Welcome to my second Best of 2014 list! Today we are taking a look at some of the best episodes of the year. This is always a tough list to make, as evidenced by the fact that my honorable mention list is nearly as long as my actual list. It was truly a great year in TV with so many episodes that made me laugh, cry and think. In no particular order, here are the episodes that stuck with me most this year. As always, feel free to make your own list in the comments below and for even more Best Of fun, head over the Nerdy Girl Notes for Katie’s favorites of the year.
Outlander – The Wedding It’s a crazy situation when two characters need to get married after knowing each other a short time in order to protect one of them from an angry English soldier. It’s even crazier when you consider that one of them recently traveled back in time 200 years and left a husband behind in the present. Yet Outlander makes these unusual situations work and that is largely due to the strength of the chemistry between Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan. It is believable that Claire would be drawn to Jamie in this strange world and the 6 episodes preceding “The Wedding” shows that progression. Claire may be terrified and conflicted but there is no denying that she wants Jamie. Jaime would have married Claire just to protect her because it was the right thing to do, but it’s also undeniable that he deeply cares for her. And this episode shows just that – two strangers who are drawn to the other and navigating their feelings under a speedier timeline than usual. The sex, while required to make it official, isn’t an event of dreams. Jamie started out a bit confused about which direction each of them was supposed to face and then quickly finished as he was told women wouldn’t enjoy it much. And here is where the episode (and the book series it is based on, does something remarkable). It allows Claire to tell Jamie how much she did enjoy it and to teach him how to please her. Claire is a woman who knows what she wants and rarely has a show focused so much on her desires and pleasure. The episode gave us a moment solely from Claire’s perspective as she enjoys and examines her new husbands nude body before turning and allowing him to do the same for her. We get a female perspective of the sex and that is something that has been sorely lacking for too long.
The Good Wife – Dramatics Your Honor While not my favorite episode in the season (that would be The Last Call, the episode following it), this episode pulled off an impressive feat. It killed off a main character with absolutely no buildup. There were no spoilers that a character’s life hung in the balance, nothing about an actor leaving, nothing in previews for the episode. It was abrupt and it was startling. It allowed us (or at least the East Coast viewers who happened to be watching live) to be hit with the full emotional impact of the death. Even for those of us who were spoiled thanks to a combination of a different timezone, the internet, and more than a little bit of impatient curiosity, those final few moments were still breathless viewing. It was the second time in one season that The Good Wife took what we thought we knew about the show and threw it all away. It sent the show in a new direction and was one of those episodes of TV I was happy to experience with everyone else online.
Rectify – Donald the Normal Sometimes the only possible reaction one can after watching a particularly powerful episode of TV is to sit there in stunned silence and just experience the moment. That’s what this episode of Rectify did for me. Just the scenes with Kerwin’s family would have been enough to make this episode emotionally powerful. But what really made me love this episode was Daniel’s attempt to live life for a day free of his history and the suspicions of the residents of Paulie only to realize that you can’t outrun your past. It’s heartbreaking to see Daniel’s joy at getting to interact with other people without any baggage clouding their view of him. He gets to be the person he might have been without the murder charge and years in prison hanging over his head. Then he runs into a couple who recognizes him and any chance he thinks he has of a normal life vanishes. It is a beautifully acted episode from Aden Young and takes wonderful advantage of the slow and contemplative tone of the show. It was emotionally intense for me to watch but I loved how resonant and full it felt.
True Detective – The Secret Fate of All Life The editing and acting in this episode are fantastic. I loved listening to Rust and Marty tell the story of what happened to the Ledoux cousins back in 1995 while we saw the actual events unfold on the screen. It was a fascinating look at how we construct stories about our past to suit our needs (in Rust and Cohle’s case, to cover up the killing of the Ledoux cousins) and while Rust’s philosophizing has gotten a lot of the attention on the show, I enjoyed the emphasis on the psychology behind these two men getting from who they were when we first see them in 1995 to their present state, especially Rust. We saw their journey and that was never more clear than it was in this episode.
Parks and Recreation – Ann and Chris Ever since it was announced that Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe were leaving the main cast of Parks and Recreation, I knew I would never be ready for the episode that had Leslie and Ann saying goodbye. Their friendship has been a rock and grounding point for the series as they have supported each other and loved each other through all the changes in their lives. After seeing Ann and Chris, I couldn’t think of a better way to have said goodbye. Parks and Recreation is a show that works because of it’s focus on friendship and doing good things for those you love. It makes you feel like you’re being wrapped in a warm hug and that’s how they said goodbye to Ann and Chris. Leslie’s going-away party to Ann was pure Leslie Knope. It was big and over-the-top but with an emotional core. The plan to have Ann present at the ribbon-cutting for the park that brought these two together was the only way to end the chapter of their friendship in Pawnee. It was a tribute to all the memories they have shared and all the ones they will tell each other about in the future when they aren’t physically in each others lives. Ann’s goodbye to everyone perfectly fit her relationship with them and her last moment of bonding with April made me cry. Leslie said it best – Ann changed her. Leslie Knope is the woman she is today because of her friendship with Ann. It did what only the best, closest friendships can do and left the other person fundamentally changed for the better because of their connection. For as much as this show focuses on Ann and Leslie, they are always sure to never shortchange the other friendship duo of Ben and Chris. Like Ann and Leslie, Ben and Chris have been through a lot together. Their lives changed when they got to Pawnee and it all happened with the other at their side. Chris is such a thoughtful human being and so of course gave the guys very heartfelt presents but it could only be Ben who felt like he had to do more to say goodbye and only he could get the rest of the guys together to create the perfect gift. Like Ann and Leslie, Ben and Chris are the perfect balance for each other. This was an emotional episode to watch, but a send-off that did these characters and their relationships with each other justice.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – The Party Brooklyn Nine-Nine had a great year in 2014 and there were more than one episode that could have made this list, but what I love most about this episode was how well it was able to accomplish one of the chief goals of any comedy – it made me laugh. Terry’s attempt to get the precinct to behave like normal human beings cracked me up every time as did Amy’s need to find common ground with Captain Holt. This episode is Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s equivalent of Parks and Recreation’s “Flu Season” for me. It’s a legitimately funny episode with a sweet, heartfelt ending. It’s my go-to for this show when I need a pick-me-up because it contains everything I love about it.
Bob’s Burgers – Dawn of the Peck This episode shows off everything I love about Bob’s Burgers and makes excellent use of the animated format. The sight of Linda, Teddy, and Mickey walking to rescue the children with strapped animals around their bodies to protect them from the crazed fowl was not only a hilarious visual image but a perfect representation of both the heart and absurdity of the show. This episode also features drunk Bob dancing to Donna Summer and a Linda protecting her family by head-butting a turkey and becoming the alpha turkey so overall, it was just an extremely hilarious, very sweet episode that captures the best Bob’s Burgers has to offer.
Penny Dreadful – Possession As I will expand upon in a few days in my Best Actors of 2014 list, Eva Green is outstanding as Vanessa Ives. This is the episode that best shows her talent and ability to transform her performance so distinctly and as a result, it is the best episode of the first season. It is very nearly a bottle episode, with only the ending venturing out of Sir Malcolm’s house, but it never feels constrained. The highlight is clearly Eva Green’s ability to make you believe she is legitimately possessed by the devil, but it’s also an interesting look at a relationships that hadn’t been delved into too deeply at that point. Vanessa and Ethan have an interesting connection that I hope will be explored further as well as Ethan’s ability to perform at least a partial or temporary exorcism. The final moments made me hold my breath and the final scene of Vanessa realizing where Mina was being held had me ready to watch the next episode immediately.
The Affair – Pilot I really love the pilot episode of The Affair. I loved the look at the world through both Noah and Allison’s eyes and I loved the additional element of the police investigation in the future. This episode excited me intellectually more than emotionally but occasionally that’s something I want from my TV. I’m not sure it’s worked quite as well throughout the rest of the first season but I love the idea of breaking this episode into two distinct points-of-view. We see Noah’s version of things before seeing Allison’s and while there is some overlap, there are also a lot of differences. I’ve always been of the opinion that our perception of events matters more than the reality of those events and this episode captured that idea so well. I loved the unusual framing devices used and the promise of what this show could be, even if I haven’t decided whether or not to finish the first season.
The Mindy Project – Danny and Mindy Mindy Lahiri is a girl who loves rom-coms. Since the show began, she’s been looking for that one guy who she’ll meet and fall in love with, just like the stories she loves. She was so desperate to find love that she put up with a lot and changed for the man she was with. What she didn’t realize is that she’s been in a love story this whole time, just a slower burning one with a man who was nearly too afraid to tell her how he really feels. Danny tried to reenact one of Mindy’s favorite movies (You Got Mail) with disastrous results. He then asks for a second chance and very nearly screws that up too but with an assist from their co-workers, he meets her at the top of the Empire State Building. True, she’s exhausted from walking up far too many flights of stairs, but Mindy Lahiri finally got the start of her happy ending. But only after telling him that she was going to need things to be different this time. She needed something real and Danny promised to give it to her. It’s a love story worthy of any rom-com and under the skilled hand of Mindy Kahling, a joy to watch.
Honorable Mentions: Castle – The Time of Our Lives, Once Upon a Time – There’s No Place Like Home, The Flash – Flash vs. Arrow, Looking – Looking for the Future, Enlisted – Randy Get Your Gun, Hannibal – Mizumono, Review – Quitting, Last Day, Irish, Transparent – Moppa