There has been a lot of great television over the past fifteen years, most of in the last decade. Hidden Remote delves into that great television and pulls out the five greatest TV episodes of all time.
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Best TV episodes and other lists like these are never going to be objective. As hard as I or anyone else may try, these are all reflections of the environment in which I watched them. I can’t account for that bias and influence, but I do recognize it.
That objectiveness, however, is supplanted by a more realistic look at these episodes. I expect to be disagreed with, and hope for it. TV is better when a lot of people are talking about it, and God knows I’m wrong about this stuff all the time.
One of things I do regret: there are no episodes from Justified or The Wire or The Sopranos. There certainly should be, but this was a hard list to make, and they just barely missed the cut!
#5 –”Lie Agreed Upon, Parts I & II” (Deadwood)
Deadwood is my favorite show of all time, so it was always going to be on this list. Todd VanDerWeff believes that the second season of Deadwood is the best season of television of all time, and while I quibble with that a bit (I’m a bigger fan of the second half of the last season of Breaking Bad), it’s not very far behind. The second season is sandwiched between the very direct plotting of the third season and the rambling of the first, and this episode is a perfect table-setter for what is to come. This is when Seth Bullock becomes Seth Bullock for me; while he was a shaded and nuanced character before, the arrival of his wife and son brings forces the show to dig a little deeper into who Seth really is.
Plus, there is a really awesome fight scene between Al and Seth, nearly ending with Seth being decapitated in front of his family. Deadwood never shied away from the brutal, and “Lie Agreed Upon, Parts I & II” are perfect examples of that.
#4 – “Lost Horizon” (Mad Men)
This is the episode in which I found my groove as a TV writer. I wrote a review of it when it aired, and still feel that it’s the best thing that I’ve ever written. That’s not really a brag on my skills as much as it is a reflection on the episodes itself. I can still see Peggy skating around the office, with Roger on the piano; I still see (and almost feel) Don, as he presses on the window. Everyone in the office immediately realizes the mistake that they’ve made, coming to McCann, but they can’t do anything about it.
Until, of course, Peggy walks in with tentacle porn and a lit cigarette, shrouded in sun glasses, striding through the halls. She’s one of the few with the youth and the ambition to stick it out at a hell-scape like McCann, and she’s possibly the only one who will ever leave a mark on advertising. Don, for all his brilliance, will fade away as just an ad man. Peggy with be something more.
#3 – “Not Fade Away” (Angel)
No show has ever resonated with me like Angel; where I have openly weeped over the fates of the characters, and no-show has ever inspired me more as a human being. The message of this last episode, and Angel in general, is one of never giving up. It’s not about winning, or losing; it’s not about getting the brass ring, or finding the light at the end of the tunnel; it’s about doing what’s right, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You fight, win or lose, because if you don’t, they’ve already won. Apathy is death.
If you’re ever looking for the perfect example of a long-term character arc, I suggest you take a look at Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. You won’t find a better example anywhere in the world.
#2 – “The Body” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Nothing breaks you more than losing a loved one. It takes you to places that makes you feel as if the world has been pulled from underneath your feet. You feel weak, and then you feel angry, and then you feel… nothing. You’ve filled yourself up with emotions, and they’ve all drowned themselves out.
“The Body” is perfect, heart-breaking realism, at least for me. I’ve been fortunate to not lose too many, but I have lost some that were near to me. I remember staring at walls, and sitting on floors, and hearing the hum of florescent lights. Buffy sees the keys on the phone, and the lower half of the face of the EMT, and the chime of bells. Buffy pukes as she hears the world going on, as if nothing had ever happened at all.
There are more entertaining episodes of television, and of Buffy. But there isn’t one that breaks like “The Body.”
#1 – “Ozymandias” Breaking Bad
There’s a scene in V for Vendetta where V knocks over dominoes, as a metaphor for the setting of is plans into motion. Everything in the movie has converged to a singular point. I’m reminded of this as I think about “Ozymandias”.
Breaking Bad is the most efficiently plotted and character-arced show that has ever been made. If there is fat on this show, it exists in the early seasons, and has long since been stripped. “Ozymandias” is a culmination of every plot point and every character beat; every second that Breaking Bad had been on the air had been leading up to this moment. It was both a shock, and also inevitable. All twists like this should feel like that; if your audience, after the fact and during the action, doesn’t slap their forehead in recognition of what’s occurring, you’ve failed.
“Ozymandias” is far and above better than anything on this list, which is really saying something. “The Body,” as good as it is, is much closer to fifth than first. Though Breaking Bad may be off the air, the show and “Ozymandias” will live on forever.
What do you think of our list of best TV episodes? Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!