There were a variety of good dramas this year, from primetime soaps to action shows to character studies. Here are my choices for the best drama episodes of 2015.
15. “Cover” (Quantico)
This episode put the trainees of Quantico in the field. As a result, we got incredible moments like Elias seducing Simon’s boyfriend to teach him a lesson about patriotism.
14. “AKA Smile” (Jessica Jones)
After a solid first season, Jessica Jones delivered a satisfying finale. This episode was full of great moments, like when Jessica tells Luke that she imagined a future with him.
13. “Tongue Tied” (Orange is the New Black)
“Tongue Tied” gave us the backstory for Norma Romano and it was completely satisfying. As any good backstory should, it made her present situation in Litchfield even more resonant and interesting.
12. “Green Arrow” (Arrow)
Seeing Oliver happily living in the suburbs with Felicity, cooking brunch and smiling at the idea of having children soon wasn’t just adorable– it was fundamentally important to this show. This episode showed that Oliver Queen actually does have the capacity to be happy. He’s not a thrill-seeker with a death wish. He would love to have a normal life. This makes his decision to return to Star City and fight Darhk much more resonant.
11. “Fake It Till You Fake It Some More” (Orange is the New Black)
This episode centered on Flaca Gonzales and had one of the best backstories of any Orange is the New Black episode so far. The final moment of Flaca laughing bitterly when she finds out her new job will be sowing hit a perfect tone.
10. “Marco” (Better Call Saul)
The main story of Better Call Saul was essentially wrapped up in the penultimate episode. The finale felt like an epilogue, but that wasn’t a bad thing. Playing with the moral ambiguity of the protagonist, this episode showed Jimmy return to his old ways and have a great time doing it, until the episode’s final moment.
9. “Mother Nature” (The Fosters)
The Fosters has had its ups and downs recently, but this episode is the show at its best. It finds moments for heartbreaking drama while still softening the blow with the overall incredible love this family has for each other. The very idea of successfully taking five teenagers on a camping trip speaks to the idealism that permeates this show even through all the melodrama. This show has struck the kind of sweet earnest tone where an episode can end with the characters all happily splashing in a lake together and it totally works.
8. “Norma Louise” (Bates Motel)
In this episode, Norma can’t take anymore and just drives away from her life at the motel. When she gets several calls from Dylan telling her about what a state Norman is in, she drops her phone and shoots it. Events have been pushing Norma over the edge since the very beginning of this show and, while it’s painful watching her finally break, it’s also satisfying dramatically. While this was truly Norma’s episode, it notably brought Norman closer to the version of Norman Bates from Psycho than ever before. Freddie Highmore and the writing team continued to perfectly craft their own version of the iconic character.
7. “AKA The Sandwich Saved Me” (Jessica Jones)
This flashback-heavy episode gives us Jessica’s superhero backstory. Jessica Jones is a fairly non-traditional superhero show, so it’s a lot of fun seeing them bring in the kinds of tropes we’d normally get early in a series– like Trish making her a costume and suggesting she take on a pseudonym. The lighter tone of the flashbacks make this episode a lot of fun, while also making the current, grim status quo of the show even sadder by comparison. The themes of the strength of friendship and the oppressiveness of misogyny are on full display in this episode and portrayed beautifully.
6. “Anatomy of a Murder” (Devious Maids)
It’s sadly rare for this kind of soap-ish, mystery-heavy show to have a satisfying finale but Devious Maids pulls it off with “Anatomy of a Murder.” Almost every question from the season was answered in this action-packed episode. The episode also created some cliffhangers to bring the audience back next season. It was a stressful finale, but in a good way.
5. “Pilot” (Empire)
Empire felt like something special right out of the gate. The pilot skillfully introduces the show’s main characters and sets its tone.
4. “Run” (Quantico)
Quantico‘s first episode brilliantly defines its characters within the first few minutes. It’s an incredibly effective pilot that immediately leaves you wanting more. Usually, I feel lucky if a pilot gives me a couple characters I truly care about. This one immediately presented an entire ensemble that I couldn’t wait to see more of.
3. “Pimento” (Better Call Saul)
Better Call Saul had a slow pace but everything pays off wonderfully in this episode, in which Jimmy finds out that his brother betrayed him. It’s an emotional and brilliant episode.
2. “Finger in the Dyke” (Orange is the New Black)
This episode focuses on Big Boo and it’s a wonderful look at queer identity. Her lifelong struggle to be herself is utterly resonant and strikes a perfect tone. Although Big Boo is the one who really shines, there are also some great moments for the other characters, including Brook demonstrating to her friend Meadow how much she’s changed.
1. “Pilot” (iZombie)
This is a truly special episode of television and an emotional experience. The episode dives right into the story of Liv Moore, who has become a recluse after not knowing how to tell her friends and family that she’s become a zombie. Everything in it is beautifully done, from the moments of Liv’s family and friends futilely trying to understand her to the scene of her looking through Major’s windows and seeing him play a video game where he thoughtlessly murders zombies. The episode immediately demonstrated that this show would be an emotional, character-driven show that is far different from anything else about zombies in pop culture right now.