Deaths! Interrogations! Plane crashes! Breakups! Weddings! Catfights! Sex dreams! TV had it all this year. From Desperate Housewives' fitting farewell to Fringe's powerful flash-forward, 2012 served up some remarkable hours of television, and we've assembled the top 25 episodes. Which ones made the cut? Tune in all week to see the full list.
What were the best TV shows of 2012?
Here are Episodes 20-16. (Catch up with Episodes 25-21.)
20. "There's No Crying in Baseball," The Amazing Race
It's no secret that a lot of reality-show drama is the result of manipulative editing, but for once, such was not the case. In a leg full of twists, lead changes and dumb decisions, we're treated to an actual suspenseful race to avoid last place. BFFs Caitlin and Brittany get so lost that they end up trailing substitute teachers Gary and Will, who have to complete an extra task, to the Pit Stop. They pass the guys on the road, but when they hit a fork, the girls go left and Gary and Will go right. Who chooses the right route? The guys. After such too-good-to-be-true moments, you can't argue with Race's nine Emmy awards for reality-competition program.
19. "Letters of Transit," Fringe
Fringe has a tradition of going all-out strange for the 19th episode of every season, but Season 4's trip to the future is particularly enlightening, since the current fifth season takes place in 2036. In the Observer-occupied future, Olivia, Peter, Walter and Astrid amber themselves to avoid arrest, since they know how to take down the bald-headed bastards who are killing the Earth. Peter and Olivia's long-missing daughter Etta is the Fringe Division agent who frees them from the amber. Her moving reunion with her father in the episode's closing minutes has us reaching for the Kleenex.
18. "Pilot," Awake
Creator Kyle Killen knows how to make a great pilot. (See: Lone Star.) Thanks to the show's complex premise — Jason Isaacs' Detective Mike Britten and his family are in a car accident; half the time Britten lives in a reality in which his wife survived but son died, but when he sleeps, he wakes up in another reality where the opposite is true — the pilot has the unenviable task of establishing two completely different worlds. But the two worlds subconsciously speak to one another, so long as Britten is willing to see the connections. That comes in handy for a cop trying to solve a murder, but makes it hard for a shrink to believe. The conflict between Britten's alternate-reality therapists lead to the pilot's most beautiful and heartbreaking revelation: If Britten is crazy, he doesn't want to get better — as long as his mind operates in this fractured way, his family remains whole.
17. "Cocktails & Dreams," Happy Endings
An episode about sex dreams? Lame, right? Not when you pair it with a turpentine-infused cocktail called a Whore's Bath that induces erotic fantasies scored to Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street." Only a show as farcical as Happy Endings can pull off that outrageous story line, cleverly having each pal indulge in Dave's mix and waking up from inappropriate dreams ("Bitch, it is 5:30!") before — twist! — Alex wakes up next to Dave for real. (For the record, we've sampled a Whore's Bath — sans turpentine — but unfortunately did not have sex dreams about Dave.)
16. "A Land Without Magic," Once Upon a Time
Once shocks viewers in the Season 1 finale by actually breaking the curse (the very curse we all thought wouldn't be broken for many seasons)! Plus: Emma becomes the savior of Storybrooke by fighting a dragon (!) before her parents, Snow White and Prince Charming, reunite in a heartfelt scene that is as iconic as the fairy tales on which the show is based. By the end of the hour, the ominous arrival of magic in Storybrooke is just icing on the season-long cake.
Check back all week to see the rest of the list!