The 18 Best TV Episodes Of 2017
By GameSpot Staff on
We are, as many people like to say, in the midst of "Peak TV", the cultural moment where the quantity of outstanding television series have never been higher. Nearly every second show is proclaimed a "must-watch" nowadays, making it exceedingly tough to be across everything that everyone is talking about.
If you're a fan of one of these outstanding shows, then it can sometimes be tough to find others who have as much passion as you. But we hear at GameSpot love a wide variety of shows, and we're here to share the joy with you. We've picked out some of our favorite individual episodes from our favorite ongoing series this year to relive the best TV of the past 12 months. Are your favorites here, and did we pick the best highlight episodes from each one? Read on to find out.
18. "The Toll" (Ozark)
There were unavoidable comparisons to Breaking Bad when Ozark first hit Netflix in July, given the plot seemingly revolved around a normal family man forced into a dangerous life of crime in order to survive. But it quickly became clear that this show was very different, and it ultimately emerged as one of 2017’s finest crime dramas. Every episode was part a slow, gripping build to the finale, and the climactic 10th episode--The Toll--didn’t disappoint. There was a lot of ground to cover and quite a few stories to wrap up, but with 90 minutes to play with, nothing ever felt rushed. The Toll was seriously brutal at times, both in terms of what you saw (torn off toenails, exploding heads), and didn’t (Grace’s fate). But it was emotionally powerful too, with Wendy and Marty forced to make some hard decisions about the future of their family. The Snells proved that they are, in fact, far more dangerous and scary than the Mexican cartel, and it all ended in a perfect place for Season 2 to kick off--everyone back together, but with the stakes even higher.
17. "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies" (Gotham)
There is no comic book rivalry more iconic than Batman and The Joker. In its third season, Gotham gave the two prototypical versions of the characters their first battle, which culminated with young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) literally punching the face off of Jerome (Cameron Monaghan), igniting a feud that will likely never end. It's a perfect example of Gotham carving its own path through decades of established canon, as it sets itself apart from any Batman you've ever seen.
16. "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" (Star Trek: Discovery)
In its embrace of serialised storytelling, Star Trek: Discovery's first season has lacked many strong, standalone individual episodes, the type of which previous Trek TV iterations excelled in. But with "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad", Discovery struck the ideal balance between telling it's season-long arc as well as providing a relatively self-contained plot within the space of one hour. Plus, it's a time-travel episode that sees the crew of the Discovery relive the same few hours over and over again as they're attacked by the much more serious incarnation of original series holdover Harry Mudd. Star Trek usually excels at these types of timey-wimey setups, and "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" does not disappoint.
15. "Time's Arrow" (Bojack Horseman)
Bojack Horseman--one of television's most underrated (or perhaps, underappreciated) shows--again proved the layers of depth and complexity it contains with this outstanding episode that chronicled the life of Beatrice Horseman, Bojack's bitter and emotionally abusive mother. The trip through the dementia-affected brain of Bea was affecting and impactful, shining light on how exactly Bea became to be the person (or horse) that Bojack knew. And that final moment with Bojack and Bea? Equal parts devastating and sweet.
14. "Girls Are Horny Too" (Big Mouth)
The poignant and gross show about puberty didn't limit its scope to only the male experience--and a good thing, because if it had, we would have never gotten this hilarious and eye-opening examination of the many shades and layers of female sexuality. All that from a show about jerking off! Who would have thought?
13. "XXXVIII" (Black Sails)
The series finale of Starz's swashbuckling pirate show didn't just set up the story of Treasure Island with a wink and a saber jab. It provided closure--not just for our favorite characters, but for the end of a legendary era that's excited and inspired the world ever since, despite the real violence Black Sails so often chronicled. And it somehow managed a happy ending.
12. "Live Studio Audience" (GLOW)
Watching the wonderful women of Netflix's GLOW finally take to the ring and perform in front of a live studio audience was thrilling and satisfying--even if that audience consisted of nothing more than a handful of weirdos lured in off the street. But when the Beatdown Biddies pivoted their characters to become the KKK Biddies--and then take on Junk Chain and Welfare Queen--it became a match for the ages.
11. "The Ricklantis Mixup" (Rick and Morty)
This oddball episode of everyone's favorite animated show (not that there's a "normal" episode of Rick and Morty) ditched our standard protagonists in favor of a connected series of vignettes set on the Citadel of Ricks, home to infinite Ricks and infinite Morty sidekicks. This is the kind of insane concept that somehow feels right at home on this show, and it wound up being the best episode of the season.
10. "Crocodile" (Black Mirror)
This standout episode of Netflix's Black Mirror Season 4 was chilling on multiple levels. Every time you thought it couldn't get worse, Crocodile's protagonist did something even more heinous. And the episode was unique for Black Mirror in that it didn't so much focus on some futuristic technology, as use it as an incidental plot device. This was really a Fargo-style series of bloody coincidences (minus any humor) that could have taken place anywhere, at any time, and that's what made it so terrifying.
9. "Chapter 7" (Legion)
Legion eventually became so insane and trippy that its early episodes began to look tame in comparison. "Chapter 7" involved bullets frozen in time and an imaginary hospital filled with violent, crazed, zombie-like patients. But it also finally provided some answers, and revealed an epic twist regarding the identity of the enemy that's been plaguing David's mind since before he was born.
8. "Episode 2" (Mindhunter)
The first episode of Mindhunter was more a measured period piece than anything else. It wasn't until Episode 2 when we finally got to meet one of the "serial killers" the show focused on that Mindhunter's brilliance began to emerge. Cameron Britton's portrayal of the real life killer Edmund Kemper was absolutely chilling.
7. "The Return: Part 8" (Twin Peaks)
We never expected another season of Twin Peaks, and we certainly never expected it to take the form it has. The Return didn't concern itself with what existing fans wanted, or even what a television show should be.
Part 8 was the unforgettable zenith of this sentiment. An hour of television that went even further, and shirked any notions of what we thought The Return was at that point. Utterly shocking and overwhelming, Part 8 is filled with unsettling scenes and abstract visual cacophony. The images allude to previously unexplored Twin Peaks lore, but certainly not in any kind of easily comprehensible manner.
Black and white visions of the past. Long uncomfortable stretches of silence. Even longer, uncomfortable stretches of high-pitched whining. A nuclear explosion. Flickering stop-motion figures. A mysterious egg. A biological horror. Ladies and gentlemen, the Nine Inch Nails? Twin Peaks: The Return is one of the greatest triumphs of television, and it's hard to imagine ever seeing anything like this ever again. This is the water, and this is the well. Drink full and descend.
6. "eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00" (Mr. Robot)
Compared to the more off-the-wall and deceptive storyline from season 2, the third outing for Mr. Robot felt like a return to the more grounded style from the early part of the series. But one thing that the show is good at is subverting expectations, and the more subdued story approach from the first half of Season 3 was just the calm before the storm. In eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00, we find Elliott having the worst workday ever when he has to evade EvilCorp security in order to prevent the Dark Army from pulling off Stage 2. Presented as one seamless shot with no cuts--with each passing moment ratcheting up the anxiety and dread--the fifth episode of season 3 worked in elements of Die Hard with the show's patented off-kilter and introspective storytelling. With both season 2 and 3 directed entirely by show creator by Sam Esmail, the series features some of the most consistent and stylized direction on TV--and eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00 was one of the finest moments the series has had.
5. "The Spoils Of War" (Game of Thrones)
The Game of Thrones episode The Spoils of War had a few glaring flaws, but by and large went overboard in the best way possible. It let the series' iconic dragons storm the battlefield for the first time, and though the carnage was impressively harrowing, it also nearly meant the end of Jamie Lannister. Seeing Tyrion on the opposing side made this all the more fascinating as he's no doubt indebted to his brother but presently sworn to serve his family's greatest enemy. Far north, we also witnessed a reunion that was a longtime in the making, between Arya and Sansa Stark. Individually, the sisters couldn't be more different. After years apart--spent fending off one horrible event after another--their new reality and memories of the past collided head on. After many seasons waiting patiently for a few of this episode's climactic events to unfold, Game of Thrones fans got more than they clamored for.
4. "Offred" (The Handmaid's Tale)
You won't find a more brightly lit TV show in 2017 than The Handmaid's Tale. This luminescence is an essential contrast to the darkness and oppression that permeates throughout much of the show. Superbly adapted from Margaret Atwood's 1985 speculative fiction novel, The Handmaid's Tale follows the life of Offred in the aftermath of an American civil war in the 21st Century. Along with establishing the characters and setting the themes, the inaugural episode--named after Offred--effectively reveals a frightening world were fertile women are politicized and managed. These are the handmaidens, whose function is to bear children on behalf of women at the top of the social hierarchy. Flashbacks to Offred's initial days as a handmaiden and life before the civil war adds engaging context but more importantly, gets you more invested in an already enthralling character, superbly portrayed by Elisabeth Moss. Her deliberate facial close-ups by director of photography, Colin Watkinson capture her anguish and contemplation. Yet before despair has a chance to completely set in, the episode ends showing Moss' determination to escape, conveying a sliver of optimism in a show that only gets darker as its 10-episode season progresses. And before the cut to credits, the quietly defiant Offred declares her resolve by reminding the viewer of her real name: June.
3. "Michael's Gambit" (The Good Place)
The Good Place seemed like a strange idea for a show--Kristen Bell's character Eleanor finds herself mistakenly in "The Good Place" (heaven) after dying at the exact same moment as another Eleanor with her exact name and birthday. It worked surprisingly well, though, and had a surprisingly hilarious and touching Season 1--until the finale, "Michael's Gambit," turned the entire concept upside-down, cementing The Good Place as one of the greats.
2. "The Book of Nora" (The Leftovers)
Created in part by Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof, The Leftovers didn't initially inspire a lot of hope that its central mystery--what happened to the two percent of people who inexplicably vanished--would ever be answered. But in its series finale, "The Book of Nora," The Leftovers did something incredible: It offered an answer, then asked viewers to decide for themselves whether to believe it. It fit perfectly with the show's theme of faith and what we get out of it, and it should go down as one of the best series finales ever made.
1. "You Get What You Need" (Big Little Lies)
After the first couple of episodes, it was easy to mistake Big Little Lies for a show that was simply about in-fighting among a group of privileged mothers in beautiful Monterey, Calif. But by its finale, in which the story finally caught up with the framing device of a murder at the school's trivia night, it had become so much more. And the final scenes delivered on all the conflicts, mysteries, and promise of the show's first season in a way that felt both surprising and satisfying. Hopefully Season 2 can live up to it.