There were a lot of noteworthy bad decisions written for television in 2019, often with cringeworthy interviews that followed that doubled-down on the poor choices. But sometimes, writers got it exactly right. They gave us moments that reassured us, surprised us, spoke to important societal topics, and made us feel. They were the ones that understood their characters and the contexts in which they operate and created worlds we wanted to be a part of. They gave us something to aim for as we make the world around us a more compassionate and inclusive place. They valued relationships and emotional history. They were the moments that reminded me why I love television even when it’s frustrating me.
1. Jaime knights Brienne (Game of Thrones) This moment, even more than their sex scene, is the culmination of five seasons worth of character and relationship development. It is everything Brienne has secretly wanted for so long yet it felt outside of her grasp because of her gender. Until Jaime (thanks to a good idea from Tormund) decides to change it. There was no way for this scene to be any more meaningful. It needed to be Jaime that gives this to her. He has seen very clearly who she is for the past 5 seasons and been grateful for and humbled by her sense of honor and duty. It’s her firm belief in the vows of knighthood that reminded him of his own and called him to fight for Winterfell and humanity. It’s a moment that only Nikolaj and Gwen could have made together. Their love for these characters and their ability to have full conversations with nothing more than a look were absolutely essential. There is love and admiration and gratitude and the terrifying and healing nature of being so clearly seen. I love how thrilled everyone else in the room is for Brienne (especially Pod) but it’s evident how much they all faded away during the actual knighting. It was Jaime’s declaration of love and something that needed to be said on what they thought could well be their last night alive. For one moment, Brienne of Tarth got everything she wanted. She got the honor of being called a knight and a man who genuinely cared for her as the extraordinary woman that she is and she deserved nothing less.
2. Aziraphale and Crowley Through Time (Good Omens) TV shows spend time on what matters and too often, that’s used as an excuse to forego character moments in favor of plot. But that character and relationship building matters, it’s why viewers care about what happens. The episode three cold open told us what Good Omens valued. They spent half an episode (about 8% of the total show runtime) dedicated to Aziraphale and Crowley’s incredibly slow courtship. The bond and trust between them and shared appreciation (or at least lack of disdain) for humanity is vital to understanding why they make the choices they do in the following 3.5 episodes of the show. It is an utterly delightful half hour as we fast forward through history including the Flood and a production of a struggling Hamlet and watch these two settle into their roles as something approximating allies and friends. We see the moment that Aziraphale realizes that he’s a little in love with Crowley, not after he rescued Aziraphale from the Nazis but when he saved the books from the ensuing bombing, and the moment where it all gets to be too much with Michael Sheen’s devastating line reading of “You go too fast for me, Crowley”. These actors are fantastic together and by the end, we’re rooting for them to succeed in their mission to avert the apocalypse and settle down together. That is the whole point of that cold open and it’s perfect.
3. Queer Gatekeeping (Vida) I wish that this scene was available somewhere as a clip but in lieu of that, each word is link to a different tumblr gifset and that will have to do. Before we get to the content and why it’s remarkable, I want to take a moment to point out how gorgeous the lighting in this scene is. Their designer did a terrific job fitting the mood of a wedding but also making everyone look incredible. I absolutely adore Emma’s righteous indignation at yet another group of people trying to police her identity and her expression of it and Nico’s use of sarcasm to rebut all the ridiculous gatekeeping present in this scene. It’s cathartic for anyone who has ever been worried that they’re somehow not queer enough because they don’t tick certain boxes or for anyone who has been explicitly excluded from a community in which they’d hoped to find acceptance based on appearances or snap judgements. It’s an incredible scene and I so appreciate the writers for very clearly pushing back against that sort of judgement and policing.
4. Jimmy’s non-vows (You’re the Worst) I cannot thank Stephen Falk enough for this moment. Nothing about Jimmy and Gretchen’s relationship has ever been conventional. In their words, it’s “ugly and uncomfortable and haunting and brilliant and thrilling”. But it’s theirs and its what’s right for them as people in this moment of time. Their happy ending isn’t necessarily a wedding and kids and promises to be together forever. Instead, Jimmy promises to love Gretchen and commit to being with her every day until they decide otherwise. It doesn’t require long-term commitment on either of their parts but does ask them choose each other over and over again. And that is perhaps one of the most romantic things I’ve seen a show do. Gretchen has never been convinced that she’ll be anyone’s choice nor has she believed she should be. As she mentions prior to this moment, she can’t promise Jimmy forever when she’s not convinced she can promise herself forever. But they can give each other one day at a time. They get an ending that feels right to them, not only to honor the characters and the journey they’ve been through over five seasons but also to honor the attachment the show has cultivated to them. Falk never ended to pull the rug out from under them and have them end up alone and miserable because it felt cruel to the audience and in a year where that seemed all too common because of “clever writing” or “realism”, I appreciated it more than ever.
5. Vi Comforts Darla (Queen Sugar) There is so much grace and compassion in this scene, not just between the characters but in the writing and directing choices made as well. It’s gentle in its treatment of Darla and fierce in its advocating for women and the whole thing adds up to something incredibly touching. It had to be Vi. She has had a complicated relationship with Darla and there’s a part of her that still distrusts her because of her past but no one else understands quite as intimately what it means to have survived. To have been an object for men to use without care and then to blame herself for letting it happen. Darla needed someone to be angry at what she went through without being angry at her or blaming her for the choices she made and that support needed to come from Vi. It was right for the characters and it’s a message that is so important to be said and reiterated.
6. Annie Goes to A Pool Party (Shrill) What an incredible moment. Annie has spent most of her life trying to make herself smaller, not necessarily physically (though that is a related component) but certainly emotionally. We feel the shame she feels at taking up too much room and it’s caused her to shrink in on herself. Even when she gets to the party, it’s too much. She’s hesitant to fully embrace herself and let loose. But when she’s coaxed onto the dance floor by a new friend and sees the women around her having unreserved fun and enjoying the moment, she can’t help but be drawn in. It starts slow but builds until she lets loose and is jumping and dancing with everyone else and it is magical. The idea that fat women are “allowed” for lack of a better term to have fun and wear cute clothes that make them feel good instead of hiding behind potato sacks and unapologetically live their lives and take up space is still radical. I have never seen anything like it on TV and TV was better this year for having produced this moment. I don’t fully know how to articulate what it meant to see this but I can recommend this great interview with its creators and encourage you to check it out for yourselves.
7. Jo Supports Her Patient (Grey’s Anatomy) This scene is beautiful and will probably always make me cry. The compassion and care that Jo shows this woman who has been the victim of sexual assault and is traumatized by her experiences is nothing short of extraordinary. As Teddy says, it’s not protocol, but it should be. Her patient’s emotional and physical well-being came before everything and Jo was going to ensure she had what she needed to move forward. Her idea to line the path down to surgery with women who were there to lend their support and strength, even if they didn’t fully know why they were there, and the choice to have an all-women surgical team even though the patient would be under anesthesia the whole time was exactly what this woman needed to get essential medical care and it came about because Jo cared enough to listen and wanted to make this part of the process a little less painful. It’s the care all victims should receive instead of the blame that too often does around and it was incredibly done.
8. Sadie Comes Out to Annie (Good Girls) This scene is what every kid who comes out as trans deserves. Sadie got nothing but unconditional love and support from Annie and above all, he knew that he was loved and that his happiness mattered. Their relationship has always been a quiet highlight of the show and reminds me a lot of Sarah and Amber’s relationship on Parenthood, which is a really great bit of acting lineage as Mae channels a little bit of Lauren Graham’s TV parenting style, and to see Sadie literally and figuratively embraced for who he is was perfect. We don’t get a lot of stories like this and I’m glad it was handled so beautifully.
9. Ruth Tries to Help Debbie (GLOW) Debbie’s storyline in this episode was tough to watch with a downward spiral that was a little too familiar to me for comfort. Ruth couldn’t fix it but she could make sure Debbie was taken care of. From the initial offer of having dinner together to the hilarious showgirl performance gone awry after a surprise appearance by Sam, Ruth’s entire goal is to make Debbie laugh and in that choice, we see their years of friendship better than we have throughout the entire show. It’s silly and goofy in a way that feels lived in and real, almost like Alison and Betty were given a vague set of directions and told to have fun. Had it not been for that, Ruth couldn’t have convinced Debbie to go with her to dinner. The desire to spend time together transcended her avoidance of food for that brief moment. She confesses her insecurities to Ruth who marvels in all the things that Debbie sees as flaws. It’s not enough to change Debbie’s mind because nothing can when you’re stuck in that spiral of shame and inadequacy (and I wish it had been brought up again later in the season) but I love how genuine Ruth was in her desire to make Debbie feel as beautiful and powerful as she is in Ruth’s mind. It’s a very revealing conversation about the different relationships Ruth and Debbie have with their body image and the aesthetics vs. functionality of their bodies that was incredibly written and could generate a whole essay of its own that I will refrain from at the moment but it’s the type of commentary this show has always excelled at.
10. The Roci Crew Lands on Ilus (The Expanse) You know a moment is good when you have to rewrite part of an already completed list. This is the first time Naomi has set foot on a planet and it is the momentous occasion it deserves to be. The scoring and the cinematography choices are perfect. There is a sense of wonder and awe that takes over this scene and that’s before you get to the acting and directing choices. Naomi is front and center with all her boys behind her, letting her take the first steps on this new planet. The look on Jim’s face is full of love and pride as he watches her reactions and when the vertigo of seeing an unending sky above her causes her to stumble, he knows her well enough to show she doesn’t need or want the help up. This is something she needs to do on her own. It’s emotional and beautifully done and made me so grateful to have this incredibly special show and this family in particular back in my life.
Honorable Mentions: Falling Slowly duet (Good Trouble), Eliot finds the door (The Magicians), Maybe This Time (Schitt’s Creek), Girl From Arizona (The Good Place), You’re a Derry Girl now, James (Derry Girls)