Yes, we all watched a whole bunch of TV while we were stuck inside all year… but at least we got to see some pretty cool things along the way.
TV is a visual medium, and with the streaming services throwing big bucks at new shows, we’re living in a golden age of eye-popping special effects and bone-crunching fight scenes. As part of our ongoing Year in Review series, we here at TVLine are looking back at the year’s coolest scenes: the visually stunning shots and sequences that had us saying “whoa.”
Our selections for 2020’s top eye candy include a Star Wars fan favorite joining The Mandalorian, a heaven-sent fight scene in a church on Blindspot, a fond farewell on The Good Place — and even a heart-wrenching rendition of a classic rock tune by the Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist cast. (And HBO’s Lovecraft Country was so visually dazzling, it made the list twice.)
Read on to see which scenes wowed us this year (we’ve included videos and GIFs wherever possible, so you can be wowed right along with us), and then hit the comments and tell us which scenes really knocked your socks off… visually speaking, of course.
Still to come in TVLine’s Year in Review: Quotes of the Year, Biggest Cast Exits, Series Finales Graded and much more!
The Mandalorian (Season 2, Episode 5)
Sure, we suspected that Ahsoka Tano would make her live-action debut at some point in Season 2, played by Rosario Dawson. But nothing could have prepared us for how masterful and efficient her grand entrance was, bright white sabers slashing through the dead forest’s dark fog as she felled scout guard after scout guard. (P.S. A similarly spectacular “debut,” from the Dec. 18 finale, gets honorable mention but was held back for fear of spoilers.)
The Queen's Gambit (Episode 1)
We first got a window into Beth Harmon’s gifted mind in the series’ first episode, when a young Beth lay in bed awake and visualized a flurry of chess moves on the ceiling. Giant bishops and rooks moved across the board under Beth’s mental command — and even if you didn’t understand chess at all, you could understand that this little girl is very special indeed.
Westworld (Season 3, Episode 1)
It’s ironic that in the splashy HBO sci-fi drama’s third season, we were most wowed not by the CGI androids (though those are still pretty cool) but by Dolores’ sophisticated day-to-night look — which was achieved through good ol’ costume-department magic.
Better Call Saul (Season 5, Episode 7)
We’ve been waiting five seasons to see Jimmy McGill transform into Saul Goodman, and AMC’s Breaking Bad prequel cleverly illustrated his dual identity with this beauty of a shot, with Jimmy’s face split in half and reflected back, funhouse mirror-style. It was a clear visual cue that Jimmy is changing… and he’s not about to change back.
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist (Season 1, Episode 12)
The NBC dramedy pulled off some elaborate musical numbers in its first season, but none left a bigger impression than “American Pie,” a seven-minute performance filmed almost entirely in one take. Spanning an entire afternoon at the wake for Zoey’s father, Mitch, the number was an incredible feat of behind-the-scenes TV production, ending with the emotional gut-punch of Jane Levy’s Zoey singing the final chorus a cappella. (Read how the scene came together.)
Lucifer (Season 5, Episode 8)
In the brutal brawl that closed out the midseason finale (directed by cast member Kevin Alejandro), it was cool enough to see Lucifer get hurled through a glass pane, shattering it in super slow motion. But when Maze then stepped through the frozen-in-time shards, swatting some away with her hand? Simply mesmerizing.
The Good Place (Season 4, Episode 13)
When Eleanor and company were ready to say goodbye for good in the NBC afterlife comedy’s series finale, they traveled to a serene forest filled with towering trees where they walked through a portal to dissipate their eternal essence. (The gorgeous scenes were filmed in the California redwoods near San Francisco, series creator Michael Schur says… and the arch of branches was left over from a wedding!)
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (Season 1, Episode 2)
Who wouldn’t have been smitten with Fly Rico if, as Mateo did in “Dead People Lie Down,” they happened upon the pachuco playboy cutting a rug at the Crimson Cat with the precision of a surgeon and the swagger of a Valentino? Even if we could only dream of having the future lovers’ moves, we couldn’t help but be moved by their ecstatic dance.
Legacies (Season 2, Episode 13)
We knew that this latest installment in the Vampire Diaries saga loved taking big swings. But big wings? That was unexpected. Not only was it extremely satisfying to see Landon finally embrace his inner phoenix, but the way his fiery heroics seamlessly faded into a sweet romantic exchange was just perfection.
Lovecraft Country (Season 1, Episode 6)
Even if you went into this episode knowing what a kumiho is and is capable of, Jamie Chung’s first “love” scene as Ji-ah was an unnerving spectacle, as fox tails sprouted out from here, there… everywhere… to add another soul to her kill list.
Blindspot (Season 5, Episode 11)
In its series finale and 100th episode, Blindspot delivered its most ambitious fight scene, a sequence in which Jane (played here by stunt double Heidi Germaine Schnappauf) tussled with multiple bad guys at the top of a cathedral, encountering obstacles along the way like literal fire. Though series creator Martin Gero admitted “there is a stitch” where a new take was used, most of the scene was filmed in a continuous shot, making the lengthy fight even more impressive. (Read how the scene came together.)
Helstrom (Season 1, Episode 2)
As Ana took a phone call she didn’t much care for, what better way to illustrated her decidedly darker, deadlier aura than to have an entire flower shop display wither and wilt as she strolled on by?
Devs (Season 1, Episode 5)
Multiple times in its fifth episode, the mind-bending FX on Hulu drama gave us a visual representation of the multiverse — the theory that there are infinite alternate timelines in which slightly different versions of our lives take place. When Alison Pill’s Katie stormed out of a university lecture, we watched a dozen different Katies leave the building, always choosing a slightly different path down the front steps in each timeline. Later, when Nick Offerman’s Forest lost his wife and daughter to a car accident, we saw all the different iterations of that tragedy unfold — including some bittersweet timelines where the crash never happened at all.
Raised by Wolves (Season 1, Episode 6)
When Mother was led into a virtual space to reunite with her beloved Creator, no metaphor was shied away from as their entwined bodies were bathed in an explosive deluge of… well, whatever you call that milky fluid that oozes out of androids.
Upload (Season 1, Episode 5)
In Amazon’s hilariously dystopian sci-fi comedy, the afterlife is a cheerful virtual-reality experience where everything has a price tag… and we mean everything. Here, Nathan and his dead pals visited the grubby underground “Grey Market” where the deceased can purchase illegal hacks like sex robots and age-altering tattoos. It was a chaotic wonderland of sin that put Upload‘s twisted vision of the future on full display.
Lovecraft Country (Season 1, Episode 8)
Even on a purely emotional level, there was so much going on in this hungry coupling between Ruby (as Hilary) and Christina (as William). But when Ruby, in the throes of ecstasy, shed the white woman’s skin she had donned to endure the day of Emmett Till’s funeral, it spoke to who she really was, and most wanted to be, in her lover’s arms.