/Response: Your Favorite TV Episodes of All Time
(Welcome to /Response, the companion piece to our /Answers series and a space where /Film readers can chime in and offer their two cents on a particular question.)
Earlier this week, the /Film team wrote about their favorite TV episodes of all time. We then opened the floor to our readers: what is your favorite episode of television? And you let us know!
We have collected our favorite answers (edited for length and clarity) below. Next week’s question: what is your favorite movie gunfight? Send your (at least one paragraph, please) answer to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Alias: “Truth Be Told”
Hands down, my favorite TV episode has to be the pilot of Alias, “Truth Be Told.” To my knowledge, it was the first network TV episode to air without commercials thanks to Nokia (shout out to the cherry red Nokia brick phone that Sydney so graciously showcases – ah, 2001). Which means this episode, with a runtime of 66 minutes, feels more like a movie than the foundational pilot episode of a show. From the opening scene, we’re dropped smack dab in the middle of Sydney Bristow’s world with zero explanation and only time jumps to help us figure out what’s really going on. Jam-packed with twists and turns at every corner, fight scenes that will knock your socks off (that chair flip anyone?) and editing that is to die for, it elegantly and perfectly sets up what would become one of the best spy/family dramas on television. Simply put, it’s everything a pilot episode should be. It also taught me a very important lesson: nothing good ever happens in parking garages.
Jennifer Garner is the girl next door turned badass chick, in tandem. How she is able to convincingly portray both will forever be beyond me. (Side note: I think you could make a good argument that Alias was the catalyst for the badass chick movement of the 2000’s. Black Widow exists because of Sydney Bristow. There, I said it.) And let us not forget about baby Bradley Cooper. Oh baby, Bradley Cooper. If only we knew how famous you’d become. And of course, J.J. Abrams. What to even say about his genius? This was his first baby and it has his fingerprints all over it – I do believe this episode holds the very first “J.J. Abrams lens flare”. What J.J. Abrams envisioned as “Felicity as a spy,” would be the thing that jumpstarted his career. I’ve probably watched “Truth Be Told” close to 25 times and it still thrills me. I became a fan of J.J. Abrams on September 30, 2001 and he hasn’t let me down since. (Jessica Ross)
Better Call Saul: “Pimento”
It might be though of as too recent an entry to make it on the list, but listen up anyway: my favorite TV episode is the penultimate episode to Season One of the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul, titled “Pimento.” While I was engaged with the show beforehand, this singular episode convinced me that the program’s premise would work and hooked me into sticking with the series for the long haul. Not only are the scenes within the episode important to the events that occur in the forty-nine minute runtime, but the ramifications of those events echo throughout the series’ entire run up to this point. Even moreso than Jimmy losing out on the Sandpiper lawsuit at Hamlin Hamlin and McGill (due to his brother Chuck’s machinations) after they visit the HHM offices, the most important and most powerful scene of the episode is the conversation the brothers have afterward; it sets the entire tone for the show to come. The series is about a good man not being able to shake off the dark side within himself. When Chuck (Michael McKean) in their argument declares Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) having a law degree to be like a “chimp with a machine gun,” that becomes the final straw for “Slippin’ Jimmy.” Without the approval of his brother, Jimmy has no reason to restrain his willingness to bend the rules; in that way, Chuck is as much at fault for the rise of “Saul Goodman” and his lack of morality as Jimmy is. (Josh McLaughlin)
Carnivale: “New Canaan, CA”
“New Canaan, CA” is the finale of Carnivale’s second season. It became the ex post facto series finale when HBO declined to renew the show. In it, the avatars of good and evil that circled each other for 23 episodes had their first and final showdown, the allegiances of their supporters were in flux around them and the fate of the world hung in the balance. Writer Daniel Knauf and director Scott Winant delivered TV that felt like a ride on an out of control Ferris wheel, but despite the episode’s pace, it allowed for powerful moments from nearly all of Carnivale’s outstanding ensemble. Clancy Brown’s Brother Justin is one of the most imposing villains in modern television. Michael J. Anderson is at his finest as Samson, giving Ben plain-spoken wisdom (“When it comes to livin’, dyin’ is the easy part.”). Clea DuVall’s performance as Sophie and her character’s betrayal of Tim DeKay’s lovable Jonesy are heartbreaking. The family dynamics and romantic relationships on display in the episode grounded the mystical, apocalyptic themes that promised to drive the series forward. It all ends with Ben’s survival uncertain, Sophie’s powers ascendant and her unholy union with Brother Justin apparently consummated. It is a perfect example of an episode that would make you lose an hour of sleep to see what happens next. Sadly, we’ll never get the chance. (Dennis P. Kisyk, Jr.)
Community: “Introduction to Finality”
Dan Harmon’s Community has been hailed as a postmodern masterpiece. Throughout its six seasons, it consistently pushed the boundaries of broadcast television with its genre homages and meta-narratives. The show’s best episode, however, transcended its postmodern label and delved into what Abed Nadir himself once called “the post-postmodern world.”
In “Introduction to Finality,” the study group is separated. Jeff is representing Shirley in a farcical court case against Pierce over their shared sandwich shop, Abed is using his therapy session with Britta to bring evil into the world, and Troy is trying to escape the cultish Air Conditioning Repair School. Every character is exclusively seeking his or her own interests. But when all seems lost for Shirley, she tells Jeff to throw her case to save his career. Suddenly, a series-arc lightbulb goes off for Jeff.
The postmodern worldview that informs Community is characterized by relativism and skepticism toward absolute truths. This is what defines Jeff’s character in the pilot when he tells John Oliver’s Professor Duncan, “either I’m God, or truth is relative.” But “Introduction to Finality’s” push toward post-postmodernism is summed up in the “Winger Speech” from the end of the episode: “Guys like me will tell you there’s no right or wrong, there’s no real truths. And as long as we all believe that, guys like me can never lose. Because the truth is, I’m lying when I say there is no truth. The truth is—the pathetically, stupidly, inconveniently obvious truth is—helping only ourselves is bad and helping each other is good.”
Harmon said he wrote this ending for Season 3 because he knew either the show or its creator would be axed before a fourth season (he was right, and it was the latter). But “Introduction to Finality” still stands as the best representation of what Community was all about—its heart. #sixseasonsandamovie indeed. (Jonathan Higdon)