What makes a great TV scene? Is it the payoff of seasons-long romantic tension? Is it the perfect needle drop in a climactic moment? Or is it just a quiet moment where great acting and great writing achieve a rare alchemy? The answer, of course, is all three — and so much more.
This year, in lieu of best episodes, the Autostraddle TV Team has gathered to share what we think are the best queer TV scenes of 2023. There’s a wide range of genres, shows, and moments, together showing the vast possibilities of queer television.
The Deadloch Choir, Deadloch
I can’t really get into any details of these scenes without spoiling the entirety of the series, but there is a cover of “All The Things She Said” and a cover of “We Belong” by the legendary local Deadloch choir (a town of lesbians) in the final episode of Deadloch that were just so fucking perfect. — Riese
Doom Duet, Doom Patrol
I am a sucker for a musical episode, and the Doom Patrol musical episode did not disappoint. The whole episode was so fun, but I was especially excited to see that I was not misreading the vibes and that Jane and Casey were actually into each other, as revealed by a sweet duet. Casey sings about feeling butterflies – a new sensation for someone who just popped off a comic book page – and Jane sings about feeling conflicted but feeling the same way. They even make what I have to assume is a Carol reference and say they were “flung from the timestream” and it’s all very cute and gay. — Valerie Anne
Victorine’s Death Scene, The Fall of the House of Usher
There are so many scenes I love from The Fall of the House of Usher, but of all the over-the-top death scenes, Victorine has the best, largely in part due to queer actor T’Nia Miller’s performance, which takes on an almost stage-like quality here. The red light, her pleading delusions, and her father’s rare display of genuine pain makes it all so urgent and gutting even as we know exactly what is about to happen. That’s often the fun of this show, which uses aesthetics and a mixture of humor and horror to thrill without over-relying on a puzzlebox structure. It doesn’t matter that you know what’s going to happen; it’s still a delight to watch. — Kayla
Yasuda Asks Helm Out (Finally), Grey’s Anatomy
If there’s one thing ya girl loves, it’s a nerdy and awkward queer who finally musters up the courage to ask their crush out after seemingly ENDLESS flirting. Bonus points if that same queer isn’t exactly sure if what’s happening is actually flirting. I’ve been Team Yasuda since she joined the latest crop of Lexie Grey Memorial Hospital of Every Malady and Disaster Ever interns. And Taryn Helm? She has somehow managed to get the shit end of the stick until she took a page out of the Simone Biles book of mental health and gave herself a break. I wish we got more Yasuda and Helm nuggets this season, but at least what we did get included the most adorable flirting, culminating in Yasuda finally ambling into the bar and word vomiting an invite to fellow intern Simone’s wedding. All while Helm just stood there, smirking, waiting for her girl to finish so she could say yes. Ugh! The cutest! I loved it. — Nic
Alice and Tasha’s Last Dance, The L Word: Generation Q
On the list of things so exciting to me that I will forgive all of said thing’s surrounding circumstances is Alice and Tasha having, at last, a sweet and romantic moment on the dance floor at Bette and Tina’s wedding. As a person who spent a lot of time in walk-in fridges at my various serving jobs, “call a firefighter” wouldn’t be my first move upon finding my pals locked into a walk-in fridge, but again — anything for Talice. ANYTHING. They had a sweet little moment about grief and Alice apologized and Tasha laughed TASHA LAUGHED and I cried and laughed too. — Riese
There is a lot that I will go down arguing that The L Word: Generation Q got wrong, especially in the wind down episodes of its final season. But this is not one of them. Tasha and Alice are magic. That was true when I was 20 years old, and Tasha laughed in her husky way when Alice asked if she liked “girly girls.” It was true when I watched “I’m a soldier for love” countless times on my laptop (if you were there, you get it, what’s known does not have to be said). That remains true now.
I just do not know what my imaginations of queer romance on television would look like without them. It’s that simple. For better or for worse, Tasha and Alice will always exist in the simplest and purest part of my heart. And if Gen Q was going to end in a tribute to nostalgic romances of the original series, I’m glad that this one scene — seemingly picked right from my own brain cells or the discarded drafts of my fan fiction — I’m glad that this one made the cut. — Carmen
“I Got You Babe”, The Last of Us
Surprise, surprise, I’m back with more TLOU feelings. After Riley spent who knows how long setting up one last adventure for her best friend before leaving on a Firefly mission, she introduces Ellie to the final Wonder of the Mall: a Halloween store. Ellie’s still reeling from the news that her bestie is leaving, and even after Riley shares that part of the reason is because she hasn’t felt chosen until the Fireflies, Ellie still puts on a brave face and tries to enjoy their last moments together. They don a pair of full Halloween masks and awkwardly dance and laugh to “I Got You Babe.”
Maybe it’s the silly dancing, maybe it’s the heightened emotions, but when Ellie takes off her mask and asks Riley to stay, she says “yes.” And Ellie is so surprised and relieved that she kisses Riley because maybe, just maybe everything will be okay. She apologizes immediately, and when Riley confirms her feelings with a “for what?” the two laugh in that way where you can’t believe how long you’ve held something in for fear of rejection, and then find out that your crush feels the exact same way. It’s innocent and sweet and heartbreaking, especially considering what comes next. — Nic
Losing Our Minds Together, The Last of Us
It was actually very hard to narrow down this episode to one scene, because “Left Behind” is easily my favorite episode of the season (sorry to everyone else’s favorite episode, “Long, Long Time,” I like you fine too) and it’s just all so, so good. The way they seamlessly wove what was extra content in the video games into the main story was brilliant, and I loved every second. But this is about scenes not episodes so since Nic has the happy stuff covered, I’m here to talk about one of the last scenes of the episode, and the most heartbreaking one.
After the best date ever has turned into the worst date ever, Ellie and Riley find themselves both bitten after a fight with an Infected. At first, Ellie is mad, smashing things and screaming. But eventually she slumps next to Riley and they realize they have to decide what to do next: they could take the easy way out, or they could lose their minds together…it’ll be poetic. Riley decides they shouldn’t quit, and that she doesn’t want to give up what little time they have left together, whether it’s minutes, hours, or days. It reminds me of a baby gay version of Dani and Jamie from Bly Manor. Enjoying every moment in case it’s the inevitable last. Riley and Ellie hold hands and cry and hold each other and love each other as much as they can for as long as they can. Bella Ramsey and Storm Reid acted the hell out of this episode, and especially this scene. — Valerie Anne
The Pantry Scene, Minx
Bambi and Shelly are having tea at Shelly’s house, and they’re speaking in heavy-handed metaphors, Shelly worrying at the placemat to avoid reaching out for Bambi. Using her coded language, she essentially tells Bambi that they can never be together again, and Bambi is bummed, but is willing to respect Shelly’s wishes…and then Shelly can’t resist anymore and kisses her anyway. Bambi checks in and makes sure that Shelly is sure, but Shelly is done denying herself this, at least for now. They kiss and kiss and end up in the pantry, which is convenient both for privacy and for post-coital snacking. It’s all very sweet and sexy. — Valerie Anne
The Bathtub, A Murder at the End of the World
A Murder at the End of the World begins with its main character, queer hacker Darby Hart, reading from her true crime book. Its early episodes suggest a show like any number of other crime shows where a detective — amateur or law enforcement — uses clues to catch a serial killer or two. But throughout the series, the genre itself is questioned and subverted. This is stated most explicitly in a scene during the penultimate episode during a flashback between Darby and her boyfriend Bill as they take a bath together after a traumatic experience. Darby wants to discuss the minutiae of the killer, but Bill pushes back. Who cares about the killer? He’s not interesting. He’s just the product of a broken world.
Emma Corrin and Harris Dickinson are both so good in this scene and the dynamic between Darby and Bill is a great example of realistically portraying queer people in “straight” relationships. Darby’s queerness is a part of her no matter who she’s dating and here that manifests in her being the more traditionally male partner — analytical, unemotional — and her cis male partner being more traditionally female — tender, emotional.
In terms of character and in terms of politics this is an excellent moment that encapsulates the great achievement of this unique mystery. — Drew
End of Year Wrap-Up, Riverdale
“Admittedly my allegiance to this program has wavered over the years, but when Kayla tipped us off to its even-more-overwhelmingly-gay vibe, I hopped right back on the train and rode it through a delightful gay fever dream. I didn’t even care about the absolutely bananas premise (in part because I already knew it’d give us gay returns before I started watching it). Because at the end of the series we were given a little montage about how all the whackadoodle storylines of their time warp season wrapped up with Kevin saying to Betty, “don’t tell me you suddenly forgotten that you, Archie, Veronica and Jughead have been in a quad this entire last year.’ I FOR ONE WILL NEVER FORGET” — Riese
Kiss Test, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
I really love what this show did with Roxie, giving her more character and depth than the movie. We get to see exactly what happened between Roxie and Ramona, and we get some real vulnerable moments between them amidst the cartoony chaos. But my favorite scene between them is in episode 103, after they make up, when Roxie asks her if they should kiss. Ramona politely declines but says she wants to be friends (no benefits), so Roxie decides to shoot her shot with Kim instead. Kim decides to give it a go, but after a kiss complete with Cruel-Intentions-esque spittle, they decide there are no sparks. It’s a funny, endearing scene between the three girls, and a lovely little queer moment. — Valerie Anne
First Queer Party, Sex Education
One of the best parts of the new season of Sex Education was its celebration of queer community. Of course, the show was very queer from the beginning, but, like many queer teens, our main characters were isolated by themselves or in small groups. This season, at a new progressive school, queerness was collective. Eric is excited to go to his first queer party — not counting his dalliance in Nigeria — and it’s a treat to witness his exuberance among his new friends. But the best part of this sequence is the scene between Cal and Roman. Their conversation about surgery and other gender health treatment is proof that trans characters can discuss transness without it being tropey. A less experienced trans person learning from a more experienced trans person is much different than a trans character explaining their medical history to a cis character. Especially during a time when trans youth are under attack, this moment states the necessity for them to access healthcare and shows the importance of community — Drew
Black Lady Therapy Scene (Purposefully Sung in the Tune A Black Lady Sketch Show’s “Black Lady Courtroom“), Survival of the Thickest
When we decided to gently move away from honoring “Best Episodes” to “Best Scenes” as a part of this year’s End Of Year Culture Lists package, I should have thought of Survival of the Thickest earlier. As a television show, Thickest was one of my favorite watches last year, but its queer plots did not quite stick the landing. Even as a singular episode, “Are You Crying, B…?” is not necessarily a standout its queer beats. But this one scene? This captured moment in time?
It is spectacular.
As Marley, bisexual sidekick to the series protagonist Mavis (Mavis Beaumont), Tasha Smith is a model of business suits, power, and control. There is not a moment in her life that is not accounted and planned for, filed away, and placed into a neat box (you know the type). She’s the kind of friend who always thinks that she knows best, especially in comparison to Beaumont’s Mavis, whose life is currently in shambles. But then a fling with her trainer leads to Marley hooking up with that trainer’s girlfriend and Marley realizes that — for the first time in her life — she’s had sex with a woman without a man present to “make it OK.” Her next stop? Her therapist’s office.
We realize that Marley isn’t scared of her bisexuality. She’s had decades of history sleeping with women. But this time felt different, Marley reflects, “it felt good, like free in a way that I didn’t expect.”
Her therapist, who’s also a Black woman, listens closely to what’s not said in between. Marley is a Black woman in her forties, “there may be aspects of your identity worth exploring that were out of reach to you because you weren’t given the vocabulary to access them.”
At that Marley, who shares Tasha Smith’s comic timing and has never met a joke she couldn’t knock out the park, sits quiet. Her therapist presses on, “what does your queerness look like when men are removed from the equation?”
Notably, there’s no judgment in her challenge. The light wraps both women in warmth, there’s a crinkle of kindness in their eyes as they meet each other. I’ve said it before, there are rarely “neat” coming out stories for Black women over a certain age. Compulsory heterosexuality, Black family values, and politics of respectability have not left a lot of room for Black women to find ourselves on our own terms. But Marley is safe here. Here she can breathe. She can be pushed, not be asked to make herself smaller, and find comfort in the gentleness of a Black woman who looks like her, understands her.
Do you see what I mean? A perfect scene, in an otherwise imperfect series. And so worthy of this list. — Carmen
One Last Kiss, Yellowjackets
I was genuinely torn between this scene and the scene from later in this same episode (207, “Burial”) when the Adult Yellowjackets are dancing and laughing together around the campfire but it’s intercut with Teen Shauna beating the shit out of Teen Lottie, so instead I’ll go with the gayer scene.
After a day of playing along with Lottie’s cult chores, Adult Van is hiding out with a bottle of Tequila, where Adult Taissa finds her. They talk for a moment, and then the chemistry they’ve both been resisting since the moment they were reunited reaches its breaking point and they smash together like two magnets that got too close. They kiss with such want, such need, such hunger that it threatens to consume them both. Taissa is the one to pull away first, apologizing and saying she wants this, she does, but she needs time. And time is something Van doesn’t have. She drops the C word on Tai and they both sit there with the years of lost time trailing behind them with no path back and before they can express regret or fear or really much at all besides Taissa’s shocked exclamations and Van’s resigned sighs, they’re interrupted. It’s a beautiful scene, acted brilliantly by Tawny Cypress and Lauren Ambrose, and you can see them channel Jasmin Savoy-Brown and Liv Hewson’s teen versions of their characters as they do. It’s a moment that makes me feel 900 different feelings in a short burst of time and I love it very much. — Valerie Anne
What are your picks for the best queer TV scenes of 2023?