14 TV Episodes From 2021 We Can’t Stop Thinking About

Best TV Episodes 2021 Mare of Easttown, Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, Ghosts, Evil
HBO; Michael Courtney/NBC/Lionsgate; Bertrand Calmeau/CBS; Elizabeth Fisher/CBS ©2021Paramount+

Even with so much on television (especially this year), there are some hours that stood out and in some cases, even months later, resonate. And so TV Insider’s Staff Writers Meaghan Darwish and Meredith Jacobs had to discuss those episodes.

Ghosts delivered a surprising, emotional peek into one of the spirits, while SEAL Team is getting inside Bravo 1’s head. Shows like WandaVision and Chicago Fire featured standout performances and Mare of Easttown and NCIS shocked audiences. And Evil went silent, while Ted Lasso used music in the perfect way.

Scroll down for the episodes that stay with us from 2021.

Mare of Easttown - Kate Winslet and Evan Peters

"Illusions," Mare of Easttown

The entirety of HBO‘s hit limited drama series, Mare of Easttown, was both captivating and riveting, but particularly the show’s fifth installment which saw certain leads culminate in a heart-pounding sequence. Off the hook for attempting to frame her grandson’s mother with drugs, Detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) can’t stay away from her quest for answers in the case of an ongoing murder investigation. With the help of her new and deepening partnership with the young Detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters), Mare gets a break she’s looking for but not without consequence in this stirring entry. As the season’s twists and turns unfold, none of them had made our jaws drop quite like this episode, making it a memorable one at the least. — Meaghan Darwish

Katja Herbers as Kristen Bouchard, Mike Colter as David Acosta in Evil
Elizabeth Fisher/CBS

"S Is for Silence," Evil

How much can be said with just a look? A lot, as Evil‘s silent episode proved as it continued to tease a potential romance between forensic psychologist Kristen (Katja Herbers) and (at the time) priest-in-training David (Mike Colter). The case was the least memorable part of it — even with botflies emerging from under a person’s skin — but such a good way for the Paramount+ drama to keep up the scares it’s become known for. Plus, who doesn’t love David’s inability to focus when he should be praying (complete with the repetition of “f**k” in his head)? And an honorable mention must be given to the Season 2 finale, if just for Kristen’s confession to David being more intimate than the kiss they (finally) shared after. — Meredith Jacobs

Reservation Dogs Season 1 Episode 7 Devery Jacobs Bill Burr
Shane Brown/FX

"California Dreamin'," Reservation Dogs

FX on Hulu‘s gem of a series included plenty of heartwarming moments in its first season along with a bundle of laughs, but the show’s seventh installment was a clear standout. Following a group of teens hellbent on leaving their reservation life behind them after the loss of their pal Daniel (Dalton Cramer) and as the season carried out, each individual in the friend group got their own version of a standalone episode. Despite the show’s comedy categorization, this episode focusing on Devery Jacobs‘ Elora Danan manages to shatter hearts as she relives traumas from her childhood and her more recent past involving Daniel’s death. The episode’s emotional tone is aided by a stellar and surprising guest performance by comedian Bill Burr who portrays Coach Bobson, a driver’s ed instructor and former friend of Elora’s mother. — Meaghan Darwish

Glenn Morshower, Matt Czuchry, Corbin Bernsen in The Resident
Tom Griscom/FOX

"The Long and Winding Road," The Resident

It seemed impossible that The Resident would find a way to write out Nic once it was reported that Emily VanCamp was leaving and Matt Czuchry wasn’t that wasn’t completely devastating, but “The Long and Winding Road” took it a step further. From her friends realizing there was no way to save her to her husband Conrad bringing their daughter to see her and kissing her hand before she was brought to donate her organs, from her father Kyle’s (Corbin Bernsen) heartbreaking reaction to losing another daughter at Chastain to Czuchry and Bernsen’s performances, this is going to go down as likely the best and most memorable episode of the series. — Meredith Jacobs

Ted Lasso Season 2 Brett Goldstein and Phil Dunster
Apple TV+

"Man City," Ted Lasso

There’s no question that Apple TV+’s comedy is a feel-good series, but Ted Lasso tends to shine the most in its heartfelt and even more dramatic moments, and boy was this episode full of them. Whether it was Ted’s (Jason Sudeikis) care for Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles) following a freak biking accident or Roy’s (Brett Goldstein) comforting of former foe Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) after the player’s locker room run-in with his abusive father, there was a lot to unpack. Perhaps some of the most shocking revelations though were Ted telling Sharon about his father’s suicide and AFC Richmond owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) getting romantically swept away by player Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) all set to the background of Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know.” — Meaghan Darwish

David Boreanaz as Jason Hayes in SEAL Team

"Conspicuous Gallantry," SEAL Team

The way SEAL Team is exploring the effects of years of service on Jason Hayes (David Boreanaz, delivering some of his best performances) may be one of my favorite (and the best) storylines of the drama. And his TBI (traumatic brain injury) came to a head in this episode, with Clay (Max Thieriot) realizing just how bad it had gotten and Jason refusing to accept it. Following headaches and memory problems, Jason nearly killed his entire team by forgetting where explosives were in a building. With that revelation the fun of Bravo keeping themselves occupied while recuperating with hospital Olympics, and the flashbacks to the op that went sideways, it had the perfect mix of everything that makes the show so good. — Meredith Jacobs

Hacks - Episode 10 - Jean Smart

"I Think She Will," Hacks

There’s nothing quite like a mentorship tale, but it’s the unconventional nature of seasoned comedian Deborah Vance’s (Jean Smart) relationship with her reluctant young writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) that is the magical glue binding HBO Max’s Hacks together. Throughout the season, the women gear up for a make-or-break-it show that Ava begins dodging when a new work opportunity presents itself. Thinking she can balance her obligations doesn’t go too well when she needs excusing for a much more real reason as her father suffers from another stroke. In reaction, Deborah decides to revert back to her original show format, leading to a fight climactic fight between the women which results in Ava’s resignation from her position. Ultimately, when the dust settles, Deborah makes the wise choice of surprising Ava at her father’s funeral where the comedy vet asks for the writer to rejoin her on a new project. The catch? In anger, Ava sent a defamatory email about Deborah to her former prospective employers that could land her in hot water when the show returns for Season 2. — Meaghan Darwish

Mark Harmon as NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Sean Murray as NCIS Special Agent Timothy McGee in NCIS

"Great Wide Open," NCIS

A couple years ago it seemed impossible that NCIS would ever say goodbye to Mark Harmon (and therefore his character Leroy Jethro Gibbs) not only before the series ended but also in a rather quiet episode without any promotion (yes, for the shock, but still). But that’s what happened. Rather than get his badge back (after being suspended for beating up a man who ran a dogfighting ring and killed the losers), Gibbs chose to see if he could find peace in Alaska. Honestly, the reason this episode is memorable is Harmon is still part of the opening credits, serving as a reminder of his exit every episode. — Meredith Jacobs

Ghosts Pete's Wife Richie Moriarty
Bertrand Calmeau/CBS

"Pete's Wife," Ghosts

Ghosts is a fun and silly concept of a show that managed to surprise with its sixth installment which was all about Woodstone’s overenthusiastic scout leader, Pete (Richie Moriarty). This installment kicks off a string of episodes that delves into the spirits haunting the mansion where living couple Sam (Rose McIver) and Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar) now reside. After finding an old item of Pete’s he convinces Sam to get in touch with his wife in order to see her again, the one-sided visit has mixed results, but ultimately leads to a tear-inducing revelation that Pete’s daughter went on to have a kid of her own, a boy who is following in his grandfather’s scouting footsteps. Cue the awws. — Meaghan Darwish

Skylar Astin as Max, Jane Levy as Zoey in Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist
Michael Courtney/NBC/Lionsgate

"Zoey's Extraordinary Goodbye," Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist

The love triangle certainly wasn’t a highlight of Zoey‘s. But even as Team Max (Skylar Astin), there was something about Zoey (Jane Levy) and Simon’s (John Clarence Stewart) talks since the beginning. So the finale stands out not only for Zoey and Simon’s mature breakup, but also for reuniting Zoey and Max — complete with her going to the airport to stop him (cue the rom-com misunderstanding!) and that shocking cliffhanger of him hearing her sing a heart song! It was such a great set-up for a third season, and that cancellation stung, so at least there was a follow-up movie. — Meredith Jacobs

WandaVision Elizabeth Olsen
Marvel Studios

"Previously On," WandaVision

As a whole, WandaVision wows, but this particular installment soars with Elizabeth Olsen‘s incredible acting. After the first several episodes of the Disney+ Marvel series left fans wondering what sucked the Scarlet Witch and her synthezoid love into the ever-changing sitcom lifestyle of Westview, this chapter answers the big mystery. So overtaken by grief, Wanda creates the hex and manifests her version of Vision from the Mind Stone powers she holds within her. Westview is the spot that her love had purchased a plot of land in prior to his death at the hands of Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. Aware of this knowledge or not, Olsen’s performance speaks for itself and this stellar episode that also gave birth to one of the year’s best lines on TV: “what is grief, if not love persevering?” — Meaghan Darwish

David Eigenberg as Christopher Herrmann, Joe Minoso as Joe Cruz in Chicago Fire
Adrian S. Burrows Sr./NBC

"My Lucky Day," Chicago Fire

For a drama that specializes in big fires and lives-hanging-in-the-balance cliffhangers (including a season-ending one this year), it’s the bottle episode in which firefighters Christopher Herrmann and Joe Cruz (David Eigenberg and Joe Minoso delivering their best performances of the series) were trapped in a freight elevator that stands out. They were unable to communicate with the rest of the house fighting a fire above them, therefore having to save themselves (and those in there with them). But arguably the toughest part was they could hear the others, meaning that they could only listen as it sounded like they could lose Mouch (Christian Stolte) like they have others. Its action, tough calls, and emotional beats, put in the pressure cooker of the small space of the elevator — it was almost like a play — makes “My Lucky Day” a highlight not just of the year but the show so far. — Meredith Jacobs

Loki Season 1 Tom Hiddleston and Sophia Di Martino
Chuck Zlotnick/©Marvel Studios

"Journey Into Mystery," Loki

Out of every Disney+ Marvel series that was slated for 2021, Loki, was one of the least enticing initially, but I was glad to be proven very wrong. Loki ranks only slightly below WandaVision from a personal standpoint, and week after week, the series delivered engaging installments that expanded the MCU, introduced new characters, and put its lead through an array of challenges and emotions that really allowed Tom Hiddleston to shine alongside his equally talented costars. The fifth episode saw most of the action set in a place called the Void where Loki encounters more variants of himself — shoutout to Alligator Loki! — and reconnects with Mobius (Owen Wilson) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino). The wacky episode both raised the stakes and provided some much-needed answers as to where the series was heading in its finale. — Meaghan Darwish

Tom Payne as Malcolm, Michael Sheen as Martin in Prodigal Son

"The Last Weekend," Prodigal Son

Prodigal Son‘s cancellation will probably always sting, and that’s partly because of the way the series ended: Not only did profiler Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) stab (possibly killing) his serial killer father, Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen), but his love interest, Detective Dani Powell (Aurora Perrineau) — they never got to talk about their kiss! — saw. Among the lingering questions: How would Malcolm handle possibly killing his dad? Is Martin dead? Will Ainsley (Halston Sage) kill again? It’s a tough pill to swallow that they’ll never be answered. — Meredith Jacobs