Every year we think there couldn’t be any more television, and again we are surprised. Before we reveal our best and worst shows of the year (those’ll come in a separate list), we want to take some time to honor the unique moments that made TV great, interesting, or baffling—and sometimes a bit unpleasant. Get ready for io9's best and worst TV moments of 2018.
Keep in mind, this list contains spoilers for the following shows: Star Wars Rebels, Steven Universe, Iron Fist, Westworld, The Haunting of Hill House, Star Trek: Discovery, The Walking Dead, and The Handmaid’s Tale. Also, be sure to check out our video profiling our top five worst television moments of 2018—reenacted with puppets, the way they ought to be!
The Good Place is a genius show for so many reasons that it’s hard to pick one favorite moment of the year: the big resets in season two and the still-in-progress season three? Michael’s “Zack Pizazz” persona? The sight of Tahani as a centaur? All winners, but we simply gotta go with that big payoff to what seemed like just an offhanded joke in season one, when Eleanor remarked that philosophy geek Chidi was “surprisingly jacked.” In season three, when Chidi was having a bit of nervous breakdown, he stripped off his sweater vest and plaid shirt and revealed he does, in fact, have a shockingly rockin’ bod, suggesting that even though he’s usually incapable of making decisions, he’s somehow settled on a gym routine that gets real results.
Since the first episode of Star Wars Rebels, we’ve all wondered, “Where’s Kanan now?” That’s the problem with prequels. We know what happens after, and Jedi Kanan Jarrus was too important to not be helping the Rebels during the movies. So, what happened?
We finally found out this year when Kanan gave his life to save his friends as they attempted to escape Lothal. He used the Force to hold off the flames so his friends could fly away and continue the Rebellion. That would have been sad enough, but the incident came right after he and Hera finally shared their first kiss—and, in his final moments, Kanan appeared to reacquire his eyesight, allowing him to see his love one last time.
Daredevil’s reputation for having remarkably shot action was established with that iconic hallway fight scene in season one. While season three’s take on the one-shot brawl might not quite reach the giddy highs of that original battle, the moment Matt Murdock realizes he’s going to have to battle his way out of prison after a recon mission against Fisk goes very wrong was one of the most exhilarating sequences we’ve seen on TV in a while. It was Daredevil embodied in a single, exhaustive, fight: brutal, bloody, exhausting. It’s a moment that shows off the superhuman endurance that makes Matt Murdock the kind of hero that can’t just deliver a beating, but take one, and keep getting back up again and again.
“Rosa,” one of the frankest episodes of Doctor Who ever made, tackles race and civil rights issues with a bluntness never seen in the show’s 50-plus-year history, as the Doctor and her new friends find themselves in ‘50s Alabama on the eve of one of the most famous protests of the civil rights movement. And “Rosa” excels even beyond its depiction of the titular Mrs. Parks; it doesn’t try to treat its heady subject matter as purely a thing of the past, since racial prejudice is something two of Who’s latest companions, Ryan and Yaz, face on a daily basis in 2018. The fact that the episode takes a moment between the two of them to address that head-on is an important one.
Having fully embraced its status as the id of the Arrowverse, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is a show that’s too good to take itself seriously. Nowhere has the series more perfectly embodied its own absurdity than with the season three finale. In order to defeat the demon Mallus, five of the Legends came together to become a supreme being of goodness and light. That, of course, meant a giant fluffy Tickle Me Elmo knock-off called Beebo. The fight scene, which included Matrix puns, demands for hugs, and a giant cloud of death in the shape of a heart, was one of the wildest things we’ve ever seen on television. Nothing may ever compare. All glory to Beebo.
From the moment that Steven Universe first hinted at the existence of the Diamond Authority, the fandom worked itself into a frenzy trying to suss out the heavily-hinted at possibility that Rose Quartz and Steven by existence might in some way be directly connected to the gem matriarchs. Surprisingly, the Rose Quartz-as-Pink Diamond theory ended up being right on the money and, as if that wasn’t quite enough, the series upped the ante by finally introducing White Diamond in all of her haunting, glittering glory.
The Handmaid’s Tale’s sophomore season may not have been perfect, but it did give us one perfect gift: the gift of life itself. The episode “Holly” presented the birth of June’s daughter in an honest and visceral way, foregoing the usual trappings of a Hollywood birthing scene in favor of something that really focused on the human experience. It wasn’t pretty, but it was pretty powerful.
American Horror Story isn’t usually a show where things end well for its characters, which is what made the Harmon family’s return during Apocalypse so interesting. In crossing paths with the witches who are trying to stop the Antichrist’s plan to end the world, the Harmons, along with Tate and Moira, were able to find a degree of peace in the afterlife that they all rightfully deserved, considering everything they went through before dying.
As impressive a telepath as Charles Xavier was, nothing we’ve ever seen him do holds a candle to the truly inspired psychic dance battle his son David had with the Shadow King in the most recent season of FX’s Legion. Special effects are great and all, but it’s clever, thoughtful ideas like this that really make Legion one of the most fascinating X-Men adaptations in the franchise’s history.
Our deputy editor Jill Pantozzi called this The Magicians episode “its version of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s ‘The Inner Light.’” And she’s absolutely right. “A Life in the Day” is one of the most beautiful TV episodes of 2018, and is worth watching even if you’re not a fan of The Magicians. The somewhat bottleneck episode takes us through decades of friendship, heartbreak, and love between Quentin and Eliot, as they live an entire lifetime together in pursuit of a quest key. It was a beautifully emotional episode that also explored queer relationships and male companionship in a way we rarely see on television. In short: It destroyed us.
Iron Fist’s second season was a vast improvement over the first, and one way it did that was giving a much meatier storyline to Colleen Wing. Even better, it culminated with a shocking twist that fans thought they could only dream of. After Davos steals the power of the Iron Fist from Danny, the quest to retrieve it ends with a new wielder of K’un Lun’s immortal weapon in the form of none other than Colleen herself.
Thanks to the show’s surprise cancellation, we’ll never see just where Colleen would’ve gone as the show’s new superhero, but at least we’ll forever have that one glorious shot of her imbuing her katana with the power of the Immortal Iron Fist.
While the most triumphant Expanse-related moment of 2018 was definitely Amazon swooping in to rescue the show after it was cancelled by Syfy, the series’ third season itself was still full of shining moments. A mid-season story arc saw the scaled-down Rocinante crew framed for interstellar sabotage as ships from Earth, Mars, and the Belt gathered around the mysterious deep-space formation known as “the Ring.”
With a missile hot on their tail—and the sudden apparition of presumed-dead character Miller advising Roci captain Holden to find “a door that wasn’t there before”—they do the only thing they can do: pass through the Ring into completely uncharted, alien-constructed space. It was a breathless, incredibly tense, and well-constructed episode that pushed the story forward in the most thrilling way possible.
We can’t possibly sum up everything that happened on Westworld’s second season finale in a few sentences, but we can single out the moment when the host uprising found a gruesomely clever way to extend its fight beyond the borders of Delos’ theme park: the reveal that Charlotte Hale has become Dolores. That is to say, that Bernard was able to transfer Dolores’ consciousness into a replica Charlotte body (after which “Halores” shot Charlotte, tying up that loose end). “Halores” then killed Bernard, since—as Ford explained—the hosts can never escape Westworld looking like themselves, and smuggles his brain sphere out of the park. There, a safe house awaits, stocked with a 3D printer to make fresh, new bodies for everyone and who knows what else ahead of season three. Viva la révolution!
One of the (many) excellent things about The Haunting of Hill House was how, along with the Crain family, the ghosts become vivid characters too. Early on, the Bent Neck Lady became a standout; the spirit with a broken neck terrorized young Nell Crain from the moment she and her family moved into Hill House. As the audience, we’re desperate to know why this one ghost is haunting this one child more than the most. Then, finally, we find out: It’s because it is Nell. Nell from the future, after fatally “bending” her neck at the end of a rope, and then becoming detached from time. The reveal was shocking, scary, and also completely fascinating.
Riverdale has always had a musical component. Archie wants to play music, Josie has her Pussycats, Veronica sings from time to time. But in “The Midnight Club,” the long-awaited flashback episode where audiences finally got to see the parents as teens, things got even more meta and musical than usual.
The Fred Heads, Fred Andrews’ band (which basically is just everyone he knows), sing “Dream Warriors” by Dokken while tripping out on Pop Rocks. It’s a song most of the people who watch Riverdale probably don’t know—and if not, it’s just a kind of cheesy ‘80s track. It was actually written for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors about, obviously, a killer named Freddy. There’s some nostalgia there, maybe a little subtext, and we’re here for all of it.
What goes up, must come down. Here’s our list of the worst television moments of 2018. We’ve reenacted them with puppets too, because it’s 2018 and why not have some fun! Be sure to check out the video above to watch them in style.
Look, we understand why June stayed. She didn’t want to abandon her older daughter, Hannah. But also...we don’t get it at all. If she’d gone to Canada with her newborn daughter, she would’ve been able to reunite with her husband and procure the legal resources needed to fight for Hannah. And if that didn’t work, she could nab a bunch of military supplies, sneak back into the country, and take the girl by force. Would that lead to a war between Gilead and Canada? Maybe. But it’s a war that Gilead would not win. All we’re saying is that maybe being a fugitive who stole one of Gilead’s most-prized possessions—a baby—isn’t going to leave you with a lot of options. The moment they catch her, they will kill her.
The X-Files season 11 finale was also the series finale, since star Gillian Anderson made it crystal clear that she would never again play Agent Dana Scully. After we saw the episode, we knew why. Scully and Mulder spent most of the season tracking down “their” son, William (now a high school-aged mutant who’s also a tiresome drip), only to learn along the way that William had actually been engineered by the Cigarette Smoking Man.
In the finale, Scully suddenly decided she doesn’t really care what happens to the kid, since “I was never a mother to him”—a complete about-face that feels empty and false, since we’ve been repeatedly assured how much being a mother meant to her. The final knife twist, though, comes in the final seconds of the finale, when Scully reveals to Mulder that she’s (however implausibly) pregnant again—and this time, Mulder really is the father. It’s corny, it’s regressive, and it nailed The X-Files closed forever. We’re still furious.
While it makes sense that a show about Satan-worshipping witches would at some point involve a hanging of some sort, it also stands to reason that a show as progressive as The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina would understand that you can’t really just feature the hanging of a black woman (witch or not) without evoking some pretty awful racist ideas. While it’s doubtful whether the show’s creators and writers really meant for that to be the case, that’s exactly what that scene managed to do.
It was a twist many fans saw coming—pretty much from the moment they likewise rapidly guessed that Discovery would dabble in the facial-hair-loving, evil alternate reality known as the Mirror Universe. But still, finally getting confirmation that Captain Lorca wasn’t actually a hard-edged, war-harrowed Starfleet Captain but a rogue operative from the evil Terran Empire looking to overthrow its Emperor and make Terran dominance “glorious again”—yes, they went there—was a horrible moment for the series.
The first half of Discovery asked difficult questions of just what Starfleet was willing to sacrifice in terms of its dearest ideals in the face of war and hard choices, and did so many times through Lorca. To then immediately sidestep any ramifications of those moments by taking the easy way out, and making Lorca simply an evil asshole from an evil universe, cheapened Discovery’s once-promising jolt to Star Trek’s most sacred establishment.
Listen: Luke Cage is a good person who only ever wanted to do the right thing and be a force for good in the world, but the man’s corniness is something that the show could never keep hidden all that long. As consistently bad as Luke’s pickup lines were over the course of the series, they all paled in comparison to that awful, awful dab that made the hero for hire come across as a much older, out of touch person than he actually was. May we never have to witness something like that again.
Going into Voltron’s penultimate seventh season, producers wowed fans at San Diego Comic-Con by revealing that the show would be bringing a same-sex relationship into the story for the first time—featuring one of the most beloved characters on the show, former Black Lion Paladin Shiro. Fans went through the roof at the thought of Voltron adding LGBTQ representation to the main cast, and just what the mysterious Adam, Shiro’s partner, would turn out to be like.
And then they got to meet Adam for all of around five minutes, as the show revealed via flashback that he and Shiro were on rocky terms before the latter left Earth to be part of the Voltron coalition, and then Adam himself perished during the Galra invasion of Earth. The long-awaited representation fans wanted surmounted to a handful of scenes in which the two characters barely interacted, let alone shared any intimacy. And fans were not pleased.
There were rumblings before San Diego Comic-Con, and then, at the event, it was made official: Andrew Lincoln’s lead character on The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes, would be leaving the long-running series. AMC used the spoiler to its advantage, teasing audiences with all kinds of promotions about the character’s exit. Would he die? Would he be shunned? After all that hype, once the episode finally arrived, it was a huge letdown.
The show made it seem like Rick had died, really trying to tug at the audience’s heartstrings. But, ahoy! He was alive! He had been saved and helicoptered to safety. He wasn’t helicoptered to his friends, though—he was sent away for a new trilogy of movies. It was a fake-out that divided fans (as well as io9's staff), and ultimately felt like a cop-out for a show that’s supposed to have real life consequences.
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