NGN’s Best of 2016: TV Moments, Episodes, and Shows

I hope all of you have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and may 2017 bring you an abundance of laughter, love, peace, good health, and everything that makes you happiest.

I apologize for the delay in posting my Best of 2016 lists; I needed to take some time instead to write something in honor of Carrie Fisher, a personal hero of mine. But the delay just means you get three lists in one on this last day of 2016!

For as difficult as parts of this year have been, I think we can all agree that it was a great year for television. In a world where it felt like sexism was given a frighteningly public platform, we were given shows, episodes, and moments that brought fierce, complex female characters to the forefront. In a stressful year, we were given plenty of things to laugh about, but there were also plenty of cathartic moments to cry over, too.

As the television landscape continued to broaden and deepen, it became more difficult than ever to narrow down these lists, which is a problem I am more than happy to have. These are my choices for the best TV had to offer this year (in addition to my picks for Best Performances and Best Relationships, which I shared earlier), but I want to know yours, too! Don’t forget to add your picks in the comments and to check out the lists made by TVexamined and MGcircles for more end-of-2016 fun!

Best Moments

gmw

Source: Disney Channel

1. Secret Santa exchange (Girl Meets World: “Girl Meets a Christmas Maya”)
Sometimes you just want to feel good when you watch television, and no moment this year made me feel better than this gift exchange between the core group of friends on Girl Meets World. Each gift represented the kind of deep, sincere understanding and appreciation that makes the relationships on this show so special. From Smackle’s gift of the broken clock and reminder to Maya that her friends know how hard she’s working to fix herself to Zay’s gift of the re-written etiquette book that made Smackle feel loved for exactly who she is, this was one of those moments that made you feel hopeful for the future. In a year that made many of us confront the reality that the world can be an unkind place, this was a reminder of the importance of kindness and friendship just when we needed it most.

2. Claire and Jamie say goodbye (Outlander: “Dragonfly in Amber”)
Claire and Jamie’s love story has always been epic, but this scene took it to an entirely new level of emotional power. The chemistry between Caitriona Balfe and Sam Hueghan was sparking during this scene with a ferocity I’ll never forget, an intensity and total believability (even in the face of the fantastical element of time travel) that set this scene apart from any other love scene that aired in 2016.  I dare you to watch Hueghan deliver his line, “Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God, I loved her well” without swooning and crying at the same time. (I’ve tried; it’s physically impossible.)

3. “Hallelujah” (Saturday Night Live: “Dave Chappelle, A Tribe Called Quest”)
Kate McKinnon is a gift that none of us are worthy of, and if you need proof of that, watch this moment again. It was the perfect blending of character and actor; you could feel her singing as both Hillary and Kate, which made it even more cathartic to watch. For those of us left shocked and saddened by the results of this year’s presidential election (and the loss of the genius Leonard Cohen), this was the cathartic moment we so desperately needed. “Hallelujah” is one of my favorite songs ever written, and this only made me love it more. I still can’t watch it without crying through McKinnon’s stunning vocals on the last verse (“And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah…”) and her impassioned, emotional plea to do as both she and Hillary would want and never give up fighting for what we believe in. When I need to feel both emotional and empowered, this is still the moment I turn to.

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NGN’s Best of 2016: TV Performances

Before we get down to business, I want to take a moment to wish all of you a holiday season filled with laughter, love, and light. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all who are celebrating!

peple-vs-oj

Source: ABCNews.com

It’s everyone’s favorite time of year—the time to reflect on the year that was in the world of television! For the next week, I’ll be posting my year-end retrospective lists detailing the best of TV in 2016. I love doing these posts because they encourage such great discussion and have led to some fantastic TV recommendations, so please share your own choices in the comments! And if you’re looking for more year-end lists, I highly recommend the ones put together at TVexamined and MGcircles.

Without further ado, let’s get the party started! Here are my choices for the year’s best performances—the ones that made me laugh the most, cry the hardest, and think the most deeply. This was a year of incredible acting on the small screen, and these performances are just a small sample of the brilliant work done on so many television shows this year. (As usual, I tried to limit myself to one actor per show—with one exception.)

1. Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden and Randall Pearson (The People vs. O.J. Simpson and This Is Us)
Turning in one powerful, nuanced, heartfelt performance in a year is a great feat; to do it twice in two different shows is so rare that I had to give Brown special recognition for his stellar work this year. He made a name for himself in The People vs. O.J. Simpson as Christopher Darden, and his complex portrayal of a lawyer trying to reconcile his identity as a black man with his identity as someone who fights for justice hit all the right notes—from moments of barely-controlled fury to moments of surprisingly gentle warmth. It was that warmth and sense of inherent goodness that made Brown’s Darden the beating heart of The People vs. O.J. Simpson, and those traits have also been on full display in his work on This Is Us. Not a week goes by where I’m not moved to tears by Brown’s work on this freshman drama. He has a true gift for emotional honesty, and his ability to show just as much in his reactions as he shows in his character’s big, dramatic moments helped make every actor around him better. There’s a steadfast quality Brown brings to his characters that grounds everything and everyone around them, and that allowed him to stand out in ensembles filled with talented actors.

2. Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark (The People vs. O.J. Simpson)
In terms of single performances given in 2016, there was none better than Paulson’s work as Marcia Clark. To give you a sense of how much her performance affected me, the only thing I knew about Clark before the series aired was that her hairstyle was a huge deal and she lost the case of the century, but afterward, I came to care so much about her story that I bought her autobiography. That was Paulson’s true gift: She made us care about someone that so many people wrote off, mocked, or outright hated. And she did this by making us feel everything her character was feeling—I dare you to watch the scene where Clark walks into the courtroom with her new haircut and not feel her humiliation as acutely as if it was happening to you. The amount of anger and sadness I felt on her behalf throughout the series genuinely surprised me, and it was all because of the depth Paulson gave this woman. She allowed us to finally see Clark as a person and not as a symbol, stereotype, or caricature, and in doing so, she made everyone watching reconsider their own preconceptions and judgments about her, which is exactly what a great portrayal of a real person should do.

3. Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)
Elizabeth may have been struggling with her work as a spy more than ever this year, but Russell was certainly not struggling with her work bringing her to life. As Elizabeth became more vulnerable, Russell became more of a force to be reckoned with. This was the year in which Elizabeth’s emotions started to break through her stoic facade, and the way Russell played those emotions showed her masterful understanding of this complex woman. There were the moments her sadness seeped out in quiet words shared with her husband (“I’m going to miss her.”); moments her emotional and physical vulnerability made her seem smaller than ever before (She made almost dying seem all too real.); moments her insecurity made this superspy finally feel relatable (when she asked Philip if he would leave with Martha); moments of sincere connection between her and her daughter (opening up about her childhood and why she wanted to join the KGB); and moments her anger exploded out of her like a volcano, destroying everything in its path (the entirety of “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears”). Russell’s work in this role is the kind that rewards you for paying attention, and the rewards were more fruitful than ever this year.

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NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Shows

The Americans finale

As we approach the end of 2015, I want to start off by saying that this year has given me so many wonderful memories as a writer. From sharing my NYCC experience with you to starting my book to writing perhaps my favorite post ever, I’ve grown so much as a writer and a woman this year, and I want to thank you all for being with me and supporting me on this journey. Also, I want to take this time to remind you that a great New Year’s resolution would be to write a letter for my book before the February 1 deadline!

With all that being said, let’s get down to business. For today’s final entry in NGN’s Best of 2015 series, I’ll be taking a closer look at my favorite television shows this year. I think I watched more television this year than any year before, and I’m proud of the variety of choices on this list and the passion with which I care about these shows. Don’t forget to share your own lists of favorite shows in the comments. Also, more year-end fun can be found at MGcircles, The Girly Nerd, and TVExamined!

1. The Americans
The best show on television continued to get better in 2015, and it did so in the most unexpected way: by putting a teenage girl at the center of the show and allowing a young actress (Holly Taylor) to stand toe-to-toe as an equal with Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys (whose chemistry has never been better). In 2015, The Americans took big risks, provided us with huge moments of revelation, and did it all with the kind of subtle nuance that makes you pay attention to every beat because you don’t want to miss anything. There’s a lot to be said for whispering instead of screaming to get your point across, and this show has mastered that way of storytelling.

2. Parks and Recreation
In 2015, I said goodbye to my favorite show on television. But if Parks and Rec had to leave us, at least it went out on top. Its final season wasn’t just there to tie up loose ends and give fans plenty of sentimental moments before the end; it was genuinely great television that allowed its characters to continue to grow in believable ways, all while providing the combination of laugh-out-loud humor and heartwarming moments this show does better than any other. I couldn’t have been happier to see such a wonderful show have such a wonderful final season.

3. Jane the Virgin
Every time I venture into the Villanueva house as I watch Jane the Virgin, it feels like coming home. There is such warmth to be found on this show—such natural and believable love that makes the realistic moments of pain feel not so depressing and the moments of joy feel even more wonderful. I may be the farthest thing from a Latina (I’m as Polish as it gets in terms of my heritage), but I see my close, religious, supportive, and matriarchal family reflected so beautifully in Jane’s family. And I see so much of who I want to be in Jane—a woman who has flaws, who makes mistakes, but who is still as bright and warm as a summer afternoon. And, let’s be honest, Mateo is so cute that an hour of just his face would be one of my favorite shows on television.

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NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Episodes

The Americans 3.10

Source: spoilertv.com

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.

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NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Moments

Our latest entry in NGN’s Best of 2015 series is all about the magic of a moment. A great scene, a great line, or even a great shot can stay with us for an entire year and beyond, and 2015 gave us plenty of amazing television moments to analyze, talk about, and remember for years to come.

Don’t forget to share your favorite TV moments of the year in the comments! And check out the Best of 2015 lists our friends have made over at MGcircles and TVExamined for even more fun!

1. Basement Tooth Extraction (The Americans: Open House)
This might be the single best moment I saw on television not just in 2015, but in my entire TV-watching life. It was all the reasons I recommend The Americans to anyone who loves great television rolled up into one brilliant scene. On the surface, it was a moment showing the ugly realities of life as a spy—with Elizabeth needing Philip to pull out her broken tooth because dental offices were told to be on the lookout for a woman looking like her. But what could have been just a gruesome moment was actually a scene of remarkable intimacy—a look at what it means to trust your spouse enough to be completely vulnerable with them in the most brutal way imaginable. Thanks to brilliant performances from Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell (I’ve never seen eye contact express so much.) and stunning direction from Thomas Schlamme, a dental procedure became the best love scene I saw on TV this year.

2. A Parks Department Reunion (Parks and Recreation: One Last Ride)
All good things must come to an end. And if Parks and Rec had to end, this is how I wanted it to happen: one final scene in the Pawnee Parks Department offices, with every love of Leslie’s life getting its time to shine—her friends, her beautiful tropical fish, her husband, and her career. Whether it was Leslie dropping everything to hug Ann or Ben announcing that Leslie was running for governor because it had always been her dream, this was a scene filled with love, light, and everything that has always made Parks and Rec feel good. This was a scene designed to spread happiness on a show designed to spread happiness, and it was the perfect way to say goodbye.

3. “I am not nothing!” (Once Upon a Time: Nimue)
The best fairytales are meant to teach us lessons we can carry into our own lives, and that’s exactly what happened when Once Upon a Time showed us Emma Swan facing the call of the darkness. When she was tempted with power that would allow her to stop being “nothing,” something inside her snapped, and the strongest version of Emma rose to the surface. “I am not nothing! I was never nothing,” she told the darkness, reminding us all that we have the power to push back against the negative voices in our own head telling us we’re nothing; we can all be our own heroes by choosing to love ourselves and believe in ourselves. It was the most empowering moment on television in 2015, and it’s one I know I’ll draw strength from in my own life for many years to come.

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NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Relationships

COLIN O'DONOGHUE, JENNIFER MORRISON

Source: ABC/Jack Rowand

The television landscape in 2015 was filled with incredibly compelling relationships. Whether you’re a fan of fairytale romances, supportive friendships, complex marriages, or loving families—there was something on television this year for you to be captivated by.

For today’s entry in NGN’s Best of 2015 series, let’s take a look at the relationships that made us swoon, cry, and cheer this year. Don’t forget to share your thoughts and your own lists of dynamic duos (or groups!) in the comments! And if you’re in the mood for more “Best of 2015” lists, be sure to check out TVExamined and MGcircles for some NGN-approved fangirl fun!

1. Emma Swan and Killian Jones (Once Upon a Time)
I’m a sucker for a good fairytale, and there’s no better one right now than the epic romance between Emma and Killian on Once Upon a Time. This year, Emma and Killian faced beautiful highs (declarations of love, planning a future together in a new home…) and painful lows (a double dose of Dark One danger, a couple of almost-deaths before one that was all too real…). But if their story in 2015 proved anything, it’s that love is stronger than darkness. Whether they were reigniting a spark of connection in an alternate universe or kissing among the flowers of Camelot, they were a beautiful example of the power love has to help us be our best and strongest self. No couple on TV made me smile bigger or cry harder in 2015, and no couple had a more powerful ending to the year—with Emma ready to literally go to hell and back for the man she loves.

2. Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)
I always describe The Americans as a show that on the surface is about spies but is actually a fascinating study of a marriage and a family. In order for that premise to work, the marriage at the center of the show needs to be even more compelling than the espionage plots around it. Thankfully, this show has found a pair of actors in Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell who set the screen on fire when they’re together and are probably the best scene partners in the business right now. I find myself not wanting to blink when they’re together because I’m afraid to miss even the smallest look between them—because one look or one touch conveys so much emotional depth and honesty. In the middle of a life that asks these characters to constantly lie, it’s beautiful to see them develop a sense of truth and intimacy with each other, even when it’s imperfect and messy—because that’s what a real marriage is all about.

3. Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser and Jamie Fraser (Outlander)
Watching Claire and Jamie grow from a pair forced into marriage to a pair truly living out what it means to love someone “for better or worse, in sickness and in health” was one of my favorite things I did as a television viewer in 2015. I don’t use the word “swoon” lightly, but these two made me do that on more than one occasion this year. There is no duo on television with better chemistry than Caitriona Balfe and Sam Hueghan, and this show wisely uses that chemistry to its fullest potential, creating the best love scenes on television this year (many of which I will admit to watching more than once…purely for research purposes, of course).

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NGN’s Best of 2015 TV Performances

Paige

Source: blogs.wsj.com

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…The time when we reflect on all our favorite things about television from the past year! As 2015 draws to a close, I’ll be sharing with you the things I loved most from the world of television this year in a series of “Best of 2015” posts.

It’s always my hope that these lists allow you to reflect on your own favorite things about television in 2015. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments, and don’t forget to check out other fans’ and critics’ lists of their “Best of 2015” picks, too! (Heather always has amazing lists up at TVExamined if you’re looking for a place to start.) While you’re sharing your favorites, please be respectful of your fellow fangirls and fanboys, because our lists are all going to look different, which is what makes sharing them so much fun. We share so much about who we are when we talk about the media we love, and lists like these are such a great snapshot of who we were during a specific year in our lives.

Today’s “Best Of” list features my favorite TV performances of 2015. It was a fantastic year for acting on the small screen—especially for women (as you’ll see by the sheer number of women on this list). Many of the best TV characters this year were defined by complex motivations, stunning plot twists, and emotional storylines that called for new levels of vulnerability from the men and women who bring them to life. From new faces to old favorites, here are the actors that I thought stood out above the rest in 2015.

1. Holly Taylor as Paige Jennings (The Americans)
While I could have put the entire cast of The Americans at the top of this list, I chose to single out Taylor because no actor on television this year impressed me as much as she did. Season Three of The Americans boldly put a teenage girl at the center of everything, and the fact that it was a success speaks to Taylor’s ability to make Paige something more than just the stereotypes of teenage girls we’re so often shown in the media. In her hands, Paige became a character whose maturity I admired and whose innocence I wanted to protect. She wasn’t the one-dimensional morality police in a family desperately in need of one; she was just a girl who cared deeply about her faith, justice, and the truth and was thrown into a life she was unprepared to handle. In the hands of another young actor, that could have come across in an incredibly heavy-handed way, but Taylor appears to be learning the art of subtlety and honesty from her onscreen parents. It’s one thing for a young actor to carry a big storyline and not hurt a show; it’s another for them to do that and make the show better because of their work. Taylor’s ability to make viewers care about Paige—especially in the quiet moments this show does so well—played a critical role in making this the strongest season of The Americans yet.

2. Gina Rodriguez as Jane Villanueva (Jane the Virgin)
I was late to the Jane the Virgin party (having just started watching this summer), but now that I’m here, I’m ready to gush about Rodriguez. With a premise as crazy as this show’s premise, the characters need to keep things relatable, and Rodriguez does that in such a brilliant way—by making Jane one of the most likable characters to hit television screens in the last few years. She projects a warmth that can’t be faked, and she has a rare ability to be both genuinely hilarious and heartbreaking within the same scene. When Jane does a happy dance, I want to dance with her. When Jane cries, I usually do cry with her. Rodriguez is the heart and soul of a show with so much heart and soul, and I can’t wait to watch her star continue to rise.

3. Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan (Once Upon a Time)
2015 wasn’t an easy year for Emma Swan: She found out some difficult truths about her parents, was trapped in a tower in an alternate reality, became a Dark One, and had to watch the man she loves die three times. But while Emma went through the lowest of lows, Morrison reached new heights, proving that—even after four-plus seasons in this role—she still had plenty of new things to show us about Emma as a character and herself as an actor. When she was tasked with playing Emma struggling with her new identity as the Dark One, she rose to the occasion, deftly using her voice and body language to make Emma’s struggle feel as intense and desperate as it needed to feel for this “Dark Swan” arc to resonate. And when she was asked to show us Emma at her most vulnerable—uncontrollably sobbing after having to kill the love of her life to destroy the darkness—Morrison did what she’s always done best: She took a show about fairytales and made it feel real.

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Embracing What You Want and Need from Television and Quitting What You Don’t

Hi everyone, this is Heather filling in while Katie enjoys a well-deserved vacation.

A few weekends ago, the first season of Outlander came to a spectacularly graphic end. The third season of Hannibal started last Thursday with its artistically dark and twisted viewpoint. This weekend, a brutally dark season of Game of Thrones will draw to a close. Each of these shows has sparked discussions about when the violence and darkness becomes gratuitous. This season of Game of Thrones has been especially prone to such conversations. Two episodes in particular, sparked such outrage and unhappiness that some viewers (myself included) have simply chosen to walk away rather than subject themselves to more of the seemingly increasingly violence.

These vocal choices that some have made came with an equally vocal set of assumptions about the way these viewers have previously interacted with the series. Whether those assumptions come out of defensiveness or passion for a favorite show, the result tends to be that the group who stops watching feels like their reactions are being dismissed or are somehow incorrect. While I can’t speak for everyone who has made the decision to stop watching, I can offer up my own perspective on my personal viewing habits and what I am asking for from a television show.

It’s not that we’ve suddenly found ourselves shocked by the horrors of this fantastical world. Those who are still around in season five have watched Ned Stark’s beheading, have made it through the Red Wedding, and have seen Ramsey destroy Theon and raise up Reek in his place. We’ve seen these characters become paralyzed, lose family members, be raped or threatened with rape, and inflict any number of smaller cruelties against each other. There is no doubt that Westeros and Essos are harsh, dangerous places to live or that this show has never shied away from portraying the darker side of humanity.

It’s not that we wish to deny that our world, in both past and present times, can be cruel place. There is undoubtedly darkness and evil. We see it on the nightly news or read about it in newspapers and online. To pretend as though any fictional universe could exist in a land that is free of all the problems of our own would be dishonest and frankly, probably a little boring. People are always going to struggle. Someone will inevitably do something terrible to someone else. They will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles and not all will make it out in one piece.

To pretend that the darkness is all that exists, however, to me seems equally dishonest. In previous seasons of this show, we’ve seen genuine connections between these characters and the goodness of which many are capable. These moments may not have ever been the most prominent feature of the series, but they were always there. Even in this season, we saw Varys placing his hope in Daenerys’s ability to bring about a better world. All I’m asking is for more of that sort of hope and more of the genuine connections of which I know this show and the world it is set in possess.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (5/24 – 5/31)

Sorry for the delay in posting this, friends! I had a lot of emotions to work through first. (Warning: This post centers around an episode that dealt with rape and torture, so if those topics upset you, it’s probably best to stop reading now.)

This week in television included the first week of dates on The Bachelorette, the start of The CW’s excellent plan to re-air its most popular new shows this summer (I loved the pilot of The Flash!), and a typically tense and exciting episode of Orphan Black that featured the wonderful first meeting of Mrs. S. and Helena, as well as plenty of fun new twists and turns for Allison.

However, the best thing I saw on TV this week didn’t come from any of those shows. In fact, it came from an hour of television that left audiences very divided: the Outlander season finale.

While there is no denying that this finale (which featured incredibly graphic sequences of rape and physical/emotional torture) was the most disturbing hour of television I’ve ever watched, I find myself firmly in the camp of viewers who were impressed with the way this episode handled the trauma of rape and the emotional/psychological ramifications of it,  beyond using it as a mere plot device. This wasn’t darkness for the sake of darkness or horror for the sake of shock value; it was a harrowing exploration of the effects of brutal sadism on a human being and the impact of rape and torture both on the survivor and those who care for them. This was an episode that cared about what the victim was going through on an emotional and psychological level, and, as such, it brought out the kind of intensely haunting and raw performance in Sam Heughan that I really hope earns him consideration when it’s time to announce Emmy nominations.

In an episode so dark and disturbing, it was important to have something to balance out the sense of despair that could have dominated the hour. And in order for that balance to be achieved against scenes as horrible as the flashbacks to Jamie being repeatedly raped and psychologically tormented, we needed to feel the depth of Claire’s love for Jamie more strongly than ever before. Thankfully, Caitriona Balfe was more than up to the task, turning in a stunningly vulnerable performance of her own.

While some might name the episode’s ending as its most beautiful scene because of its pure sense of hope and light after so much time spent in darkness, my favorite scene came before it, when Claire got through to Jamie by reminding him that—no matter what happened to him or how damaged or shamed he feels—he is her husband, and she has chosen to love him always. I’ve watched a lot of television shows with married couples in them, but I’ve never seen a moment that got to the heart of the vows to love each other “for better or worse, in sickness and in health” like this moment did. This moment was what a strong marriage is all about: two people who made a promise to choose to love each other—even when it’s not easy—and honor that promise always, because they believe what they have together is worth fighting for.

Sometimes it’s not easy to believe you’re worth fighting for, which is exactly what Jamie went through in that scene. He couldn’t believe Claire would still want him after what happened to him. But Claire doesn’t see Jamie as someone to be ashamed of or someone to pity; she never has. She sees him as someone to love. She sees a survivor rather than a victim, and that’s so important in a story about trauma. There are few fictional characters I know of who need healing more than Jamie Fraser, so I have always appreciated the beauty in the fact that he fell in love with and married a healer who is just as good at healing his physical wounds as she is at helping him begin to mend his emotional ones. Claire was right in this scene when she said everything worked out as it did in order for them to be together, and that’s the stuff of epic love stories that don’t come around every day.

Love can’t erase the scars of traumatic experiences. But it can be enough to help that same person learn to live with their own scars. Love can be a flicker of strength and hope where there once was only darkness, and the love between Jamie and Claire—and the way it was shown through the performances by Heughan and Balfe—provided moments of true beauty in an episode that could have been unwatchable in its bleakness.

What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (4/19 – 4/26)

This was a very dramatic week in the world of television. On Sunday, Once Upon a Time gave us the shocking backstory of Cruella de Vil and pushed Emma closer to darkness than ever before. Also on Sunday, big changes happened for a variety of characters on Game of Thrones, including Arya, Jamie, and Jon. Monday’s episode of Castle revisited Castle’s missing two months and seemed to finally answer the question of why he had to miss his wedding. Wednesday featured an episode of Nashville that broke everyone’s heart by taking away Deacon’s immediate hope of a new liver and taking another step toward the discovery that Juliette is suffering from postpartum depression. That same night also gave us the season finale of The Americans, which was everything the finale of an excellent season should be. Finally, Saturday’s Orphan Black spent more time developing the story of the Castor clones, and Outlander brought Jamie and Claire home to Lallybroch.

In general, this was a week of heavy, depressing television, and I don’t even watch Grey’s Anatomy anymore. (My condolences to those of you who do.) Such is the life of a TV drama fan in the weeks leading up to season finale time, so I’ve learned to treasure small moments of happiness on the dramas I watch when they happen at this time of year. Therefore, my favorite moment on TV this week is actually a pair of moments from two different dramas that offered small moments of joy in the middle of heavy episodes.

The first of these moments happened on Saturday’s excellent second episode of Orphan Black‘s third season. During the very tense episode, I was thankful for the brief scene of domestic joy we were given between Cal, Sarah, and Kira. Watching the three of them play hockey together in the home Cal hoped to share with them was lovely, and it helped counteract the sadness to come, as Sarah had to let Kira go far away with Cal as she went deeper into Helena’s disappearance. Things might be difficult for that family unit right now, but there is still the memory of that happy hockey game (and that fantastic kiss) to hold onto for characters and fans alike.

The second moment also aired on Saturday. This week on Outlander, there were many flashbacks to the horrors both Jamie and Jenny suffered at the hands of Black Jack, and the episode ended with an anxiety-inducing cliffhanger. However, throughout the hour, there were moments of such sincere love and adorable happiness that it made the heavy parts much easier to handle. This was especially true of the episode’s penultimate scene. To hear both Jamie and Claire finally tell each other “I love you” was beautiful. However, the moment I liked even more was when Jamie was describing Claire’s “round arse” and “rock-solid head.” There was something so comfortable, happy, and realistically sexy in their body language during that part of the conversation that I couldn’t help but smile. It felt like a real moment of playfulness between a husband and wife, and that made the professions of love that came after feel even sweeter.

What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?