This is my fourth list of the year and the first one I’ve really had a difficult time ranking. Even more so than favorite characters or relationships, this list feels like a reflection of who I am and what I love about television. The specific moments and events that resonate with people are so individual and don’t always have the same effect out of context. Some stand on their own, but others are only pieces (often culminations) of a character’s journey over seasons or entire series. No matter how many of these moments you are familiar with, I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts about them and share some of your own favorites in the comments below.
1. Lorelai’s best memory of Richard (Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life) I’m not sure that Lauren Graham has ever been better than she was in this scene. Though time has passed since his death, Lorelai still hadn’t managed to fully process the realities of her father’s death. There was a loss in the general sense but the full force of her emotions had yet to hit her until she stood and looked at the wilderness. While Lorelai had a complicated relationship with her parents, she loved Richard. He was distant and not as involved as she might have needed, but he loved her and tried to show it as best he could. Teenage heartbreak is kind of the worst. Without any perspective, all you have is the fact that it hurts and is humiliating and makes you question everything. Richard knew where to find Lorelai and knew what would help ease the pain. He knew she wanted the pretzel and knew what kind of movie she would want to see. He knew she didn’t need a lecture, just some love and compassion. He knew she needed this to be a secret from Emily, who wouldn’t have understood either of their actions at the time. On that day, Richard gave Lorelai exactly what she needed. She needed to feel as though someone saw her and understood her just as she was. It wasn’t a feeling she got often in her childhood. Richard never intended to hurt his daughter or push her away. He loved her deeply even if he couldn’t always demonstrate it in a way Lorelai needed. But he left her with this memory, this secret between just the two of them. And by letting Emily in on the secret, by showing her that Lorelai was missing her father just as much as Emily was missing her husband, he helped repair the rift between them just enough to keep a relationship possible.
2. I’m gonna miss her (The Americans) For a scene with so few words, so much is said and expressed. For the first time in Elizabeth’s adult life, she had a friend. Though it started as an assignment and though Elizabeth could never be fully honest with her, she genuinely enjoyed Young Hee’s company. The laughter and friendship was real, even if it’s origins weren’t. I wish that there could have been another way, that Elizabeth could have kept this. The fact that she even tried speaks volumes about what this relationship meant to her. But there wasn’t, so after doing her duty for her country, she came home and let herself be vulnerable and comforted by her husband. She’s honest here, in a way she can only be with Philip. He’s the only one who gets to see this side of her, the fragile side. He can’t make it better but he can sit there with her so she doesn’t have to be any more alone than she already feels like she is.
3. It’ll always be yours (Game of Thrones) I stopped watching this show last season but this relationship is something that they are getting exactly right and that is all thanks to Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. They love these characters and their dynamic so much and it shines through in every scene they share. Every interaction is so layered and full of unspoken truths each are unable to give voice to. By allegiance, they are on opposing sides of this war. Jaime is loyal to his family and Brienne continues to honor her oath pledged to Catelyn and now Sansa Stark. That fact hangs heavy over their reunion. They recognize that there may come a day when they are asked to fight against each other and Jaime is doing is best not to think about that fact. Brienne tries to deal with it head on and essentially tells him that despite her love for him, her pledge comes first. It’s always the things that are unsaid that are most important with these two, especially when it comes to Oathkeeper. We know it symbolizes their relationship. It’s their unwavering faith in each other’s word and honor. They know it too and you see that in the scene where Brienne tries to return it. She’s terrified of what loving this man might mean and how she can reconcile that with her duties. She’s afraid to lose him but also afraid to have him. Jaime on the other hand, is more sure of his love, but not ready to face the consequences that love will bring. There is a tenderness in the way he says “it’ll always be yours” that leaves little doubt as to what he is actually talking about, a fact not missed by Brienne judging by her face. Every time Coster-Waldau and Christie share a scene together, I’m left in awe of their ability to convey so much in a look or change of tone. I may not care about much else on the show, but these two will always bring me back.
4. Stef gets a haircut (The Fosters) This is an incredible moment and another example of why The Fosters is such important television. It says so much about expected gender presentation and how it affects us even when we know it shouldn’t. Then to also show the way Stef’s orientation intersects with that and adds a new layer to the way she has had to navigate the way people perceive her is truly remarkable. This is Stef at her very best. It’s her making a decision that is based on her own desires and that rejects all the negative words in her head telling her why something isn’t for her. She grew up hearing that it was bad to be a dyke. She fought a lot of that upbringing when she fell in love with Lena but it doesn’t mean that her internalized homophobia disappeared. There is still that association in her head that in order to be a “good” lesbian, she has to be femme and conform to traditional feminine standards in the way she looks. She sorted through all of the voices in her head and come to a solution that works for her and what she wants. Lena would love her with or without boobs, but Stef likes having them so implants were the right choice for her. The show points out that none of these choices are the right choice for everyone but laid out reasons why it was the right choice for Stef. And I will always love the fact that Lena is very much enjoying her wife’s new look and is ready for them to jump into bed as soon as possible. Their relationship brings me so much joy and there can never be enough affection and attraction between married couples on TV for my tastes.
5. Joyful, Joyful (Broad City) Ilana is a disaster and I cannot imagine having to work with her. So what better way for her coworker to imagine the glorious moment of relief as Ilana walks out of the door for the final time but with a fantasy Sister Act 2 homage? I am already guaranteed to love musical sequences in any episode of television, so this was already made for me but to include a tribute to a movie moment I love to death put it over the top for me. I had a smile on my face the second Joyful, Joyful started playing but then they just ran with it. It had the 90s fashion and the most memorable moments of the song and the dance moves and it was perfect. Or so I thought, until the nun in the habit turned around and it was Whoopi Goldberg and an already perfect scene became even better.
6. Why am I still so lonely (Rectify)/When do I get out (Queen Sugar) I’m cheating and picking two moments from different shows for this spot because they complement each other so well. Just because Daniel and Ralph Angel are out of prison and on their own doesn’t mean they are free and that fact is illustrated heartbreakingly in these two scenes. There is an anger present in each of them, along with a deep sadness. Their incarcerations were different as were the circumstances that led to them, but the lingering effects of their time in prison remain in each of them. Even if Daniel gets his conviction overturned, it can’t erase the horrors he went through on death row. And just because Violet does return custody of Blue to Ralph Angel, he can never regain that time with his son. He’ll always have the stigma of being an ex-con. Both moments give a sobering look at our justice system and the harm it can continue to do even after a person is released.
7. Harold walks away & John smiles (Person of Interest) The series was always building to this moment. If it was at all possible, John was always going to choose to save Harold because Harold had done it for him long ago. When he was alone, broken and adrift, Harold gave him a purpose. He gave him a family. He gave him a cause he could believe in once more and over and over again, he proved himself worthy of John’s respect and trust. He taught him that saving people, even if it was only one person at a time, was a goal worth fighting for. And that was the last thing John did. He saved the person in the world who was most important to him. So Harold chose to respect that final wish. The shot of John smiling when he sees Harold begin to walk away breaks me every time I watch it. This relationship is the core of the series. They changed each other’s lives and this felt like the best way each of them could honor what the other person has come to mean to them.
8. Vanessa’s death (Penny Dreadful) I know the existence of this scene is controversial and I’m not even entirely sure where I stand on the idea of Vanessa’s death. I would have liked more for her. I wanted her to settle down with Ethan and have Malcolm continue to be a surrogate father to them both and eventual grandfather to their children and for her to live a life of peace. But if that wasn’t in the cards for her, and I can recognize why it may not have been, this is the death I would have chosen for her. In her final moments, Vanessa was able to chose what was most important to her. She died as herself, with her love for Ethan and God on full display, rather the Mother of Evil she didn’t want to be, but seemed to be an inextricable part of her. She chose faith and hope in the end, even if it meant sacrificing herself to get it. The scene is gorgeously done with the candles surrounding Vanessa and Ethan and Eva Green and Josh Hartnett are doing some of their best work of the series. It completely breaks my heart but does so with care and skill (at least in my book, I know others differed) and with the deepest of respect for the person Vanessa was at her core.
9. You don’t ease pain, you overcome it (The 100) Clarke was in a bad place for most of the season. She had the weight of the decision made at Mount Weather pressing down on her then the pain of Lexa’s death. It was too much to bear, so she didn’t. She ran, she tried to focus on other things, and tried to make a new life for herself away from anything that could remind her that she wasn’t fine at all. She may not have taken the chip to erase her memories, but she was determined to bury them as much as possible. After a season of running, when faced with a worldwide nuclear meltdown and a promise from ALIE to help her save the human race by moving them all to the City of Light, she realized that running wasn’t a solution. She learned you can’t move on from your pain until you face it. There is no shortcut. It’s work to overcome but it can be done with people you love by your side. ALIE’s use of the word “together” was significant here. The last time Clarke had a lever to pull, she didn’t do it alone. She had Bellamy at her side, his hand on hers, telling her that they were in this together. She’s not saving the world alone and her burdens aren’t hers to bear alone. She has a partner in leadership and a friend to face this challenge with. She has people who love her and who will work alongside her, not just to save the world, but also to help her heal. Clarke is the reason I fell in love with this show and seeing her willing to take on whatever comes, rather than continue to run, was one of my proudest character moments of the year.
10. Jimmy proposes and leaves (You’re the Worst) I went from happy tears to heartbreak in between these two scenes. I recognize that these two, particularly Jimmy, are in no condition to be getting married. They just got over a fight about whether each truly had the things they wanted (or thought they wanted) out of a relationship. It ended with the recognition that they worked together and weren’t scared by the messy parts of each other but there was no discussion of what their real issues might mean for their relationship. Jimmy is so disoriented by the loss of his father and what it means to find your own life after living in opposition to someone else’s for so long. Even as he declares himself “post-family”, he’s still living in opposition to the idea of what is expected in a family and what to do when the support you needed wasn’t there and now can never be. He’s not at a point yet where he can accept and define a new family, composed of people like Edgar and Gretchen and even Vernon. But he is trying awfully hard to believe that he is above it all and it results in this simultaneously beautiful and pretentious proposal. He sees the good in Gretchen, he finds her extraordinary and she inspires his very weird writing and while he may not admit it, she’s made him happy. He’s not blind to her flaws, small or large, but there is a part of him that is willing to take a chance and leap for something more permanent. Unfortunately, the “post-family” part was bigger and it was enough to scare him away. The juxtaposition of Gretchen’s excitement and contentment with Jimmy’s complete look of fear as she uses the word “family” to describe them is devastating. We know what’s coming before Gretchen does but it doesn’t make the pain etched so clearly in both of their faces as Gretchen watches him drive away from her and the idea of family any easier to see. I want these two to make it. I want Jimmy to work on his own issues and come back to Gretchen apologetic for abandoning her both physically and emotionally and see them be stronger than they were before. I don’t know if they can come back from a moment like this but I’ll be thinking about it until the next season premieres.