And 2013 was chock full of 'em.
1. Girls, "On All Fours"
Girls tends to be one of the ballsiest shows on television, but "On All Fours," otherwise colloquially known as The One With the Q-tip, takes the cake for 2013. Daring to go deeper (into the inner ear canal) than any episode thus far, "On All Fours" took a hard look at the difference between mental illness and everyday twenty-something anxiety. But, that Q-tip wasn't the only thing that earned this episode its crown. The scene where Adam's new girlfriend Natalia feels degraded and violated by Adam's sexual advances, those same advances that Hannah so often craves, was ballsy and self-reflective enough to admit that the Adam/Hannah relationship isn't normal. But, we soon realize that Adam and Hannah might in fact be soulmates just because their craggy edges miraculously fit together. Oh, Girls. You are so fine and good.
2. House of Cards, "Chapter 11"
From the very beginning, we knew Frank Underwood was not to be trusted. We knew he was ambitious and conniving, but it wasn't until "Chapter 11" that Frank's true (dark) colors showed. With the murder of Peter Russo, who, for Frank, was barely anything more than a loose thread in his master plan, the real stakes of Frank's ultimate power play are revealed. Add in the gorgeous parallels between Zoe and Claire both playing at the kind of life they could never have (Zoe in Frank's house and Claire in Adam Galloway's loft), and House of Cards constructs a gambit that only the very brave would attempt.
3. Homeland, "The Star"
The Season 3 finale of Homeland was a shocker in more ways than one. But, let's not beat around the bush. You know why this episode made our list. If you don't, move along, nothing to see here. Major spoilers ahead. The move to kill Nicholas Brody was a ballsy one to say the least. Brody, since the very beginning, was the driving force behind Carrie Mathison. Now that Abu Nazir, Akbari, and Brody are all dead, what's Carrie going to obsess over next?
4. Orphan Black, "Effects of External Conditions"
The idea of human cloning isn't new. But, with this episode, the creators of Orphan Black showed everyone that they weren't playing around. "Effects of External Conditions" is the episode that introduced us to the terrifying, feral Helena; gave us Alison pretending to be Sarah; and even gave us Helena pretending to be Sarah pretending to be Beth. This fearless mindfuck of an episode established Tatiana Maslany as everyone's favorite 2013 underdog for every award she could possibly be considered for, and let the audience know that Orphan Black was ready to deliver on all of their (many) bold choices.
5. American Horror Story: Coven,"Bitchcraft"
When speaking of ballsiness, it's hard to exclude American Horror Story from the conversation, and Coven's premiere definitely deserves its place on this list. Between nineteenth-century voodoo, an undead white supremacist, the creepiest morgue we've ever seen, a girl who can kill men with her vagina, and a gang rape scene that we haven't been able to shake from our memories, "Bitchcraft" is one ballsy episode. In fact, we're not entirely sure someone didn't have to sell their soul to the Devil for it to be this good. But, as everyone knows, Abigail from The Crucible saw Goody Good(e) with the Devil, so our money's on Jessica Lange.
6. Masters of Sex, "Standard Deviation"
Masters of Sex's "Standard Deviation" was ballsy in well...more ways than one (if you catch our drift). When dealing with the sexual habits of prostitutes, both gay and straight, it's bound to be. But, what's so interesting about what makes this episode of Masters of Sex so brave isn't that it humanizes people who have money for sex, or that it challenges accepted concepts of sexual normality (though both are decidedly brave), but that it allows our leading man, Bill Masters, to be downright backstabbing in the name of what he believes to be the greater good. In "Standard Deviation," Bill discovers that Provost Scully, his longtime mentor and friend, has been sleeping with gay prostitutes for years, and rather than guarding this secret, Bill uses it to blackmail the Provost into providing funding for Bill and Virginia's study. We definitely didn't see that kind of anti-heroic betrayal coming from someone wearing a bow tie.
7. Orange is the New Black, "Can't Fix Crazy"
"Can't Fix Crazy," the finale of Orange is the New Black's first season, took prison politics to a brave new place. The whole first season builds up to the Christmas Pageant where we (and Piper) finally see these women as individuals and not just as inmates or felons or something other than ourselves. But, up until this point, Orange is the New Black did a pretty good job of distinguishing Piper from the people surrounding her; Crazy Eyes may have a heart of gold, but Piper's the only one with the squeaky clean exterior. And in "Can't Fix Crazy," when Piper beats the ever-loving shit out of Pennsatucky, Orange is the New Black dispelled every ounce of the very myth it had created. Piper has finally realized that they're all the same, and that's bound to take this show somewhere it's never been before. Now that's ballsy.
Written by: Jacqueline
Jacqueline is one half of the team at the helm of Red Herry, and the whole brain behind almost every fish pun you can find on this website. She is a fierce advocate for helmets, ice cream, and the Oxford Comma.
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