TV’s Most Stressful Episodes From Battlestar Galactica to The Handmaid’s Tale

Battlestar Galactica Season 1, Episode 1 ‘33’

Battlestar Galactica 33

While Syfy’s (at the time Sci-Fi Channel) superb reboot of Battlestar Galactica technically began with a two-part miniseries, “33” is the show’s first proper episode and it’s amazing. “33” catches us with Battlestar Galactica and its fleet of the last human beings in the universe being pursued across the reaches of space by Cylons. But the Cylons, ever-proficient machines that they are, have found a fool proof way to track down the fleet wherever they are in the universe…every…33…minutes. This episode is a perfect introduction to the themes of the series and the stresses its characters will endure. It’s hard not to empathize with the terror of the exhausted fleet as they face an existential threat every 33 minutes on the dot. AB

Line of Duty Series 3, Episode 6 ‘Breach’ 

Line of Duty Vicky McLure Series 3 finale

Series three was the crossover point for Line of Duty, when it went from thinking crime fan’s drama to a show watched by everybody and their dog (it’s huge with dogs. They love all those flashing blue lights). The series three finale was the show at its most thrilling, specifically in the 10 minutes that followed the sending of a now-famous text message: “Urgent exit required.” That text was sent by ‘The Caddy’, a corrupt police officer and lifelong organised crime gang member who’d framed one of our heroes for murder. Mid-interrogation, The Caddy realised that he’d been rumbled and so alerted his criminal fraternity. They broke him out of HQ and into one of the most tense street chases on TV, courtesy of director John Strickland. Gunfire, shots taken from moving vehicles, cars spinning, people leaping in front of flying bullets, a woman in her mid-thirties being forced to do cardio… Sunday nights on BBC hadn’t been this stressful since that presenter broke that fifty grand vase on The Antiques Roadshow. The culmination of a multi-series arc, it was heart rate-racing TV – the sort of finale that makes you stand up and jog on the spot until your husband tells you to sit down, you’re scaring him. LM

Kitchen Nightmares Season 6, Episode 2 ‘Amy’s Baking Company’

The formula for Kitchen Nightmares (based on the British series Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares) is a simple one. Renowned chef and restaurateur Gordon Ramsay enters into a failing restaurant, yells at the owners and staff for a little bit, then some lessons are learned and business turns around. To say that the infamous Amy’s Baking Company episode of Kitchen Nightmares doesn’t follow this formula would be putting it lightly. This is a stressful episode of television because our hero Gordon Ramsay comes across two genuine sociopaths. Amy’s Baking Company (or ABC) is an Arizona restaurant owned by husband and wife team Amy and Sami Bouzaglo. When Gordon first enters the premises, everything seems relatively normal. But it’s not long before he discovers that Sami is a former mobster who steals tips from the servers and threatens to fight several customers a night and Amy is a bug-eyed fire demon from hell who sees enemies and conspirators around every corner. While it’s usually cathartic to watch Gordon yell at delusional small business owners, this episode has viewers praying Gordon will escape Arizona with his life intact. AB 

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3, Episode 13 ‘Mayday’

The Handmaid's Tale season 3 finale Mayday Rita

You could pick almost any episode of The Handmaid’s Tale as one of TV’s most stressful watching experiences; relaxation is not this show’s vibe. Set in a dystopia where the most dreadful things happen on so regular a basis it’s genuinely a wonder to get between two ad breaks without somebody being de-tongued or stoned to death, it’s a contender for the most stressful drama on TV. The series three finale is a particularly tense watch because the stakes are so high. Heroine June has decided to hit the brutal theocracy of Gilead where it hurts – right in its kids. She’s got the word out among resistance channels that she’s getting the children out. Bring her a child of Gilead (all of whom were either stolen from their birth parents and forcibly adopted by members of the ruling elite, or born as a product of state-sponsored rape that is the Handmaid system) and she’ll put it on a plane to Canada. What makes it particularly stressful is that when the kids start coming, they keep coming, and coming. Far more than June had allowed for. With Gilead’s thug soldiers going house to house down the street and a constant threat that somebody could betray her at any minute, June has to think and act fast. A terrifying night-time escape, a heavily patrolled airfield and 86 children to herd and keep quiet… my blood pressure’s up just remembering. LM

The Knick Season 2, Episode 10 ‘This Is All We Are’

The Knick This is All We Are

Thanks to its dim lighting, superb early 20th century set dressing, and gallons and gallons of blood, surgical drama The Knick is always a pretty stressful viewing experience. Its series finale, “This Is All We Are” is particularly intense though. Through 20 episodes, cocaine (and then heroin)-addicted surgeon John Thackery (Clive Owen) has performed countless gory procedures. When his bowels begin to fail (due to the aforementioned) drugs, there is only one person he trusts to perform the corrective surgery on himself: himself. And that’s how viewers are entreated to the sight of our protagonist cutting open his own guts and playing around inside. That, combined with the usual finale stressors, make for one hell of a stressful episode. AB

Lovecraft Country Episode 1, ‘Sundown’

Lovecraft Country

The first episode of this excellent horror drama is also one of the best and the most stressful. Setting out its stall early on, the show follows Atticus (Jonathan Majors), his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and friend Leti (Jurnee Smollett) as they travel into the Jim Crow South in 1950s in search of Atticus’ father. Racism is pervasive from the off but the final act of this ep sees the three racing to cross county lines before sunset to avoid the barbaric ‘sundown’ law that prohibits people of color from being out after dark and the racist sheriffs who want to enforce it. It’s a madly stressful car chase against the actual sun and even though the gang just about makes it, the law men pursue them into the woods to lynch them anyway. Fortunately, just in the nick of time a Shoggoth (many eyed, sharp-toothed killing machine) arrives increasing, but levelling out, the peril. It’s a smart, thrilling, break-neck episode that makes it clear that gore and death are definitely on the table and that monsters come in many forms. RF

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