On television as in life, it does not do to stagnate. We must continue to change and if we are to become the best versions of ourselves. We won’t always change in positive ways, sometimes we end up in places we later realize we don’t want to be. But we must always believe that growth is possible and above all else, that hope can be found. Hope for a better life. Hope for peace. Hope for the chance to be a part of something.
I have always been a person who is more drawn to the characters on a TV show than the plot itself. My engagement rests on the ability of a show to create compelling arcs and believable characters and motivations. Whether it has been a striking change over the course of a season or the retrospective observation of a character’s full journey, these stories were the ones that most grabbed my attention and my love.
1. Maya Hart (Girl Meets World) I started watching Girl Meets World this year and Maya quickly became one of my favorite characters of all time. This year was one of great uncertainty for her. She and her best friend were caught in a love triangle with their first crushes. She temporarily lost her way and had to rediscover who she is and who she wants to be. She finally had something good happen that she had hoped for and she was so scared that it was going to go away that she tried to push it away so it couldn’t hurt her in the future. Compared to her growth and slow embrace of hope in season two, she backslid a little and it only increased my feelings of protectiveness over her. She’s a young teenager, of course she doesn’t have it all figured out yet. But that urge to run, to avoid hoping for things because it hurts that much more when they disappear, that’s something that can resonate with people of all ages. She’d rather hurt herself than let someone else hurt her but she’s growing. She’s trying and learning that it is OK to have hope and that good things can happen to her. It’s not a linear process and sometimes she needs a reminder but it doesn’t make the journey any less valuable or compelling to watch.
2. Kelly Severide (Chicago Fire) Kelly’s been my favorite male on the show since episode one and I could not have asked for more from him this year. Since Shay’s death (and even before, but at least he had her to call him out on his nonsense), most of his stories have involved him impulsively sleeping with someone in an attempt to run away from any deeper examination of his feelings. He doesn’t believe that he’s capable of forming any real romantic connections and is so concerned with losing someone else important to him so for years he’s pretended that he isn’t interested. Some of the fault lies with the show for not giving him more to do until this year but that self-doubt has been a prominent feature in his character arc from the beginning. This year, he decided he could do more. He deepened his friendship with Casey back to what I imagine they were before they lost Andy. He’s become one of Gabby’s sounding board as well when she has doubts. He made connections with people that had nothing to do with sex. And finally, in the 100th episode, he decided to become a bone marrow donor and save the life of a young woman with leukemia. He wants to be a part of something bigger than himself and is craving those connections with others. He cares so much, whether he will admit it to himself or not. He’s often self-destructive, but he’s a good man and it’s time for him to recognize that and move forward.
3. Vanessa Ives (Penny Dreadful) No matter how strong a person is, they need people by their side to love them and hold them up when they need help remembering who they are. Vanessa started the season alone and depressed. Her love had turned himself in for the crimes he committed in his home country of America, her surrogate father went on a voyage to Africa to bury their friend, and the comfort she once found in God’s presence was gone. It had been broken by the events of the previous season and she thought there could be nothing left for her. But even without those things, she was determined to press on. She found new friends and allies and remembered someone who showed her incredible kindness in the face of the brutality of the asylum. She was once again hunted by the forces of evil, by the twin forces of Lucifer and Dracula. She managed to be seduced by one of them, convinced that darkness was her destiny and fighting would only lead to more suffering. It was heartbreaking to see her give in to the force she’d spent so long fighting against. It was equally heartbreaking to see her summon the strength to fight it one final time, in the form of her own sacrificial death to rid the world of the evil contained inside her. I wanted a life for her, with Ethan and the children she longed for. I still wish there had been another way to end the series. But she chose the faith that defined her in her last moments. She knew Ethan loved her deeply and that she was not lost to God. She was at peace for once in her adult life. It was a bittersweet ending for a character who has touched me so deeply but I wouldn’t have traded the time I spent with the character or the lessons she taught me for anything.
4. Alex Danvers (Supergirl) Alex’s self-discovery and coming out has been one of my favorite storylines of the year. She’s tried so hard all her life to do the right thing. To be a good big sister to Kara. To be perfect. To be the strong one. To follow in her father’s footsteps. So to see her meet someone who makes her question what she really wants, for her and no one else, has been wonderful to see. It’s opened her up to possibilities she never knew existed for her and she’s embraced them and taken chances. And most importantly to me, the people in her life embraced these new discoveries and what they meant for her. Both Kara and her mom validated this new and kind of scary step she was taking toward her happiness and with the love of her family to support her, she was able to realize that Maggie may have been the catalyst for recognition of her sexuality but she wasn’t the reason she came out. That distinction for Alex to realize that the fact that she liked women was worth realizing for her own good, not what it would mean for any particular romance, was such a good moment for her character and I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.
5. Marcus Kane (The 100) This was the year I fell head over heels for Marcus Kane, with his sexy beard and beautiful character development. All he has ever wanted was to ensure that his people survived. On the Ark, he worked toward that with his strict observation of the law but he quickly learned that wouldn’t work on the ground. So he adapted. He never stopped fighting for his people but he opened himself up to the idea that there was more than what they knew on the Ark. He became a leader that people wanted to follow. He earned the respect and love of the delinquents, including the very guarded Blakes, as well as developed a wonderful friendship with Indra. He embraced certain aspects of Grounder society and afforded them with a respect most Sky People didn’t, which is such a huge change from his once rigid worldview. It’s been such a natural progression for his character and that multi-season journey has been one of the strongest elements of the show to date.
6. Cameron Howe (Halt and Catch Fire) Not everyone deals with change well. I know I don’t and neither does Cameron. Mutiny had grown into something so much bigger than the company she made with just Donna in her house in Texas and it was all just a little too much. She poured her heart and soul into the company, often refusing to delegate because no one else’s vision could match her own and she didn’t want to lose that vision. And when she couldn’t manage to do that, because Mutiny needed to change and adapt if they wanted to survive, she locked herself away and hid. Mackenzie Davis was phenomenal this year. We got to see Cameron be vulnerable and be honest with Donna about the way Donna had broken down some of the protective walls she puts around herself before she finds out the cost of that vulnerability. Her actions when she learned of Donna’s betrayal were so visceral, she curled into herself, desperate for some sort of comfort to ease the pain. You could feel her pain and all I wanted in that moment was to protect her. She survived and rebuilt herself, not the same as she was, but trying to move forward as best as possible. She refused to get re-involved in a relationship she was uncomfortable in, no matter how much she may have wanted it back, and I think that says good things about where she is going into the final season.
7. Ginny Baker (Pitch) Since she started playing baseball, Ginny has had one goal – she was supposed to be the first female player in Major League Baseball. It’s cost her the chance to develop many close friends let alone romantic relationships, milestones like prom, and a closer relationship with her mom. But she did it. The Padres called her up and stuck with her after a rough start. She found an agent who may have been pushy at times but genuinely cared for her, even if she didn’t always know how to best express that. She got to be with Blip and Evelyn and their two adorable boys again. Most of all, she found a team full of people who loved and supported her. With them, she got to be Ginny Baker the baseball player instead of Ginny Baker the female baseball player. She had a captain and catcher who thought she hung the moon (which he was quick to say to anyone but her). She accomplished everything she could have wanted and more, but she was still unhappy. She still felt like she was living someone else’s dreams instead of hers, never in full control of her own destiny. Until she was on track to pitch a no-hitter. When she got momentarily rattled, she was the one to get herself back on track. She didn’t need a pep talk or someone else to give her the life they think she should have. She needed to believe in herself and fight for a choice that she made without anyone else’s influence. It was a proud moment to see how far she’s come and I very much hope we get a season two so we can see her continue to fight for what she wants.
8. Jesus Adams-Foster (The Fosters) Recasting a role in the 3rd season can be a risky proposition. Fans have gotten used to the originally cast actor and it can be hard to adjust. In The Fosters’ case, it was the best thing they could have done. Noah Centineo jumped into the role of Jesus without hesitation and it could not have come at a better time. This was the year Jesus was really allowed to shine and become his own character with the same depth as the rest of his siblings. We got to see him bond with his birth father and be empathetic to his struggles and the way his mistakes have continued to affect him. We had some great scenes of him being a protective brother to Mariana that hit me harder than previous scenes with the two because of the work Centineo is doing. He got to show that there are things he’s interested in besides wrestling and girls and it’s been a needed change for the character. In a year, he’s gone from being the sibling that gets overlooked to one of my favorites.
9. Root (Person of Interest) Final seasons allow for time to reflect on a character’s journey. Root was done with humanity when we met her. She had a marginal respect for Harold because he had created The Machine but had largely written off other people as “bad code”. In the final season, she never stopped fighting to rescue the woman she loved. She playfully teased John and Lionel. She took a bullet to save the life of a man she had come to regard as a close friend. She found a family. Root has never known how to do things halfway. Nothing can stand in her way once she’s made up her mind. If she’s deemed you worthy of affection, she’s gonna love and give with her whole being. And there is no one for whom that is more true than Shaw. She never lost hope that Shaw was still alive. Once she found her, she wasn’t losing her. She couldn’t live with that feeling again. Root would have died right alongside Shaw if Shaw felt that was the only way she could be free of Samaritan’s grasp. She flirted at awkward times (and was the most adorable while doing so) and she saw all the parts of Shaw that made her feel broken and found the beauty in them. I love how much she cared and how it mirrored the way The Machine felt toward them as well. Typecasting aside, no one else could have been the new interface and it was fitting for Root to be standing with everyone in the end, even if her physical body could no longer be there.
10. Alex Karev (Grey’s Anatomy) When you look at Alex Karev in 2016, he looks a lot different than he did in 2005. He’s not as prickly as he once was. He’s found a family and a home for himself. He’s transformed himself into a good man because he’s surrounded himself by people who have believed he could be more than he thought. His friendship with Meredith, especially after Derek’s death and Cristina’s move, has been her rock and a highlight of the series. He was even ready to commit to Jo and start a family with her. It’s the culmination of every lesson he’s learned and the people he’s loved along the way. But all that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of some bad decisions. Jumping to conclusions and beating the hell out of DeLuca was a bad decision. Yelling at Jo and calling her trash was also a bad decision. He messed up. But what Grey’s wanted to show is that those mistakes don’t have to define you. He apologized to Jo and while I don’t think she should date him again, it was important for him to tell her how valued she was and that she’s not trash. He admitted to his assault on DeLuca and is willing to face the consequences for it, especially if it means he can spare Jo any more pain. It’s a step back in the right direction for him and I look forward to see him continue to grow and learn from this in the next year.
Honorable Mentions: Randall Pearson (This Is Us), Teddy Talbot (Rectify), Emily Gilmore (Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life)