For the spoiler-conscious beware! I’ve tried to stay vague and avoid spoilers but some small ones might slip through. Tread carefully.
It’s been a great year for television, whether streaming or traditional, as new shows made fantastic debuts, modern classics came to an end and classics returned to our screens after decades away. Below is my list for the top ten individual television episodes of the year; check it out and then let me know your list. I have only put one episode of each show on the list (because if not the list would be made up entirely of one or two shows) and in the current television landscape there is so much to watch and only limited time so if your favourites are not on the list it could be that I have yet to watch it (or possibly didn’t like it).
10 – Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 4 “The Spoils of War”
Season 7 of Game of Thrones is one of the weakest of the show, highlighted by pacing issues and invincible characters, but the fourth episode stands apart as an amazing episode of television. I’m a Bran fan, a character mishandled this season, and this is by far his best episode with his heartbreaking final scene with Meera and then his encounter with Littlefinger leaving Baelish shaken for the first time in the show’s history. Jon and Daenerys grow closer and discover a cave that gives book readers information we have been waiting years for. Oh, and then there’s the finale which ranks among the best sequences in the show, impeccably directed and edited, as Dany’s dragons finally reach Westerosi mainland.
9 – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 12 Episode 2 “The Gang Goes to a Water Park”
By far the funniest 21 minutes of TV in 2017, “The Gang Goes to a Water Park” is the best ‘It’s Always Sunny’ episode in years. The last few seasons have fluctuated in quality episode-by episode but even in the show’s twelfth season they can still hit comedy gold. Gone are the self-referential jokes that now dominate the show as we get a bare-bones simplistic plot of the gang enjoying a day at a water park and hilarity ensues. Slapstick, movie references and AIDs jokes culminate in one of the funniest moments in the show’s history as Frank tests out a brand-new waterslide.
8 – Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Episode 19 “Twin Suns”
“Twin Suns” might be the best piece of Star Wars anything in years. I love the new movies but the episode transcends its spin-off animated Disney show origins and links the original films, prequels and animated series together in a way that feels right and earned. Darth Maul’s character arc comes to a close in a final samurai-style duel with Ben Kenobi in the desert of Tatooine. The fight lasts only 3 lightsaber hits but the build-up is phenomenal and well thought out with each movement purposeful. The voice acting is fantastic and the episode is a vital part of the canon, meaningful for Maul, Kenobi and Ezra who remarkably remains the lead character in the episode despite the legacy characters.
7 – Fargo Season 3 Episode 8 “Who Rules the Land of Denial”
Just when Fargo season 3 was in danger of becoming stagnant we get “Who Rules the Land of Denial”. The best Fargo episodes homage the Coen Brothers filmography while telling their own story and that’s what the episode nails. A tremendously tense action chase sequence begins the episode which feels equal parts No Country for Old Men and Blood Simple before a Big Lebowski bowling alley turns up out of nowhere complete with a man who might be God (the always awesome Ray Wise) and a kitten that may be Ewan McGregor. The ridiculousness makes way for a time jump (season 1 style) and a showing of how evil V.M. Varga really is in the second half, cementing him as the best TV villain of the year and perfectly setting up the final two episodes.
6 – Better Call Saul Season 3 Episode 5 “Chicanery”
Since its debut, Better Call Saul made the wise decision to be a very different show than its predecessor Breaking Bad. “Chicanery” is the show at its most separated from Breaking Bad, a full-on courtroom episode, and it also happens to be the best episode of the entire series. Wisely the writers didn’t drag out the conflict between Jimmy and Chuck over the entire season and we get the big legal confrontation at the half-way point as the brothers’ relationship is cross-examined for all to see. The writing is exceptional as matters get personal and Jimmy exploits Chuck’s mental illness turning Chuck from villain to victim in the eyes of the audience and Jimmy taking one large step closer to becoming Saul. Also, Huell Babineaux makes his first appearance in the show which is cause for celebration.
5 – Legion Season 1 Episode 1 “Chapter 1”
Legion was a real surprise this year. We are inundated with superhero shows at the moment, I’m still finishing up The Punisher, and most of them have been very repetitive, or down right bad (Iron Fist and The Defenders) but Legion was a breath of fresh air. Based on the Marvel comics, Legion is barely a superhero show, instead dealing with mental illness and intense character work within a very quirky comic-book style world. The lead character is the son of Charles Xavier but thankfully the show distances itself from superheroes to tell its own story and showrunner Noah Hawley (the brains behind Fargo) gives us an incredibly fresh take on a now sluggish genre. While there is a phenomenal sequence set to ‘Bolero’ is a later episode I have to choose the first episode, written and directed by Hawley himself (that guy is too damn talented) as my favourite. Superpowers are used to limited but fantastic effect as the audience is left unsure what is real and what isn’t until the big final scene and it is also one of the funniest episodes of TV this past year. Oh, and the impromptu dance sequence is great too.
4 – Mindhunter Season 1 Episode 10
David Fincher’s new Netflix show Mindhunter is the best debut series this year and culminates in an impeccable season finale. Fincher directs 4 out of the 10 episodes of the show which follows the FBI’s elite serial crime unit as they find a way to understand the minds of serial killers. The show is suitably slow-paced and reminds me of Mad Men, not just with the period setting but with the way you aren’t entirely sure of what the season has meant for the characters until the very end and what an end we get. The lead protagonist Holden crosses a line before being wretched back into reality as his confidence is torn away by a fearful encounter with serial killer Ed Kemper. Holden has become increasingly sure-minded and as he dissects those of others until in the final moments he realises the magnitude and danger of his work on a personal level, all aided by a wonderful and obscure Led Zeppelin track. For a show made up almost entirely of quiet conversations and interrogations, Fincher turns it into the most intense television of the year.
3 – The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 8 “The Book of Nora”
The Leftovers has come a long way from its humble and tonally messy beginnings. I enjoyed the first season but it wasn’t until the second that the show hit its true potential. In fact, I’ll say that The Leftovers season 2 is my favourite season of television ever. Season 3 isn’t quite as good but it gets close. The drama, with closeted sci-fi and supernatural tendencies, turns apocalyptic in season 3 as HBO’s best series concludes in Australia of all places. For all the show’s weirdness and wild concept (2% of the world’s population suddenly disappearing), the series is truly about the characters, how broken they are and how, if possible, they can be fixed. At times uplifting, often depressing, it’s an emotional journey which came to a unique and subtle ending in the series finale with a beautiful and ambiguous monologue which can be deciphered in multiple ways. Simultaneously a happy and sad ending it is one of the best TV series finales ever and if I didn’t have my one episode of a show only rule this list would be made up entirely of The Leftovers and my next choices. It was hard to pick just one episode of The Leftovers; the preceding episode came close which is the weirdest and most metaphysical instalment of the entire show but the finale is something truly special.
2 – Twin Peaks: The Return “Part 8”
When Twin Peaks was announced to return it was surrounded by secrecy. It couldn’t be the same show as before, the landscape and the writers, David Lynch and Mark Frost, have changed so much since but we sure weren’t ready for what we ultimately received. The return of Twin Peaks transcended television and became pure art and Part 8 is the epitome of this evolution. It starts with a car on a dark highway which is classic Lynch but then transforms into something new not just for Lynch but for television in general. Evil Cooper is shot, BOB is revealed and Nine Inch Nails perform and that’s before the episode really gets started. The sweeping camera move into the nuclear explosion is an image for the history books as we take a flashback into how our world became linked with the other dimensions. We see, through a selection of twisted and discordant images, which somehow make sense, how evil came to Earth and how light was created to meet it in a phenomenal scene which reveals so much about the Twin Peaks mythos and its most important character. Next we cut to an unexplained sequence in the 1950’s desert as frog-moths and skull-crushing Woodsmen take centre stage before the credits roll. So much is revealed but not explicitly; the viewer has to examine and debate the meaning and we will do so for years to come. It’s expressionism and storytelling perfectly combined.
1 – Twin Peaks: The Return “Parts 1 and 2”
Okay, so I lied about only having one episode of each show be on the list but I just had to do it. Part 8 of Twin Peaks is an artistic masterpiece and needed to be on the list but Parts 1 and 2 (they aired edited together so I’m counting them as one episode) is the episode I personally enjoyed the most. I love the original Twin Peaks and was eagerly awaiting the return, so much so that I woke up at 4am while on holiday to watch the first episode as soon as it was available here in the UK. My eyes were glued to my laptop for the whole two hours as we got something completely different from the old show yet equally enjoyable. Brand new scenes in the Red Room, finally seeing Mr C (evil Cooper) and that dark weird stuff with the big glass box and the terrifying monster inside. I couldn’t believe I was watching new Twin Peaks and I got emotional as the final scene took place, seeing Shelly and James in the Roadhouse, a Renault tending bar, and the Chromatics performing ‘Shadow’. I was back in this quirky world that felt like home again and I relished every second of every emotion it made me feel. Twin Peaks was back and it is one of the best things to ever call television home.
What are your favourite television episodes of 2017? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about TV, movies and videogames on Twitter @kylebrrtt.