The Five, now on SBS On Demand, is one of those delectable mysteries that isn’t overly concerned with subtlety, viewing every episode as an opportunity to go big or go home.
Unlike Breaking Bad or The Wire, where twists are considered from all angles and great pains are taken to give us whiplash without sacrificing believability, The Five relishes in (and relies on) grand, fantastical reveals to keep us on the hook.
It’s a risky model to follow – a show can establish itself as always heading towards its next twist, blowing audiences minds with its first few, but we can quickly lock onto patterns, and therefore shows like 24 and Lost ended up leaking steam as the seasons progressed.
Luckily, this debut series from massively successful crime author Harlan Coben confines its story to one ten-episode season, so it gets away with shaping the plot around a succession of twists and turns, as it quits while it's ahead.
But can it sit alongside these, the greatest TV twists ever? You decide...
Lost: “We have to go back”
In an example of two writers having a such a stronghold on our viewing experience that it’s almost as if they’re dictating our every thought, Lindelof and Cuse use our existing expectations of the increasingly stale flashback structure, making us think we’re doing as we always do.
We watch Jack in what we think is another story from his past, until in the final scene he holds a clandestine meeting with a mysterious woman who turns out to be Kate, a woman he’d never met prior to the plane crash. By the time Jack scream-pleads with Kate, “we have to go back”, the creators had breathed new life into the show.
24: Jack Bauer’s mistress is the mole
Watching this scene back now and it all comes across rather silly, but it’s easy to forget the exhilaration shared by 24’s massive audience at each episode’s conclusion – a hard cut to four clicks of the time code and an enforced wait until the next instalment.
The planting of a mole or a spy or a player of both sides quickly became a 24 trope – to the point where viewers would spend each season wagering which of the seemingly virtuous CTU staff members will suddenly start speaking German. But Nina coming out as the mole was such a hefty left turn that the show never really winded viewers in the same way again.
Newhart: Bob wakes up in his old show
It’s a show famous more for its finale twist than all the seasons that came before it. Bob Newhart wakes up in the iconic role from his previous show (Dr. Bob Hartley of The Bob Newhart Show), and announces that the entire sitcom had been a dream in the doc’s head.
Dexter: John Lithgow kills Dexter’s wife
For Dexter, everything seemed to be coming up Milhouse. His fascination with fellow serial-killer-come-family-man Arthur ‘The Trinity Killer’ Mitchell is a thing of the past. He’s finally put an end to the veteran psychopath’s life, and all that’s left to do is return home and appreciate what he’s taken for granted – Rita and the kids.
Of course, the happy ending we expect is ruined by a shift in the score, and the reveal of baby Harrison bawling in a floor of blood —a call back to Dexter’s witnessing of his mother’s murder. Trinity got to Rita earlier on, and had always planned to die by Dexter’s hand.
Roseanne: The entire final season
They win the lottery, but guess what? The whole thing took place in Roseanne’s head.
The Wire: Omar is killed by a tiny teenager
The Wire viewers expected Omar to go out with hell’s fire in his eyes, or at the very least, with the operatic ritual surrounding Stringer’s murder. Which is why the unexpected bullet to the side of Omar’s head at the hands of the tiniest corner boy in the history of the corner is so surprisingly satisfying. Omar was never meant to go out with a whimper. He deserved more. But as David Simon has Snoop tell the new Omar (Michael): “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”
Damages: Ellen has the last laugh
All through the jigsaw that was Damages’ debut season, expert manipulator Patty Hewes was always one step ahead of her prodigious new staffer. By the end of the season, Ellen’s ideals towards the law seem poisoned, and her bloody fiancée is dead, but she’s still associating with Patty. Just as we expect the season to close out with master maintaining dominance over underling, the writers reveal that underline is working with the FBI to take down master.
St. Elsewhere: The series finale
In the entire eccentric drama’s finale, all we’ve come to know and love is revealed to be - the thoughts of an autistic boy.
Game of Thrones: “The Red Wedding” (under protest)
I’m not even sure this season four blood bonanza is technically a twist. Unexpected deaths are GoT’s thing, and after we lost our protagonist in season one, is this mini-massacre really twisting anything? My opinion is leagues beneath anything resembling authority, but the scene seems more like synchronised shocks of violence as opposed to twisting the narrative’s fabric. Don’t listen to me though, plenty refer to “The Red Wedding” as television’s best ever twist.
Weeds: Nancy learns of Peter’s occupation
In season 2, suburban weed dealer Nancy Botwin wakes up in the middle of the night in the bed of her new lover and slips on his Jacket while using the bathroom. Up until this point, Peter Scottson hasn’t really done anything but play the affable, charming new stranger in Nancy’s adult life. In the sink mirror, she (and we) learn of his job – a DEA agent.
Breaking Bad: Hank reads Walt Whitman
In season five, having amassed a storage unit full of meth revenue, Walt announces to Skylar he’s out of the illegal drug empire business. But just as the Whites’ world is returning to some version of normal, Hank stumbles across the truth about his brother-in-law while seated on the toilet.
The Simpsons: Mr. Burns’ shooter is the last person we expected
Before part two of “Who Shot Mr. Burns”, many guessed that the position in which Monty fell unconscious — on a weather dial with each arm (conveniently) extended and aimed at the letters W and S – meant that Smithers’ crazy love for his elderly boss lead to a crime of passion. However nobody thought to read the dial letters upside down, and therefore nobody figured out that Mr. Burns was shot by baby M(aggie) S(impson).
Dallas: Patrick Duffy was in the shower for the whole season
Killing off one of '80s mega-soap Dallas’s most popular characters - Bobby (Patrick Duffy) was sufficiently shocking (and melodramatic), but left fans wounded and lost. An entire Duffy-less season proved the man was a key ingredient to the show’s success, so they brought the actor back.
How exactly the writers went about this is a stroke of lazy genius. Bobby wasn’t struck by a car and killed. He’d merely been in the shower the whole time. Unfortunately this meant that every story from the Duffy-less season was suddenly Pam’s season-long dream.
We think it works better if Duffy had actually been showering in their house for a straight year with Pam none the wiser, but Dallas never went that surreal.
The Good Wife: Will's dead!
Another brutal character turn that we can call twist as it came so far out of the realm of our expectations. The consistently complimented network drama gave audiences no forewarning that its romantic male lead was about to bite several bullets in a season finale.
But unlike mainstays of other hit dramas who receive life-threatening gun-shot wounds as a story device rather than a character conclusion (Christopher in The Sopranos, Josh Lyman in The West Wing, House in House, to name a few, and all lived on), The Good Wife followed through and whiplashed fans into grief over the fact that some guest star with a stage gun can forever take away Will Gardner.
Need more twists? The entire series of The Five is available on SBS On Demand.
Watch the first episode right here: