The holidays are upon us, music fans, and with them have come midseason finales. In TV terms, that can mean winter wonderlands and old-timey sweetness… or death, despair, and, apparently, pageant princesses. Traditional carols have figured into the last two weeks of “show tunes,” as have pop confections, indie trifles, and love songs — an appropriately eclectic mix to wind down the year. We’ll see you back on the Music Mix in 2012. Until then, check out our final TV Jukebox picks of the year. (Warning for those still catching up on DVR: SPOILERS follow!)
AMERICAN HORROR STORY (FX)
The song: Harry Simeone Chorale, “The Little Drummer Boy”
The episode: “Afterbirth” (112)
The hook: From the devilish throwback to the Patience & Prudence song in the pilot to the spine-tingling choice of “Georgie’s Theme” at the end, this was a musically superb episode. The standout moment, however, was a redemptive scene when the Harmon family — cooing over their new baby and finally united after all this turmoil — gathered with Moira to trim the Christmas tree (Ben chopped it down himself!). The placid choral arrangement mirrored their long-awaited serenity. At the same time, this Christmas classic was gloriously subverted, in tried-and-true Horror-style. For the Harmons, this moment was quite literally a rebirth. In this strange universe, Ben could be truly happy only in death, and only once the family’s lives had ended could they actually begin.
BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO)
The song: Billy Murray, “Over There”
The episode: “To the Lost” (212)
The hook: On the season 2 finale of Boardwalk Empire, Jimmy’s war in Europe and his war in Atlantic City converged, and “Over There” was the musical anchor that tied it all together. After betraying Nucky several weeks back, Jimmy’s days were numbered, and he was well aware. A pall of inevitability hung over Jimmy throughout the episode, and his attempts to return to his mentor’s good graces seemed more like making amends than trying to re-establish his position in the organization. It all came to a head one rainy night, when Jimmy was entertaining his friend Richard Harrow in his home, recalling the lyrics of a song he used to sing back in the trenches. Nucky called, and Jimmy uncharacteristically told go-to guy Harrow to stay behind. Flash forward to Nucky holding a gun to Jimmy’s head as his former protégé talked Nucky through the ugliness of murder. For Jimmy, it was just confirmation of what he already knew: “I died in the trench.” Moments later, Jimmy was shot in the head (twice) as visions of the battlefield flashed before his eyes. When the end credits rolled, with Murray’s song playing, once jaunty, now foreboding: “So prepare, say a prayer. Send the word, send the word to beware. We’ll be over, we’re coming over, and we won’t come back ’til it’s over, over there.”
Watch it! The episode is only available to HBO Go subscribers, but you can hear Murray’s original on YouTube. Make sure to read our interviews with showrunner Terence Winter and Jimmy himself (actor Michael Pitt), then chime in with your own reaction.
A GIFTED MAN (CBS)
The song: Coldplay, “Paradise”
The episode: “In Case of Abnormal Rhythm” (109)
The hook: Coldplay’s angsty tune underscored a heart-wrenching moment between a dying woman and her new husband on the medical drama’s fall finale. Julia, who’d contracted rabies, was rushed into an ambulance with her boyfriend and Dr. Michael Holt. The couple were married at the last minute, just before Julia flatlined. The song’s wistful lyrics (“When she was just a girl, she expected the world, but it flew away from her reach”) express Julia’s wasted potential and Michael’s anguish (“Life goes on, it gets so heavy. The wheel breaks the butterfly, every tear a waterfall”). Indeed, sometimes “Paradise” means you have to leave behind what’s here on Earth.
Watch it! The wheel crushes the butterfly at 34:42 on A Gifted Man‘s video page.
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