Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Second Best

So you all know I love television. And there's plenty of lists floating around with the best episodes of the best shows. But I thought it might be nice to spend some time talking about the runner up episodes of my favourite shows...that are finished. I don't think you can adequately answer the best episode question until a show is wrapped and done, one of the reasons I have a problem with this list by The Hollywood Reporter. If I was counting shows that are still running then Doctor Who, Grey's Anatomy and The Americans would most certainly feature, but for now I'm going with the following seven iconic series. 

PLEASE NOTE: this post contains MAJOR spoilers for all the series discussed. 


Best episode: 4.10 - 'Diana'

Second best: 7.8

Written by Neil Cross, directed by Sam Miller

Lucas and Ros escort Connie on a mission underground, while Harry offers himself to the FSB in an attempt to help stop a nuclear attack. The frantic pace of this episode ratchets up the suspense to a breaking point, and the claustrophobic scenes underground make for compelling viewing. What really makes this episode is that everyone is heroic in their own way: Malcolm and Jo stoically helming the Grid, Lucas and Ros holding off the Russian gun squad and Harry braving the lion's den and offering himself up to save London. Does Connie gain a measure of redemption? I think so, and her sacrifice has the ring of truth to it. 


Best episode: The One With the Embryos (Season 4, Episode 12)

Second best: The One Where Everybody Finds Out (Season 5, Episode 14)

Written by Alexa Junge, directed by Michael Lembeck

I had to have at least one comedy on the list! This fantastic episode pits Chandler and Phoebe against each other in a game of sexy chicken as Phoebe and Rachel attempt to make Monica and Chandler come clean about their relationship. As with just about every episode on this list everyone gets a few good moments, with laughs a plenty before Chandler finally admits that he loves Monica, and she says she loves him too. (There's also an excellent moment with David Schwimmer jumping up and down.)


Best episode: Always (Season 5, Episode 13)

Second Best: The Son (Season 4, Episode 5)

Written by Rolin Jones, directed by Allison Liddi-Brown

This episode belongs to the superb Zach Gilford, who plays the mixed emotions of Matt Saracen upon hearing of his father's death in Iraq with such dignity and empathy that one can only marvel at his technique. There are light hearted moments: Matt's friends take him to drink beer on their old playing field, and Tim gets an amusing phone call from Becky at the wake, but nothing prepares you for the moment when Matt demands of the undertaker that he see his father in his casket, all blown to pieces from an IED. The episode closes with Matt shovelling soil onto his father's coffin, his hands bloodied as Julie watches him fall apart. One of the very best episodes of a solid show that really only had one major misstep in its five years on the air. 


Best episode: Two Cathedrals (Season 2, Episode 22)

Second best: Institutional Memory (Season 7, Episode 21)

Written by Debora Cahn, directed by Lesli Linka Glatter

This is a fairly unorthodox choice, I suspect most people would have gone for another Sorkin-penned episode. But this fabulous, penultimate episode of the entire series (written by Debora Cahn) gave closure to the character of C.J. Cregg. Arguably the heartbeat of the show from the very beginning, C.J. ultimately decided against staying in Washington to work for President Santos and instead chose to start a new life with Danny in Santa Monica and run a multi-million dollar not for profit. What I love about this episode is how beautifully the dilemma of the working woman is summarised, but also how perfect the solution for this particular character is portrayed. Lots of touching, beautiful character moments across the board make this a pleasure to watch, even for the umpteenth time. 


Best episode: Whitecaps (Season 4, Episode 13)

Second best: Employee of the Month (Season 3, Episode 4)

Written by Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess, directed by John Patterson

Lorraine Bracco does the heavy lifting in this one, her portrayal of a woman brutally raped is harrowing. Melfi is no longer the decisive, intelligent doctor, but a woman stripped bare as her attacker goes free. And so she is faced with a choice: does she stay silent or does she tell Tony? In the end her silence is heroic, one of the few morally sound decisions on a show of bad choices. It's a messy hour of television, but ultimately one of the most satisfying in a show full of amazing episodes. 


Best episode: Ozymandias (Season 5, Part 2, episode 6)

Second best: Gliding Over All (Season 5, Part 1, episode 8)

Written by Moira Walley-Beckett, directed by Michelle MacLaren

This was a really hard one, picking the second best from such a solid show. I could have run with Four Days Out (when Jesse and Walt are stranded in the desert), or One Minute (which ends in the shoot out that almost kills Hank), but ultimately I went with the supremely elegant Gliding Over All, which is the mid season finale of the show's final season. This episode is famous for two of the finest montages in a show that used them very effectively, one culminating in the deaths of Gus' remaining men on the inside, and the other condensing three months of meth lab work and money laundering into a few minutes of very fine TV. The whole episode ends with Hank finally putting the pieces together and fingering Walt as his Heisenberg, with Walt Whitman being his downfall. Beautiful, albeit very violent, stuff. 


Best episode: The Suitcase (Season 4, episode 7)

Second best: Shut The Door, Have A Seat (season 3, episode 13)

Written by Matthew Weiner and Erin Levy, directed by Matthew Weiner

Who doesn't love a caper? In my favourite show of all time, it had to be this hilarious but still very touching episode. The best scene has to be Don's eating crow at Peggy's place, when he tells her they are more alike than she knows. If I don't do what you say, she replies, you'll never speak to me again. Don rejoins with the heartbreaking 'I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you.' In other news Roger and Don make up, Betty and Don split up for real,  and Joan makes a highly anticipated and welcome return to the team. Roy Orbison sings the season out as Don braves the world outside his marriage and starts the new firm of SCDP. 

So what do you all think? Did I pick well or have I blatantly left out a show or episode you love? Let me know.