The Best TV Episodes of 2018

by thethreepennyguignol

So, I usually do a list of the best TV shows of the year, which is something that I’m still planning to take on before the month is out. But there’s another list that I really want to do, and that’s the best single episodes of television this year.

Which might sound a little weird, given that surely the best episodes will be from the best TV shows, but the truth is, some of my favourite episodes of TV this year have come from shows that have been heavily patchy. The shows that shoot big often fail big, too – but when they get it right, it’s all the sweeter. So let’s take a look at the episodes of TV that have stuck with me over the course of 2018 (and maybe throw in a little snark about the ones that sucked, who knows). Spoilers ahead!

5. Riverdale – Judgement Night

Riverdale’s a mess, and you know I love that shit – most of the time, I won’t spend a lot of time trying to functionally convince anyone that it’s a truly brilliant show, but the week this episode aired, that’s all I was talking about. After a wildly messy season, everything came together in one of the most gloriously batshit, fantastically unhinged, utterly compelling hours of television I’ve seen in years. Bold, brash, and brilliant, Judgement Night is a reminder of why I love this car-crash of a TV show. For better or for worse, I’m in it, and as long as it keeps delivering stuff like Judgement Night, I’ll keep it that way.

4. The Terror – The Ladder

The Terror is one of the best horror shows out there in an already overcrowded market, and it was with their third episode that they confirmed themselves as one of the most chilling (both in temperature and in fear) stories on television. The first couple of episodes are focused on the very human conflict that arises as the crew of two ships, trapped in the Antarctic ice, attempt to navigate the pressures of interpersonal tensions and dwindling supplies – but there’s always the looming dread of something more lingering in the snow. And it’s in this episode that we finally get to meet it. Introducing a monster without blowing its inherent mystery and threat is a difficult thing to pull off, but The Terror nails it, via innovative direction and a tight focus on the human impact of this creature’s arrival. And, also, it’s shit-scary. Which helps.

3. Doctor Who – Rosa

Ah. What to say about this episode that I didn’t already write about in my review a couple of months ago? Well, let’s start here: Rosa is a game-changing episode of a show I have loved for my entire life, and a promise that the direction we’re taking isn’t going to be just another endless romp through whatever sets the BBC had left over from their last Victorian period piece. A bold, strident look at the Civil Rights movement in America, it feels fresh in a way so little has in British television in the last few years. Tremendous performances, a light touch, and a commitment to as unflinching a reality as a show like this can pull off, Rosa is a magnificent episode of a show that has always been precious to me, and for that, I’ll love it forever.

2. American Crime Story – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The Assasination of Gianni Versace was an often patchy season of television, but damn, if it didn’t pull it out of the bag for the episodes that mattered. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell revolves around Jeff Trails (played by Finn Wittrock), a victim of Andrew Cunanan’s serial killing across America. But, as well as acting as a tender portrayal of a tragic figure, it’s also a painfully prescient look at the way homophobia practically and philosophically destroys the people it victimises. Wittrock’s devastating performance alone is enough to recommend this episode, but more than anything, this feels like a revolutionary take on the true crime genre – human and heartfelt, the focus on the victim over the killer turns Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell into one of the most gut-wrenching hours of TV of 2018.

  1. The Haunting of Hill House – Two Storms

Speaking of gut-wrenching. Did I mention that The Haunting of Hill House ruined my life? Because it did. I wrote before about how superb this show is, how it uses horror to delve into trauma and recovery, but I could have written ten thousand words on the mastery of this episode alone. Coming bang in the middle of the season, Two Storms sends a roving one-shot camera through multiple locations, houses, and stories, tracing a family as they try to come to terms with the devastating loss of one of their own. It reels, literally and physically, through a series of stunning performances and the kind of scares that crawl up your spine and stay there. The sheer artistry on display here is a joy to behold, but it’s the emotional punch that lands the hardest, pushing Two Storms into my top spot – and rendering the episode, and this show, one of the most singularly memorable in years.

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(header image via Canadian Geographic)

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