Welcome to SYFY WIRE's Year in Review, a series of articles that will look to catalog the best, worst, and weirdest cultural and entertainment moments of 2019 as we look toward the future. Today, we give some much-deserved love to the best genre television episodes of the year!
In 2019, when it came to TV shows from the realms of science fiction and fantasy, there was such a wide range of imagination on display, with so many exciting and bold risks taken, that it was nearly impossible to narrow down this list to just 10 entries. However, from meta-comedy to epic battles, the laughter, heartbreak, and thrills we witnessed across the board made a dark year that much more bearable.
Honorable mentions include The Good Place, on the verge of finishing its rich examination of morality in modern times; the wild imagination and impeccable production values of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance; and DC's Legends of Tomorrow, the most delightful and imaginative of The CW's DC series. There was so much TV, after all.
These represent the most memorable episodes of the year — but pay tribute to just a few of the highlights.
Stranger Things: Season 3, Episode 8, "The Battle of Starcourt"
With a runtime nearly equal to a feature film, the Stranger Things season finale delivered an epic level of battles, along with some deeply human moments — Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper (David Harbour) setting up the date that would never be lingers sweetly in the memory — and, because why not, an extended musical tribute to Limahl's 1984 banger "The Neverending Story."
That, plus some wild moments of horror and sacrifice (poor, poor Billy), made "The Battle of Starcourt" a fitting conclusion to the latest chapter of Netflix's nostalgia-drenched hit, while also setting up plenty of reasons to get excited for Season 4.
Daybreak: Season 1, Episode 5, "Homecoming Redux or My So Called Stunt Double Life"
The post-apocalyptic Netflix comedy brought with it a refreshing inventive approach to some very well-established tropes, including the choice to spread its focus beyond ostensible hero Josh (Colin Ford) to the rest of the ensemble.
"Homecoming Redux" puts the spotlight on Wesley (Austin Crute), with an opening sequence that blended animation, kung fu iconography, and the freakin' RZA as himself, who narrates the episode as Wesley comes to terms with his past choices. Daybreak was full of intensely weird choices (can you say actual cannibal Matthew Broderick?) but it was also a surprisingly human and soulful series at times.
What We Do In the Shadows: Season 1, Episode 7, "The Trial"
One of the funniest sequences of the year owes a lot to a stacked collection of cameos — FX's series adaptation of the cult vampire comedy finally answered the question of whether or not Taika Waititi, Jonny Brugh, and Jemaine Clement would reprise their roles from the film, and threw in appearances by Tilda Swinton, Evan Rachel Wood, Danny Trejo, Paul Reubens, Dave Bautista, and Wesley Snipes.
The cameos aren't just fan service, though — they're the court of vampires sitting in judgment of Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo (Matt Berry), and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) for the murder of Baron Afanas (Doug Jones). And really, who better to do so?
The Mandalorian: Season 1, Episode 2, "The Child"
One of the most compelling aspects of the Disney+ series, beyond Baby Yoda, is the blending of genres that invoke memories of great Westerns as well as other classic narratives. The largely dialogue-free second episode is a perfect example of this, pitting the titular helmeted bounty hunter against a Sandcrawler full of Jawas and a brooding alien rhino protecting its egg.
But it's when the Child (aka the Internet's beloved Baby Yoda) steps in to save Mando with the help of the Force that the episode hits a new surreal note.
Directed with elegant spareness by Rick Famuyiwa (the first black man to ever direct a Star Wars story), "The Child" highlighted the show's ability to delve into this universe's odder quirks. When else might one expect to hear three-time Academy Award nominee Nick Nolte speak Jawaese?
The Handmaid's Tale: Season 3, Episode 8, "Unfit"
Some of the best moments of The Handmaid's Tale tend to be set not in the present, but the past — it is sometimes incredibly hard, after all, to come to grips with how this world came to be, and thus when we get a glimpse at life in the pre-Gilead age, it's often fascinating.
This is especially true of Aunt Lydia (series MVP Ann Dowd), whose past life gets revealed in flashbacks to her time as a teacher who takes a special interest in one of her students, and his potentially negligent mother. What makes "Unfit" such an important episode for the series is how it highlights the depths of both good and bad within one of the show's most complex villains, one who genuinely believes she is doing the right thing — which makes her all the scarier.
Russian Doll: Episode 8, "Ariadne"
Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland, and Amy Poehler's Groundhog Day-esque existential comedy began with a killer pilot that quite literally killed Nadia (Lyonne) multiple times. But it wasn't until the finale, in which Nadia and Alan (Charlie Barnett) find their universes split apart, forcing them to rebuild their connections to each other all over again, that the series reached its dizzy, engrossing peak.
What might have started as a story about confronting death instead, by the end, became a true celebration of life, with enough surreal touches to ensure that we'll never stop thinking about it — especially those final moments.
Years and Years: Episode 4
With each episode of the HBO/BBC miniseries, the members of the Lyons family moved forward into an increasingly bleak future, the sort of science fiction which, despite taking place in the years to come, didn't actually feel that fictional.
Part Four didn't put a huge emphasis on technological advances, instead focusing on the politically turbulent events which lead Daniel (Russell Tovey) to take a huge risk to bring his love Viktor (Maxim Baldry) back to British soil — a risk which ends in massive tragedy. It's a heartbreaking twist that makes clear just how big the stakes are for these characters; even the most ordinary of lives can find itself torn apart when least expected.
Mr. Robot: Season 4, Episode 5, "405 Method Not Allowed"
The final season of USA Network's groundbreaking hacker drama has not lacked for standout moments, including the sort of bold narrative experiments that continually make the show one of the most daring on television.
While "407 Proxy Authentication Required," a five-act play that featured a raw and brutal performance from Rami Malek as Elliot confronts some deeply rooted trauma, was stunning, it was the fifth episode of the season which might be, ultimately, the most memorable: Almost entirely free of dialogue, "405 Method Not Allowed" doesn't need words to create one of the most thrilling episodes of the show to date, as a carefully planned heist becomes a cross-town footrace.
Beyond the intense action, the episode also did a lot to mend the fractured bond between Elliot and sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin), with the former sacrificing himself at one point to keep her safe.
Good Omens: Episode 3, "Hard Times"
When Neil Gaiman took on the role of writer and showrunner for the miniseries adaptation of his and Terry Pratchett's cult-favorite novel, there might have been an assumption that the author would emphasize fidelity to the original text over the requirements of adaptation.
But instead, Gaiman took advantage of the opportunity to expand upon the novel, most epically seen with the 30-minute long cold open of episode three, which documented the 6,000-year-old friendship between angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and demon Crowley (David Tennant). The biggest addition to the series ended up being one of its most delightful, while also reframing the story of Biblical apocalypse even more directly as what it really always was: a love story.
Watchmen: Season 1, Episode 6, "This Extraordinary Being"
Thanks to a potentially lethal dose of memory pills, Angela Abar (Regina King) becomes trapped in a mash-up of the past and present in Watchmen Episode 6, descending into the recollections of her grandfather Will (played by When They See Us star Jovan Adepo in flashbacks).
"This Extraordinary Being" isn't just the story of the first masked hero, but a story about being black in America, a story about generational rage, and a story about the ways in which love can and cannot save the day.