostly just ugly. Graphic violence sometimes has that effect on critical faculties. It's like a set of high-beam headlights blaring in your face while you're trying to drive a winding road at night.