2018's 20 best TV episodes: From BoJack Horseman's Free Churro to Westworld's Kikusaya
An entirely subjective list of the best TV show episodes of 2018 — picked from the shows that we watched and most enjoyed
The year 2018 might have been when we officially moved beyond Peak TV to the point where television and streaming shows are now made with the same production values as big-budget movies. And the episodes within these shows are like mini-featurettes themselves, many of them serving as perfect storytelling devices or just brilliant standalone features. Take for example, Chapter One: Make Your Mark and Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast, and Keep Going of the HBO show Barry or the brilliantly trippy Teddy Perkins (from Atlanta, which won Emmys for single camera cinematography and sound editing, and was nominated for outstanding writing) — so much has been said and/or written about the writing, direction, and cinematography of these episodes that even if you don’t watch these shows, you’ve probably heard of or seen Donald Glover as the character Teddy Perkins, in all his “white face” surrealism.
My list doesn’t include episodes from either Barry or Atlanta. Neither does it include any from certain well-received shows like GLOW or Pose, neither of which I unfortunately watched. Which is why, this is an entirely subjective list of the best episodes of 2018 — picked from the shows that I watched and most enjoyed. You may not agree with them all, but here goes!
Episode 4: Furs By Sebastian
Maniac was a strange, delightful show — it had all the oddball weirdness of Fargo (the movie or TV series, or any other Coen brothers movie, for that matter) along with the slightly off-centre, difficult-to-place hippy trippy vibe of Legion. But then it also had two bonafide movie stars in Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, which I’m tempted to believe, made the show runners want to experiment even more with the show’s cinematography, visuals, and narration.
While Maniac had quite a few enjoyable moments and episodes (both Exactly Like You and The Lake of the Clouds had interesting and quirky dream sequences, and Option C was a verifiably smooth finale), my favourite episode of the entire series was episode 4: Furs by Sebastian. In what is Annie and Owen’s first shared fantasy, Stone and Hill play Lin and Bruce — a working class Long Island married couple trying to track down Wendy the lemur, as a whole lot of crazy goes down around them. It’s difficult to pinpoint what’s the best thing about this episode (the hair, the outfits, the accents, the way everything ties back together in the end), so I’ll just say it was the lemur.
19. The Alienist
Episode 5: Hildebrandt’s Starling
You’ll be forgiven for not loving The Alienist. For those not immersed in behavioural/criminal psychology and true crime, the show may have seemed a bit meandering and muddled. Set in a time long before criminal profiling was a thing, The Alienist sputters, albeit eloquently, its way through what was then a very inefficient investigative process, before episode 5 — Hildebrandt’s Starling — amps up the suspense and mystery in the investigation. Daniel Bruhl’s psychologist/alienist character Dr Laszlo Kreizler learns that the man they suspected to be the killer, isn’t actually the killer after all, leading the investigation (and investigators) to turn inward and revisit their assumptions. It’s the turning point that makes a mystery even more delicious!
Season 1, Episode 11: Beware the B.U.D.D.Y. System!
If you aren’t watching the 2017 DuckTales reboot, you’re probably doing a few things wrong in life. The David Tennant starrer (he voices Scrooge) is such a ridiculously good reboot that you might just forget that DuckTales is associated with your childhood Sundays, watching the cartoons in your pajamas. No, I’m kidding, DuckTales will always be about our childhoods, but this version brings a slightly (just very slightly) darker twist to the overall story arc, making it a bit more appropriate for 30-somethings to binge-watch, without making it seem like we’re malfunctioning adults clinging to the rose-tinted nostalgia for the '90s.
In what was a stellar first season (followed by an equally promising quarter of the second season), episode 11, Beware the B.U.D.D.Y. System!, does something very few shows/movies can do effortlessly — it packs an interesting episodic story into a superhero origin tale, making it pretty much the perfect episode. A sweet storyline about Launchpad finally getting his driver’s license and wanting to show it to Scrooge meets the action-packed antagonism in the form of tech CEO Mark Beaks and his self driving car meets bumbling intern Fenton Crackshell-Cabrera’s debut as the cybernetic suit-wearing robotic superhero ‘Gizmoduck’ (voiced by little known genius Lin-Manuel Miranda!) — if I can just bottle the essence and charm of this episode, and spray it on every day, maybe I’ll be eternally happy?
17. Derry Girls
All six episodes of the first season of Derry Girls had the typically irreverent humour and madness of a British sitcom, but episode three stands out as the perfect mix of teenage silliness, familial nonsense, and the frailty of religion even for those who are apparently deeply committed to it. In this episode, our ragtag group of friends in late-90s Ireland see a dog that looks a lot like one of the girls' pet, who’s supposed to be dead and buried in her back garden, according to her mother. The group follows this dog into a church and what ensues is a hilariously concocted tale of smirking and weeping statues, possibly resurrected dogs, a hot young local priest who everyone is attracted to, and a desperate attempt by the teenagers to sit out their exams. Add to the mix the awesomely anarchistic Sister Michael (who looks like an eye-roll emoji in human form) and you have an episode that has you LOLing throughout.
Season 2, Episode 8: Kiksuya
Westworld’s second season was, erm, interesting. As the show started expanding on months-old fan theories, many viewers were disappointed that the show felt less like a vivid narrative storytelling attempt and more like confused exposition. Episodes like Riddle of the Sphinx (with flashbacks about the attempts to create human consciousness in a host body to achieve immortality) and Akane no Mai (set in the Shogun-themed park) were great, but a lasting image of Akecheta of the Ghost Nation narrating the story of his life is what really stood out through the season. Episode 8 — Kiksuya, meaning “Remember” — was a terrific episode about Akecheta’s love that never was, and his attempt to find The Door.
Brilliantly acted by Zahn McClarnon as Akecheta (he’d also played Hanzee Dent on the second season of Fargo), Kiksuya was so much more than just the customary philosophical detour on Westworld — it was a heart-wrenching episode about love, longing, and the truth, and it elevated the show unlike any other episode before it had.
15. Sharp Objects
Episode 7: Falling
Sharp Objects was, quite possibly, 2018’s most unpleasant and uncomfortable series to watch. And I’m not even referring to the creepy ending (spoiler alert ahead, for those who, for some reason, haven’t watched the series yet, or read the book) where we find out the teenage Amma was the cold-blooded killer, who’d built a dollhouse floor with the teeth of her victims, to mimic her mother’s ivory floors (cringe!). Unlike most viewers, I didn’t think Amma was very angelic or sweet, so the idea of her as the killer wasn’t as shocking to me. But the slow reveal of the damage done to her by living in that god-forsaken house with her mother Adora — that was creepy and unsettling. And Falling, the penultimate episode of the series — does a great job of really digging into the claustrophobia and heaviness of a life lived under the exacting eye of a mother suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, and who’s trying to slowly kill you with rat poison!
Falling is also where Amy Adams’ character Camille Preaker fully realises the depth and true nature of her mother’s glossed-over-by-everyone-in-the-town homicidal tendencies. Eeks!
14. Big Mouth
Season 2, Episode 5: The Planned Parenthood Show
Big Mouth is a deliriously bold show about puberty and sexuality in all its icky crazy glory, and the teen angst that accompanies it. The second season of the show was solid, as it built on the storylines of season one and also expanded the narrative around some of the interesting recurring characters. Having dealt with issues of consent and drug-use, the show’s big bold move this season was the standout episode 5 — The Planned Parenthood Show.
Part sketch comedy, part instructional comedy, part effective after-school special, The Planned Parenthood Show was a clever look into all the services that Planned Parenthood provides, besides the commonly-assumed abortions. It begins with Coach Steve’s (who’s recently lost his virginity) sex-ed class, and the discussion among the students ranges from a Star Trek-like space adventure sketch in the year 2126, to help women in need of pap smears to a Bachelor-like show where one of the student’s older sister Leah must choose the type of contraception that’s right for her. In 2018, with all the debate surrounding women’s bodies and their rights, this episode was a brilliant way to inform. And it starred Nathan Fillion, so there’s that too!
13. Dear White People
Season 2, Episode 8: Chapter VIII
A classic example of a self-contained episode that also furthers the story, Chapter VIII was essentially a two-person feature that involved Gabe “interviewing” Sam for his documentary Am I Racist? (a documentary which he has to do for his ‘Documentary in the Age of Youtube’ class, which is the most 2018 thing ever!). It cleverly dissects both white privilege and the white saviour complex, as well as Gabe and Sam’s relationship, which is on the rocks by now, and not in the way a glass of well-preserved Scotch should be.
In a deftly written and constructed episode, Sam accuses Gabe of exploiting and friends and her, and also calls BS on her message being more palatable when coming from someone who looks like Gabe (i.e. a white man). “You’re Elvis, and I’m Chuck Berry. One deserved to be the biggest star in the world, and the other one got to be”, she tells him. Ouch!
12. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Episode 4: House by the Lake
As a series based on real life events, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story feels like a docudrama with brilliant casting, excellent acting, and a gripping, gritty narrative. The series has a lot at stake — from staying true to the way the events surrounding Versace’s death unfolded to tackling issues such as homophobia and HIV, among others.
On the heels of the sombre episode 3 — A Random Killing (which portrayed serial killer Andrew Cunanan, played with uncanny perfection in a career-defining role by Darren Criss, torturing and killing Lee Miglin, a big-shot Chicago real estate developer who’d invited gay escort Cunanan over to his house in his wife’s absence) — comes the episode House by the Lake. This genuinely terrifying and sad episode delves into Cunanan’s first murder — his cold blooded, premeditated murder of his acquaintance Jeff Trail, a former US Navy lieutenant, in the loft apartment of his former lover David Madson. House by the Lake focuses on Trail’s murder, Cunanan’s decision to flee to Mexico with a forcibly complicit Madson, and his subsequent murder of Madson when he confronts Cunanan about his many spiralling lies. Because the series switches back and forth, we later learn in a subsequent episode that Cunanan might have really loved Madson in some way, which makes his killing of Madson unbearably sad. Also gut-wrenching is the fact that both Trail and Madson (played beautifully by the ridiculously good looking Finn Wittrock and the young-Andrew-McCarthy-lookalike Cody Fern, respectively) were nice, young men — who were dealing with their own insecurities at that time, about their professional abilities and their identities as young gay men. It’s one of those sad, beautiful episodes — made worse in its sadness and beauty because it’s all true.
Episode 3: Optics
Sam Esmail revels in his auteurship, especially in this episode of Homecoming. Optics, the third episode in the series, comes at the perfect time for the viewing audience — young military vet Walter’s been at the Homecoming facility, attending his sessions with caseworker Heidi Bergman, acting all nice and trusting for way too long. There has to be something more sinister going on at the facility...we feel it, how is it that he doesn’t? And right on time, his fellow vet and friend Shrier convinces him to steal a van and break out of the facility to explore what’s around — how do they even know they’re in Florida? Because of the palm trees? They drive around (in circles?) and when they reach an eerily deserted part of downtown, they’re spooked. We’re spooked too. For some reason though, Walter and his friend buy the explanation that it’s a retirement community. We the discerning audience, don’t. But then again, our memories aren’t being altered/erased, and isn’t that what’s happening with everyone at the facility? Including Julia Roberts’ character Heidi the caseworker.
Optics did a great job of showing us just how clueless we often are in life — Walter’s faith in the facility and the government, his trust in Heidi, her own confused willingness to move forward with her life — and how important our instincts usually are. Even Thomas Carrasco, the DoD bureaucrat who’s investigating the facility, is clueless about the broader jigsaw surrounding the Homecoming Transitional Support Centre, and that makes it even more exciting when he persists in his investigation and is rewarded with a big fat sitting duck of a clue!
10. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Season 2, Episode 5: Midnight at the Concord
As a huge fan of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s writing and of the deliciously witty first season of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, I must say I was quite disappointed with season two. What started out as the Weissman-Maisel clan’s fun and stylish sojourn to Paris and continued through the middle of the season in the form of an extremely quirky summer trip to the Catskills, soon turned a bit sour and ended with a whimper as Sherman-Palladino returned to one of her favourite tropes — where the female lead returns to her ex, because, women. Eyeroll. It’s a trope that was used very often on the Gilmore Girls — it wasn’t believable when Lorelai showed up at Christopher’s house when things went south between her and Luke at the end of season 6, it wasn’t believable or flattering when Rory slept with a married Dean as if she had first dibs on him at the end of season 4, it certainly wasn’t flattering (or even necessary) when Rory kept up her affair with an engaged Logan in the Gilmore Girls Netflix revival, and ugh it wasn’t remotely believable, flattering or necessary when Midge went to her weasel of a husband Joel seeking comfort in what was meant to be a cliffhanger of the second season, while she’s almost engaged to a tall Jewish chunk-of-hunk doctor who loves her, and who looks like Zachary Levi btw.
Anyway, rant over. Despite the evident flaws in the narrative, Sherman-Palladino certainly knows how to write a compellingly witty episode, and episode 5 — Midnight at the Concord — is a great example of that. There’s a lot going on — the families have all gathered at a resort in the Catskills, bringing a whole lot of Jewish weirdness to the fore. Susie is pretending to work at the resort (she just shows up there and walks around with a plunger in her hands, so everyone naturally assumes she’s part of the plumbing crew!). Midge rushes to NY to work a shift at the department store, and she begins dating Benjamin; she even tells him about her stand-up gig, which he’s totally impressed and on board with. Things seem to be going well for her until she goes back to the Catskills to perform at a club...where her father shows up in the audience! Abe Weissman is a quirk of the highest order (I mean, he’s played by Tony Shalhoub) but he’s also a proud man, and seeing his flustered daughter on stage spouting really dirty (and apparently funny, but not to him) things in front of strangers, bewilders him. Some of that pride is also hurt because he realises there’s a huge part of his kids’ lives that he knows nothing about. This episode finally brings this long-withheld confrontation before us, and does so in classic Sherman-Palladino style — with wit and grace.
9. Castle Rock
Episode 7: The Queen
Castle Rock was a thrilling watch for fans of Stephen King, but for those unacquainted with the master of horror and suspense and his world building, this 10-episode anthology series served as a perfect introduction to the dark grey morally questionable world that King creates.
Episode 7 — The Queen — worked as a standalone episode that also furthered the narrative arc of the season. Ruth (Sissy Spacek in a pitch perfect role as a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s) navigates through shifting timelines to try and stop the killer (The Kid) who has entered her home. As a viewer, you can sense her confusion about what’s really happening in the present, but it’s fascinating to watch her survival instincts (the use of the chess pieces to re-orient herself, sending her grandson Wendell away to protect him etc.) work so sharply despite her dementia, only to result in a heartbreaking accident in the end. The Queen was a beautifully shot, acted, and written episode...and it set the stage for the breakthrough episode of the series in Henry Deaver.
8. The Good Place
Season 3, Episode 10: Janet(s)
The Good Place is a show that keeps pleasantly surprising us in the ways it presents some of life’s most complicated philosophical and moral dilemmas, and after the brilliant Trolley Problem episode of season 2, I’m never quite sure what wonderful thing Michael Schur will come up with next.
The answer is episode 10 of the third season — Janet(s). After sucking herself, Michael, and the earthlings into a void, resulting in all the humans taking on Janet’s appearance, we have multiple Janets, each with the personality of the human it has taken on the appearance of. And boy, does actress D’Arcy Carden (who has played Janet with such flair, it’s uncanny really) step up to the task at hand! There’s also a visit to Accounting (where we learn that nobody has been admitted to the Good Place in 521 years!), an existential crisis barely avoided, and a tender moment in the ongoing love story of Eleanor and Chidi. This episode was as irreverent as you’d expect The Good Place to be, but it’s all the more striking with how utterly creative and hopeful it is.
7. Queer Eye
Season 2, Episode 5: Sky’s the Limit
If there was a list of the most cinnamon-roll-y sweet, sunshine-y bright, and genuinely nice episodes of 2018, all 16 episodes of Queer Eye and the special would be on that list. The show is so completely entertaining and feel-good that we sometimes forget how useful and informative some of the conversations are. Tan, Jonathan, Antoni, Karamo, and Bobby are the dream cast, and their interactions with their subjects and their extended families/friend circles have been thoroughly insightful. Remember Karamo’s conversation with former Marine and NASCAR fan Cory, about police brutality, good cops, and civilians (especially black folks)? Or Bobby’s interactions with anyone religious?
Episode 5 of the second season — Sky’s the Limit — about Skylar, a trans man recovering from his top surgery, was reflective of how truly open to learning and understanding the core cast members are. Tan asked genuine, honest questions to Skylar, about what it’s like to be trans, and it provided great commentary on how truly different every queer experience is, and how we shouldn’t make the foolish mistake of clubbing them all together.
6. Killing Eve
Episode 3: Don’t I Know You
A lot has been said about Killing Eve: how it’s unlike any show we’ve seen before, with characters unlike any that have been written before etc. The many nominations for Sandra Oh (who plays Eve Polastri, an MI5 officer obsessed with an assassin) and the accolades for both her and Jodie Comer (who plays said psychopathic assassin Villanelle) have certainly been justified. The first two episodes present to us the quirky and stylish world of Killing Eve — where people are killed, sure, but they’re all probably deserving of it anyway. Besides, Villanelle kills her victims with a bespoke bottle of poisoned perfume or a beautiful bejewelled hair accessory; the setting is some or the other beautiful part of (mostly) Europe; and the oddball tendencies of both the officer and the assassin are almost, well, charming.
Just as we’re beginning to get comfortable with this set-up, Don’t I Know You cuts through our complacency like a sushi chef cutting through a plump piece of fish. Our (slightly nervous) laughs stop by the end of the episode, as Villanelle repeatedly stabs Eve’s partner and mentor Bill (David Haig) in a crowded nightclub, thereby immediately raising the stakes in this game, and letting us know that behind the quirky, stylish facade is the mind of a psychopathic killer.
5. Wild Wild Country
Episode 3: Part 3
“Isn’t your leader the free sex guru?” “Free sex? We don’t charge for it, if you mean that.” Such moments of levity are somewhat rare coming from Ma Anand Sheela — the complex, can’t-quite-place-her, is-she-a-victim-or-the-perpetrator second in command to Bhagwan “Osho” Rajneesh in Netflix’s award-winning documentary series Wild Wild Country.
A provocative, no-nonsense spokeswoman and leader, Sheela’s rise to the top and her eventual fall is well-documented in the six-part series, but it’s Part 3 when we begin to realise the true extent of her power, and it’s scary AF! Going fearlessly against the local people in Antelope, Oregon, Ma Sheela enlists thousands of homeless people to build their ranks in an upcoming local election. The politics within and outside the cult are fascinating to watch, and it’s even more intriguing to watch this seemingly harmless woman come up with some rather diabolical plans to maintain her position — within the cult and beside her beloved Rajneesh.
4. Star Wars Rebels
Season 4, Episode 13: A World Between Worlds
The fourth season of Star Wars Rebels was a terrific one — facing off against the most menacing antagonist in the Star Wars universe, Grand Admiral Thrawn with his Imperial war machine, the Rebels (Ezra, Kanan, Hera, Sabine, Zeb, and Chopper) travel from Mandalore to Lothal, where it all began. The Sith is trying to exterminate the Jedi forever, and in their biggest casualty of the war against the Empire, in episode 10 Jedi Night, Kanan perishes while saving the lives of Hera and his friends.
Episode 13 — A World Between Worlds — in some way, brings closure to a lot of things. Caught in a void between time and space, Ezra (who hasn’t quite mourned Kanan’s death) is led to another portal which brings him to Ahsoka’s season two finale battle against Darth Vader; this time, he manages to pull her into the void and saves her. He wants to do the same to Kanan, but in a heartbreaking moment, he realizes he can’t/ought not to because otherwise, he and the others would perish. Kanan losing his eyesight in that season two finale was shocking for a kid-friendly animated series, but his subsequent death, Ezra and Hera’s mourning of it, the way this episode brings back Ahsoka, and the arc forward from here on, makes A World Between Worlds one of the absolute best episodes of television not just of 2018, but possibly all time!
3. The Expanse
Season 3, Episode 6: Immolation
We finally see the Ring, and what a stunning sight it is! Holden and Naomi reconcile, Amos and Prax keep their bromance going, Bobbie and Alex bond — all this while deadly protomolecule hybrids are gearing towards Mars and survival is the only thing on everyone’s minds! Well, that, and some making out!
In a great season overall, Immolation was the episode that triggered a turning point for a lot of core loyalties and friendships. I’m so glad Amazon scooped up The Expanse for another season because it would’ve been a shame to miss out on more of this kickass group doing more kickass things in outer space.
2. The Americans
Season 6, Episode 10: START
I’m so so glad that START is how The Americans ended — too many incredible shows have said goodbye with utter disappointments (looking at you, Dexter!). In what was arguably the best series finale ever, START capped off six seasons of slow-burn brilliance into an episode that had it all — anxiety and nervousness about the spy game, Cold War era politics, the fast-beating heart of a family thrust into motion in anticipated-yet-unexpected ways, the cold gut-wrenching and ultimately futile reward of the FBI neighbour and friend confronting the illegals, the heart-stopping escape...and, well, unflattering 1980s wigs.
A lot happens in START — from Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (as always, a top-notch Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) preparing to leave for the USSR with their daughter Paige, but leaving their son Henry (who doesn’t know the truth about them being spies) behind, to Stan’s worst fears about his friends coming true, to the ultimate rush of escape (in disguise, of course!)...only for the older Jennings to realise that Paige had gotten off the train in order to stay behind. For a show that wasn’t about cliffhangers at the end of each episode, the twists in START are very edge-of-the-seat and thrilling. The episode was also a masterclass in restrained storytelling, direction, and acting, which is something that can also be said about The Americans on the whole. Bring on the awards please!
1. BoJack Horseman
Season 5, Episode 6: Free Churro
It’s almost as if someone said to BoJack Horseman series creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg that it would be impossible to improve upon the brilliance of the season 3 episode Fish out of Water, to which he said “hold my drink”, went to his office and came back with the genre-defying genius of season 5’s Free Churro.
BoJack’s mother is dead, and abusive or not, he’s still tasked with rendering a eulogy for his dead parent. In a 20-minute continuous scene, BoJack (and the audience) grapples with the dark reality of life with an abusive parent and how shockingly inconsequential it feels in the face of death. “She was really good at dispensing life lessons that always seemed to come back around to everything being my fault” — through his words, we experience his pain, anger, disbelief, despair, and the realisation that what he thought of as a loving moment between him and his mom was actually just like their relationship — empty and meaningless. Except for the free churro he gets because the girl at the counter at Jack in the Box felt sad for him when he told her he was feeling shitty because of his mother’s death. So yes, “No one ever tells you when your mom dies, you get a free churro." Of course, in true BoJack fashion, it turns out that he’s at the wrong funeral the entire time, speaking at a lizard’s funeral instead of Beatrice’s. Curtain!
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