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Here’s the best TV episodes of 2017 (so far)

Image: mashable composite/abc/fx/netflix

We’re at the halfway point of 2017, so all this week Mashable entertainment will be rolling out our 8.5 (Get it, half of ’17?) picks for the best of the year – so far! – in movies, TV, music, and more. It’s our eight best picks for you, along with a bonus choice that, while not strictly one of the greats, deserves a guilty pleasure mention. Enjoy.

It is a truly terrifying time to be alive, but when it comes to television, that’s terrifying in a good way. We may not share peak TV the way we used to, but there’s more quality television than ever telling an impressive range of stories.

So here they are, in no particular order: The best TV episodes of 2017 so far — and cheers to many more.

Note: Some of these contain spoilers, so get to watching already!

1. Master of None, "Thanksgiving"

Image: netflix

Whether or not it gets a third season, Master of None Season 2 should go down in television history as a master class in the craft. As the show’s de factor leading man, Aziz Ansari takes a backseat and lets everything else about his show shine; the audacity of a black-and-white Italian episode, the arresting charm of Alessandra Mastronardi, the ordinary citizens of New York, the endearing Eric Wareheim, the inimitable Lena Waithe.

"Thanksgiving" is Waithe’s story, and it is brilliantly told (with the help of masterful cinematography and a fantastic performance by Angela Bassett as Denise’s mother). For every Hollywood producer or director intimidated by the alleged weight of intersectional storytelling, take note: It’s natural when your creators and performers are as diverse as the stories you aspire to tell.

2. The Handmaid’s Tale, "Faithful"

For a show about a society based on forced sexual servitude, The Handmaid’s Tale used its story and flashbacks to create some truly stirring images of love and sex. In episode 5, Sabrina (Yvonne Strahovski) suggests Offred (Elizabeth Moss) have sex with Nick (Max Minghella) in the hopes that it will get her pregnant. The two have shared a connection since they met, but for audiences who wanted them to sleep together, this forced act was the opposite of what anyone wanted.

In flashbacks we see how June and Luke met and fell in love, complete with a beautifully shot scene of their first night together at a hotel. At the end of the episode, furious with her circumstances, Offred — June — returns to Nick. They wordlessly remove their clothes — never once breaking eye contact — and have actual, amazing, consensual sex — the ultimate middle finger to the Gilead regime.

3. Dear White People, "Chapter V"

Image: netflix

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Dear White People is essential viewing (especially if the title is addressing you directly, ahem). In episode 5, still reeling from a blackface party on campus, the students of Winchester attend a regular old party. An argument between Reggie (Marquee Richardson) and a friend leads someone to call campus security, and before we know it Reggie is being held at gunpoint. It feels ridiculous in the moment to see the events escalate that quickly, yet they do so in real life every day.

4. The Leftovers, "The Book of Nora"

Image: ben king/hbo

There is a very high probability that you haven’t seen The Leftovers and are tired of writers on the internet (hello!) pontificating about it. But there is a reason that Damon Lindelof and Tom Perotta’s loss-laden epic is such a gorgeous, twisted tale. It’s no secret Lindelof saw the finale as redemption for backlash to Lost, and "The Book of Nora" succeeded magnificently. The Leftovers was never about answer questions or solving mysteries; it wasn’t beholden to audiences and advertisers like something like Lost, so it was free from the start to be a rich character canvas for its creators. Carrie Coon gives an impactful performance as Nora Durst in the best sendoff we never imagined, one we’ll be thinking about for years to come.

5. Girls, "What are we going to do this time about Adam?"

Image: mark schafer/hbo

Girls has always excelled at specialized or bottle episodes, so when all signs in Season 6 pointed toward Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Adam (Adam Driver) getting back together, there was no better way to tackle it than throwing them together for the entire episode. The premise alone was too alluring to miss — could these two wildly dysfunctional characters beat the odds and get together? Is television — and by extension, life — all about endgame and settling down with the person who was under your nose all along?

We probably already knew the answer, and so did Hannah and Adam. Dunham does some of her best acting of the series in that diner scene alone as she realizes the last magical solution to her problems is little more than a dream.

6. The Good Place, "Michael’s Gambit"

NBC’s The Good Place is hardly doing The Big Bang Theory numbers, but lord, it should be. If the premise didn’t hook you — Eleanor (Kristen Bell) dies and finds herself mistakenly in "the good place" but tries to make it work — then maybe the twist will. At the end of Season 1, Eleanor and her friends figure out that they aren’t in the Good Place at all, but the Bad Place, and they’re doomed to deal with each other’s neuroses for the rest of eternity — unless they find a way out.

7. Legion, "Chapter 7"

Legion’s first season was a wild ride that reached its climax on the astral plane. The last several episodes feel like one long movie; Oliver (Jemaine Clement) introduces the idea of the Shadow King, a parasite rooted in David’s (Dan Stevens) mind. We come to realize that the parasite is Lenny (Aubrey Plaza), and that David’s father fought the Shadow King, who threatens to break free of David in this episode and wreak havoc on the unsuspecting world.

8. Black-ish "Lemons"

Black-ish long ago proved itself an eloquent and empathetic canvas for the writers to address otherwise volatile racial and social issues. The first episode of 2017, "Lemons," premiered nine days before Donald Trump was sworn into office. In it, the Johnson family must face the consequences of the 2016 election and each member finds a different way of making lemonade out of a seemingly hopeless situation. Perhaps the most marvelous part was the discourse at Dre’s (Anthony Anderson) office, where different people explain why they voted the way they did without ending up at each other’s throats — at least not after the dust has settled.

8.5: The Last Man On Earth, "Got Milk?"

Since its inception, Will Forte’s morbidly hilarious brainchild has shown unprecedented ambition. The small, skillful core cast has dealt with PTSD and loss, and the writers stretch their creativity in bringing in virus survivors from space or sea. The second half of Season 2 started with Pamela (Kristen Wiig), a wealthy socialite who watches the virus destroy her world from the outside in. Wiig carries the episode effortlessly because she’s Kristen freaking Wiig, and it made us wonder what other untold stories we may discover in this world.