Staffer Subjectivities: ‘Ted Lasso,’ ‘Hacks,’ ‘Younger,’ ‘Pen15,’ and more of our best 2021 TV moments

To mark the end of the year, our Subjectify team have picked out their best TV moments of 2021 to reminisce about.

We obviously needed highlight some of this year’s great TV, but rather than shows, or even episodes, we decided, for this list, to reflect on narrowing down our best TV moments of 2021, as selected by our team — the moments that we found the most memorable and impactful. Most of them are deeply emotional — some of them are humorous, some shocking, some cathartic. Some provided much-needed closure, or landed arcs brilliantly. Some were just a lot of fun. Some are genuinely game-changing. They’re all highly personal choices, and, as fits our ethos, they’re all highly subjective. These are our favorite scenes, and they’ll stick with us for a long time.

Here are twelve of Subjectify’s best TV moments of 2021 that aired on some of our most beloved shows.

‘WandaVision’ — Wanda’s Cozy Nighttime Goodbye

March 5 — ‘The Series Finale’: WandaVision was a dream come true. Wanda, as a character, has been a slow burn for me. She was cool in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but somewhere between there and Infinity War I realized what a special actress Elizabeth Olsen was. Wanda’s powers slowly fell to the wayside as I concentrated on things like her origin story and the subtle ways Liz portrayed the traumas relating to Wanda’s past. That trauma comes to its peak in the series finale, wherein Wanda is able to give Vision a proper, longer private goodbye in the comfort of their own wouldabeen home.

I have a soft spot in my heart for soothing bedtime scenes in media, and apparently so does Wanda. For her final moments with her magical family all intact, Wanda chose to settle Billy and Tommy down for the night, put on some cozy casual wear, and witness the end of Her World out the front window. Hand in hand with Vis, there was this specific beat where there was nothing. No dialogue, no action, just two people, quietly mourning all of what they wished could have been. The streetlights glow, dew covers the grass, the sound of crickets cover Westview in a blanket of comfortable noise, and nothing else matters.

MCU movies don’t like giving their heroes happy endings. If a character has a family, either the family or the character will die. I hope beyond all hope that Wanda will somehow get to live actual, real-life sitcom-esque goodnights with Viz, Billy, and Tommy; she won’t. There’s a reason we got such an extended and specific look at her ultimate dream in Vision’s last scene. It won’t happen again. — Mitch Clow

‘Nancy Drew’ — The Drew Crew huffs memory-wipe potion

April 7 — ‘The Scourge of the Forgotten Rune’: While there are about 8 billion tiny moments from seasons 2 and 3 of Nancy Drew that I could highlight here, I’m going to go with one that I have found myself purposely revisiting time and again. Not because it’s super shippy or scary or anything, but because it’s truly hysterical, and highlights the never-quit spirit of the Drew Crew at this stage in the show.

In Nancy Drew season 2, episode 11, the crew fights an entity that attacks anyone that knows its name. So, in order to survive, they keep inhaling a potion that makes them lose their memories. As they go on and on, trying method after method to kill this thing, they remind themselves via the iconic Claw clue board of who they are and what they’ve already tried. There’s something about this whole sequence that feels so quintessentially Nancy Drew. But in particularly THIS Nancy Drew, the supernatural show with the same spirit and joy the novels brought me all those years ago when I cracked them for the first time.

The sequence encompasses all kinds of emotions. You are laughing and happy as they try some truly absurd methods to kill this creature, sad as they fail time and time again, leading them to have to make a final choice between surviving and ever getting their memories back. And finally, tense as all hell when they discover a possible solution and have to take a HUGE risk to implement it. The whole crew is working toward one goal, not something that happens all that often these days. It’s a truly wonderful, magical episode, and one of my favorite TV moments of 2021. — Kristen Kranz

‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ — Bucky is freed from his programming in Wakanda

April 9 — ‘The Whole World Is Watching’: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier wasn’t exactly everyone’s favorite MCU property of 2021, and that’s okay. It was, honestly, a bit of an odd one. But the thing is. The thing is. It’s Bucky Barnes. In his own six-hour movie. After a decade of crumbs — crumbs! Yeah, it’s always going to be painful not seeing him around Steve Rogers any more, though I hold out hope. I don’t want to talk about the ending of Endgame, but I found it very weird that TFATWS didn’t deal directly with Steve’s “death,” and indulged in strange conspiracy theories about what happened to him. I think he’s probably on the space station with Nick Fury. But I digress.

I know a lot of people love Sam and Bucky, and of course, the strength of the buddy-comedy element between Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie is why we even got TFATWS. There were brilliantly funny moments, and some very moving moments between them as well. But Bucky’s decade-long arc as the Winter Soldier — what he went through with it, and what Steve went through without him, what he gave up to save him — that particular story, and the depth of the relationship, lives under my skin forever. Taking Steve out of the equation, the unique trauma of the Winter Soldier is the most compelling, empathetic, heartbreaking thing Marvel has, in my opinion, ever done. That story has literally changed my life in a number of ways, so my favorite parts of TFATWS were always going to be the parts that dealt with his recovery. I felt fairly well-fed in this department, what with the therapy and reparations, but the moment that really took me out at the knees was one I was not expecting to see, at all.

I have to go back a little. In the years following Captain America: The Winter Soldier, one of the greatest, cleverest, most interesting fandoms I’ve ever been a part of emerged, all focused around the MCU’s portrayal of Bucky and Steve, platonic or otherwise, and on a more general scale, that movie raised the bar for the MCU in terms of sheer quality, particularly character depth, as well. But during the production of Captain America: Civil War, more and more Marvel cast kept getting announced, and the Cap fandom en masse was basically like, what the fuck? Spider-Man? This is an Avengers movie now. Not a Captain America movie. What is happening? Which, sure, the Civil War story in the comics does lend to that! We knew that. But I think we WERE under the misapprehension that the titular Civil War conflict would be a separate issue, and that Steve’s search for Bucky would take a total backseat and barely matter, especially given the careless way that Joss Whedon barely addressed it in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

But the Russos are not Whedon. I have rarely been so thrilled and stunned as when I sat down in the movie and realized that no, Bucky IS the story. He’s the catalyst for the Civil War, because Steve is going to choose him. And it tells you right from the start: this is Bucky’s movie, this is the whole point, because it opens on that flashback to Bucky’s time as the Asset, and the introduction of those Russian words: Longing. Rusted. Furnace. Daybreak. Seventeen. Benign. Nine. Homecoming. One. Freight Car. The verbal code to activate Bucky’s programming and make him “ready to comply.” So you may see where this is going.

For me, one of the best 2021 TV moments was something that broke my heart in the best way possible — the flashback to Bucky, set during the time he lived in Wakanda, being tested with his code words by the Dora Milaje warrior Ayo in order to prove that Shuri’s process worked. That he is, at last, free of the brainwashing. The moment is included to show us that Bucky owes Ayo, that there’s a relationship there, but I think it was also chosen to tug on the heartstrings for all of those who love him so dearly, to get the chance to shed tears alongside him as we witness his healing after all this time. My partner is even more invested in Bucky Barnes than I am, so this was a pause the television and cry it out moment for the household. — Natalie Fisher

Related: Staffer Subjectivities: ‘Plan B,’ ‘CODA’, musicals, Marvel, and more of our best 2021 movie moments

‘Mythic Quest’ — The team enters the game itself for Everlight

April 16 — ‘Everlight’: I wish I could say Mythic Quest’s entire “Everlight” episode is my favorite moment because a truer statement has never been uttered. Both pandemic installments of Mythic Quest stand out for a variety of reasons, and last year’s “Quarantine” landed a gut punch so powerful it brought me to tears. As good as that episode was, however, there’s something truly magical about the one where the crew celebrates Everlight.

It marks a return to the workplace, as well as a celebration of what the team has accomplished while they were working from home. Food and frivolity and friends seeing each other again for some real face-to-face interactions still feels novel in a time where COVID continues to plague our society. But Everlight — both the episode and the actual holiday — reinvigorates the show, the characters, and us as viewers.

Ian’s revelation that he rigs the game to make sure the underdog wins is both not at all surprising and somehow still heartwarming. Sure, the tournament isn’t real, but the joy it brings his team is tangible, and he knows it helps them blow off steam and get them through the next year. This truly is one of the most exciting episodes of the series because it blends office drama between co-workers with the supernatural drama of the video game. As much as I love this episode from start to finish, my favorite moment was when Ian, Poppy, and Brad embrace this fictional reality, and we see what their battle looks like as though it were happening within the game. The CGI is beyond impressive, and that final struggle between good and evil is as high-stakes and exciting as anything I’ve seen in theaters this year. — Karen Rought

‘Hacks’ — Deborah shows up at the funeral

June 10 — ‘I Think She Will’: If there’s one thing I’m always going to be a sucker for, it’s stories about deeply damaged people who clash with one another before ultimately coming to learn that they are each the piece the other is missing. It’s a decidedly romantic trope, and perhaps that’s why the Hacks season finale hit me so hard. I simply hadn’t been expecting Deborah to pull a move straight out of a romcom. Over ten episodes, we watched Deborah and Ava go from mutual animosity, to just barely tolerating one another, to becoming genuine—if tentative—friends, so after their somewhat explosive argument at the beginning of the season finale, it was clear that something big had to happen to get them back together again.

That something big came in the form of Deborah showing up at Ava’s father’s funeral, a moment that so perfectly encapsulated rom-communism (to borrow a term from Ted Lasso, another of my 2021 TV darlings) that I had to pause the episode to fully process it. “It’s exhausting to lose a loved one. And now everybody’s uncomfortable because they think that no one has anything nice to say about this man. And I know that you do. Not because I knew him. I didn’t. But I know his daughter. And I know that he had to be a very special person to raise someone like her.”

Deborah’s words at the funeral, and the surprisingly sweet conversation between the two characters in Ava’s childhood bedroom that followed, made one thing abundantly clear: these two women need one another. Professionally, yes, but also personally. And there’s a kind of intrinsic romance there that just plain fascinates me. What can I say? I just want these two crazy kids (read: this 20-something mess and the 70-something mess who hired her) to work things out. — Cass Cooper

‘Younger’ — Liza’s perfect romantic endgame in the series finale

June 10 — ‘Older’: Let’s be honest, Younger season 7 was pretty messy. Pandemic protocols, missing characters, and a few truly absurd arcs made for a pretty rocky viewing experience overall, but in my opinion, the show did a great job of turning it all around for the series finale. Career-wise, the happily-ever-for-nows for Kelsey, Liza, Charles, and Josh were spectacularly on point. Charles gave up a career that was clearly draining him for more creative pursuits. Kelsey took a huge leap away from the company that gave her everything in the classiest way possible. Liza was finally rewarded with a position worthy of her prowess, and she didn’t even have to lie about her age to accept it. Josh had the biggest glow up of all, combining his artistry with the business savvy he’d gained throughout the series and purchasing an entire building in New York City!

All of that was amazing, and made for an extremely satisfying Younger series finale after a widely disappointing final season. However, there was one moment from the episode that has lived in my mind rent free since it aired. Of course, this was the final moment of the series, when Liza and Josh came back together in the same way they started. Josh proclaimed that he’d been right there, all along, and Liza knew it to be true. I was so thrilled that Liza and Josh were endgame. Where Charles never seemed to understand Liza and constantly caused her to question everything, with every hurdle Josh was able to love Liza for exactly who she was. He was cool and consistent, and he enriched the lives of Liza and her friends in so many ways, where Charles always seemed to pull Liza away from the other people that mattered to her.

I was also so happy that Liza’s Younger story ended with love, rather than independence. She began the series by leaving her dead marriage and starting anew. She ended the series with a relationship that she could thrive in. It was perfect, and after a season of Liza and Josh barely speaking, I truly didn’t expect it! Cut to me, mouth agape, as the final moments of Younger brought these two back together, and you have my favorite TV moment of 2021. — Kendra Cleary

Related: Staffer Subjectivities: ‘Kung Fu,’ ‘The Sandman,’ ‘Strange New Worlds,’ and more of our most anticipated 2022 TV

‘Cat People’ — Samantha Martin’s ‘cat lady’ interview

July 7 — ‘The Cat Show Must Go On’: I am and have always been very much a cat person. I’m more so one now after adopting my quarantine kitty (and love of my life) Josie the Pussycat. (Or Josephine Margaret when she’s in trouble.) And so when I saw that Netflix was doing a show called Cat People, I thought it might be fun to watch. I was wrong.

It was not fun. It was emotional. I can’t believe how seen this show makes me feel. There is not a single episode that didn’t make me cry or want to hug my cat a little tighter, but the second episode in particular, titled “The Cat Show Must Go On,” really got to me. Following Samantha Martin, a woman who opened a mini cat rescue (I believe) and started a performing cat “band,” this episode dives in to what it’s like to love cats and be labeled a “cat lady.” At one point, the subject of the episode mentions offhandedly how it’s not like guys are lining up to talk to her because of the stigma around her and what she loves. It’s heartbreaking, especially in the way she delivers that sentiment so matter of factly.

Her love for the cats she cares for and calls her family is such a beautiful thing, and yet there’s this frustrating stigma over loving cats that isn’t at all present for or applicable to dog lovers. Cats are beautiful creatures that are discerning but generous with the love they give. This show is the perfect tribute to them and the relationships we cat lovers have with them, and no episode or other moment in the series is more emblematic of that than that personal interview in “The Cat Show Must Go On.” — Danielle Zimmerman

‘Ted Lasso’ — Roy hugs Jamie at Wembley

September 10 — ‘Man City’: All of Ted Lasso season 2 was absolutely brilliant but this scene… oof. I froze, I gasped so hard my throat hurt, I started weeping and couldn’t stop for ages. It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a powerful, almost physical reaction to a piece of television. That being said, it’s also been a long time since I’ve loved the way an actor performs a character as much as I love Phil Dunster as Jamie Tartt. I liked him in season 1, but since season 2 began, I literally haven’t stopped thinking about him for more than about 6 hours at any given time. That being said again, I don’t think the brilliance of this moment is down to my peculiar and borderline obsessive bias – it made a pretty big splash in the general pop culture conversation. Even my 73 year old father, who has never, in over a decade, been able to understand exactly I do writing online about television, or even properly follow a television storyline or remember characters himself, talked to me with vigour, of his own volition, about Roy and Jamie, when he watched the show on my recommendation.

There’s so much about Jamie’s arc that Ted Lasso has portrayed subtly but clearly, in the expert way it tends to do for most characters, right from day one. We knew the basics about his father, that he only showed up when Jamie made a name for himself, that he’s more interested in supporting Manchester City than his own son. That he’s violent. We know that Roy, despite being adversarial with Jamie once they were stuck on a team together, was Jamie’s childhood hero, a man he literally looked up to in a poster on his wall. So when Richmond lose to Man City and James Tartt makes his way in to Richmond’s locker room in order to taunt his devastated son, what plays out is tense, impactful, horrifying, and perfect.

The way Dunster performs this scene, the way he tries to control himself, the way he tries to apply calm boundary-setting tactics – because Jamie, like most of the players, has been in therapy all season with the wonderful Dr Sharon, and it seems clear that he must have discussed this issue in how he attempts to repeat a script that he’s been coached on – the way he finally snaps, and the way he freezes… Hand that man the Emmy just for the way he stands in silence as the weight of what’s occured, in front of everyone, crushes him. But that fucking hug, man, the way he flinches at first and then crumbles and clutches onto Roy, sobs into his neck. The complete lack of both diegetic and non-diegetic sound, until that fucking George Harrison song kicks in. Fictional male intimacy is a helluva drug.

It had to be Roy. It couldn’t be anyone else. But the Ted of it all doesn’t escape me either. This isn’t the first time that Ted has avoided facing Jamie’s trauma regarding his father. In fact, the very subject seems to trigger him. A memory of James Tartt’s earlier abuse triggers Ted’s panic attack in 2.06, and this scene causes him to run out and tell Sharon about his own dad’s suicide – a reveal that’s been a long time coming. Something is up, in terms of Ted, when it comes to Jamie. He’s never handled Jamie’s whole deal well, and I have more to say about that in future. So this moment was important to me in that way too. It means so much to me that Roy was the one to help Jamie in that moment. Those two have their own love story, and their whole season 2 journey is amazing. So it matters, that it was Roy. But it also matters that it wasn’t Ted. This moment was a huge catalyst for many things on Ted Lasso – and probably more still to come. — Natalie Fisher

‘What We Do in the Shadows’ – The reveal that Lazlo knew about Colin Robinson

October 21 — ‘A Farewell’: The third season of What We Do in the Shadows played the long con, with the show’s crassest but most loveable character at the center. In a season of standout episodes, including one memorable trip that the ensemble takes to Atlantic City, it was the pairing of energy vampire Colin Robinson with Lazlo Cravensworth that appeared a bit odd at first. In one episode, the duo disassemble and reassemble a car, in another Lazlo keeps Colin close for a game night, and in another, the duo steal a boat and face off with a siren. Lazlo does not have a lot of patience for people he is not trying to get into bed, and Colin Robinson is not exactly a partner of choice.

When the group gains access to the library belonging to the Vampiric Council of the Eastern Seaboard at the start of the season, Colin Robinson begins his venture into the lineage of energy vampires. As he tries to untangle where he fits into the world, Lazlo tries his best to make him feel like he belongs in their own found family unit. But these little moments don’t quite add up until episode 9, “The Farewell,” and Lazlo’s forceful insistence that everyone not only sign a card which sings “The Hamster Dance” for Colin Robinson’s 100th birthday, but prepare to say their goodbyes.

Unbeknownst to the audience, the other vampires, or Colin Robinson himself, Lazlo had found a page in an old book that explains that energy vampires die on their 100th birthday. Despite the very unsavory exit of Colin Robinson, the moment when Lazlo’s efforts over the course of the season come to light is one of the best moments on television this year, if not the past five. — Brittany Lovely

Related: Staffer Subjectivities: ‘Downton Abbey,’ ‘Lightyear,’ and more of our most anticipated 2022 movies

‘Legacies’ — Hope’s transition into a true tribrid

November 4 — ‘See You on the Other Side’: This “moment” encompasses a few different scenes and bits from a couple of different episodes of Legacies, but just hang in there with me. Hope finally making the transition from witch/werewolf hybrid to fully fledged tribrid has been three seasons of Legacies and at least one season of The Originals in the making. We’ve watched her go from birth to death, literally, as she gives up her life to put the final nail in Malivore’s coffin, thereby saving her friends from any more of the monsters or havoc that he could try to wreak ever again.

And the moment she completes her transition and has access to all three parts of her supernatural identity — witch, werewolf, and vampire — she becomes the most powerful creature the world has ever known. More powerful than her Original vampire family members, even, because not only does she have the immortality they enjoy, with only one true threat to her supernatural existence here on Earth, but she also has full access to her magic as well as the ability to turn into a werewolf on command. She is truly one of a kind now, a creature the world has never seen.

And then, less than a few hours after she drinks human blood and completes her transition, she does the unthinkable and loses her humanity in the process. Hope is now on a terrifying trajectory. She’s a supremely powerful being with very few ties to family to use to convince her to turn her emotions back on, and, most importantly, is desperate to avoid grieving the greatest love of her life so far. Hope has a long way to go, and hopefully Legacies will have a chance to give us the full width and breadth of her story. It will be one to remember, that’s for sure. — Kristen Kranz

‘Pen15’ — The last moments of the series finale

December 3 — ‘Home’: I get that Pen15 isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for me this weird little show is a creative masterpiece — a work of art that feels so pure and authentic I’m genuinely shocked it ever got the chance to exist. The brain-child of Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle (two thirty-something women playing 7th grade best friends,) the beauty of Pen15 has always been its way to make us look back at the most chaotic version of ourselves with so much love.

It’s a love letter to teen girlhood — that time in our lives when we’re most passionate — when our anger and grief and joy hasn’t yet been squashed so that it can fit into palatable displays of consumption for others. We felt ugly and awkward, but Pen15 reminds us that so much of us was so beautiful then, and the person we are today is beautiful now. Knowing that the real life versions of Maya and Anna have gone through such dramatic transformations in their own lives (both became mothers within the last year, in the middle of a global pandemic) adds a depth to the final season that feels all the more poignant.

The 13 year-old versions of the girls are growing up and going through changes, not all of which are comfortable. Their firsts are underwhelming, and even at times traumatizing, but as the two girls (played by two happy and successful grown women) sit watching their old dance video in the final moments of the finale, we’re given the room to accept the grace that we aren’t defined by our own worst memories. And though the girls might be nervous about the future, we can let go knowing they’re going to be okay. Knowing that after all that, we’re still pretty okay. What a life that even the messiest and most mundane parts of ourselves can still be so breathtaking. — Ariana Quiñónez

‘The Wheel of Time’ — Moiraine and Siuan’s romance is revealed

December 10 — ‘The Flame of Tar Valon’: Although I watched a lot of stellar tv this year (shout out to Ted Lasso, Word of Honor, and Kung Fu), it’s hard to compete in a year that saw my 30-year wish for an adaptation of my favorite book series come true. While I have gone on at great length about how The Wheel of Time has met and exceeded most of my emotional needs, episode 6, ‘The Flame of Tar Valon,’ went above and beyond.

Related: ‘The Wheel of Time’ season 1, episode 6 review: The clandestine gay sex portal

It may be odd that a moment that doesn’t come from the books is my favorite tv moment of 2021, but television is not books and 2021 is not 1990. Ever so slightly updating the books with the amazing casting and with more evolved gender politics has breathed fresh life into the series and allowed it to resonate in new ways that still feel true to Jordan’s story. Nowhere is that more noticeable than with the relationship between Moiraine and Siuan Sanche. While this relationship was hinted at in the books as a youthful dalliance, in the show it comes into its own. We get two powerful women, privately aligned, in both their mission and their love, and publicly at odds.

The dynamic that was set up, supported by the unreal chemistry between Rosamund Pike and Sophie Okonedo, left me wanting more, more, more from this couple. The absolute highlight was Moiraine’s instantly iconic, ad libbed, repetition of “On your knees.” Wait, I’m sorry, let me just pause to fan myself a little bit. The mirroring of the “public” scenes in the throne room and the “private” scene in Siuan’s fishing hut helped us understand what each woman is giving up and what each woman is willing to risk to do what they think is right. And also, it was very hot. — Nichole David