It’s often hard to remember all of the television I watch every year, but some episodes make themselves impossible to forget. The following hours or half-hours of television were exemplary in some way, whether it was for the writing or the direction of the episode; for the way they ended seasons or, in some cases, entire series; for their plots or subplots; for the emotional toll they took on the viewer; for the way they broke the mold and parted with tradition; or sometimes for just one scene or performance in particular.
- Lost “The End” (Parts 1 & 2)
… for providing an unexpected, moving, and controversial finale sure to keep fans talking, dissecting, and criticizing for years to come.
- Grey’s Anatomy “Sanctuary/Death and All His Friends”
… for the tensest, most emotionally-draining two hours of television this year.
- Breaking Bad “Half Measures”
… for the brutal, game-changing last thirty seconds alone.
- Mad Men “The Suitcase”
… for the most finely-written “bottle episode” I’ve ever seen.
- Lost “The Candidate”
… for being the first television episode to actually elicit tears.
- 24 “Day 8: 2:00 PM-3:00 PM/Day 8: 3:00 PM-4:00 PM”
… for finally letting Jack Bauer run off into the sunset (even if he is doing so under duress) after a tender moment with Chloe
- Fringe “Over There” (Parts 1 & 2)
… for smashing the two snowglobes—the two universes—together, and in so doing, kick-starting a powerful season to come.
- The Buried Life “Make a Million Dollars” (Parts 1 & 2)
… for the guys’ dogged persistence and cheerful optimism in the face of their most challenging task yet.
- Glee “The Substitute”
… for Gwyneth Paltrow’s bravura performance as the goofy Holly Holliday.
- Dollhouse “Epitaph Two”
… for providing an epic, post-apocalyptic finale, while still being a love letter to the fans jilted by the show’s cancellation.
- Private Practice “Did You Hear What Happened to Charlotte King”
… for not dwelling on the rape so much as the physical and psychological aftereffects.
- Breaking Bad “Full Measure”
… for ending another stellar season with more narrative propulsion than any other third-season finale
- Modern Family “Family Portrait”
… for the scene of Mitchell attacking the pigeon in slow-motion to the sound of Cam’s rendition of “Ave Maria.”
- Mad Men “Public Relations”
… for showing the chinks in Don’s well-groomed armor that will lead to his season-long descent.
- Community “Modern Warfare”
… for making a paintball game into a riotous send-up of action movies and for letting Jeff and Britta act on—and purge—their romantic tension.
- The Walking Dead “Wildfire”
… for the horrific aftermath of the zombie incursion on the camp and for the survivors’ foray into the wilds of downtown Atlanta.
- So You Think You Can Dance “Meet the Top 11”
… for the humility of Kent Boyd’s impassioned speech and for the jubilation of the finalists and their family upon hearing the good news.
- Justified “Blind Spot”
… for Raylan’s chickens coming home to roost in regards to his relationship with Ava, for his intensifying verbal sparring with Boyd, and for the introduction of the Crowder patriarch, Bo.
- Damages “The Next One’s Going In Your Throat”
… for efficiently connecting all the dots laid out in the third season in a devastating and thrilling finale.
- The Good Wife “Hi”
… for the triumphant scene in which Daniel and Kalinda cleverly win Peter a retrial.
Honorable mentions: Parks and Recreation “Telethon”; The Good Wife “Running”; Modern Family “Fears”; Glee “Grilled Cheesus”; Cougar Town “When the Time Comes”; Fringe “Entrada”; Top Chef “History Never Repeats”; The Office “Andy’s Play”; Lost “LA X”; Breaking Bad “Sunset”; Justified “Bulletville”; Breaking Bad “One Minute”; Grey’s Anatomy “These Arms of Mine”; Modern Family “Strangers on a Treadmill”; Modern Family “Starry Night”; The Buried Life “Get Married in Vegas”; 30 Rock “When It Rains, It Pours”; Glee “Furt”