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Interrogations! Hot tub fights! Plane crashes! See the episodes the stood out this year

Shaun Harrison
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1 of 25 Bravo

"Jill Zarin," Watch What Happens: Live

Watch What Happens: Live gets serious when Andy Cohen welcomes fired Real Housewives of New York City star Jill Zarin to the clubhouse for what has been dubbed the reality TV version of Frost/Nixon (seriously). The awkwardly heated Q&A culminates with Jill's confession that she played up an argument with ex-BFF Bethenny Frankel, which ultimately caused the dissolution of their friendship. But Jill wasn't all about repentance. Still bitter over her axing, she snips, "You can't replace me, Andy."
2 of 25 Karen Neal/ABC

"Flight," Grey's Anatomy

Just when you think Shonda Rhimes can't up the shocking-finale ante anymore when it comes to shocking finales, she leaves Meredith, Derek, Cristina, Arizona, Lexie and Mark stranded on a mountainside after a plane crash. Their traumatizing ordeal is all the more devastating as the docs hopelessly stand by as Lexie, crushed by a section of the aircraft, dies. Even worse? The docs are not rescued by the end of the episode. (RIP Lexie, Mark and Arizona's leg).
3 of 25 Bravo

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23. "Hot Tub of Sour Grapes," The Real Housewives of New Jersey We're still not sure if sending the Giudices and the rest of the Housewives clan on vacation together was dumb or genius. While the husbands played poker, Caroline and Teresa, decide to duke it out over lies, tabloid covers and pent-up anger. (At this point, who even knows what the fight is about?) But the best part: While the two go at it — and the husbands pipe up every now and then — Jacqueline pretends to be asleep so she doesn't have to get involved.
4 of 25 NBC

"Mick Jagger," Saturday Night Live

It was the worst-kept TV secret this spring: Kristen Wiig was leaving Saturday Night Live. Wiig and the show never officially confirmed her departure, but actions speak louder than words. In the Season 37 finale's last sketch, the Bridesmaids star bids farewell by playing a graduating student. The sketch is followed by an emotional, teary medley of The Rolling Stones' "She's a Rainbow" and "Ruby Tuesday" that features appearances by Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Chris Kattan, Will Forte and creator Lorne Michaels, as Wiig shares one last dance with her colleagues. Oh, that? It's just dust in our eye.
5 of 25 NBC

"Justice Denied," Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

After an old case of Olivia's is reopened, her new beau and Executive ADA David Haden (Harry Connick Jr.) is assigned to a new unit established to re-examine the SVU's closed cases, forcing the two to reluctantly call off their blossoming relationship ("Us, this, never happened," Haden says). The heartbreaking end feels like a tease and makes us wonder if Olivia will ever find happiness, but the glimpse into her love life, however fleeting, is necessary for someone with whom we've grown close over the last 13 years.
6 of 25 CBS

"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 ended up trailing substitute teachers Gary and Will, who have to complete an extra task, to the Pit Stop. They passed 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.
7 of 25 FOX

"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. But the kicker? 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.
8 of 25 NBC

"Pilot," Awake

Creator Kyle Killen knows how to make a great pilot. (See also: Lone Star.) Thanks to the show's complex premise — Jason Isaac's 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.
9 of 25 ABC

"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 — and unfortunately did not have sex dreams about Dave.)
10 of 25 ABC

"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.
11 of 25 Danny Feld/NBC

"Chuck vs. the Goodbye" Chuck

Fans who've helped the show earn 11th-hour renewals through online devotion and the consumption of Subway footlongs bid adieu with this bittersweet episode that hits all the right notes (literally in the case of goofy duo Jeffster!'s swan song, a raucous cover of A-ha!'s "Take on Me.") And while Chuck's pals Morgan and Casey find love, the future is less certain for the titular hacker-spy himself. The Intersect, which uploaded a computer into Chuck's brain, is also responsible for wiping his girl Sarah's memories, including her love for him. All is not lost, however, when the two reconnect and share, what we hope, is a kiss full of promise for more to come. It's a reset of sorts, and invites fans to imagine that Chuck will live on, if not on television.
12 of 25 NBC

"There's Something I Need to Tell You," Parenthood

This show has always been a DVR-must in health, and now even more so in (Kristina's) sickness. Showing yet again that its whole is greater than the sum of its parts, Parenthood deftly juggles multiple stories — Kristina's health scare, Crosby's money issues, the beginning of Amber's first love, the end of Julia's dream to make partner — before bringing the Braverman clan together for that shattering final scene when Kristina reveals her breast cancer diagnosis. Your move, Emmy voters.
13 of 25 Fox

"Normal," New Girl

Playing Jess' boyfriend, Dermot Mulroney makes an excellent temporary addition to the New Girl cast. Mulroney's straitlaced character Russell highlights the roommates' absurdity in "Normal," which teaches us what might be the greatest (and most confusing) drinking game of all time, True American. When I say, "JFK," you say, "FDR!"
14 of 25 Prashant Gupta/FX

"Slaughterhouse," Justified

FX's Southern-fried drama's third season climaxes when hero Raylan Givens comes face-to-face with season-long antagonists Quarles (Neal McDonough) and Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson). Suspected of murdering a state trooper, Quarles demands that Limehouse give him the $500,000 he needs to earn his way back to Detroit, but things quickly go awry. In a scene that's as hilarious (Quarles squeals with glee at Limehouse's "piggy bank") as it is violent (Quarles' arm loses its battle with Limehouse's meat cleaver; Raylan later says he "disarmed" him), the show neatly ends a major story line while setting up the next: With his dying breath, Quarles tells Raylan that it was his father Arlo who shot the trooper. Even worse: Raylan later deduces that Arlo only shot "a man in a hat" because he thought it might have been Raylan. Ouch.
15 of 25 FX

"New Year's Eve," Louie

As is Louis C.K.'s trademark, the comedy is found in much less obvious moments: Louie’s daughters open their Christmas presents early only so they can go away with their mother and her new man; Louie skips his sister's family trip to Mexico when his odd new love (Parker Posey) suddenly dies. An odd dream sequence, in which Louie's now-adult daughters lament their loner dad, finds the funny in pity. But the ending is surprisingly upbeat: Louie travels alone to China and finds happiness in a room full of strangers. The only real tragedy here is only that we have to wait a whole year for this show to come back!
16 of 25 Adam Rose/Fox

"The New Rachel," Glee

It's fun to see Rachel's new life in New York, but Glee's Season 4 premiere is about so much more. Can the show survive the graduation of eight main characters? Ryan Murphy's gamble pays off though, as this hour shows us that in addition to successfully juggling geography, it introduces several new promising glee clubbers, most notably Marley Rose, Ryder Lynn and Jake Puckerman. Gold star!
17 of 25 HBO

"Blackwater," Game of Thrones

Stannic's bid for the Iron Throne leads him to invade the Red Keep via Blackwater Bay, where the water is mysteriously set ablaze with a substance known as "wildfire." It's just the first of many triumphs for halfman Tyrion Lannister, a fan favorite for his sardonic wit and even sharper tongue. This episode also reveals everyone else's mettle — from the shared cowardice of King Joffrey and his mother Cersei to the leadership of political prisoner Sansa and fierceness of Tyrion's whore Shae. Battles are not won with brute force or sheer numbers alone. Well played, HBO.
18 of 25 The CW

"The Departed," The Vampire Diaries

Season 3 concludes with a defeated Klaus, Elena's choice between Stefan and Damon, the tragic death of Alaric and, of course, Elena's death in a car wreck that mirrors her parents' death at the beginning of the series. The episode is filled with flashbacks, surprises and gloom, and it's the final moment that reveals that Elena will turn into a vampire. It signals the start of a new era that leaves fans wondering about the very different future of the show.
19 of 25 Ali Goldstein/NBC

"Mazel Tov, Dummies," 30 Rock

What the what?! Tina Fey's long-suffering showrunner, Liz Lemon, finally finds her inner romantic and walks down the aisle with boyfriend Criss Chross the only way Liz Lemon can: dressed as Princess Leia. Aside from giving hope to single women over the age of 40 everywhere (anything's possible!), Liz's wedding is a touching plot point to include in the show's seventh and final season. No epic eyeroll at that!
20 of 25 Gene Page/AMC

"Killer Within," The Walking Dead

When zombies infiltrated Rick & Co.'s prison sanctuary, viewers didn't expect to lose two main characters in the ensuing battle. While brave T-Dog feeds his body to several hungry walkers, it's pregnant Lori's poignant sacrifice — undergoing a C-section without proper tools in order to save her baby's life — that traumatizes us. Making matters worse, her young son Carl has to shoot her in the head lest she turn into a zombie too. It's no wonder that her estranged husband Rick finally loses his cool, showing true despair for the first time. What kind of carnage can we expect from the finale?
21 of 25 Ron Tom/ABC

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5. "Give Me the Blame/Finishing the Hat," Desperate Housewives Sure, Wisteria Lane's final two hours contains lots of filler — Julie gives birth! Renee gets married! Bree is acquitted of murder! But there are also several memorable moments, both heartwarming (Tom and Lynette finally getting back together) and heartbreaking (the beloved Mrs. McCluskey dies). Her death, set to the tune of Johnny Mathis’ "Wonderful! Wonderful!", leads to a truly unforgettable send-off for both Karen and the show, when her spirit is shown joining the many others who occupy Wisteria Lane from beyond the grave, including Mary Alice and, most recently, Mike. Rest in peace, indeed.
22 of 25 Trae Patton/NBC

"The Debate," Parks and Recreation

Leslie Knope might have beaten Bobby Newport in the election, but when it comes to "The Debate," everyone wins. That's because Leslie isn't the only person to go all in. Whether it's pursuing an ex-girlfriend or acting out the film Babe, all of Leslie's friends displayed an unwavering commitment to their goals. And though guest star Brad Leland ups the episode's quirk factor as a gun advocate, "The Debate" ends with a speech from Leslie so impassioned that even her rival Bobby exclaims: "Holy sh--, Leslie, that was awesome." And for once, we gotta agree with Bobby.
23 of 25 Ursula Coyote/AMC

"Dead Freight, Breaking Bad

From the outset of Walt, Jesse, Mike and Todd's meth train heist, there's the portentous feeling that something is going to go terribly wrong. So when the artfully shot, painstakingly gripping robbery is successfully executed, they (and we) briefly think they're in the clear. But before the adrenaline subsides, the drama delivers its most paralyzing and harrowing gut punch to date: Todd shoots a young boy who witnesses the whole thing. And you thought Gus' half-face was shocking.
24 of 25 Michael Yarish/AMC

"The Other Woman," Mad Men

Mad Men takes its upsetting portrayal of gender politics to a new level, as the show's three female protagonists make life-changing decisions. Peggy takes a job as chief copywriter for a rival firm while Megan tells Don that she would choose their marriage over her acting aspirations. But the biggest watercooler moment is when Joan agrees to sleep with a prospective client in order to land the lucrative Jaguar account for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The striking juxtaposition of Don's attempts to talk her out of the arrangement and of Joan doing the deed is simply heartbreaking.
25 of 25 Kent Smith/Showtime

"Q & A," Homeland

Homeland subverts viewers' expectations at every turn, so it makes sense that we get this high-quality showdown between Carrie and Brody not at the end of Season 2, but a mere five hours into it. Despite being in the custody of CIA agents who have seen his suicide tape, Brody insists (even after getting a knife jabbed through his hand!) that he never went through with his plan to blow up the vice president. Enter Carrie, who systematically takes Brody the Terrorist apart and rebuilds him as Brody the Double Agent for the CIA who confesses to everything and agrees to help the Company dismantle Abu Nazir's U.S. terrorist cell. By appealing to Brody's innate, paternal instinct (not to mention his feelings for her), Carrie undoes in one conversation what Abu Nazir spent years doing. It's a master class in the art of interrogation and, in the hands of Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, a master class of acting.