The Atlantic

The 25 Best Television Episodes of 2018

Standout picks from Atlanta, One Day at a Time, The Terror, Homecoming, The Great British Baking Show, and more
Source: Katie Martin / The Atlantic

Editor’s Note: Find all of The Atlantic’s “Best of 2018” coverage here.

On television, it was a year of assassins finding their hearts in acting class, of conflicted spies realizing their fates, of unsettling outings to suburban mansions haunted by Donald Glover in prosthetics. BoJack Horseman went to a funeral; Kim-Joy went all the way to pâtisserie week. The Roy family, meanwhile, seemed bent on going straight to a hell of their own making. TV’s best episodes in 2018 mined subjects large and small: artificial life, life after death, the kind of life journey that leads a person from midwestern air-horn aficionado to hokey bunker-cult leader. Here are the moments we enjoyed the most. (Spoilers, as usual, abound.)

The Americans, “START

The Americans began as a meditation on marriage; it ended as a meditation on family. The FX show made that shift in large part through the evolution of Paige (Holly Taylor): Over the course of six masterful seasons, the Jennings’ daughter, initially a frenetic kaleidoscope of a character, came into ever-sharper focus. Would Paige, her parents’ manufactured American lives unraveling, choose her country or her family? As the series hurtled toward its conclusion, the questions got their answers via scenes of visual poetry, their final stanzas set to Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” and U2’s “With or Without You” (both released in the mid-1980s, both already widely used for soundtrack purposes, both managing to find new urgency nonetheless). The show’s taut final moments spread out in free verse: a phone call; a farewell; a column of fire; a sheet of ice; a train; a lie; a decision that ended it all. Paige—American but not entirely, Russian but not really, free but not fully—made her choice.

Megan Garber

Atlanta, “Teddy Perkins

If you ever find yourself needing to prove that we’re in a “golden age of television,” you could make your case by way of a long argument that mentions , maybe, or … or you could just offer a screening of “Teddy Perkins.” The episode—a capsule-parable that starts with Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) trying to buy a piano and ends with him narrowly escaping death at the hands of the eponymous recluse (Donald Glover)—is inflected with elements of horror and absurdity, invoking by turns Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder and Joseph Campbell and and . As a metaphor, it’s prismatic: From one direction, you could read Darius’s interaction with Teddy as a meditation on the in the most literary of senses, is often to be disoriented: Its scenes can seem like crystalline fragments of an enigmatic whole. But then, suddenly, the scattered pieces catch the light, and in the reflection is something deeply true about what it means to be living—to be trying to live—in America.

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