Audiences love television because it allows the viewer to become a voyeur. Great television, though, allows the viewer to identify with the characters on screen and become wholly immersed in the fictional world that’s being created. Television can also shock viewers.
In an age in which the viewer can become a fly on the wall in a Mafioso household or counter terrorist agency, it’s no surprise that audiences can be stunned by what they see on television. However, there are moments on the small screen that stick with us. Twists, revelations, and blind sides leave our mouths agape and our eyes transfixed on the flickering cubed box in the living room.
Let’s count down the most jaw dropping, jarring, and astonishing moments in television in recent memory (warning: some moments do contain spoilers
10. Claire’s rib-cage exposed in the morgue on Heroes
As the star high school quarterback attempts to rape Claire at a bonfire, she tries to get away but falls on a sharp spike of wood that becomes embedded in her brain. The next time we see Claire is in the morgue. The coroner removes the piece of wood from Claire’s head and steps out of the room for a phone call. With her instant healing abilities, Claire awakes. She looks down and is horrified to see that she’s on an operating table, and an autopsy is being performed on her body. Claire’s chest lay wide open with her bloody rib cage fully exposed. It was a TV moment that was both unexpected and equally stomach turning.
9. Sara’s Head in a Box on Prison Break
It’s not as if we haven’t seen severed heads in entertainment before. Jack Bauer and Tony Soprano both have hands-on experience in this area, and the movie “Se7en
” made this type of death a pop culture trivia question for years. But how often have you seen a vital character to the plot and ensemble cast go out like this? When Lincoln and Michael are unsuccessful in their attempt to free Sara, villainous Gretchen sends them a message. The message is contained in a pristine white box. When Lincoln opens it up, a pale decapitated head is inside. Viewers at home were stunned into silence.
8. Sue Opens Up at Tribal Council & Richard Hatch Wins Survivor: Borneo
While this past season of "Survivor" was memorable, the first season was certainly unforgettable. As the often nude and openly gay Richard Hatch schemed his way to the final two, fellow contestant and jury member Sue Hawk had choice words for the two remaining survivors. In her famous speech she compares Kelly and Richard to vermin and a serpent and also tells Kelly that she would let her die of thirst if given the option. This was America’s first taste of what reality television could be - compelling, exciting and wildly unpredictable. What’s more unbelievable is not the fact that Richard won $1 million but that he never paid taxes on his winnings. In 2006, he was sentenced to 51 months in prison; he’s currently serving his sentence in a minimum security prison in West Virginia.
7. Pumpkin Spits on New York on Flavor of Love
While no doubt trashy, this moment was no less shocking. On "Flavor of Love" — a show where young women court an old rap star frozen in the 1980s — Pumpkin was just eliminated from the show. Both she and New York had a poor relationship throughout the series, and nothing had changed when Pumpkin was saying her goodbyes on the set. As New York and Pumpkin exchange verbal jabs, Pumpkin decides to launch her DNA onto New York’s face. Not surprisingly, New York didn’t take too kindly to this. This incident lives on as one of the most uncouth moments in reality television history.
6. President Palmer is Assassinated on 24
There are many shocking moments on “24.” A nuclear bomb detonated on U.S soil. The murder of Ryan Chappelle. Air Force One being shot down. But not many moments on this show were more jarring than the truly unexpected assassin’s bullet that pierced the neck of the beloved President Palmer. Early in the episode, President David Palmer is seen with his brother Wayne. He appears distressed, burdened with important knowledge that would soon be revealed episodes later. As he moves to the window to clear his mind, a single bullet rips through the glass. President Palmer crashes to the ground and is unresponsive. Wayne attempts to revive his older brother, but his attempts are futile. While the death of David Palmer was indeed a sad and shocking moment, it did provide the catalyst for what would be the best season of “24” since its debut in 2001. And yet with this episode eerily airing on Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, President Palmer’s death is forever etched in the mind of every “24” fan worldwide.
5. Marcellas Doesn’t Use the Veto to Save Himself on Big Brother 3
It came down to the final five contestants, and Marcellas and Amy were on the block for eviction. Marcellas had won the Power of Veto — a prize that granted him immunity and a guarantee at the final four — should he opt to use it. But he didn’t. He chose to put his faith in the hands of his fellow houseguests, and he was justifiably evicted from the house in one of the most bone-headed and shocking moments in the history of the show. Marcellas’ blind faith in Danielle — and his inability to stand up for himself without fear of making waves—cost him an opportunity to win $500,000.
4. Uncle Junior Shoots Tony Soprano on The Sopranos
The highly anticipated sixth season of “The Sopranos” premiered in early 2006 with a bang. Literally. Paranoid, and in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, Uncle Junior stumbled into the living room with a gun and shot Tony in the stomach. As Tony collapsed to the ground hemorrhaging from the gut, Uncle Junior scrambled to his bedroom and trembled in the closet. The episode ended on a cliffhanger with Tony clutching a blood stained phone. Speculation ran rampant as to what would happen to Tony and if indeed he would die in the hospital over the next few episodes. Arguably what’s most shocking about this scene is not what happened on screen but that the producers were able to keep it a secret for over a year.
3. Flash Forward on Season Finale of Lost
Television viewers are natural detectives. While watching a show, audiences are trained to remember clues in an attempt to unravel a mystery, no matter how enigmatic. That is why the season three finale of “Lost” was so remarkable — because no one saw it coming. This brilliant episode doesn’t reveal, until the very end, that what the audience has been witnessing during the entire two hours of programming was in fact not in the present, but the future. A bearded, disheveled Jack meets Kate at the airport. Now popping oxycodone pills, he is desperate to get back to the same island that held him captive for many weeks. Shocking moments like this don’t come along often, and this one certainly broke the mold.
2. David Aceveda is Raped on The Shield
This scene is so alarming that not only can the details of it not be fully disclosed in this countdown, but it’s still hard to imagine that this even aired on cable television. In season three, Police Captain David Aceveda breaks into a home with other officers looking for evidence. As the other officers leave, Aceveda stays behind to locate damning evidence towards Vic Mackey. Suddenly, a gang member comes in and finds Aceveda snooping around. Catching him off guard, the gang member takes Aceveda’s gun. He forces the police captain to his knees, and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t perform a sex act. What follows is one of the most starling scenes ever portrayed on television in quite some time. The gang member, still holding a gun to Aceveda’s head, takes a photo of the act being formed as collateral. Eventually Vic Mackey and company show up, but it’s far too late. The damage has been done, as Aceveda is forced to cope with his trauma for episodes to come.
1. Nina Myers betrays Jack Bauer, Kills his Wife in “24”
Who saw this coming? Certainly not our sleep deprived hero. But maybe he should’ve. Within the first few hours of Jack Bauer’s first hellish day, he has already suspected former lover and trusted colleague Nina Myers of being a traitor. As hours passed, he convinced himself that he was crazy. And so did the audience. But almost 20 hours later, it is revealed that Nina had a relationship with the Drazens that aided in Jack’s family being kidnapped and placed Senator Palmer in peril. By the end of the arduous day, Jack confronts Nina in the CTU parking lot. Now well-informed about her being the turncoat, Jack demands answers. Nina coldly responds with, “I was doing my job.” With a gun pressed to Nina’s head, Jack lets up. As he rushes into CTU in hopes of finding his family safe and sound, he discovers his pregnant wife has been shot through the stomach. As Jack cradles his dead wife in his arms and sobs, viewers are as devastated as Jack. This was a rare television moment that succeeded in being satisfyingly shocking and deeply heartrending.
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Story by Michael Langston Moore
Starpulse contributing writer