Figuring out the best TV shows of 2016 is damn near impossible.
Everything is just so good! We’ve reached the point in our medium where it’s just not physically possible for an average, employed human being to watch every TV show that is worth watching. So counter-intuitively we’re gonna try out a task that’s even harder than picking the best TV shows of 2016. We’re going to pick the best TV episodes of 2016 just like we did in 2015.
Why are we doing this? Because there are episodes of television that deserve it. Great TV shows are made up of great episodes and you can’t appreciate the whole without appreciating its parts. Simply put, there were half-hours and full hours of television that remind us why we watch TV in the first place. These are the episodes that reward your investment humanity itself as much as your investment in your cable package or streaming subscription.
– Alec Bojalad
Each episode of Atlanta’s first season was a treasure. Donald Glover’s freshman near-masterpiece adopts from modern shows like Louie with each episode being its own vignette on the Black experience in America in addition to forwarding the story of Paper Boi and company.
“Juneteenth” was a particularly good distillation of this technique. The entire episode takes place at Van’s mother’s bougie Juneteenth party where Earn (Glover) and Van encounter a series of uniquely Black frustrations like the ultra-woke stepfather who clearly means well but is a little too much. And then the end we get to see progress between Van and Earn in a fleeting, yet hopeful way.
Atlanta came out hot in 2016. The first five of its 10 episodes all ranged from good to superb. Still, there was a lingering question throughout them. When are we gonna to do something with this Donald Glover’s girlfriend character, Van?
Episode six “Value” answers that question and then some, ultimately becoming the best of Atlanta’s freshman offerings. In the first half Van must interact with her sister and come to terms with their very different definitions of feminine “value.” That’s fascinating enough but then Van must confront an even more pressing issue for a technically single mother living in poverty: a drug test she will surely fail. The ensuing madcap struggle to beat the test is hilarious, heartwarming and bizarre. “Value” is the best distillation of Glover’s elevator pitch for Atlanta: Twin Peaks with rappers.
Baskets: “Easter in Bakersfield”
Baskets was a tough egg to crack in its first season. What is it making fun of? What is it taking seriously? And what are we supposed to be getting out of all of this? All of those questions are answered in the excellent “Easter in Bakersfield.” The episode follows failed clown Chip Baskets (Zach Galifianakis) and his mother (Louie Anderson) as they participate in Mrs. Baskets’ favorite yearly ritual: all-you-can-eat Easter brunch at the casino.
“Easter in Bakersfield” perfectly captures the tone that Baskets strives for in season one: weird, yet touching. These are strange people doing strange things, but the show allows us to see their humanity in its own way. Of course valuing Easter brunch at a Bakersfield casino is ridiculous. Still, getting to see Chip respect his mother’s strange wishes anyway is heartwarming.
The Night Of: “The Beach”
The Night Of’s first and only season was good, but its premiere “The Beach” was perfect. “The Beach” is a quiet, deliberate hour-plus of television that simulates the gradual tightening of a noose better than anything else on TV since Breaking Bad. We, the audience, know that Naz’s (Riz Ahmed) late night ride in his father’s taxi cannot end well because the show’s called The Night Of and we saw trailers with John Turturro in court. But the tragic, purposeful method with which “The Beach” lets those series of unfortunate events unfold is devastating.
The circumstances in which Naz is potentially framed for a crime he did or did not commit are extreme and seemingly impossible. But as depicted by “The Beach,” they seem inevitable – like young Naz is cosmically predisposed for suffering. It perfectly sets the tone for all the subsequent suffering to come.
Lady Dynamite: “Loaf Coach”
Lady Dynamite’s first season was reminiscent of peak Arrested Development. This makes sense as its from a capable comedian in Maria Bamford and the actual creator of Arrested Development in Mitchell Hurwitz. The best example of the show’s Arrested Development ambitions and success comes in midseason episode “Loaf Coach.”
In “Loaf Coach,” Maria decides that she has been working too hard and is dangerously close to relapsing into a manic episode. So her life coach Karen Grisham (Jenny Slate playing one of three “Karen Grishams”) encourages her to visit a Loaf Coach (Jason Mantzoukas). Maria’s strange journey through self care is hilarious and effectively hammers home one of the main themes of Lady Dynamite: taking care of oneself can be very hard.
Game of Thrones: “The Winds of Winter”
Game of Thrones got to the point in season six where showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are telling more of their own story than an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s novels. Sometimes the show struggles when transitioning from Martin’s voice to Benioff and Weiss’s but the season six finale: “The Winds of Winter” is a perfect example of when that transition goes right.
“The Winds of Winter” is a satisfying, thematically consistent episode of Game of Thrones in large part thanks to its brilliant first 20 minutes. We follow Cersei Lannister as prepares one, final, explosive plot to assert her family’s dominance. Everything is on point from the cinematography to the music to the acting that it makes for the best executed scene in the series’ history. The rest of the episode neatly ties up narrative threads in valid, emotional ways that don’t come across as perfunctory.
High Maintenance: “Ex”
High Maintenance was a ballsy adaptation/continuation of a no-budget web series of the same name. The best episode of the show’s first real season, the finale “Ex,” is a near-masterpiece whether you’ve seen the web series or not.
Those who saw the web series are treated to a surprising and emotionally satisfying conclusion to the story of depressed, agoraphobic Helen Hunt-fan Patrick while non-web series watchers get to see the same satisfying conclusion through fresh eyes. The story of Patrick and his struggle to live anything resembling a life is the best plot the show has ever done. The second best? The second part of “Ex” where we finally get a glimpse into “The Guy’s” home life. There’s a sadness there too which is not entirely unlike Patrick’s efforts to connect with others.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: “Mac & Dennis Move to the Suburbs”
Here we are, 36 years removed from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. And yet the answer to “do we need another Jack Torrance-style mental breakdown parody?” is STILL yes. “Mac & Dennis Move to the Suburbs” was not the most ambitious episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s 11th (!) season; but it was the absolute funniest.
Mac (Rob McHelleny) and Dennis (Glenn Howerton) become fed up with city life and decide to move to the suburbs. Frank Reynolds (Danny DeVito) rightfully realizes the mundanity of the suburbs will be a poor fit for the boisterous duo and predicts they won’t last a month. This is all a very standard setup for any sitcom, but the difference for Always Sunny is how absolutely bonkers and unhinged they let things become. And it all culminates in what might be the finest comedic acting of maybe the decade with Dennis’ positively rapturous, animalistic scream of frustration in a friendly neighbor’s face.
American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson: “Manna from Heaven”
The real trial of O.J. Simpson had many climaxes: the glove, Kato Kaelin, Faye Resnick, the verdict, itself. The People v. O.J. Simpson smartly boils them all done to one: the uncovering of the Mark Fuhrman tapes. There may not have been a better scene of television in 2016 than when all the primary agents in the O.J. trial: O.J., Marcia Clark, Chrs Darden, Robert Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran, et. all listen to a tape of Mark Fuhrman’s virulent racism in a completely silent courtroom. It’s a huge, impossibly larger-than-life moment captured perfectly. Cochran is vindicated. Darden is sadly correct. Clark is devastated. Everyone is shocked.
One of the best things about The People v. O.J. Simpson is how successfully it depicts (without directly arguing) that the O.J. Simpson trial was everything to everyone. It was a story of wealth, race, crime, punishment, media and really every emotion in humanity’s database. By depicting the Fuhrman tape as the last moment in the penultimate episode of the show, it creates the sense that the climax of the show is the climax of modern Western culture itself.
American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”
The appeal of The People v. O.J. Simpson and the O.J. trial itself is how it seems to be a social commentary on just about everything: race, sex, poverty, crime, entertainment, media, etc. But the best hour of the show and maybe the best hour of TV this year was singularly focused on just one aspect: the sexism prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark experienced throughout the trial.
No one on The People v. O.J. Simpson is prepared for the spectacle the trial will become, least of all Marcia Clark who is suddenly a celebrity against her will. Magazines make fun of her appearance, doucebag pharmacy employees joke that it’s gonna be a rough week for the defense when she buys tampons – it’s a living hell. And no moment is more devastating when Marcia thinks she’s figured it all out and comes to court with a new haircut only to become an even bigger target of derision. It’s heartbreaking.
Better Things: “Only Women Bleed”
The premiere season of Better Things is a beautifully crafted piece of television with an arc that throws away conventional stories and tropes for grit and realness. There is no better example of that then the season finale, “Only Women Bleed.” The episode, whose title is the illustration of what Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K. have made the nucleus of the series, gave us probably one of the most powerful moments on television without any soapboxes or grandstands.
The heart of the episode lies with Sam’s (Adlon) middle daughter, Frankie (Hannah Alligood) who gets in trouble when she uses the boy’s bathroom. The main focus here seems to be pointed at Frankie’s gender identity. However, what the episode does so perfectly is not make a show of it. It’s not a theme to show how progressive the show is. It is a depiction of a young child who might be confused.The most powerful moment is when Sam, who has been a pillar of the strong women who is sometimes an imperfect mother, doesn’t notice. She buys the graphic story Frankie tells her about how awful middle school girls are, and then her eldest daughter, Max ( Mikey Madison) says “Mom, Frankie’s a boy.”
Better Things is about how people live. It’s about womanhood and motherhood. It’s about girls and women and different stages of their lives who are all smart and strong and independent but given the space to be flawed and insecure.
The Americans: “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears”
The best episodes of The Americans are always the ones where the audience is allowed to see their own American lives and American dreams in the Russian spy protagonists’ lives. “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears” is the best example yet.
In “The Magic of David Copperfield” Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth receive what seems to be inconceivable at this point in the show’s run: a break. The Rezidentura rightfully realizes that the Jennings are at their breaking point so they agree not to give them any new missions. Instead the Jennings family spends their time mini-golfing, lounging around the house and watching David Copperfield disappear the Statue of Liberty. This is The Americans, of course, so there is an undercurrent of distrust and unease throughout the proceedings. This could be their lives all the time. They could be Americans once and for all. Philip and Elizabeth, however, know they’re too far gone for that to be true.
Saturday Night Live: “Dave Chappelle/A Tribe Called Quest”
Saturday Night Live is 42-years-old, airs on Saturday nights at 11:30 pm, and is still somehow NBC’s most consistent non-football ratings draw. The show’s 42nd season opened on an eight-year ratings high, bolstered by the omnipresent Presidential election and Lin-Manuel Miranda hosting. Its creative high would come some weeks later, however, in the “Dave Chappelle/A Tribe Called Quest” episode.
The scene was set for an interesting, if not classic episode of live television. There was a beloved comedian coming out of exile to host, a classic group coming out of retirement to perform and of course: a new President-elect who really likes to tweet about SNL. Chappelle surpassed all of those expectations with a near-perfect episode that deftly captured the country’s mood and reminded us all of how great a marriage Dave Chappelle and television make. SNL lost its moral high ground when it let Donald Trump host, but it won at least some of it back and proved it can still be relevant in its old age with “Dave Chappelle/A Tribe Called Quest.”
Search Party: “The House of Uncanny Truths”
Pulling off an ending for a show as rich and satisfying as Search Party should have been impossible. Through nine episodes Search Party proved itself to be a modern classic about millennial ennui and disillusionment that also somehow built up a fascinating Nancy Drew mystery. Surely the finale, “The House of Uncanny Truths” could only disappoint. Welp. It doesn’t disappoint. It’s the best episode of the show by far and undoubtedly one of the 2016 TV season’s best half hours.
“The House of Uncanny Truths” gives us answers: answers that might not be what we expected and answers that might ultimately hurt but fair, concrete, no-cheating answers all the same. And beyond the satisfaction of a resolution to the mystery Search Party pulls off a narrative miracle. It shows that the show about the girl who didn’t care enough was really the show of a girl who cared too much all along. Bravo.
Documentary Now: “The Bunker”
Documentary Now was an upset winner in our best comedy of 2016 vote and you can credit the victory to a political stunner in the season premiere. Following the show’s documentary parody format, “The Bunker” is a spin on the poli-doc “The War Room,” which followed Bill Clinton’s 1992 race to the White House. Doc Now often takes huge liberties from real documentaries. “The Bunker,” however, is a slight departure for the series in that it closely parallels the central focus of “The War Room,” Clinton’s communications director George Stephanopoulos and his head strategist James Carville, but still gives Fred Armisen and Bill Hader the freedom to create larger-than-life parodies of those political figures all in the name of an unwinnable Ohio gubernatorial race.
John Mulaney’s script hits on “change” campaigns, outsider candidates versus the boring status quo, political “it” boys, the importance of being surrounded by 10s, and the challenge of getting an unelectable candidate into office just for the hell of it. “The Bunker” is as relevant to its 1992 inspiration as it to the 2016 election, a feat that elevates it to some of the best political satire of the long and arduous election cycle.
BoJack Horseman: “Fish Out of Water”
Recently BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg shared on Twitter his pitch for “Fish Out of Water” to Netflix execs. In it, he goes through the history of TV shows and movies that featured no dialogue and were still well-received. Things like the first act of Wall-E or the “Hush” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and so on. It’s a fascinating document because it reveals something true about the human condition: we’re capable of being so empathetic that we don’t even need words to move us. BoJack Horseman itself is about empathy: the struggle to find it, use it and love it.
No episode encapsulates that better than the nearly dialogue-less “Fish Out of Water” where BoJack attends a film festival underwater and is incapable of communication. Despite lacking the ability to speak or maybe because of it, BoJack is desperate for human (and sometimes animal) connection. He tries to reach out to the fired director of his movie to apologize, but can’t. He tries to explain how much spending time with a baby seahorse meant to him to the baby’s father, but can’t. This isn’t unusual for BoJack. There is usually a mental block for him from expressing empathy and understanding but “Fish Out of Water” is excellent because it replaces that mental block with a physical one… and makes BoJack realize just how badly he needs to connect with those around him.
Black Mirror: “San Junipero”
Black Mirror returned from the dead to give us all the sci-fi-dystopia we needed as we lived through a sci-fi dystopia of our own. There was one episode of the six, however, that stood out. “San Junipero” was the best episode of Black Mirror and one of the best episodes of TV overall this year because of its refusal to be cynical. Sure, the central conceit of a privatized heaven is about as dystopian as they come, but Black Mirror was able to find the humanity in it.
At its core “San Junipero” is about the fears we all share: death, a life without love, the ‘80s. It was also about how we’re all connected by those fears and how humanity even at its most ugly mostly just wants to help. If we can’t help one another out in this life…we’ll be back sure to do it in the next.
The X-Files: “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-monster”
At their kindest, people tend to be skeptical of reboots, revivals, and remakes. At their worst, have a look at the inflammatory Facebook comments when we post a headline with one of those words. The X-Files revival, which opened to eye-popping numbers and remained a ratings success over its six-episode run, hit every range of revival emotion. There was joy in seeing David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reunite as Mulder and Scully. There was disappoint in half of those six installments, particularly the ones penned by series creator Chris Carter. But there was also hope for the franchise’s future, with aspects of episodes like “Home Again” and “Founder’s Mutation” settling into Monster-of-the-Week canon. Some fans even liked Mulder and Scully-lite with the new agents in “Babylon.”
Despite the mixed emotions, it was all worth it when writer Darin Morgan’s episode, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-monster,” received nearly universal acclaim. The guy who penned series favorites like “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” and “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” returned with a comical, light-hearted adventure that challenges the “skeptical/believer” norms of our beloved FBI agents, pays homage to the late director Kim Manners, and puts David Duchovny in a red man thong. As we said before, one episode can’t make a season. This one comes awfully close, though.
The Flash: “Killer Frost”
From the moment Danielle Panabaker was cast as a character called “Caitlin Snow,” comic fans have been waiting for her inevitable descent into villainy. The cold-powered Killer Frost is a fairly minor villain in the comics, but introducing her alter ego as a heroic, lovable ally of Barry Allen was a nice tip of the hat to those in the know that some time down the road, things would take a dark turn.
It took over two full seasons before we got it (the alternate reality missteps of season two don’t count), but “Killer Frost” got it right. The Kevin Smith directed episode was no novelty exercise, nor was it something that wrapped up Caitlyn’s arc, for better or worse. Instead, it was a perfectly paced hour of TV, where the stakes couldn’t have felt higher, and where the entire cast stepped up, but still kept the spotlight firmly on Ms. Panabaker.
It’s rare that a show that balances villain-of-the-week formula with season (and multi-season) storytelling manages to pay off on everything in any given single episode, but “Killer Frost” did it with an economical, emotional, and exciting hour of TV. With over 50 episodes under its belt, The Flash rarely gets better than this.
12 Monkeys: “Lullaby”
The second season of Syfy’s 12 Monkeys was mind-blowingly good overall, but “Lullaby” cannot be watched without either tearing up or standing up on the couch or both. Besides the unique Groundhog Day-style presentation of the repeating time loop, which is expertly presented with enough differences to keep it from getting stale, there’s the simply massive reveal at the end–the result of breaking out of the cycle–that took two seasons to unveil. As a contrast to the bleak outlook at the start of the episode, complete with fatalistic Shakespeare quotes, the emotional high at the conclusion was simply breathtaking.
The Magicians: “Remedial Battle Magic”
The adaptation of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy hasn’t always been perfect, but the series created a wholly unique take on the story of the novels. Nowhere was the more clear in the episode “Remedial Battle Magic,” which managed to evoke emotions as widely varied as despair, amusement, inspiration, and lust. This eleventh episode in the run of 13 saw supporting characters killing themselves, the Physical Kids using bottled emotions to practice battle magic, and a surprise threesome between unlikely bedfellows. Meanwhile Julia saw her first bit of real hope when a prayer to a fertility goddess yielded unexpected success. In a series practically drowning in hopelessness, this episode saw the first glimmers of hope for a successful confrontation with the Beast.
The Expanse: “CQB”
What makes The Expanse unique among space dramas is its gritty realism. Through its use of gravity, sublight speed, and solar system politics, the show has given us compelling characters scrapping for survival in the most fragile of circumstances. But the biggest “wow” moment of the first season had to be the “close quarters battle” in the aptly named episode, “CQB.”
Here, viewers got to see the cool efficiency of the Mars Congressional Republic Navy, and the shock the Martians felt when overwhelmed by small, but powerful attackers came through the screen. The massive rail guns and visually impressive space combat really put the stamp on this series with its sheer scale, and the endlessly interesting team of protagonists had viewers’ hearts in their throats as they tried to escape the mayhem. Whether it was Amos blocking a hole in the hull with a notebook or Holden pushing off Naomi using physics to regain his foothold, this crew really knows how to think fast in a crisis, and the audience was on the edge of their seats the entire hour.
Fleabag: “Episode 4”
Every episode of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Amazon series Fleabag is worth watching. The dark, deeply intimate comedy about a 20-something woman living and lusting in London after the deaths of her best friend and mother was one of the best new TV shows this year. Episode four skewed further into absurdist comedy than the rest of the installments in the six-episode season, as it follows sisters Fleabag and Claire (Sian Clifford) on a luxury silent retreat, gifted to them by their guilt-ridden father.
So much of Fleabag’s dramatic tension comes in the exploration of the thoughts and the feelings we feel like we can’t share, a theme highlighted by the things Fleabag tells the audience, but no one else, in her fourth wall-breaking asides. Nowhere is this theme as literally depicted than in the space of a silent retreat. It’s ironic and oddly fitting that Fleabag and Claire finally share a moment of honest connection in a place where interaction is actively discouraged. The half-hour doesn’t solve any of Fleabag’s problems, but it is another small moment in her progression to letting someone other than the audience in.
When Supergirl moved to The CW for season two, it was unclear what kind of show we would get. The answer? An infinitely better one, a superhero show that isn’t afraid to embrace science fiction tropes, explorations of sexuality, or complicated questions about diversity and prejudice. While I was tempted to include Kara’s delightful early-season adventures with cousin Kal-El on this list, ultimately, Supergirl has steadily improved through its second season after a two-episode start that was already pretty great.
This was nowhere more clear than in “Medusa,” the show’s Thanksgiving episode and the kind-of launch of The CW’s DC TV crossover. Though “Medusa” had the least to do with the four-show story, it was also arguably the best hour of any of the week’s superhero shows for the ways in which it advanced the many narrative balls Supergirl is currently deftly juggling. Alex comes out to her mom. Mon-El and Kara are asked to confront what they mean to one another in the wake of their recent co-capture and Mon-El’s illness. And Lena and Kara are forced to face the legacies their parents are building or, in Kara’s case, have left behind.
Stranger Things: “Chapter Six: The Monster”
No disrespect to the other great episodes on this list, but a little girl stealing Eggos is 2016’s iconic TV moment. It happened on Netflix where Stranger Things went from an ‘80s midsummer dream to a full-blown cultural phenomenon in a matter of weeks.
Picking a favorite episode is a lot like picking your favorite kid (It’s Dustin… it was always going to be Dustin). “Chapter Six: The Monster” stands out for the boys rallying together to find an Eggo-stealing Eleven, the investigation duo of Nancy and Jonathan narrowly escaping the Demogorgon, and Joyce and Hopper unearthing Eleven’s backstory. Who can forget Eleven putting down the Eggos for a minutes to save Mike from the depths of a steep cliff?
Full Frontal With Samantha Bee: “The Morning After”
The end of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s run on Comedy Central has left a relative vacuum in TV’s political satire offering. Sure, we’ve got John Oliver doing great, investigative political comedy over on HBO, but his is only one voice for a country in desperate need of comedic, yet critical voices in the currently quite scary socio-political climate. Like Oliver and Stewart before him, Samantha Bee knows that comedy and well-investigated and articulated political critique can go hand-in-hand. Full Frontal With Samantha Bee has been a consistent bright spot in election coverage. This has a lot to do with the diversity of voices Bee has behind-the-scenes. As Bee points out in her most-watched segment, “The Morning After,” which is a direct reaction to the presidential election, her writing room is filled with people who have things to fear in Trump’s America. This made Full Frontal one of the best places to check in with following the divisive outcome of election day.
London Spy: “Episode 1”
London Spy fell apart in the second half of its short, five-episode season, but it burned brightly in its opening hour, launching the story of one ordinary Londoner’s unwitting association with the British spy community when the mysterious man he has fallen in love with goes missing. A gay romance, spy tale, and visual love letter to London all wrapped up in one, London Spy has a lot to do in its first hour, but it brings us into this world deftly, through the engaging performance of the always-great Ben Whishaw and the cinematographic talents of director Jakob Verbruggen (perhaps best known for his work on that other good crime drama The Fall).
Though London Spy might inevitably fail at its spycraft, it succeeds in infusing queerness into a spy story. This show’s main characters are gay, and it is an important part of their identity and of this story, but that’s not what this show is about. In a pop culture era that is getting better at diversity, but still has a long way to go, London Spy’s subtle, yet in-depth treatment of its LGBTQ themes was a refreshing change of pace — and nowhere more than in this first episode, before everything goes to hell.
Westworld: “The Bicameral Mind”
More than any new series in 2016, Westworld enticed, puzzled, and even bedeviled viewers into walking its maze. A beguiling drama from Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, this synthetic Western mixed heady science fiction concepts with oater conventions, proving that you can remake mediocre films from the past—in this case Michael Crichton’s 1973 film of the same name—into something masterful.
Unlike most “mystery box” shows, Westworld always knew where it was going and is told with a cinematic sense of completion and artfulness by its creators, one of whom co-wrote the screenplays for The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Interstellar. “The Bicameral Mind” exemplified this by unspooling its secrets over 90 minutes, revealing the “big twist” of William being the Man in Black early, and supplanting that with even bigger concepts about achieving true sentience in artificial intelligence. When Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores finally makes her first choice for herself, it is one of chilling transcendence. The beginning of a glorious revolution or a grim apocalypse? Take it however you want, but it is beautiful and a testament to how effective focused serialized storytelling can be.
Penny Dreadful: “A Blade of Grass”
Penny Dreadful ended its run on what seemed a rushed note in 2016, but managed to create small masterpieces of dark beauty on its way out. Season 2’s best episode was a duet, “A Blade of Grass” plays as a string trio between guest star Dr. Seward, played by former cut-witch Patti LuPone, who hypnotizes Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) to reacquaint herself with the once and future Frankenstein monster, John Clair (Rory Kinnear). Miss Ives goes back to a time when she was an inmate at the Banning Institute for the insane, dragging her nails against the rubber walls to wash them of her guilt. Clair is an orderly, who so desperately cares about his charge that he saves a piece of her soul.
There is no such thing as chemistry between actors, it is all concentration and connection and the way Kinnear and Green play off each other is so effective and affecting, the audience gets lost in the benevolent innocence. Of course, this being a horror show like Penny Dreadful, that sweet caring is soon replaced by the bitter loving horror that are the eyes of Dracula. The episode explores deep terrors as Vanessa screams for the relief of shock treatment. The monster also gets to show off his sense of humor. It is beautifully shot and acted. “A Blade of Grass” was directed by Toa Fraser and written by John Logan.
Star Wars Rebels: “Twilight of the Apprentice”
Star Wars Rebels‘ second season was a bit deceptive in its storytelling. While the first season was a concisely told adventure about a band of rebels and a budding pair of Jedi, season 2 struggled to find its focus. It wasn’t until its season finale that the pieces came together. The episode delivered the heart-wrenching confrontation we’d all been waiting for: Ahsoka came face to face with her former master, the fallen Jedi hero Anakin Skywalker, who’d become the evil Darth Vader. Their duel is emotional and satisfying, and its conclusion is undoubtedly the most tragic ending that Rebels has ever attempted.
But “Twilight of the Apprentice” doesn’t just give us an ill-fated reunion. We also get the return of Darth Maul, now known as Old Master, who plans to use Ezra to acquire a Sith holorcron from an ancient temple on the planet Malachor. The scenes between Ezra and Darth Maul are fantastic, and you can sense the gap widening between the young Jedi apprentice and his master, Kanan Jarrus. “Twilight of the Apprentice” draws great parallels between both both mentors and students, and reminds us that the Force can lead to some very dark places.