This article is part of our 2019 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from 2019.
Every bit of TV makes me happy. There are great series and great seasons, each of which rewards investment and plays a long game with our emotions. There are great episodes, exercises in creativity that tell satisfying, often self-contained stories all their own. Then there are great scenes, well-executed tidbits that come and go so fast that you could be left wondering if anyone else who saw them felt that distinct punch in the gut that you did. These morsels are worth digging for, and luckily, the surplus of content available at our current programming peak ensures that there were a lot of great scenes to be found on TV this year.
These are the scenes that shocked, moved, or thrilled me most this year. They communicated ideas, executed concepts, and imbued feelings in new and interesting ways I’d never seen before, or they represented experiences I’d never seen represented on screen before. Above all else, they punctuated, like the best scenes do, and more often than not their punctuation was an exclamation mark, a moment that screamed: “This needs to be talked about!” Read on for 19 of the best scenes the small screen had to offer in 2019.
19. GLOW, “The Libertines”
Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s ‘80s-set women’s wrestling comedy took its sky-high concept to new heights with a third season that saw the team take on a Las Vegas residency. I loved every minute of it, but the ninth episode ender brought home the series’ throughline of inclusive chosen families and the threats they face with more impact than ever.
A not-so-underground charity drag show makes up the bulk of this largely joyful episode. The show is meant to end with Geena Davis’ Sandy donning a full showgirl outfit, but it’s cut short by a fire that turns out to be arson perpetrated by a hate group. The crime has far-reaching implications for several characters, but it’s perhaps most thematically resonant for a character who wasn’t there: closeted Bash (Chris Lowell) is at that very moment engaging in a three-way involving another man, a moment of timid self-acceptance that’s undercut by this very real materialization of his unspoken fears surrounding his place in the queer community.
It’s Arthie (Sunita Mani), another character who is coming to terms with her sexuality, who first sees the homophobic language spraypainted on the ground as she runs from the fire, and the camera creates maximum impact by cutting first to her face, then to an overhead view of the graffiti, all while Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” plays in the background. The episode ends with drag performer and event host Bobby (Kevin Cahoon), who put everything he had into making the show a success, staring in resignation at violent hate speech and saying, “I guess we got the word out.”
18. The Mandalorian, “Chapter 1”
The Disney-Lucasfilm-Marvel-industrial complex is a hotbed of strong opinions, and it would pretty much take the eighth wonder of the world to unite everyone on anything related to the company and its content. Enter Baby Yoda. The Disney+ flagship series The Mandalorian was kept under wraps for months, and it pulled off one hell of a surprise in the pilot episode’s last few moments.
After traveling far and facing several obstacles that establish the series’ space Western ambitions, a Mandalorian bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) discovers that the target he’s been tasked with putting down is actually a pint-sized lookalike of the wise old green guy. Episode director Dave Filoni makes the wise choice of tamping down the usual Star Wars fanfare for a short but memorable moment of truth during which the baby is revealed, holding out its cute-as-hell tiny hand to touch the bounty hunter’s hand like an aww-inducing Michelangelo painting.
In an instant, the whole world realized we’d absolutely kill for this precious little bean, with his fuzzy puppet head and endlessly shiny eyes, and apparently the Mandalorian did too. He quickly dispatches his droid companion, who is in favor of killing the baby, making a split-second decision that mingles humanity and mercilessness in true Western hero fashion. TL;DR: Baby Yoda is our god now.
17. Shrill, “Pool”
For all of television’s recent strides in representation, there are certain areas in which we’re still in the stone ages, and the presence of realistic body types is one of them. With only six short episodes in its first season, Hulu’s adaptation of Lindy West’s book Shrill has limited screen time to work with, yet it manages to show us more self-described fat women whose experiences are unique and complex than perhaps any other series in history.
Aidy Bryant stars as Annie, a woman who’s decided to start living her truth in ways that her coworkers, friends, and family often find unacceptable. One of her biggest moments of self-discovery comes in the episode “Pool,” which sees her attending a “Fat Babe Pool Party.” The pool party takes up the majority of the episode, but two moments in the extended sequence stand out. First, Annie sits poolside, dipping her toes in the water, and a series of micro-expressions cross her face. Bryant’s acting here is amazing; we get that Annie feels at once overwhelmed by the seemingly radical self-love the party represents, a display of confident bodies that both she and the audience may have never seen before. In contrast, she sits fully clothed, unable to jump into the water and be a part of the movement she’s witnessing. “Why not?” she seems to finally think.
Moments later, several women are seen dancing to an Ariana Grande song, and they pull her into their group. She’s hesitant at first, but by song’s end, she’s shaking her head and moving her body in glee. Close-ups of dozens of bodies — beautiful, joyful, and, yes, big — are lovingly framed by episode director Shaka King, in a scene that shows how small moments of self-acceptance can be momentous.
16. Mr. Robot, “404 Not Found”
Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom) has always been one of the most engaging characters on cyber-thriller Mr. Robot. He started off as a Scandinavian Patrick Bateman type, obsessively slapping himself in the face in the pilot and eventually confessing his love for hacker Elliot (Rami Malek) via a tearful William Carlos Williams poem. Tyrell faded from the narrative in recent seasons, but Sam Esmail’s bleak take on a Christmas saga in Mr. Robot’s last stretch of episodes gave him a well-deserved sendoff that emphasized the mystery and longing he brought to the series.
After arguing their way through the woods on Christmas Eve following Tyrell’s botched takeout of a Dark Army agent, the two finally stumble upon the crashed van and dispatch the man once and for all. During the scuffle, Tyrell is shot, and despite Elliot’s offer to bring him to a hospital, he knows he’s done for. “I’m just gonna take a walk,” Tyrell says solemnly, in a gorgeously snowy, dark shot that’s nearly black and white.
Mac Quayle’s melancholic yet wintery original score makes the understated moment all the more emotional, and the episode ends, surreally, with Tyrell stumbling upon a source of noise and light in the woods and staring at its glow, Pulp Fiction style, as the screen fades to white. Earlier, he heard that sound and called it death, but in the end, he looked to it as a familiar friend.