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Check out the episodes that we couldn't stop watching this year

Joyce Eng
The Best TV Episodes of 2014
1 of 25 Ron P. Jaffe/CBS

"How Your Mother Met Me," How I Met Your Mother

Regardless of how you feel about HIMYM's weekend-set final season and its polarizing series finale, it's hard to deny the sheer delight of the show's 200th episode, which traces and seamlessly weaves in The Mother's life, her own tragic love story and her near-misses with Ted over the past eight years. A much-anticipated showcase for the criminally under-utilized Cristin Milioti, who winningly employs her charm and musical talents, the episode is also a nostalgic reminder of HIMYM's unparalleled dexterity in melding heart and screwball into one big, lovely enigmatic puzzle. It's the kind of episode the show should have ended with — and be remembered by.

2 of 25 Lloyd Bishop/NBC

24. "Episode 1," The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Jimmy Fallon kicks off the anticipated, pressure-filled premiere the way he knows best: with music and dancing. Instead of following the tired format set before him, Fallon freshens up the late-night space by creating a fun, more intimate setting, and letting viewers know immediately you either bring your A-game to the show or don't come at all. Case in point: The episode features a long list of celebs — from Kim Kardashian and Joan Rivers to Lady Gaga, who all have to make good on a bet — a perfect follow-up to his "Evolution of Hip-Hop" (that has Will Smith doing The Carlton) and ends with an incredible U2 performance on the Rockefeller rooftop. Fallon's premiere set the bar high and he hasn't fallen since.

3 of 25 Cinemax

23. "Get the Rope," The Knick

More than any other episode in The Knick's excellent first season, this one is a pure grab-your-popcorn thrill ride. The hour, which features the employees of the Knick attending to patients while a race riot grows outside (and eventually works its way inside), plays like the best disaster episodes of ER and is another reminder how just how dangerous it was to live in those times. Although the episode climaxes with the hospital being overrun (and the great image of the brutish Cleary pulling the ambulance by hand to move patients to a safer black hospital), the episode's quieter moments have the most impact. Not only do Thackery and Edwards each end up in the bed of their long-desired lovers, but the two doctors finally begin operating on equal footing.

4 of 25 BBC

22. "The Sign of Three," Sherlock

Never has an episode of Sherlock brought home the friendship between the famed sleuth and his sidekick John Watson in such a heartfelt way. On Watson's wedding day, Sherlock delivers the best and worst best-man speech ever, which we have a sneaking suspicion is just how he devised it. Beginning with a condemnation of love and marriage, and backhanded compliments of John's mental acuity, the speech somehow morphs into the most perfectly lovely tribute. The wedding guests, like viewers, are rendered virtual puddles. Oh, and there's a nifty locked-room mystery that's coincidentally related to a second mystery that Sherlock later solves in order to save someone's life. That, my friends, is a wedding gift that can't be topped!

5 of 25 BBC

21. "By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried," Orphan Black

Let's just get this out of the way: CLONE! DANCE! PARTY! On one hand, having most of the sister clones — Sarah, Alison, Cosima and Helena — getting their groove on in one fantastically edited scene can be interpreted as fan service (we'll take it!). On the other hand, it's a visceral celebration for what the characters and the show itself have accomplished: a partial victory in the battle to re-establish female agency. Season 2's complex finale not only tackles the theme of women's ownership of their bodies, but also gives Rachel the "pro clone" a soul, introduces a new face from Project Leda and then flummoxes viewers with the concept of Project Castor. That's right, there was also a male clone project, and we've already met one of them in Mark, the Prolethean. We can't wait to meet his brothers!

6 of 25 Greg Gayne/The CW

20. "Chapter 1," Jane the Virgin

With an over-the-top, telenovela-style voiceover and cheesy on-screen graphics, Jane has always known what it was and didn't shy away from it. But what the pilot does so well is wonderfully balance the outlandish with the grounded, incredibly relatable character that is Jane, a twentysomething woman who always did the right thing but ended up with the one thing she tried to avoid: an unwanted pregnancy (via accidental artificial insemination). Aside from Gina Rodriguez's excellent performance, our first introductions to the supporting cast have also left us invested in both sides of Jane's love triangle, as well as her family life with her mom and grandma.

7 of 25 Patrick Harbron/FX

19. "Echo," The Americans

Like any spycraft thriller worth its salt, The Americans built toward an enormously satisfying, riveting Season 2 finale. Hearts are broken (Stan selling out Nina by not giving up the Echo program) and loose ends are tied (Jared confesses that it was he who killed his spy parents — spyrents? — and sister in the season premiere) — but not too neatly, as Philip and Elizabeth are told that, just like with Jared, the Center wants to recruit their defiant daughter Paige to groom into a second-generation spy. It's a reveal that perfectly underscores the remarkable relatability of the Cold War drama despite its high-wire set-up: the fear and inevitability we all feel that we'll grow up to be just like our parents, and their hope that we don't.

8 of 25 Fox

18. "Bad Blood," Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow's first season finale is a master juggling act. The fantastical Revolutionary history, the intense relationships and the impending apocalypse come together in exciting, unexpected ways that leave each of the main characters in peril, but never feels cheap. Before Ichabod and Katrina can rescue Abby, who volunteers to stay in purgatory in Katrina's place, Henry reveals himself to not only be their son Jeremy, but the Horseman of War, and then buries his dad alive and gives his mom over to Headless. It's one helluva reveal that we never saw coming until it was too late. "Bad Blood" even makes the previous episodes of the season better in hindsight because it proves the drama's kitchen-sink storytelling actually had a plan all along.

9 of 25 Jordin Althaus/Fox

17. "Danny Castellano Is My Personal Trainer," The Mindy Project

Mindy Kaling's figure has been a major talking point since her show premiered, and in "Personal Trainer," the showrunner tackles the issue head-on. Unsurprisingly, Mindy eventually hears a Colin Firth-worthy message of body acceptance from Danny, but what's even more romantic is the way Danny demonstrates just how well he understands Mindy during their training sessions. The hypothetical scenarios Danny invents, in which Mindy has to save celebrities using just her strength ("Michael Fassbender's trapped in a well!"), are not merely a novel way to illustrate their growing romance, but a sublime showcase for the type of one-liners the sitcom does best.

10 of 25 FX

16. "So Did the Fat Lady," Louie

So many episodes of the acclaimed FX comedy detail Louie’s disastrous love life and more specifically, him getting shot down. But one of the most memorable episodes of Season 4 is about the repercussions and reasoning behind why he turned down a larger waitress named Vanessa. Go On alum Sarah Baker delivers an electric breakthrough performance as a woman who uses her words as weapons and who refuses to take "no" for an answer — or worse, to hear the words “you're not fat.” Vanessa's lengthy, cringe-worthy and brutally honest speech about the difficulties of being a bigger single woman hits a particularly hard nerve in this modern selfie era.

11 of 25 Bravo

15. "The Last Leg," The Real Housewives of New York City

There are certain moments in television that will never be forgotten. Aviva Drescher throwing her leg during yet another Real Housewives blowup is one of them. It's the moment when reality TV folded in on itself. It's prostitution whore 2.0, but without any authenticity and triple the delusion. It's a moment so premeditated that the reality of what we were watching — a 44-year-old mother of four throwing her prosthetic leg at someone in the hopes of gaining fame — is impossible to ignore. It made us laugh. It made us cry. It made us scared for what society has become. It was, in short, leg-endary.

12 of 25 Starz

14. "The Wedding," Outlander

Whether you're a fan of the books or have only seen the show, viewers waited with bated breath for the highly anticipated wedding episode that would feature Jamie and Claire consummating their relationship. Told in part through flashbacks — and with stunning cinematography — the hour builds steadily to the pair's first kiss at their forced betrothal and then their first night together. But instead of gratuitous raunch, the sex scene is romantic and ultimately focuses more on the post-coital conversation, as the two giggle over Jamie's naivete and misconceptions. The episode also beautifully juxtaposes Claire's past with Frank and her future with Jamie through scenes with both wedding rings, as she realizes that she could never go back to her former life.

13 of 25 Paul Schiraldi/HBO

13. "Guest," The Leftovers

The Leftovers was never an easy watch, but this episode — the series' second single-POV episode — provides just a sliver of hope. Of course, that comes only after we watch Carrie Coon's Nora Durst wallow in the grief of losing her entire family by continuing to buy her kids' favorite cereal and hiring a prostitute to shoot her in her (Kevlar-protected) chest. But Nora's sorrow gives way to rage when she attends a conference in New York where someone has stolen her identity, and that rage then turns to yearned-for relief once Nora allows Holy Wayne to "heal" her. Coon carries the entire episode on her shoulders and effortlessly plays all the brilliant changes throughout Nora's transition. She returns home a new woman, reminding viewers that pain always hurts less when you decide to let it go.

14 of 25 FX

12. "Red Rose," Sons of Anarchy

FX's biker drama didn't save its best for last. Sons' penultimate episode kills off three series regulars and serves as the true emotional culmination of seven seasons of bloody mayhem. Although Juice's prison death was a long time coming, it's impossible not to get teary when he chooses to eat his last piece of pie. The only thing more wrenching is watching a heartbroken Jax finally avenge his wife's murder by putting a bullet in the back of his mother's head and leaving her to die with Unser, who meets his own shocking fate by getting twisted up in Gemma's web of lies. Katey Sagal and Charlie Hunnam have never been better than in their final moments, which underline once and for all that this series, like its Shakespearean inspiration Hamlet, was most definitely a tragedy.

15 of 25 Michael Desmond/Showtime

11. "Fight," Masters of Sex

"Two acts of intercourse, mutually satisfying. One masturbatory act. Role-playing throughout." Virginia thusly logs her and Bill's night for their sex study. Set against the backdrop of the Yvon Durelle vs. Archie Moore boxing match and featuring marvelous turns by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, the gripping hour is an emotional battleground not only for Bill and Ginny to carry on their (work) affair, but for the show to incisively ruminate on gender roles, stereotypes, and the expectations society and our own family place on us. ("Better to be a tomboy than a sissy," Bill's patient, the father of a baby boy with ambiguous genitalia, sneers.) Bill deftly deflects every physical and inquisitive verbal jab from Virginia until he finally lays bare his demons and childhood abuse at the hands of his father. Because sometimes the strongest fight you can put up is by dropping your guard.

16 of 25 Craig Blankenhorn/Showtime

10. "1," The Affair

There's he-said-she-said. And then there’s The Affair. The show's unique narrative structure, employing both Noah's and Alison’s perspectives in recounting their titular relationship — not to mention the intense chemistry between Dominic West and breakout Ruth Wilson — all framed by a murder investigation in the future, has made TV’s latest (forbidden) love story by far its most intriguing. The discrepancies in their stories and memory biases vary from big (did Noah or Alison save his choking daughter?) to small (Alison's dressed seductively in his version and is covered up in hers), but neither are unreliable narrators. If anything, The Affair accentuates one fact: There is no right or wrong version because we all live in our own truths.

17 of 25 Macall B. Polay/HBO

9. "The Mountain and the Viper," Game of Thrones

This game-changing episode, which also features "good" Stark daughter Sansa's va-va-va-voom makeover, ultimately belongs to Oberyn Martell, the lusty Dornishman who won our hearts with his egalitarian views and wicked tongue. In his gorgeously executed duel for vengeance (and to save Tyrion's life), he's a whirl of limbs, charisma and bravado that gets everybody's blood thrumming as he dances around his lumbering opponent. This vitality, this sheer rightness of purpose has to mean that he wins, which is why it's such a shock when he's taken down. Oh, and having his teeth smashed in, eyes gouged out and head ultimately smushed like a garlic clove doesn't help. The visceral crushing merely echoes the emotional crushing of Tyrion's and our hopes that maybe just this once, Game of Thrones will favor the a happy ending.

18 of 25 Justina Mintz/AMC

8. "The Strategy," Mad Men

Amid the revolving door of women who have gone in and out of Don Draper's life, there's been one who's stayed constant. Mad Men is ultimately a story about two colleagues, Don and Peggy, and how their professional and personal relationships have evolved against the cultural shifts of the 1960s and '70s. "The Strategy" neatly crystallizes this dynamic into a single episode, mirroring Season 4's "The Suitcase." The former mentor and mentee pull an all-nighter poring over the firm's Burger Chef pitch, but instead of heated fireworks, this time, the two open up to each other about their doubts and fears. It ends with them sharing a non-romantic slow dance to Frank Sinatra's "My Way" — a lovely, sad moment that's both intimate and distant, and would've made for a superb series finale.

19 of 25 Amazon Prime

7. "Pilot," Transparent

Proving yet again that the most fascinating, well-rounded stories are being told on non-traditional outlets, Amazon made a giant splash with Transparent. The pilot introduces us to the Pfefferman family, led by Maura, who struggles to tell her children that she's transitioning from male to female. Aside from Jeffrey Tambor's brilliant, delicate performance as Maura (nee Mort), the episode's true strength is in a brilliantly directed dinner party scene that illustrates just how endearingly messy — figuratively and literally — the members of this family truly are. Just the right amount of intriguing hints about each Pfefferman throughout the half-hour, as well as a delicious two-part reveal in the final scene, solidifies Transparent as our new favorite series to binge.

20 of 25 Chris Large/FX

6. "Buridan's Ass," Fargo

This episode is delicious not for the high body count, but how these people died. Malvo offs the insipid, tan-tastic Chumph in such a diabolical way — Chumph is duct-taped to an exercise bike, empty gun strapped to his hand, when Malvo fires shots across the street at cops who answer in kind — that we cringe and savor the impending doom. There's also an inevitability in Molly getting shot in the whiteout by Gus' friendly fire and in the freak death of Stavros' firstborn, via a rainstorm of fish, that concludes the biblical plagues that have, well, plagued Stavros. And Lester, our mouse-turned-murderer, truly embraces his inner psychopath when he saves his own skin by planting evidence of his wife's murder... to frame his brother. Death is not just death on Fargo. It is the paintbrush by which the series makes us examine morality, consider the vagaries of fate and question our own motivations.

21 of 25 CBS

5. "The Last Call," The Good Wife

Will and Alicia always had bad timing. That phrase takes on a much darker meaning when Alicia discovers a mysterious voicemail from her just-killed lover. A brutal, beautiful examination of grief, the need for levity (hi, loopy post-op Finn) and the unanswered questions tragedies leave in their wake, the hour includes Alicia letting her rarely seen tears flow in her effort to figure out why Will called. Diane’s sadness morphs into anger. Kalinda’s despair turns into revenge. Cary (finally) takes charge. Even the icy cold David Lee needs a moment to gather himself. But nothing stands out more than the episode’s final moments, in which Alicia imagines Will saying he called her because he wants to be with her forever. As sad as it is, Will’s demise allowed the drama to shine in a whole new light.

22 of 25 HBO

4. "Crate," Veep

Veep is built on failure and futility. Time and time again, Selina is frustrated and disgruntled at her low-stakes gig and set up to fall. That seems to be the case again in "Crate" when her campaign appears derailed after she's caught on tape dissing a reporter and donors. But then a twist: POTUS is stepping down to care for FLOTUS. What do you do when you find out you're president? In an already iconic scene, Selina holes herself up in a stark bathroom with Gary, and they proceed to completely lose their minds. Massive hysterics, nosebleeds, magnifying glasses and tampons are involved. It's a hilarious, cathartic moment, divinely releasing the tension and anxiety the show has bottled up over three seasons. Selina has waited for a win for a long time; we just didn't realize how much we wanted it for her too until now.

23 of 25 David Bloomer/Showtime

3. "There's Something Else Going On," Homeland

After a so-so Season 3, Homeland is back to firing on (mostly) all cylinders in its fourth season. "There's Something Else Going On" has all the suspense and entertainment as some of the most highly regarded action movies, condensed into a taut hour, while Mandy Patinkin delivers his strongest work on the series to date, spitting out Saul's stubborn death wish even as Carrie and the rest of the CIA are working to negotiate his release. The episode combines everything the show does best: instilling a quiet sense of dread in viewers during a tense prisoner exchange standoff for Saul, lulling the audience into complacency after the switch is made, and then culminating with a literally explosive, game-changing twist at the end that proves the episode title true and, unlike last season's ruse, is wholly earned.

24 of 25 HBO

2. "Who Goes There," True Detective

By the midpoint of Season 1 of True Detective, the show had sparked numerous fan theories and close reads as to the motivations of Rust Cohle and Marty Hart. But "Who Goes There" is notable for a much more straightforward cinematic reason: a six-minute tracking shot that chronicles Rust's infiltration of a drug gang gone wrong. As disorienting as it is transfixing, the shot allows the audience to get inside Rust's confused mindset about what exactly he's gotten himself into with this case. There's no overt violence or gore, and no bogeymen jumping out from behind corners, but the scene still manages to be terrifying in its own right, and indicates that Rust and Marty may be in pursuit of something more terrifying than either of them can imagine.

25 of 25 Brooke Palmer/NBC

1. "Mizumono," Hannibal

Hannibal's Season 2 finale works on numerous levels. It wraps up a complex season by delivering on its season premiere promise (Jack vs. Hannibal FTW!) and also throws in some surprises (Abigail's alive!). And even though Will and Hannibal's twisted game of cat-and-mouse climaxes in a show-stopping bloodbath, it's the emotional cuts that went deepest. Thanks to superb performances from Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy, it's impossible not to feel Hannibal's heartbreak as he guts the protégé who betrayed him and leaves him behind to die. The story is so masterfully told to a seemingly logical conclusion (is everybody dead?) that we, too, feel gutted — right up until that sneaky post-credits sequence showing Hannibal on a plane to Europe (with Dr. Du Maurier, no less!) filled us with uncontrollable excitement for whatever comes next.