Networks are making, and people are watching, more TV than ever before. It's the era of Peak TV, when there are so many shows vying for your attention it's impossible to keep track, and 2017 has only seen that intensify.
Conversely, the art of the individual episode is, while not completely lost, something that's seemingly given less attention. Streaming services offer everything up in one bingeable gulp, meaning episodes good and bad can get lost in the bigger whole, and it's an approach more and more viewers are taking to other, non-streaming series, preferring to wait for them to all be available. It makes some sense too, since prestige shows are increasingly complex narrative puzzles, and an episode is just one part of that.
It means that an episode has to have something special to stand out, to be remembered and celebrated on its own terms. Whether that's a unique voice, a strong message, awesome spectacle, or just a number of memorable moments, all of these episodes managed it in 2017.
After three seasons of varying quality, where the show never quite felt like an essential cog in the MCU, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. changed things up for Season 4. It aired later and got darker, while the season itself was split into three different 'pods': Ghost Rider, LMD, and Agents of HYDRA.
Each had their merits, but it was the middle that took the most storytelling risks, with the Life-Model Decoy doppelgangers and simulated world the Framework, and all that paid off in Self Control, which stands alongside 4,722 Hours as one of the series greatest episodes.
But where that was praised for being so different, Self Control utilises the main elements of SHIELD to their full potential. It was co-creator Jed Whedon's first episode as director, and it's a hell of an effort, with strong action, impressive effects, and an emotional core to the episode too.
The latter comes via the team-up of Daisy Johnson and Jemma Simmons, along with the FitzSimmons arc in the episode. It has some thrilling moments as Daisy unleashes her powers, but more impressive are the twists and turns involving the LMDS that keep you guessing and keep on surprising you throughout, with great payoff at the end for both the instalment and the whole middle pod.