I probably shouldn’t have limited the list to five episodes because so many great ones are going to be left out, but that’s kind of the fun in designing a list like this: Having to leave off otherwise excellent episodes because they weren’t excellent enough. There’s still six months left of the year, so it also felt necessary to limit myself to five. Apologies to “Mizumono” from Hannibal, “”So Did The Fat Lady,” from Louie, the second season premiere of House of Cards, any episode of Orange is the New Black, “Cooperative Polygraphy” from Community, and Justified’s “All Shot to Hell.”
There will be some light spoilering.
5. Rick and Morty, “”Rixty Minutes” — While Community didn’t land in the top five for 2014, Dan Harmon is certainly represented in the best comedy episode of 2014. In a very Doctor Who like installment of the animated series, Rick and Morty’s family get a glimpse into other timelines, allowing them to see how their lives might have turned out if they’d made different choices. The Idiocracy like television shows in other dimensions were hysterical, but unexpected resolution to the alternate timelines subplot removed the heart of Rick and Morty from beneath the layers of cleverness and wit and planted it firmly upon the sleeve, elevating the series from a smart, allusion-heavy animated sitcom into a poignant one, too.
4. 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.
3. Mad Men, “A Day’s Work” — It’s been a stellar 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 revealed Lou Avery as the despicable human being we came to know him as for the rest of the season.
2. 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 NO” moment of the year, so far.
1. True Detective, “Locked Room” — True Detective started strong out the gate, buoyed by the performances of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. It has been the series of 2014, so far. And 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.