There were a lot of great episodes of 2014, and this list of the best drama episodes could’ve easily been the best 10 or 20 or even 25 episodes of the year. But where is the fun in that? By limiting ourselves to five episodes, we single out those episodes that will truly be remembered five years from now, or ten years, or more. These are the episodes that stuck with us the most in 2014. They are the ones that clung to our souls. They are the episodes that crushed us. Sure, The Americans season finale was great, and yes, the Mason Verger episode of Hannibal was shocking, and there were even a couple episodes of The Walking Dead that snatched our breath away. But these? These were 2014’s classic episodes.
Game of Thrones, “The Mountain and the Viper” — Let’s admit that, while it was a great overall fourth season of Game of Thrones, some of the individual episodes were not quite as good as we’d hoped. The Purple Wedding was fantastic, but a relative letdown compared to the Red Wedding. The finale was rushed and messy, and the Battle of the Wall was awesome to watch, but lacking in substance. On the other hand, the Trial by Combat between The Mountain and the Viper lived up to absolutely every expectation both the book readers and non-book readers had. It was a legitimately epic episode of television that culminated in one of the most shocking, gruesome deaths that premium cable has ever seen.
Mad Men, “A Day’s Work” — It was a stellar overall first half of the final season of Mad Men (save for a slightly subpar premiere episode), but “A Day’s Work” was the finest episode this year. It was a turning point for Don Draper, who reconnected with his daughter, Sally, over a Valentine’s Day meeting in a diner. Don made a decision in that episode to finally be honest with his daughter, a decision that would he’d continue to make all season long, leading to his professional and personal rebound. It was not just a great episode for Don, however. It was Peggy’s “Masturbate gloomily” episode, and even better, it was the episode that prominently featured Dawn, who inadvertently helped to reveal Lou Avery as the despicable human being we came to know him as for the rest of the season.
Fargo, “Buridan’s Ass” — It’s tough to pick the best episode of Fargo in its debut season, among so many, but while the pilot was brilliant, and the finale perfect, it was the sixth episode of the season that demonstrated that Fargo was not f**king around. That was the episode where fish fell from the sky, ultimately killing Stavros’ son (it was also the last we saw of Oliver Platt); the episode where Lester set Don Chumph (Glenn Howerton) up to be blown to bits by a SWAT Team; and the episode where a cunning Lester slipped out of the hospital and framed his brother for the murder of Lester’s wife. But the moment that took our breath away and left us shaky was when Colin Hanks’ Gus, in pursuit of Malvo, accidentally shot Molly, knocking our hearts into our stomach, leaving us crippled and fetal. It was the biggest “OH SHIT” moment of 2014.
True Detective, “Locked Room” — True Detective was strong out the gate, buoyed by the performances of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. Along with Fargo, the Nic Pizzolatto series was the best of 2014. While “The Secret Fate of All Life” might have featured McConaughey’s best monologue — the “Time is a Flat Circle” speech — it was “Locked Room” that transformed True Detective from an interesting experiment into must-fucking-watch television. The “Life is a Dream” speech at the end, which concluded with the mysterious Reggie Ledoux in his underwear wearing a gas mask instantly hooked anyone who watch watching. That’s when everything shifted. That was the moment when True Detective made us its bitch.
The Good Wife, “Last Call” — Danger Guerrero — one of the writers over on Uproxx — and I were having a conversation the other day about where we were when Will Gardner died on The Good Wife. I could remember with total clarity where I was sitting, what time of day it was, and exactly how I felt when it became apparent that Will getting shot was not a trick The Good Wife was playing on us where Will somehow pull through. We saw his corpse. Will Gardner was dead. One of the main characters — and the leading romantic interest of Alicia Florrick — was written off the show without a bit of warning. There was no foreshadowing. We had no idea it was coming. It was, to my mind, the most surprising death on any show since the first season of Game of Thrones, but maybe even more surprising because The Good Wife is not even the kind of show where people are killed off, much less murdered. It was devastating. I flipped, calling it “completely fucking unacceptable.” Even Retta from Parks and Recreation has to be consoled by Josh Charles, who plays Will Gardner. It was a completely gutting death and miraculous in that, in this day and age, the series managed to keep a death a surprise until it actually happened.