Five Episodes I Like

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Something I’m toying with doing on occasion: Here’s a list of five really good episodes of television. It’s not a top five list or anything, although the intention is for the episode mentioned to be at least a contender for best episode of its show; they’re just five episodes I really, really like, with a brief explanation of what’s so good about them. No pattern, just the first five I think of.

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Once More with Feeling.” Buffy has enough truly great episodes to easily fill one of these lists on its own–“The Body,” “The Gift,” “Surprise”/”Innocence,” “Graduation Day,” “Hush” all come to mind swiftly and easily–but my postmodern heart swells with joy at “Once More with Feeling,” a musical wherein the protagonists’ main goal is figuring out why they keep singing their feelings and making it stop, while the villain uses the inability to feel without singing about it to torment them and disrupt their relationships. On top of this, unlike most musical episodes (a trend it more or less invented) it is not a one-off; it continues plot and character threads established in prior episodes and is a vital turning point for several of the season’s major plots. Plus it’s a genuinely good musical in its own right!
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “In the Pale Moonlight.” It’s the best episode of the best Star Trek, and the one that goes farthest in exploring the moral ambiguity that characterized (most of) DS9. Trekkies who hate DS9 frequently cite it as their go-to example of how the series betrayed the founding values of Star Trek, to which my response is that yes, it absolutely does, and it’s amazing.
  • Veronica Mars: “Pilot.” This is, quite simply, the best first episode I’ve ever seen. It is confident, well-acted, engaging, and not bogged down in exposition; it’s the kind of episode a series has at the start of its second or third season, not its first. Plus, how often do you get to see a rape victim tell her own story for herself and define it for herself? I flung myself headlong into Veronica Mars late last year, and this episode is the main reason why.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: “I Won’t Rely on Anyone Anymore.” Ten episodes into a twelve-episode series is not, usually, when you completely recontextualize every event of the series so far, up to and including the meaning of the opening credits. But Madoka doesn’t do things the usual way. This episode is, by turns, unsettling, heartbreaking, and fantastic, and it blows open the path to the end of the series in an utterly spectacular way.
  • Babylon 5: “Sleeping in Light.” One of the most satisfying, heartbreaking, bittersweet series finales ever shown. I cannot make it through this dry-eyed; there is one musical track in particular that I cannot hear without tearing up. My father died in 1992; that was the last time I cried until I saw this episode for the first time in 1998.

What are some of your favorites?

ETA: Fixed a couple of typos in the last two bullets: Madoka is a twelve-episode series, not thirteen, and “Sleeping in Light” was the series finale of B5, not just a season finale.

0 thoughts on “Five Episodes I Like

  1. Slings & Arrows: “Oliver's Dream.” A strong contender for the greatest opening episode of all time (it had to be, since Slings & Arrows only got 6 episodes per season), it shows the ins and outs of the theatre world, contrasting the artistry of the two companies, and tying them together elegantly, introducing all the colorful characters, establishing who they are and what makes them tick, mixing the drama and comedy in a truly Shakespearean manner, and showing us plenty to get us invested while still holding back just enough to make us curious.

  2. Buffy 2×17, “Passion”. Poor Giles. And 3×16 “Doppelgängland”, for the fun of watching the regulars react to vamp!Willow.

    Babylon 5 2×59, “The Coming of Shadows”. I've seen SF shows do action, drama, even comedy, but never tragedy before. That scene where G'Kar buys Londo a drink…the look on Londo's face….

    Episodes 5 and 6 of Girls und Panzer, “Veterans of Their Trade” and “Our First Battle Comes to a Climax”. I heart Kay so, so much.

    Leverage 1×10, “The 12-Step Job”. I could list nearly the whole first season, but I especially like this one.

    Azumanga Daioh 26, the finale. Never fails to bring a tear to my eye.

  3. So it is. Would you believe I was counting the third movie as an episode, but not the first two because they're just recaps?

    …No? How about two guys and a rowboat?

  4. Ooh, good picks from Buffy and B5! And yeah, like I said, there's a TON of Buffy episodes to pick from–immediately after posting I thought of “Tabula Rasa,” “Restless,” “Conversations with Dead People,” and “Dopplegangland.” It's weird because it's not my favorite show, probably not even top 10, but I think I can name more episodes I love from it than from any other show. (Maybe because when it was bad it was REALLY bad? *coughcough*DarkWillow*cough*

    I have never seen Girls und Panzer or Leverage.

    Yes, the graduation scene in Azumanga! Gah!

  5. My favorite Azumanga Daioh episode was “One Spring Night,” and I'm not quite sure why. Something about how simple and undramatic yet touching it was able to be, especially the scene where Tomo comes over to Yomi's house just to hang out and read.

  6. My favorite Azumanga Daioh episode was “One Spring Night.” I'm not quite sure why… it's just, how undramatic and yet touching it was able to be, with Tomo dropping in at Yomi's house just to hang out and read.

    I should ask Mere_Oblivion what his favorite episode is… Azumanga Daioh is his favorite anime.

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