Television

The Most Emotional Character Arcs of 2021


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When TV does its job right, it punches you straight in the heart. 

This year certainly wasn’t lacking in heart-wrenching moments.  

Even when the arcs didn’t work out — we weren’t left emotionally unaffected. 

Most Emotional Character Arcs of 2021 - Succession

Scroll down to find out our picks for the best and worst.

Queen Sugar’s Davis West – Best

Davis Cooks - Queen Sugar Season 5 Episode 9

Davis West’s redemption and reconciliation with Charley was the emotional story arc we didn’t we wanted to see until it happened, given how he lied, humiliated, and cheated on her in the past. 

Then when Charley came down with COVID-19, Davis didn’t hesitate to risk his health to stand vigil at Charley’s side, consult doctors, and ensure she got the care she needed. He was selfless and caring in a way Charley hadn’t seen previously.

It’s clear Davis put a lot of work into analyzing the stupid, hurtful choices he made in the past and working on being a better man — a man Charley can forgive.

Has Davis changed, and can this romance survive long-term? We never saw it coming, but this character arc is one we’re here to see. 

Ted Lasso’s Ted and Rebecca – Best

All of them came for Rebecca - Ted Lasso Season 2 Episode 10

Ted Lasso dug deeper into Ted and Rebecca’s pasts, revealing their pain stems from more than failed marriages but also because of troubled relationships with their fathers.

The arc climaxes with the emotionally-charged, dual scene of Ted and Rebecca opening up about the trauma they’ve suppressed for decades — his father’s suicide and the day she walked in on her father having an affair.

Jason Sudeikis and Hannah Waddingham act the hell out of the scene.

Combined with the editing, directing, writing, and music, their performances leave your heart aching. 

A Million Little Things’ Sophie Dixon – Best

Finding Her Path -tall  - A Million Little Things Season 4 Episode 8

When Peter Gregory groomed and assaulted Sophie under the guise of preparing her for her audition, Lizzy Greene moved from sporadic storylines to the big leagues.

She handled Sophie’s confusion over what happened to her with maturity.

Since then, Sophie has experienced a plethora of emotions.

She was angry at Gary for attacking Peter and her mom for being absent. Now, with the truth out, she’s realizing what she wants to do with her life still and moving forward. 

All American’s Olivia Baker – Best

Olivia Torn - All American Season 4 Episode 3

Olivia Baker is a survivor! She started drinking again to cope with her PTSD and the aftermath of the shooting she and Spencer survived together.

No one noticed how badly she suffered until she and Spencer were in a car accident, and she begged him to take responsibility. That was her rock bottom.

Instead of sending her away to rehab, the family agreed to work on meetings and counseling together. 

Since then, Olivia has become stronger at recognizing what she needs and is even sponsoring a young teenager. 

Squid Game’s Han Mi-nyeo – Worst

Shocked Han Mi-nyeo

Han Mi-nyeo had the potential to be a menacing force. However, her manipulativeness quickly became something to laugh at.

She provided some comedic relief, but she could have been more.

She achieved being hated, and her actress performed wonderfully, but Han Mi-nyeo was a wasted opportunity. 

She could have been redeemed or used as a catalyst for other characters, but she became a sorry mess no once missed after her death. 

Succession’s Kendall Roy – Best

Stepping Into the Air - Succession Season 3 Episode 1

Is there a character more emotionally exhausting than Kendall Roy?

Succession Season 3 began with him high on self-righteousness in the wake of publically calling out Logan’s involvement in the cruise ship scandal.

From there, he spiraled as he suffered the backlash. His substance abuse and mental health issues were made public. Everyone treated him like a joke. 

After Logan refused to buy him out, it wasn’t surprising Kendall resorted to drowning himself, but it was no less horrifying to watch.

Chicago P.D.’s Hailey Upton – Worst

Run with a Gun -tall  - Chicago PD Season 9 Episode 9

Hailey Upton remains a fan-favorite of the series. While some of us grumble about that, it is what it is. However, she’s confoundingly one of the most inconsistently written characters in the show’s history. 

We watched her ingratiate herself into a sticky situation with Voight that led to the death of the man responsible for kidnapping and nearly killing Burgess.

Slowly the events of covering up Roy’s death led Hailey down a guilt-ridden, traumatized, anxiety-induced path of sleepless nights, nightmares, panic attacks, and an emotional breakdown.

Except it was difficult to process a woman who previously orchestrated a cold-blooded murder without a second thought, prided herself in becoming like Voight, and frequently crossed the line on cases with the same easy smirk suddenly having  a full-blown breakdown over a good shoot.   

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s Sam Wilson – Best

The Family Boat - The Falcon and The Winter Soldier Season 1 Episode 1

Sam Wilson’s arc on his series often gets overshadowed by Bucky’s, which, ironically, coincides with the commentary the series made in the first place.

Sam struggled after the Blip and defeating Thanos.

However, the pressure of picking up the shield Steve bestowed upon him led to an impressive, in-depth exploration of history, race, and more as Sam weighed the responsibilities and risks of stepping into Captain America’s star-spangled shoes, particularly as a Black man.

Anthony Mackie was exceptional throughout the six-episode arc. He displayed Sam’s conflict, fear, hope, pain, and more, while doing what he does best and forming a partnership with Bucy as they figured out how to move on in the absence of their mutual best friend. 

Bucky and Sam - The Falcon and The Winter Soldier Season 1 Episode 4

Over to you, TV Fanatics!

Which TV characters do you think had the most emotional arcs this year?

Hit the comments below. 

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