Alright, so this is the follow-up to Wednesday’s list of my favorite 150 episodes. What follows is going to be me just discussing some of the episodes on the list. There will be minor and major spoilers of some episodes, although I tried to stay away from anything particularly important that might ruin the impact of the episode if you haven’t seen it – but on the other hand the fact that I’m highlighting these particular episodes may be a spoiler that important twists happen in them anyway. I’ve bolded the names of the episodes that I discuss as they come up in hopes to alleviate as much risk as possible. I tried my best but if I wanted to really discuss these episodes I had to include some spoilery information!
So without further ado, here’s part two of my top 150 episodes – the discussion!
Some episodes are on this list not specifically because the whole episode is good, but because of specific monologues or dramatic moments that occur (usually at the end). Agents of Shield’s The Return (#101) is a good example of this – it’s the penultimate episode of the season and the team has finally escaped the Framework and returned to the real world. Towards the end of the episode, Fitz confronts a newly human Aida and the conversation that ensues is both heartbreaking and amazing due to the acting of both. Aida’s experience of feeling the human emotion of heartbreak as Fitz becomes increasingly more terrified is just a perfect scene.
There’s also Sneaky Pete’s The Fury (#82) – everyone knows Bryan Cranston is a good actor thanks to Breaking Bad. But the last 10 minutes of The Fury are basically him delivering one, long villainous monologue that’s filled with tension from start to finish. It’s the best single scene from the entire season and an acting tour de force that makes you absolutely afraid of Cranston’s character for the remainder of the season (if you weren’t already). In Daredevil’s Penny and Dime (#68), Frank Castle delivers a heartbreaking speech at the end of the episode after all the violence has finally ceased. The entire episode in this case was solid, but it’s Frank’s tale as it ends that really sells the episode as one for the record books. And in Strawberries and Cream (#69), the season 3 finale of The Mentalist, the main character confronts who he thinks is his nemesis Red John. What results is an epic, tense showdown of acting skill between Simon Baker and Bradley Whitford – a scene so powerful it actually got me to watch The Mentalist for a whole season following it based on how captivated I was by the season 3 finale (having not even watched the show at all before seeing it).
Justified’s Reckoning (#71) is another great full episode, but the end of it when Raylan and Dickie are out in the woods and Dickie is pleading for his life is one of the best moments of the entire season. It’s filled with tension about whether Raylan is actually going to pull the trigger on him after being “rivals” for the rest of the season. Day 3: 6 AM – 7 AM (#133) of 24 ends with one of the most memorable moments from any season of 24. It’s the scene where Jack Bauer really, truly, becomes the Jack Bauer that everyone talks about. You wonder, right up until the end, how he’s going to get out of it – and when it dawns on you that he’s actually not getting out of it, it’s dawning on him too. It’s just a picture perfect moment that encapsulates the entire 24 series.
Finally, there’s the famous Through the Looking Glass (#54) episode of Lost where the last few minutes changed everything. It’s regarded as one of the best season finales of television and breathed new life into a show that was starting to wane in popularity, despite its strong start and hold on the cultural mindspace. While the entire episode is one big escalation and everything about it is fantastic – from “Not Penny’s Boat” to Locke just knifing Naomi in the back out of nowhere, the ultimate end when Jack screams his famous line to Kate was burned into everyone’s brain and showed just how to end a season and keep people talking.
There were only two episodes from animated shows that ended up on the list. I almost included an episode or two from Bojack Horseman but ultimately decided they weren’t in the top 150. The two episodes I chose were from South Park and The Simpsons. Treehouse of Horror VI (#123) I remember watching as a kid and it’s the only episode of The Simpsons that’s truly stuck with me my whole life – both the Nightmare on Elm Street parody (that I didn’t realize was a parody until much later) and Homer³ both left impressions on my young brain. Perhaps it was just the neat 3D effects at the time, but it’s still a pretty funny and solid episode of early Simpsons days.
The South Park episode is Best Friends Forever (#86) and is by and away my favorite of the series. It revolves around parodying the Terri Schiavo case that was in the news at the time by revolving around Kenny dying but being trapped in his body when he needs to get to heaven to save it from Satan’s invasion. It’s a great episode with some pretty hilarious moments and uses the running joke of Kenny’s death as a pretty on-point plot device.
It’s weird mentioning an actor specifically by name as a reason for favorite episodes, but Alan Tudyk is one of my favorite actors and he actually appears a lot on my list. He’s, of course, a main cast member of Firefly but it’s his turns as a guest star on shows that I already loved that elevated specific episodes to be top 150 worthy.
He shows up in two episodes of Dollhouse that are both on this list – Briar Rose (#35) and Omega (#120). Who he is in the episodes is a bit of a spoiler (but was also the least-kept spoiler on the internet for anyone who actually watched the show as it was airing) but his performance is fantastic as usual for his role. He’s also a guest star on Justified’s Shot All to Hell (#139). Tudyk plays the consigliere of a mob boss who comes to Kentucky to cause trouble for Raylan and the gang. Like most villainous guest stars on Justified, he doesn’t end up surviving the episode but he puts in a legit scary performance that made me wish he had stuck around as a villain for a little longer.
Speaking of villains, Tudyk also plays a great one in CSI’s Burn Out (#143). Two young boys go missing and Tudyk plays a known pedophile who happens to be an arson victim. The CSI team interviews him in hopes he can help them identify and find the abductor of the two missing boys, but as the episode progresses the case unravels and it is eventually revealed that Tudyk’s character was behind the whole thing. It’s a fascinating performance by Tudyk and his casting as the criminal elevated that particular procedural episode to a high enough level to include on the list.
A few episodes of television on my list were never actually aired on television. Kitchen Confidential was a show that aired three episodes on Fox and then was cancelled. It’s a show based on the late Anthony Bourdain’s book and Rabbit Test (#103) was one of the episodes that never aired. In it the kitchen crew struggles to work up the nerve to kill a bunch of live, cute bunny rabbits that were sent by mistake to the kitchen instead of ones for eating. It’s my favorite episode of a phenomenal 13 episode set and it’s criminal that Fox killed the series before it found a larger audience. (Oh, and the show stars Bradley Cooper before he became Hangover famous.)
Then there’s Epitaph One (#38) – an episode of Dollhouse that was never aired on television because Fox only had a deal to air twelve episodes and chose to never actually air the thirteenth. It was included in the DVD set and only available there (until streaming came along) which ended up being very confusing for the casual viewer – the series finale at the end of the second season is called Epitaph Two and picks up where Epitaph One left off. Epitaph Two is good overall, but Epitaph One is a great episode of post-apocalyptic television that adds a lot of mystery to the series. It revolves around completely new characters and the rest of the show’s main cast is only seen in flashbacks as both the characters and the viewers try to figure out what happened in the Dollhouse.
There’s also The Protector (#114) which is a very heavy episode of the show Titus. Christopher Titus is my favorite comedian and his sitcom that aired in the early ’00s was a show that pulled no punches and talked frankly and viciously about topics way ahead of its time. One of those episodes was The Protector which wasn’t actually aired (by Fox again – what a pattern!) because the content was deemed too strong. The episode deals with child molestation and sexual abuse and somehow is both dark and funny – a line that the show Titus brilliantly straddles for most of its three season run.
I was originally going to title this section “gimmick” episodes but that is a disservice to the quality of some of these episodes. Gimmick implies its cheap – but the following episodes broke the typical format of a TV show in a very good way that resulted in some very strong and memorable television. So they were more stylized episodes that shucked the norm in favor of presenting the story in a different way for great effect.
Let’s start with Digital Estate Planning (#42) – an episode of Community that takes place mostly in a 2D video game. The episode revolves around the Community characters playing a video game for the purpose of inheriting Pierce’s late father’s fortune. It’s a top tier episode that actually takes video games more seriously than television shows usually do and uses game tropes to hilarious ends. My Life in Four Cameras (#85) is a Scrubs episode that changes the format of the episode in the second half from single camera to multi-camera and turns the show into a sitcom. It all ends up very meta but the change in format is used to great dramatic effect so when the story shifts back into single camera by the end, the dramatic gut punch that comes with it hurts twice as much.
Locked In (#47) is an episode of House that is told mostly from a patient’s perspective – and the patient can’t move or talk. While the story beats are the same as any other House episode, the unique direction of the episode makes it really stand out above most others of the procedural. There’s also If-Then-Else (#18) of Person of Interest. And this episode is mostly told from the perspective of The Machine. Instead of the show’s usual format, you get to see The Machine run countless iterations of the same problem, trying to get all of its team members out of the dire situation they’ve found themselves in. After three and a half seasons of knowing about The Machine, finally getting to really see things from its perspective was a breath of fresh air and also made the episode very powerful.
Doctor Who’s Heaven Sent (#34) is unique because it’s 50 or so minutes of Peter Capaldi being The Doctor. He’s the only speaking character in the entire episode and it’s pretty amazing and wonderful. It’s technically the first of a two-parter but can stand on its own so I didn’t include both like I did for other Doctor Who two-parters. Plus this episode is brilliant and the one that follows is…not as brilliant. The unique aspect of The Doctor being by himself the whole time is what makes this episode stand out from all the rest – and tacking on a second half that doesn’t really relate at all just didn’t seem proper. There’s also Hush (#22) – the well known Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode where the cast is silenced and the majority of the episode takes place in complete silence from the characters. It’s one of those episodes of television that you can’t believe exists but still manages to be captivating and funny.
Finally, there’s eps3.4_runtime-error.r00 (#20). It’s an episode of Mr. Robot that looks to be done in a single take. Obviously it wasn’t as there are a few cleverly disguised breaks, but overall this episode is a masterpiece of cinematography. It’s a very tense episode as a riot breaks out in ECorp HQ, and the first half of the episode follows Eliot as he tries to accomplish his mission, while the second half follows Angela as she tries to accomplish hers. It’s a crazy episode that doesn’t stop to let you breath for even a moment due to things continuously happening, and it ends up being the best episode of the series so far because of it.
Some shows have series finales that end a show’s run with a confused whimper (Lost, Castle) or are just outright bad (How I Met Your Mother). But two of my favorite shows’ series finales knocked it out of the park with their last episodes and as such made it onto this list.
The first is return 0 (#79) which is the series finale of Person of Interest. The stakes are great and everything they’ve set up in the past five seasons all comes to a head. It manages to conclude all the character arcs in a satisfying way while still having the great action that the show was known for. It was a great conclusion to one of my favorite television shows ever. The other is The Promise (#26) and is the series finale of Justified. I’m in the camp that The Promise is the best series finale I’ve ever watched on screen. It also gives satisfying conclusions to the main characters, has one last duel between Raylan and the delightfully evil Boon, and wraps everything up nicely. There’s tension throughout the entire episode because in Justified it’s not uncommon for characters to die and so the entire episode you’re wondering which main character is going to bite it. And the end result is ultimately cathartic in so many ways.
Episodes I Want To Mention
There are a few specific episodes on the list I wanted to highlight just because I liked them and wanted to give them a bit of exposure but didn’t really have anything tying them together.
There’s Headquarters! (#98) my favorite episode from the procedural Limitless. While I don’t think anybody was asking for Bradley Cooper’s movie to be made into a TV show, the show itself ended up being fantastic and this episode is a great highlight of the one season it got – I’d give it a watch if you have a chance because it shows off the comedy that elevates this procedural cop with a wacky partner show over others very well. There’s Bottlenecked (#87) which is my favorite episode of the show White Collar – another cop with an unorthodox partner procedural. Unlike Headquarters!, this episode is slightly more grounded and introduces Neal Caffrey’s rival Keller, who ends up being a persistent antagonist for the remainder of the series. It’s, in my opinion, one of the most classic episodes of the series because it not only shows off Peter and Neal’s relationship but adds real stakes to the show over the usual “Neal might go back to prison and Peter may lose his job.”
Mary Pat Shelby (#93) is an episode of Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night that deals with the subject of an athlete sexually harassing one of the members of the Sports Night team. Despite the show being a comedy, this episode handles the subject matter very well with Aaron Sorkin’s signature rapid fire dialogue. I Will Remember You (#33) is one of the few episodes of television that actually made me cry due to how heartbreaking it is to watch Angel and Buffy be happy for a few minutes only to have it all taken away. The Body (#28) is another episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that also made me cry and it becomes harder and harder to watch as I get older (and my parents do as well) – How I Met Your Mother’s Bad News (#53) is another episode that is hard to watch for me for similar reasons.
Shadow (#43) is the standout episode of the three seasons of Perception – yet another cop with a not-cop partner procedural – but this one involves an FBI agent who consults a schizophrenic professor about cases involving mental illness. It’s a show that actually deals with mental illness in a proper way and sheds light on topics that other shows tend to gloss over. This specific episode has Eric McCormack’s professor following a vast conspiracy only for it to be revealed at the end that he’s actually having a schizophrenic break due to forgetting to take his medication. It’s a powerful episode that ends up being the high point of the series for me.
Sunday (#40) is a strong episode of Stargate Atlantis that delivers one of the strongest surprise gut punches I’ve ever gotten while watching a show. I was just casually watching this on Netflix and I was not expecting the ending of the episode at all. And Then There Was Shawn (#27) was a Halloween parody episode of Boy Meets World that has stuck with me every since I watched it as a teenager. Maybe it was because it was my first experience watching anything even tangentially slasher related but the horror of watching the Boy Meets World cast getting comedically “killed” one by one is something that’s always stuck with me. Baptiste (#115) is a great episode of the short-lived Human Target which has the amazing actor Lennie James guest starring as the titular Baptiste. The conflict and tension between Baptiste and Chance makes for the best episode of the series and makes me wish we got more of season one’s direction than the complete change in tone that the second season provided.
I’ve gushed a lot about different episodes by now and used a lot of thesaurus words for great and amazing, so let’s wrap it up with a little bit of fawning over my top 10 episodes. The top 5 are likely to never change in order; 6-10 are more malleable but there would have to be an absolutely iconic episode of television to unseat them.
Last Night Gus (#10) is peak Psych – it has Shawn, Gus, Lassiter, and Woody waking up with no memory – a la Hangover – and having to investigate a murder that they think they might have been involved in. It’s absolutely hilarious from start to finish (and possibly funnier than the actual Hangover movie) and hands-down the best episode of the season. It’s an episode I can watch that will never fail to make me laugh and put me in good spirits. Okay Awesome (#9) is the episode of How I Met Your Mother that sold me on the show. From Barney’s line about the similarities between women and fish to the antics in the actual night club (Barney and Marshall having a conversation between bass beats always makes me laugh), this was the episode that hooked me in for good while watching the first season. If you don’t love the show and characters by the end of this episode, I don’t know what to tell you.
Not Pictured (#8) is the second season finale of Veronica Mars and while finding out who Lily Kane’s murderer was in the season 1 finale had more meaning, finding out who was responsible for the bus crash and why was so much more of an emotional gut punch since it happened to be a character that had been around for both seasons and wasn’t cartoonishly evil. The heel turn is one of my favorite villainous reveals of all-time and the entire episode is just filled with tension right down to the very end. Midnight (#7) is the best episode of Russel T. Davies’ Doctor Who by far. Some prefer Blink (and I did have it highly ranked as well at #14) but the terror of The Doctor being trapped by himself with a bunch of people who don’t have any idea who he is or have any reason to trust him, and those people turning against him through mob mentality makes it one of the most gripping and terrifying episodes of any season of Doctor Who. Sometimes the scariest horror is simply from other humans.
Drumroll, Please (#6) is an episode of How I Met Your Mother that brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it. The episode of Victoria and Ted meeting after the wedding is just a pitch perfect romantic story and the very end when they finally meet again is so cathartic and wonderful. I’m not normally one for romantic movies or shows or whatever, but this one is the highest emotional point of the series and just amazingly executed. My Screw Up (#5) is the standout Scrubs episode because it combines the comedy with heart and an emotional ending that the series became kind of known for. The shock of the ending when J.D. says “Where do you think we are?” hit me at my core the first time I watched it, and every time I’ve seen it since I always get a little misty eyed.
Objects in Space (#4) is the de facto finale of Firefly and while I can’t really rank it as an intentional series finale (especially with the Serenity movie), it still is just an amazing forty or so minutes of television. Jubal Early is one of those terrifying, yet quirky villains that Joss Whedon is known for and almost becomes the default main character of the episode as he slowly works his way through terrorizing the Firefly crew while looking for River Tam. It’s an episode that spawned a bunch of great, quotable lines and is probably my favorite episode to rewatch. Tommy’s Not Gay (#3) is my all-time favorite sitcom episode that deals with Titus’ friend Tommy’s father coming out as gay. It first aired in 2001 and was a very progressive stance to take at the time. Even 17 years later it still hits hard when Titus talks about Matthew Shepard and while it takes a very manly “hoo-rah” approach to homophobia, the episode delivers both amazing comedy and a serious moral lesson.
Now the top two episodes are basically interchangeable in my opinion. On any given day I might say I like one more than the other, but in general these two episodes are my favorite episodes in television bar none. Serenity (#2) is the pilot episode of Firefly (not to be confused with the movie) and is absolutely the best pilot episode of any television show. It introduces every character and gives them all something to do that’s within their character’s main wheelhouse – whether it being the emotional support of Kaylee to Simon’s medical skills to Wash’s piloting skills to Jayne simply being a wild card. By the end of the episode you’re connected with all nine members of the main cast and know their place in the crew, and that’s not easy to do with an ensemble cast. On top of that, it’s also just a very entertaining episode!
So that brings us to The Eleventh Hour (#1) – my favorite episode of Doctor Who. It’s similar to Serenity in that it’s the first episode of a new season that introduces a new Doctor and two new companions (Amy as the main focus, but Rory eventually also becomes a main companion too). Everyone has “their” Doctor and Matt Smith is mine, mostly because of his frenetic and goofy performance here in this episode. It’s Steven Moffat at peak Moffat but before he became over inflated ego Moffat. The Doctor is forced to work without his usual deus ex machina tools, the plot has a lot of dramatic story beats but still stays fun and the twist on what’s going on and how the Doctor solves it is clever but not confusing or tricky for the sake of being tricky. It introduces Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor perfectly and is just an absolutely captivating hour of television that I have watched way too many times. If anybody wants to start watching Doctor Who but doesn’t know where to start, I highly recommend starting here because it’s a brand-new start in many ways (despite technically being the fifth season of the new Doctor Who) and is just a superbly directed and executed episode.
Phew. So that’s it. I actually wrote a lot more than I thought I would which is why this took a little longer than I initially planned. Hope you enjoyed it, and next week I’ll be back to talking about video games!