Den Of Geek’s top 15 TV episodes of 2016
Game Of Thrones, Black Mirror, Stranger Things, Westworld... Did your favourite TV episode of 2016 make the cut?
Earlier this month, twenty-five of Den Of Geek’s writers nominated up to five of their favourite television episodes of the year, ranked in order of preference. Points were allocated. Favourites emerged. And the sanity of the site’s TV editor was offered once again as a festive sacrifice to the God of Microsoft Excel worksheets.
Over sixty individual episodes were nominated in total, and below are the fifteen that placed highest overall…
15. Scream season 2 episode 10 – The Vanishing
This show has hit a beautiful stride over the past two episodes, and we’re now set up for what could be a top-notch finale. While we’ve been given plenty of clues—some of which I’m sure will be forehead-slappers after the killer is (or killers are) revealed—the trials of the kids finding the clues and evading the killer have been harrowing and, at times, heart-breaking. It’s the resolution of so many of these plots—the motives, the complicated histories, the dark secrets—that are as fascinating as the mask pull at the end.
As for who the killer is, I’m not even going to speculate. This season hasn’t been so much about the quest for the killer(s), but the people on the quest. I’m thrilled at how we’ve reached this point, and I’ll be thrilled to see how we get to the conclusion.
By Holly Hogan
14. Daredevil season 2 episode 3 – New York’s Finest
I’m going to level with you. As a superhero fan, I like when things get operatic. I like when they get high-concept. I like when they’re earnest and heightened and melodramatic. And this episode of Daredevil absolutely nailed all of that.
On paper, it could be ridiculous. [The episode’s premise] could’ve been super-contrived and overly convenient. But it wasn’t. It was a fun battle of philosophies between two guys who are, in their own ways, on the same side.
[…] This was probably the best episode yet, and the season’s already looking like an absolute gift to comic fans in all the ways Jessica Jones wasn’t. Which isn’t a slam – it’s fine to disregard the source material of an adaptation to some extent – but I personally enjoy it a lot more when they stick closer to it, as they are here.
By James Hunt
Also ran: Season 2 episode 4, Penny And Dime.
13. Pretty Little Liars season 7 episode 4 – Hit And Run, Run, Run
Most fans would agree that, before season seven rolled around this year, Pretty Little Liars was having a hard time making the much-hyped five-year time jump interesting in any substantial way. What makes Hit and Run, Run, Run so good, however, is its commitment to simply doing what the show has always done best. It’s a noir thriller and a comedy and a relationship drama all at once, with the reality of what the girls have actually done jarring nicely with the otherwise-heightened nature of the these characters’ lives. It also looks gorgeous, and gives us rare time with Mona, Charlotte and Jenna.
There’s a palpable momentum to the entire hour. The excruciating scene between Spencer, Caleb and Hanna is one of the standouts from the entire series, with each character visibly crumbling before our eyes but unseen by the others. Coupling this with Spencer’s key scene later in the episode makes this some of the best work Troian Bellisario has turned in on the show – a very high bar. Put simply, it’s one of the best outings of the show not just this year, but any year.
By Caroline Preece
12. National Treasure – episode 4
All four episodes were a feat of ambiguity, performed by actors that couldn’t be bettered. Robbie Coltrane as Paul, Julie Walters as his pragmatic, tough wife Marie, Andrea Riseborough as their spiky, irreparably damaged daughter Dee, Tim McInnerny as his laid-back comedy partner Carl… each feels irreplaceable. If this were a stage play—and in many ways it has the sense of one—you’d move mountains for tickets to this particular cast. And as strong as the performances are, they’d be nothing without the writing, which cements Jack Thorne’s reputation as one of the UK’s leading dramatists.
National Treasure is a rare creature at a time where it feels as though precious little room is afforded to complexity and nuance. It’s a drama that doesn’t seek to polemicise or convince, but to comprehend. Using fiction to understand the ways people commit, live with, and get away with their abhorrent acts doesn’t diminish their guilt or excuse their crimes. It only elevates us. Empathy always does.
By Louisa Mellor
11. Supernatural season 11 episode 20 – Don’t Call Me Shurley
It all builds to a truly stunning ending, scored to Chuck’s version of ‘Fare Thee Well’ as he goes about healing the destruction that Amara has wrought. The dead return, Sam’s infection recedes and Dean’s amulet is given back to him, now glowing in the presence of a God that’s finally revealed himself to the Winchesters. That montage instantly ranks amongst some of my favourite Supernatural moments, a beatific vision of hope in a season of the Darkness.
There’s a strong, philosophical slant to the episode that Supernatural doesn’t often try, but always seems to pull out some interesting explorations when it does. The reveal could’ve been anti-climactic, in that we’ve been waiting for it for so long, but it feels like a natural progression of the story at this point. There have been times throughout this season where I have been a little weary of Supernatural, but then it pulls an episode like Don’t Call Me Shurley out of the bag and reminds me of why I fell in love with it in the first place.
By Becky Lea
10. Happy Valley series 2 episode 6
In the shadow of that “odd day” up at the farm, the last moments of this series focused on Catherine’s fear that Ryan would grow up in his dad’s image. It was, like most things on Happy Valley, handled in a way utterly resistant to overstatement. A winsome chat about getting a family dog had Ryan list a series of powerful breeds associated with fierceness: Rottweiler, Alsatian, Doberman, Pitbull… Imagine bringing a creature like that into your home, Happy Valley says. Wouldn’t you always be on edge? Ryan playing at pretend guns with his uncle and absent-mindedly beating the ground with a stick reinforced his potential violence further still.
Are there really monsters, this series asks? Showing us quiet, sensitive Neil (a great turn by Con O’Neill) and supporting, caring Clare (the ever brilliant Siobhan Finneran) rage and rage while under the influence of drink suggests not. There are just people. Greedy, selfish, insecure, vulnerable people, each with their own slants on the truth.
And then there’s Catherine. And there’s Tommy Lee Royce And there’s the ominous question of in whose footsteps Ryan will follow. It’s a sensational place to leave series two. And this was a sensationally strong series.
By Louisa Mellor
Also ran: Series 2, episode 5.
9. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episode 11 – That Text Was Not Meant For Josh!
One of 2016’s very few saving graces was the addition of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to Netflix UK. A musical comedy about love and mental illness, it’s one of those shows that’s almost impossible to sum up in a way that’ll convince someone to watch it – but when they do, they instantly become evangelists.
Probably the year’s best episode was That Text Was Not Meant For Josh! As the title suggests, it’s about what happens when Rebecca accidentally sends a text about the object of her affections to said object, and then has to find a way to stop him from reading it. Sounds hackneyed? Reckon you can predict exactly what’s going to happen? It isn’t and you can’t. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is at its best whenever it pushes familiar emotions and relatable scenarios to their most absurd extremes, and that’s what happens here. It’s got a chorus of singing lawyers, a tell-tale ornamental stone, a cameo by the ghost of Steve Jobs, and the catchiest song about self-loathing you’ll ever hear; it’s endlessly creative, manic, and poignant, which pretty much sums up what’s so brilliant about the show.
By Sarah Dobbs
8. Stranger Things – Chapter Seven: The Bathtub
This show’s young cast is one of its real assets. If you find bright-eyed, beaming Disney Channel kinder more unsettling than Freddy or Pinhead, you’re in safe territory here. The quartet of D&D-playing thirteen-year-olds at its heart is more Freaks And Geeks or The Goonies than iCarly. Their friendship is convincing and charming, layering comedy and pathos onto this spooky story.
Though they all seem like real finds, Millie Bobby Brown is especially haunting as the enigmatic Eleven, and she’s nowhere better than in The Bathtub. Season one’s penultimate episode (in which the gang works together to get Eleven to the Upside-Down to find out what happened to Barb and Will) is high on truck-flipping action, but its best moments are Elle’s eerie walk through the other realm.
It’s not all sci-fi goodness, The Bathtub also has some old-fashioned family emotion courtesy of the relationship forged between Elle and Joyce, and the brother/sister reunion of Nancy and Mike.
By Louisa Mellor
7. The People V OJ Simpson episode 10 – The Verdict
The People Vs O J Simpson didn’t win me over after its first episode, and I feared it may be becoming the tabloid-y kind of drama that the title may have suggested. But heck: what a show. Superb performances, exquisite writing, and arguably the surprise TV treat of the year.
The finale episode in particular is all the more impressive for ratcheting up extreme tension towards an ending that the vast majority of its audience already knew. Not just knew the verdict, but the intricacies of it, the what happened nexts, the speed of the decision. It mattered not: I, and many others, were gripped, as The People Vs O J Simpson delivered not just a lesson in how to deal with a contemporary true story on screen, but also on how to make it feel fresh, interesting and intelligent for its audience. A stunning finale to a very special series.
By Simon Brew
Also ran: Episode 5 The Race Card, episode 8 A Jury In Jail.
6. BoJack Horseman season 3 episode 4 – Fish Out Of Water
Without the same cultural fanfare, marketing push, or social media domination that many of their shows enjoy, BoJack Horseman has quietly established itself as the best original series on Netflix. It’s also got a good claim to being the best series currently airing anywhere. Not bad for a comedy show were talking animals co-exist with humans (and also non-talking animals bizarrely).
In its third season, BoJack Horseman pushed the limits of the comedy genre, with startling profound mediations on loss and the inability to change patterns of destructive behaviour. It also pushed the boundaries of what was capable form-wise, with the episode Fish Out Of Water, set under the sea and robbing BoJack Horseman of its trademark verbal fireworks. Instead we got what was essentially an hilarious, heart-breaking and startling silent episode (bar the incredible score and sound effects) which matched slapstick with pathos in equal measure. A masterpiece in the examination of how hard it can be to communicate, both literally and figuratively, it will be a long time before any series comes close to such a perfect episode.
By Nick “Hollywood” Horton
Also ran: Season 3 episode 11 That’s Too Much, Man!
5. Orange Is The New Black season 4 episode 13 – Toast Can’t Never Be Bread Again
In some ways, Toast Can’t Never Be Bread Again operated as a typical season finale. The themes and events of the season were brought to a conclusion and there was a sense of aftermath following the particularly heightened drama of the penultimate episode (a model that had previously been perfected by Game Of Thrones). Hell, there was even a cliff-hanger. But, like OITNB in general, this episode used the established model to do something that, while structurally orthodox, felt emotionally radical. The methods; flashback, juxtaposition, contrast, are all standard fare but in drawing painful parallels between the cold present-day situation of Poussey Washington, and the colourful warmth of her spree through New York City, dizzy and delighted and living like she was still at the beginning of her life, Toast authored an indictment against not just an inhumane system but against the viewer as well. It was a necessarily severe reminder that, while fictional characters may easily be swept from the board by some showrunning Grim Reaper, the real lives that they represent do matter. Toast was Poussey’s episode; its importance lay in its refusal to see her as a statistic or even a symbol. It humanised her and, in doing so, offered the most acutely fictional political TV moment of a very strange year.
By Michael Noble
Also ran: season 4 episode 12, The Animals.
4. Westworld episode 7 – Trompe l’Oeil
WARNING: CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS
“The longer I work here, the more I think I understand the hosts. It’s human beings who confuse me.”
These are the words of Bernard Lowe moments before a shocking revelation. Perhaps the shocking revelation of the whole first season. And to be honest, I was nodding in agreement when he uttered these words, because the robots are much more human and sympathetic than their flesh-and-blood counterparts. I’d even go so far as to say the only truly likable human amongst the whole downstairs cast was Bernard… so we really should have seen this coming, right?
In fact, if I may gloat a moment, I did. Ah, that feels good.
By David Crow
Also ran: Episode 1 The Original, Episode 2 Chestnut, Episode 10 The Bicameral Mind
3. Line Of Duty series 3 episode 6 – Getting To The Truth
There can’t have been a pulse unmoved or a yelp suppressed during that final exhilarating chase. Around the country, neighbours on the other side of thin terraced walls in front of the News At Ten will have turned to each other and asked ‘Kate? Why’s he shouting about a Kate?’
I’ll tell you why.
Because Kate Fleming did it. She did what Line Of Duty’s audience have been willing her to do from the moment Dot pointed a bony finger at Steve. She saw through the charade, put in the graft and got the bastard. Gratifyingly, she did it all in just over an hour, leaving enough time for an insanely tense armed pursuit to round off a series that hasn’t lacked for insane tension.
In the words of the inestimable Ted Hastings, God help me if I ever get a good night’s sleep again.
By Louisa Mellor
Also ran: Episode 3, The Defence Calls.
2. Game Of Thrones season 6 episode 9 – Battle Of The Bastards
Game Of Thrones has shied away from large-scale battles, mostly due to budget and CGI-related reasons, but this week proves that the show is as grand as any sword-and-sandal movie. From the swoop of Dany and her dragons to the charging smash of army versus army, with Jon Snow reeling helplessly in the middle of the chaos, the show has rarely looked so beautiful, or used special effects so spectacularly.
[…] As far as I’m concerned, the six-week shoot and the thousands of crew and extras involved in Battle Of The Bastards deserve every bit of praise this episode is going to get. It is a rare thing indeed to see this scope of combat on a small screen budget, and while this is the most expensive episode of the series thus far, it’s also incredibly satisfying. Money well spent, with clever scripting from Benioff and Weiss – Tormund and Davos should be the new Odd Couple – and some brilliant staging to go along with it.
By Ron Hogan
Also ran: Season 6 episode 4 The Book Of The Stranger, episode 5 The Door, episode 10 The Winds Of Winter.
1. Black Mirror series 3 episode 4 – San Junipero
Utterly different to the other entries, San Junipero is series three’s shining moment. It’s a tender romance with a vision of technology that isn’t malfunctioning or being cruelly misapplied but working exactly as intended and throwing up philosophical quandaries about the nature of authentic experience as it does.
Directed by Owen Harris, who handled series two’s sensitive examination of grief Be Right Back, this is just a terrific piece of work. The period settings are diverting, the twist is captivating and the tender love story, along with the decisions the characters face, are genuinely moving. There are no nasty shocks, just wistful, philosophical reflection about subjects that affect us all. Plus a score by Clint Mansell.
What’s truly satisfying about San Junipero is that it proves Black Mirror is never just one thing. It’s not just out to unsettle us about the future we’re building, every so often, it can also show us something beautiful.
By Louisa Mellor
Also ran: Series 3 episode 6 Hated In The Nation.
Also nominated (but not by quite enough people to make it!)
Agent Carter: The Atomic Job; American Crime Story: From The Ashes Of Tragedy; Ash Vs Evil Dead: The Morgue; Atlanta: B.E.N, Nobody Beats The Bieb; Banshee: Requiem; Better Call Saul: Rebecca, Klick; Black Sails: XXVIII; Blackish: Hope; Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Bureau; Derren Brown: Pushed To The Edge; Difficult People: Italian Pinata; Drunk History: Hamilton; EastEnders 19/08/2016; Eurovision Song Contest final; Fleabag: episode 5; Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life – Winter; Legends Of Tomorrow: Abominations, Destiny; Luke Cage: Soliloquy Of Chaos; Mum: Episode 6; Penny Dreadful: Blade Of Grass; Person Of Interest: Return O; Planet Earth: Islands; Preacher: Sundowner, El Valero; Red Dwarf: Samsara, Officer Rimmer; Steven Universe: Steven Vs Amethyst; The Americans: Travel Agents, Chloramphenicol; The Chris Gethard Show: One Man’s Trash; The Flash: The Runaway Dinosaur; The Night Of: Part 1; The Vampire Diaries: I Went Into The Woods; The Walking Dead: The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be, Not Tomorrow Yet; This Is Us: Pilot; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Transdimensional Turtles; TNA Impact: The Final Deletion; Wolf Creek: Episode 1; Yonderland: Elders 11.