10 Best TV Episodes of the Season Thus Far

     December 22, 2014

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Television is great right now.  It’s no secret that some of the best storytelling of any medium is happening right now on the small screen with exciting filmmakers and incredibly talented performers flocking to TV as they’re drawn to its character-centric, serialized stories.  Our own Allison Keene has been running down some of the highlights of 2014, including the Top 10 New Series of the year, the Top Returning Series, and miscellaneous Other TV Bests, but since there’s so much good stuff out there, the Collider Staff came together to highlight our favorite individual episodes of the TV season thus far.  Check out the list after the jump.

*A brief note: In order to avoid having both past and current seasons of shows eligible for selection, we’ve narrowed this list to the TV season running from July to December.  Without further ado, here are the best TV episodes from that timeframe:

Homeland – “13 Hours in Islamabad”

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Showtime’s CIA drama Homeland roared back to form in its fourth season, and nowhere was this more apparent, more tense and more heart-attack-inducing than in “13 Hours in Islamabad.”  In it, Homeland never shied away from extremes and difficult truths, as the show’s own Benghazi unfolded over one harrowing hour.  The episode was a great example of a show getting back to the top of its game, where every cast member shined (and many were mourned). – Allison Keene

The Walking Dead – “Self Help”

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AMC’s The Walking Dead is the strongest it’s been in a couple of years, but it wasn’t the show’s usually-shocking mid-season finale that boasted the best episode of the season.  Sure, as far as ratings go, the season five premiere was the show’s best yet, and the winter finale had almost equally huge numbers, but it was the thematically superior “Self Help” that really got people talking.   The early half of the season had a lot of dramatic moments; I mean, we had the massacre at Terminus, the arrival of the mysterious Father Gabriel, tragic and gruesome character deaths, an introduction to the beleaguered Slabtown (and that particular arc’s doomed resolution), and even cannibals for God’s sake!  But it was the death of the group’s last hope for a return to the world they once knew – catalyzed by Eugene’s confession and personified by Abraham’s primal reaction – that set this episode apart as an hour that favored psychological torture over the tried and true practical effects … though we also got to see zombies blown apart by a fire hose, which was pretty cool. – Dave Trumbore

The Leftovers – “Guest”

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Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof’s return to television marked a very different direction from that previous series, and while The Leftovers proved to be rather divisive, it’s tough to deny the strength of the show’s single character-centric episodes.  The Nora-centric episode “Guest” was particularly excellent, as viewers followed Carrie Coon’s character attending a departure-related conference in New York City, revealing just how impactful her family’s disappearance has been.  The episode is a swell showcase for all of Lindelof’s strengths as a writer—his fascination with faith and belief, his strong handle on character, and of course his penchant for telling a good slow-burn mystery.  The episode ends with an emotional catharsis that’s incredibly powerful but also enigmatic, which is characteristic of the series as a whole really.  Again, whatever you think of the show, it’s tough to deny the wonderful piece of storytelling that is “Guest”. – Adam Chitwood

Penny Dreadful – “Closer Than Sisters”

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Eva Green should be getting some awards recognition for her work on Showtime’s Penny Dreadful.  Want to see why?  All you have to do is watch episode 5, “Closer Than Sisters.”  It was pretty clear that she was going to own the show after the seance scene in episode 2, but “Closer Than Sisters” isn’t just a standout installment because of one mind-blowing moment.  Green nails a drastic single-episode arc that takes Vanessa from a bright, kind young woman to one plagued by demons and darkness.  “Closer Than Sisters” functions as a brilliant character piece and standalone episode, but it was also a major game changer for the rest of the show.  Whether you’re watching a scene between Vanessa and Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) or one during which she’s exploring her budding romance with Dorian Grey (Reeve Carney), it all comes back to what she experienced in this episode. – Perri Nemiroff

Last Week Tonight – “Episode 19” (Wealth Gap)

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Jon Stewart pretty much has the monopoly on news-skewering nightly comedy programs, so it was unclear if we really needed a similarly-premised HBO series from The Daily Show alum John Oliver.  With HBO’s Last Week Tonight, however, Oliver carved out his own niche, giving us one of the best new series of the year.  More investigative journalism than short comedy bits, the show gives Oliver the opportunity to devote an extended amount of time to a single subject, and one of the highlights of the year was the show’s segment on income inequality.  Oliver tackles the issue with tact, candor, and a healthy dose of humor, offering up a concise yet in-depth examination of how the issue has become so bad and why it’s so difficult to make it better.  Depressing, yes, but the fact that Oliver and his team are willing to devote nearly 15 minutes to this touchy issue without mincing words is why Last Week Tonight is one of the best shows on TV.  You can watch the segment yourself right here–Adam Chitwood

Continue Reading on Page 2 for the Best TV Episodes of the Season Thus Far

The Flash – “The Man in the Yellow Suit”

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If you’re not watching The CW’s adaptation of DC Comics’ super speedster The Flash, then you’re missing out on one of the biggest surprises of the year.  Not only has Grant Gustin stepped effortlessly into the title role, but the creative team has surrounded him with a fantastic supporting cast.  The ensemble turned in their best performances in the first mid-season finale which gave satisfying semi-closure to the murder of Barry’s mother while opening up a host of other questions.  Major villains arrived in the flesh, potential allies blazed onto the scene, and the various love affairs took unexpected twists and turns.  In a season that’s already featured a cross-over with sister series Arrow, it was surprisingly difficult to sort out the best of the bunch, but judging from the amount of time-traveling/super-speeding/identity-swapping discussion at the episode recap’s comment boards, “The Man in the Yellow Suit” was strong enough to carry viewers until the show’s January 20th return. – Dave Trumbore

The Affair – “Pilot”

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In its first episode, The Affair (another great fall series from Showtime) introduced us to a beautiful New England vacation spot, but one that was immediately undercut with darkness.  Wrapped in a murder mystery, The Affair tells its story through his-and-hers points of view, which show how bias and emotion can affect memory, often in extreme ways.  Its unique, unreliable narration from both leads was a great twist, and also a very exciting portend (which The Affair has lived up to in spades). An exceptional pilot. – Allison Keene

The Strain“Loved Ones” 

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Somewhat similar to “Closer Than Sisters,” episode 10 of The Strain, “Loved Ones,” is a strong standalone watch.  Even if you don’t watch the show, the episode’s got such a powerful mini-narrative packed with heart and curious details about the condition consuming New York that you’re bound to get hooked.  And of course, if you do know the characters, it’s going to hit even harder.  The Strain season 1 had its moments, but the writers tended to have a tough time connecting the dots from episode to episode, so it should come as no surprise that some of the strongest installments were ones that had beginnings, middles and ends within themselves, like “Loved Ones” and episode 8, “Creatures of the Night,” as well.  It’s good fun seeing the gang come together and take on a horde of vampires at a convenience store, but “Loved Ones” digs far deeper thanks to the extremely emotional scenario.  Kelly Goodweather didn’t even do all that much in the episodes prior, but Natalie Brown still manages to rip your heart out as the character’s humanity withers away, essentially losing her loved ones in the process. – Perri Nemiroff

The Knick – “Get the Rope”

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An already uniquely beautiful period series, Cinemax’s early-century hospital drama The Knick went above and beyond in “Get The Rope,” which was the most connected and contained episode of its first season.  It was also one that managed to deal with race relations (in a difficult, even claustrophobic way), romantic relations (quite bravely and brazenly for the time period), and even some humor, all into an hour of controlled chaos.  It was taut, tense, and narratively satisfying, but also (as always) visually augmented by Steven Soderbergh‘s exceptional direction (particularly that hospital transport tracking shot). – Allison Keene

Sons of Anarchy – “Red Rose”

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Powerful stuff from a show that trades in violence, but can still find ways to shock.  FX’s biker drama Sons of Anarchy has had its highs and lows over the years, but no matter what came before it, the show really “went there” and set its legacy with “Red Rose.”  In it, Jax (Charlie Hunnam) was forced to come to terms with who he really is (and what his family really represents, and the cost of that way of life), something he has struggled with since the beginning of the series.  Here, he embraces it and does his duty, knowing that the ending he’s created is now nigh.  It was emotional, tense, and ultimately stunning. –Allison Keene

For more of our Best of 2014 coverage, peruse the links below:

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