NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Episodes

The Americans 3.10


Today’s entry in NGN’s Best of 2015 series focuses on the year’s best episodes of television. From fantastic finales and shocking surprises to beautiful bottle episodes and half-hour romantic comedies, these episodes gave us reasons to laugh, sob, and cheer from our couches (or wherever we watch TV nowadays). These are the episodes we never stopped talking about—even to people who didn’t watch these shows. They’re the ones that kept us up all night thinking about what happened and what it meant for the characters we’ve come to know and love. And they’re the ones we reference when we want to tell someone why a particular show is so wonderful.

As you check out this list of my 10 favorite TV episodes this year, don’t forget to share your own list in the comments! And, as always, there are some wonderful year-end lists to check out at MGcircles and TVExamined if you’re hungry for more!

1. “Stingers” (The Americans) 
“Stingers” was as close to a perfect hour of dramatic television as a show can get. It used the element of surprise perfectly, lulling the audience into a false sense of security right along with Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. Just as they thought they’d have more time before revealing their identities as KGB spies to their daughter, Paige, we thought the show would have more time because this episode wasn’t the season finale or even the penultimate episode of the season. But Paige forced their hand, and in one wonderfully tense dinner table conversation, the entire makeup of the show changed. However, in typical The Americans fashion, it did so not with fanfare but with subtlety—with powerful moments of silence, whispered words in Russian, and achingly nuanced performances from Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, and Holly Taylor.

2. “Leslie and Ron” (Parks and Recreation)
“Leslie and Ron” was the exact moment I knew Parks and Rec was going to have the masterful final season it deserved. If a show can deliver finale-caliber emotional beats and finale-level tears in one of the early episodes of its last season, you know you’re dealing with quality television. And “Leslie and Ron” delivered on both of those fronts. It was unafraid to aim for the heart and to ask both Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler to do much, proving that amazing things happen when writers and directors trust their actors to make magic together. The fact that a show could produce an episode like this one in its seventh season proves how smart, special, and brave Parks and Rec truly was.

3. “The Devil’s Mark” (Outlander)
Outlander is a sweeping romance the likes of which I have never experienced on television before, and no other episode of this show was as sweepingly romantic as “The Devil’s Mark.” Of course, the early scenes in the episode featured powerful acting and one heck of a twist involving a scar, but the reason this episode landed on this list was because of its final 20 minutes. Watching Jamie and Claire come to terms with the truth about her identity was the stuff epic love stories are made of: tearful confessions, emotional embraces, windswept farewells, and the hottest fully-clothed scene I’ve ever seen on television (which, coincidentally, took place in front of a fire). By the episode’s end, I was left with tears in my eyes and hands over my heart like a true swooning fangirl, and that’s exactly the kind of feeling I want to have while watching a show like Outlander.

4. “Certain Agony of the Battlefield” (Orphan Black)
Is there anything that leaves a fan with more conflicting emotions than a truly satisfying but also surprising death? On one hand, you’re devastated to lose a character you love, but on the other hand, you’re so happy they died in a way that did the character justice. That’s exactly how I felt after this episode ended with Paul’s death. Other things happened in this episode, but what I remember is the intense rush of emotions I felt watching both Mark and Paul risk everything to do the right thing for the women they love. And while Mark’s love for Gracie was touching, it was finally having that on-screen confirmation of Paul’s love for Sarah that made me an emotional wreck. In one episode, I was reminded of why I came to love his character and his relationship with Sarah so much, and it was the perfect way to say goodbye. After a season where a lot of Orphan Black episodes began to run together in my brain, this one remains a true standout.

5. “Hollander’s Woods” (Castle)
I thought “Hollander’s Woods” would have been the perfect series finale for Castle back when it aired, and I still stand by that initial assessment. There was so much love poured into every scene and every word from longtime writers and producers Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller, and it reminded me that no one will ever understand these characters and the spirit of this unique show like they do. “Hollander’s Woods” highlighted everything special about Castle: its compelling mysteries, loving friendships, warm family dynamics, resilient heroine, complex leading man, and captivating love story. It ended with all the show’s most beloved characters coming together to celebrate, and the episode itself felt like a celebration I never wanted to end.

6. “Swan Song” (Once Upon a Time)
I love when episodes make me feel, and there is no doubt that “Swan Song” made me feel more deeply than perhaps any other hour of television this year. And even being as deep into the Once Upon a Time fandom as I am (Lord help me), this episode still managed to genuinely surprise me with its Rumplestiltskin twist. But even beyond that fantastic surprise, I loved “Swan Song” because it took my favorite of this show’s many themes—self-definition—and extended it into an hour-long look at Killian struggling with choosing how to define himself. It showed us all that we have the power to stop letting our darkness, our flaws, and our past define us—if we simply choose to let love in and let it give us strength. “Swan Song” was thematically powerful, and it was also emotionally powerful, with performances designed to take hold of our hearts and never let them go. To that I say: Mission accomplished.

7. “Officer of the Year” (Playing House)
If you’re looking for a lovely little romantic comedy, look no further than “Officer of the Year.” I loved the way this episode both defied and embraced the conventions of the genre. Yes, there’s something wonderfully fresh about the man going to his closest female friend for relationship advice. But there’s also something wonderfully familiar about that classic moment when two people stare across the dance floor at each other while in the arms of someone else. The episode culminated in a scene between Keegan-Michael Key and Jessica St. Clair that sparkled with the kind of chemistry that big-budget rom-coms wish they could find, one of those rare moments when you feel like you’re watching something truly special and you want to scream from the rooftops about it. Consider this my scream from the rooftops.

8. “Johnny and Dora” (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Just like “Officer of the Year,” “Johnny and Dora” was a perfect romantic comedy in a half-hour package. But it was also so much more. Not only did Jake and Amy get to live out some classic rom-com tropes (fake dating/fake engaged, kissing to preserve a cover, etc.), we got to see our excitement over this development reflected in Boyle’s adorable enthusiasm. We were also treated to a lovely look at Boyle and Rosa’s friendship, as well as a shockingly moving moment from Andre Braugher, as Captain Holt bid a temporary farewell to the Nine-Nine. Never have robot sounds made me cry harder.

9. “Out of Time” (The Flash)
Fun fact about me: I love time travel plots. Needless to say, when The Flash first dove into the time-travel pond, I was ecstatic. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking to see so many important things happen in a timeline that only Barry (and—in some ways—Cisco) would remember. This episode brought the shock value, with Dr. Wells revealing his identity to Cisco before “killing” him. But it also delivered on the emotional front, especially when it came to Barry and Iris. Their first kiss was a beautiful moment—the kind that took me from casually interested in the idea of them together to full-blown “shipper.” This episode felt like a movie, and if it was, it would have been one of the best movies I saw in 2015, too.

10. “Faith” (Suits)
“Faith” was an episode in which so many things that needed to happen on Suits finally happened: We finally got to see what really happened with Harvey’s family, we finally got to look at the specifics of Mike’s childhood, we finally got to see Mike dealing with the weight of his lies, we finally got to see Harvey make a huge sacrifice for Jessica, and we finally got to see repercussions for the lie that started this whole show. “Faith” spent most of the hour giving us blockbuster performances form the most underrated troupe on television, and in its final moments, the entire foundation of the show was shaken. Just when we’d come to accept that Harvey was leaving and Mike was quitting, Mike was arrested, giving us the best cliffhanger of 2015.

10 thoughts on “NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Episodes

  1. I am pretty sure I cant choose a favorite episode of ‘The Americans’ this season because they were all perfect and amazing. Same with ‘The Flash’, there are just too many to pick from.

    I am going to choose ‘Operation Mongoose Part 2’ for Once Upon a Time. It was just a fun little diversion episode, and while there are more dramatic and emotional ones from the year, this is the one I find myself wanting to go back to the most. Between Emma running into timid deckhand Hook (literally), the great Henry/Killian exchanges, Emma chickening out with her ‘I love you’, and the twist of Emma becoming the dark one at the end, there is a ton to love here. I also had a lot of feelings regarding Henry’s role in this episode, and how the different skills he had been taught from members of his unique family served him well and saved the day. Just an all around solid finale.

    And now I come to the only place were I think ‘Game of Thrones’ deserves to be mentioned on a best of list. While this season was all over the place (even I skipped at least 2 or 3 of the episodes), and they somehow managed to ruin my favorite moment in the books (Jon getting voted Lord Commander), ‘Hardhome’ is one of the most epic and entertaining episodes of TV I have ever seen. There is nothing about this episode that should appeal to me. Its mostly fighting. I typically dont like big fight scenes. All the other big fighting episodes on GoT in earlier seasons bored me. But this episode had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Somehow the show was able to introduce a whole new village of wildlings and make you care about what happened to them in the span of one episode. I cared more about Karsi in the span of 30 minutes than most other supporting characters that have been around for seasons. The special effects are some of the best I have ever seen (big screen included), and I still geek out every time I watch the weapons shatter into ice shards when they touch the whitewalkers. The moment Jon learns that his sword is one of the few things that can kill a whitewalker, I cheered from my couch. Such an iconic and triumphant moment, and one of the few times where adding material not in the books has worked. This episode was a grim reminder that all the petty drama over kings in Westeros is nothing compared to the threat north of the wall. Out of everything happening on the show, the drama in the north is what will bring me back for the next season.

    • Operation Mongoose was such a great finale. I’m so happy you wrote about it, because it was on my shortlist for which OUAT episode to include here. (My other choices were Nimue and Birth.)

      I’m also so happy you wrote about Hardhome. I’d already stopped watching GoT at that point, but that was the one episode that made me reconsider that decision. And your love for it always makes me happy.

  2. Thanks for reminding of the amazing Orphan Black and Suits episode. I hadn’t thought of those two in a while and it’s great to have a reminder that’s written with such eloquence. For the shows we have in common, our favorite episodes are the same (shocker!) Johnny and Dora! Yes! That was such an amazing one and I remember watching it over and over until the season returned because it’s such a feel good episode filled with so much emotion from all parties. These are some strong choices and this list was an absolute delight to read! Perfect!

  3. I love that you and Heather have some overlap on your lists, it makes me even more excited for those shows!

    As you probably know from my other comments, I totally agree with you about Castle’s “Hollander’s Woods,” and I’ll probably consider it the actual series finale in my head lol. I also really loved “Out of Time,” I think in general The Flash’s run of episodes leading up to the season finale were very good, and like you I love a good time travel plot. Some of my other favorite The Flash episodes this year have been “Family of Rouges” (where we got more info about Lisa Snart), and the crossover episodes that introduced Hawkgirl (I loved her, plus fun interactions between The Flash and Arrow casts).

    I also really loved the show Stitchers which premiered this year, and my favorite episode of their first season is probably 1×08 “Fire in the Hole,” which is a quarantine episode that really got to show the characters being vulnerable. It also included some great moments for one of my favorite characters, Camille, and had a few mentions of one of my favorite recurring jokes on the show, so it was a lot of fun.

    I’m going to cheat a bit and mention a couple episodes of The 100, because I started watching it this year even though the episodes didn’t air this year. 1×06 “His Sister’s Keeper” and 1×08 “Day Trip” are two of my favorites, but I also really just enjoyed the whole run of episodes from 1×06 through the end of the season (1×13) as I feel like somewhere between the sixth and eighth episode is where the show really started to hook me in and where it started to become this incredibly morally complex show. I just started watching Season 2 but I have a feeling I’ve got some really good episodes coming up, plus Season 3 starts in a few weeks, so I will likely have an episode or two for my 2016 list next year 😉

  4. Fargo “The Castle”: The penultimate episode of the show’s second season was purely epic from its storybook-like opening to its memorable, bloody conclusion.

    Person of Interest “Terra Incognita”: The episode brought back a dearly departed character in a brilliant, poignant way. It made me happy to see her again and sad that it can’t be permanent.

    Parks and Recreation “One Last Ride”: The series finale of this funny, lovable show ended the stories of its characters perfectly in every way. The cherry on top was that last scene of Leslie declaring she was ready for what comes next.

    The Flash “Fast and Enough”: Out of all the episodes of its first season, the Flash’s season finale was the best. Never a dull moment. The episode had brilliant twists and turns. Some filled me with excitement, some filled me with dread, and a few broke my heart. I was more than eager to see the new season after that.

    Doctor Who “Heaven Sent”: This mostly one-man show of the Doctor trapped in his personal hell was thoroughly compelling. It is an example of Peter Capaldi’s risen excellence in his second season as the Doctor.

    Hannibal “The Wrath of the Lamb”: During the show’s final weeks, I was left wondering what its last episode due to cancellation was going to be like. I had some ideas but they paled in comparison to the reality of the finale which was beautiful and tragically poetical. I was satisfied by this being the show’s end for the foreseeable future.

    Castle “Hollander’s Woods”: I don’t know what to say about this episode other than that, to me, it will always be the show’s rightful finale unless a better episode after this one comes along to change my mind which I doubt.

    Daredevil “Nelson vs. Murdock”: what captured my attention the most during this episode were the scenes focused on the aftermath of Foggy learning Matt’s secret. When a heartbroken Foggy said to an equally heartbroken Matt “I only ever needed my friend”, it hit me. Hard.

    • I forgot to add one more episode to my list.

      The Leftovers “International Assassin”: I admit I don’t watch this show often. But, after learning of the cliffhanger of the episode before this one, I was curious to find out a certain character’s fate and this episode revealed it in mind-bending fashion. I love a good episode that messes with the minds of the audience.

  5. Katie – I think is my favorite list you wrote this year. It speaks not only to your tastes in TV but what makes for great television inherently.

    Along with Shauna’s highlighting of Hardhome I just nodded along to you Castle, Suits, The Americans and Orphan Black picks. I wouldn’t quibble with any of them and loved all of them. Here are a few that stick out in my mind from the year.

    There is Not Currently a Problem – You’re the Worst – In a show that gets to the core honesty of the parts of ourselves we rarely are willing to look at and often fear. They went all in on clinical depression and the results were a revelation.

    The Promise – Justified – for the 100 reasons I’ve given all over this site, Justified’s series finale was television gold.

    The First Time Again – The Walking Dead – I was torn about which of the first three/four episodes of this season to chose from, but ultimately The First Time Again was just cinema. It was a contained episode that incorporated the past and present while establishing time and the set up for the longest day ever in The Walking Dead, which at season 6 is saying something.

    Chapter 25 – Jane the Virgin – It was really hard for me to pick an episode that stood out for Jane in 2015. There is so much I love about so many of them, however Mateo’s baptism reflected everything I adore about this show and these women.

    The Word – Blackish – I don’t always love this show. But I love what it is doing and how it navigates the cultural and generation gaps around their characters. Especially when dealing with struggle of balancing how success and assimilation diminishes that real struggles that made it possible. The Word gets at the core of this struggle with humor, honesty and without concrete, patent answers. It’s ambiguity of conclusion is the bravest of its decisions. It is part of what I admire about the show. It doesn’t assume to have the answers for the topics it tackles, in this case the n-word, it merely opens up the conversation with context.

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