This was another great year for television, featuring a plethora of memorable episodes that will live on long after 2014 is over. For today’s installment of NGN’s Best of 2014 series, I attempted the difficult task of choosing just 10 of the best episodes of television I saw this year. Remember to leave your own picks in the comments because there are plenty of amazing episodes to discuss! (And be sure to check out Heather’s list of the year’s best episodes, too!)
1. “Danny and Mindy” (The Mindy Project)
I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy, and the best romantic comedy I’ve seen in years was this glorious season finale of The Mindy Project. Mindy Kaling’s writing has never been sharper, funnier, and more emotionally evocative than it was in this half-hour tribute to a genre she holds close to her heart. Every rom-com reference was perfect, but this episode was about so much more than just referencing a genre’s classics; it was about creating a new classic. From the heartbreaking bathroom confrontation between Mindy and Danny to their perfect concluding kiss, this was an episode filled with both the strongest acting and writing this show has ever seen. And I dare anyone who loves romantic comedies to say they didn’t smile during this episode’s Springsteen-backed climactic race to the top of the Empire State Building.
2. “The Last Call” (The Good Wife)
The Good Wife is becoming known for its ability to reinvent itself, and what’s most impressive about that is the different tones with which its reinventions announce themselves. Last year’s “Hitting the Fan” was a game-changer defined by bursts of anger, while “The Last Call” was another sharp turn for the show defined by quiet grief. There was nothing flashy about this episode; it was driven by emotional honesty and realism rather than melodrama. Every talented member of this show’s ensemble was given a moment to shine in this episode, and each moment of grief beautifully reflected each character—from David Lee’s private tears to Alicia and Diane’s heartbreaking hug. “The Last Call” was about sudden, senseless death—the ways we deal with it, the helplessness and confusion it leaves in its wake, and the support systems we lean on when it happens. It was one of the most moving episodes of television I’ve ever seen, and it had the best acting of any hour of television that aired this year.
3. “Ann and Chris” (Parks and Recreation)
Friendship is very important to me. It’s one of the driving forces in my life, and my best friends will have been there—positively influencing my life—long before any romantic partner someday finds their way into my heart. For a long time, I felt like this strong belief in the power of friendship (especially female friendship) was one I’d never see reflected on television. But then “Ann and Chris” happened, and an entire half-hour of TV was dedicated to honoring the importance of having a supportive best friend. The episode itself had plenty of moments of laughter, but it was the emotional beats that focused on pairs of friends—Ann and April, Ben and Chris, Leslie and Ann—that gave this episode its soul. “Ann and Chris” represented the way Parks and Rec is so utterly fearless when it comes to wearing its heart on its sleeve, and the fact that this episode’s heart was so firmly focused on friendship made it unlike anything else on TV this year—in the best possible way.
4. “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” (Orphan Black)
Male clones! Yes, this episode ended with one heck of a cliffhanger, but that’s not why I loved it as much as I did. I loved it because it was an episode driven by the show’s best characters, featuring some truly incredible moments of growth for many of the clones. From her brutally invasive questioning to the warm moment of sisterly affection between her and Cosima, I’ve never felt more emotionally connected to Sarah. And the entire sequence from Cosima and Alison meeting Helena through the big dance party was pure perfection. In fact, this episode would have made this list if its only scene was Kira and Helena reuniting. The pure emotion in that one moment was worth more than any big plot twist.
5. “This Is Rome” (Suits)
“This Is Rome” is an example of what happens when character development over the course of a season pays off. All of the ups and down Louis went through—and all of the emotional investment brought about by those ups and downs—culminated in a series of climatic confrontations once he finally learned Mike’s secret. The reveal itself was smart and surprising, but it was the emotional impact of that reveal that took this episode from good to one of the year’s best. Rick Hoffman was outstanding, delivering one of 2014’s best performances as Louis’s justifiable feelings of betrayal boiled over, leaving us with a three-word cliffhanger I’ll never forget: “Pearson. Specter. Litt.”
6. “Snow Drifts/There’s No Place Like Home” (Once Upon a Time)
This two-hour season finale was billed as epic wish fulfillment, and it delivered on that promise. This mini movie was a fairytale adventure for Emma, featuring time travel, ball gowns, and romantic waltzes. It was also a way for the show to revisit one of its most beloved episodes, “Snow Falls,” in a very creative manner. More than the pure fairytale fun of it all, this two-part episode was a watershed moment in Emma’s character development. In so many ways, this was an episode about coming home, and it delivered a beautiful message about home being a place where you feel safe to open your heart to people who truly love you. Parents were hugged, pirates were kissed, and a lost girl finally began to believe she could have a real home. This episode made me laugh, swoon, and cry—a trifecta that Once Upon a Time achieves when it’s at its very best.
7. “The Bet” (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Every show that I’ve grown to love has an episode where I go all in, and “The Bet” was that episode for Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It was hilarious (Captain Holt getting Terry in deeper and deeper trouble with his wife, Boyle’s truth bombs, Sergeant Peanut Butter, etc.). But where it really excelled was in making me feel emotionally invested in these characters and their relationships with one another. “The Bet” made me fall in love with both Jake and Amy, and I was so surprised by how well Andy Samberg balanced the episode’s more ridiculous moments (the Titanic steerage jig) and its sincere ones. (The entire sequence of Jake and Amy on the roof was subtle and sweet—two things I wasn’t expecting to see so early on from this show.) This was one of my most-rewatched episodes of 2014, and it’s a great reflection of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s stellar first season.
8. “The Mountain and the Viper” (Game of Thrones)
If you’re going to die, make sure they remember you. That’s the theme of Oberyn Martell’s death scene, a moment fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire book series have been waiting years to see. And it didn’t disappoint. It featured the best fight choreography on the show to date, one heck of a final performance from the brilliant Pedro Pascal, and an image no one will be able to forget no matter how much they might want to. Could Oberyn’s big moment have been a little longer? Yes, but there were so many other good things happening in this episode, too—namely, everything with Sansa. From her tearful confession to her descent down the staircase in one of the show’s most magnificent and symbolic costumes, this was the episode where the little bird’s transformation into a serious power player really began, and it hinted at great things to come for one of the most underrated characters in the series.
9. “The Time of Our Lives” (Castle)
Sometimes all you need is a trip into an alternate universe to help you realize what’s important. What could have been a cheesy plot instead became an emotional exploration of the ways love helps us—and those around us—be our best selves. Strong performances from Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion anchored this episode’s trip into the land of “What if?” in very real, honest emotions. And, of course, no mention of this episode should occur without talking about the wedding. “The Time of Our Lives” was the episode that finally saw Castle and Beckett tie the knot in a beautifully intimate ceremony. From the first words of their vows to their first dance as husband and wife, it was a moment I’ll cherish as a fan—always.
10. “The Price of Free and Fair Election” (Scandal)
You know an episode of Scandal is good when it makes me feel sympathetically towards Fitz, and that’s exactly what this season finale did. The entire episode was breathlessly paced and featured just enough twists to keep my head spinning while still allowing me to keep track of it all. But it was in the rare quiet moments where this episode found its real strength. The moment Mellie told Fitz she fought his father as he raped her was one of the show’s most quietly powerful scenes. And the image of Fitz on his knees in the Oval Office, brought down by the price of becoming and staying president, is one that will haunt me for a long time. It was a perfect moment of visual symbolism, and it was one of the most unforgettable single shots on television this year.