The world’s gone crazy. Every day the news is full of the latest bizarre Brexit plot twist, or jawdropping revelation from Trump, or global warming apocalypse omens. You’d think TV scriptwriters would throw in the towel trying to keep up. Instead, TV’s new golden age of drama continued very healthily in 2018. Established shows like Better Call Saul, BoJack Horseman, and Doctor Who still managed to innovate and surprise, while new series, such as Killing Eve and Altered Carbon, were re-energising what we all thought were well-worn genres.
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But in this era of binge-watch TV and novel-style arc plotting over entire series, it’s becoming more difficult for individual episodes – other than premieres and finales – to stand out. Nevertheless, many still do. Some manage it by ripping our hearts out. Some manage it by shaking up the format. Some manage it with truly out-there concepts. Some set the internet alight with speculation. Some are just brilliantly written.
So here’s our pick (presented by our sister publication SFX magazine) of the most memorable episodes of the past year, the ones that really got people talking, around both the real and the virtual water cooler. Pick up the latest issue of SFX for more from the world of sci-fi and fantasy - both in terms of the best of 2018 and what to expect from 2019 - and check out our best movies of 2018 countdown to see which films we rated this year.
***Naturally, there are major SPOILERS ahead for some of 2018's best TV episodes, so read on duly forewarned***
20. Act Like You’ve Been Here Before - Counterpart season 1, episode 6
Counterpart is a stylish, cold war spy show set in two mirror universes, so audiences were ever alert for ‘they’re not who they’re pretending to be’ shenanigans. And yet the series still managed to blindside us magnificently with the game-changing cliffhanger to Act Like You’ve Been Here Before, when it dawns on Office of Interchange Director of Strategy Peter Quayle that his ‘wife’ is a double from the other side, and the source of leaks in his department. Suddenly you realise that you can trust NOTHING in this show.
19. Guest Starring John Noble - Legends of Tomorrow season 3, episode 17
The Arrowverse’s goofball team show deserves a shout out for delivering the most meticulously set-up in-joke in TV history. John Noble – Denethor in The Lord of the Rings films – had been voicing the ongoing big bad all season. Then the team hatch to plan to defeat the big bad which requires someone to imitate his voice. But who? Luckily, Mick Rory just happens to be watching The Two Towers at the time… Cue a lightbulb moment and a hasty trip to a certain set in New Zealand.
18. It Takes You Away - Doctor Who season 11, episode 9
Few shows could get away with a climax involving a lonely sentient universe taking the form of a talking frog. And if you listened to the internet fan furore after this episode’s broadcast, Doctor Who didn’t either. But Doctor Who has a long history of stories that were ridiculed on original airing that have gone on to become classics. We’re confident this atmospheric dark fairy tale (cabin in the woods! Flesh-eating moths!) will follow suit, especially as that gloriously bat’s-ass ending was also adorably sweet.
17. What’s Past is Prologue - Star Trek Discovery season 1, episode 13
A finale to a mini-arc, Star Trek Discovery's What’s Past is Prologue brought the treacherous Lorca plot to an end in terrific fashion. Having brought the Discovery into the mirror universe, Lorca frees his old crew and prepares to take down the Emperor (Mirror Georgiou) but Burnham puts a stop to that. Action packed, tense, and spectacular, this is about as good as small screen space opera gets. And to cap it all there’s a peach of a cliffhanger – the Klingons have won the war in our universe. Bring on Star Trek Discovery season 2.
Read more: Star Trek Discovery season 1 ending explained - everything you need to know after watching
16. Chapter 14 - Legion season 2, episode 6
The stand-out moment of Legion season 2 was clearly the finale’s big face off between David and the big bad, audaciously rendered in cartoon form. But as an overall episode Chapter 14 was more satisfying. In a series of overlapping what-if stories, David imagines the various ways his life could have gone, from super-powered bum to madman to amoral businessman. We even get to see him looking uncannily like his comic dad, Professor Xavier. Showrunner Noah Hawley once again reinvents a comic cliché as a TV tour de force.
15. Force of Evil - Altered Carbon season 1, episode 4
Possibly the most effective use of a virtual world to disorientate viewers since the original The Matrix, the bulk of Altered Carbon's Force of Evil involves anti-hero Takeshi Kovacs being interrogated in a digital environment where his captors can kill him again and again and again. It’s pretty intense, brilliantly realized and gives viewers a fist-in-the-air moment when Kovacs effects his escape. All this plus a comedy B-plot in which cop Kristin Ortega resurrects her grandmother in the body of a hulking convict to shock her mother.
Read more: Altered Carbon ending - everything you need to know after watching
14. Chapter Seven: Feast or Feasts - The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina season 1, episode 7
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina wasn’t so very chilling to begin with, but the series became progressively more grim as it went on. This was the episode when things turned really dark. For witches, it seems, Thanksgiving is an excuse for a bit of party cannibalism. Sabrina is appalled when she learns one witch will sacrifice herself for her brethren to feast upon, but her intervention proves futile. The ceremony has patriarchal roots, of course, reinforcing the show’s feminist credentials in its usual, impressive non-finger-wagging style. The good news is, we don't have long to wait for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina season 2...
Read more: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ending explained - everything you need to know after watching.
13. Terror Camp Clear - The Terror season 1, episode 8
Victorian Arctic exploration supernatural horror The Terror pulled off an impressive feat by having a homosexual psycho as its main villain, but not raising the ire of social justice warriors by making him downright the most interesting and fully-rounded character on the show. Terror Camp Clear was his finest moment as he escapes being hung for mutiny when a very toothy mythical beast attacks the gatheting mid-execution. The ensuing action is breathtakingly shot – bloody, savage, and uncompromising it draws you in even as your brain is screaming, “Get out of there!”
12. Falling - Sharp Objects season 1, episode 7
Sure, the finale of this small-town murder mystery had all the big, melodramatic, showstopping twists, but it felt a little in-your-face after the exquisite, subtle build-up in this edgy penultimate episode. Amy Adams is excellent as the self-harming journalist who’s returned home to investigate the murder of two girls, but it’s the quirky support characters – especially nihilistic teen suspect John with his self-loathing faux confession – who excel here. Plus, the finger of suspicion starts to point somewhere genuinely shocking.
11. The Good Twin - GLOW season 2, episode 8
Now, this one is clever. And funny. After nearly two seasons of behind-the-scenes fictionalised drama about the making of GLOW – a 1980s syndicated women's professional wrestling TV extravaganza – we get to see what an actual episode of that show would have looked like in GLOW season 2's The Good Twin. It’s 30 minutes of cheesy comedy sketches, fake fighting, cheap adverts, and canned laughter. Oh, and a randy goat. Yet, somehow, it also all ties into on-going arcs and themes, and there are some killer in-jokes.