10 Best TV Show Episodes (That Aren’t A Premiere Or Finale)
TV shows often become known for the episodes that either begin or end a series, but it would be remiss to overlook some of the great moments that appear between the series premiere and its eventual finale. In particular, episodes that occur either shortly after a premiere or shortly before a finale frequently showcase the very best that a show has to offer. When not having to sell a show to a new audience or wrap up all the loose ends, a TV show can use its established characters to showcase the series’ greatest strengths.
A lot more attention ends up being paid to how a show begins and ends, as was the case with the finale of the long-running The Walking Dead. This makes sense to a certain extent, as beginnings and endings are where some of the most important drama takes place and where viewers get to either first meet characters or see them for the last time. Nevertheless, it is vital to take into account those episodes which do not fit into either of these categories, precisely because they often contain some of the most fascinating and compelling writing and performances.
Lost – “The Constant” (Season 4, Episode 5)
Parts of Lost were divisive, and its finale was easily the most controversial aspect, but there were some real high points earlier in the show. “The Constant” is understandably seen as one of the best episodes the series ever produced, engaging as Lost does with issues of time travel, human consciousness, and emotional connection. What’s more, it also featured a stunning performance from Henry Ian Cusick, who brings a remarkable amount of depth and richness to Desmond Hume. As a result, it manages to combine the show’s two notable strengths (compelling characters and philosophical richness) into a coherent and compelling whole.
Breaking Bad – “Ozymandias” (Season 5, Episode 14)
Starting with its first episode, Breaking Bad worked to develop Walter White into both a monster and an antihero who could be sympathized with. “Ozymandias” is one of the series’ finest episodes, with a bracing and explosive storyline that is both devastating and satisfying in equal measure. In many ways, it fulfills the series’ overall promise of being a Shakespearean tragedy brought to television. It is particularly notable for the killing of Walt’s brother-in-law Hank. While this had been foreshadowed, for a series of Breaking Bad’s prestige to actually kill off a major character was still a brave move, one which paid off.
The Last Of Us – “Long, Long Time” (Season 1, Episode 3)
The Last of Us with Pedro Pascal demonstrated remarkable skill at staying true to the game on which it’s based while also embracing an identity of its own. The third episode in particular proved to be a remarkable piece of TV, focusing as it did on the beautiful, poignant, and heartbreakingly sad romance between two men finding love at the end of the world. It is particularly notable for the sensitivity and care with which it dealt with LGBTQ+ representation, and both Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett deliver heartfelt and authentic performances, both of which make this already deeply-melancholic series even more emotionally devastating.
Andor – “One Way Out” (Season 1, Episode 10)
Andor is like almost no other Star Wars series. It is very much a slow burn, as it slowly introduces the character of Cassian Andor of Rogue One and his slow radicalization and incorporation into the Rebellion. However, it all starts to come together in “One Way Out,” the episode in which he becomes a key part of a prison riot. It’s a flawlessly-executed piece of television, becoming a sort of prison escape movie in miniature. This episode of Andor also has its fair share of tragedy, as it’s revealed that Kino Loy, a reluctant hero in his own right, can’t swim and thus can’t fully benefit from the prison riot of which he has been a key part. The episode is emotionally climactic, bringing many of the season’s long-simmering arcs to a pitch-perfect conclusion.
Bojack Horseman- “Time’s Arrow” (Season 4, Episode 11)
Its premise (an anthropomorphic horse dealing with the collapse of his career) might seem silly, but BoJack Horseman and its talking animals repeatedly proved its strength as a truly remarkable piece of animated television. “Time’s Arrow” is everything that the series does well, with its unpacking of the title character’s troubled youth and his parents’ acrimony. It features the series’ bleak sense of humor and wrenching pathos, and it even manages to contain a stunning revelation about a character and their familial relation to BoJack. The fact that it somehow makes even such a grim subject as dementia bleakly humorous and heartbreaking in equal measure is a testament to the strength of the series’ writing and characterization.
Game Of Thrones- “The Last Of The Starks” (Season 8, Episode 4)
The final season of Game of Thrones might suffer from a few pacing problems, but overall it does a strong job of balancing moments of heightened action with quiet contemplation. “The Last of the Starks,” for example, shows the characters at Winterfell in Game of Thrones season 8 after their climactic battle against the Night King while also returning to the sort of political machinations that were always the series’ strong suit. It is particularly notable for showing the extreme lengths to which Cersei will go to hold onto the Iron Throne, even if doing so means her own destruction. It is, ultimately, grounded by the performances from its lead cast, and Lena Headey in particular makes Cersei into a figure worthy of Shakespearean tragedy.
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia – “The Gang Dines Out” (Season 8, Episode 9)
Throughout its run, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia works to make the gang both irredeemably awful and yet strangely endearing. This contradiction takes center stage in “The Gang Dines Out,” an episode that amply displays many of the series’ key strengths. What begins as a supposedly intimate dinner between Mac and Dennis soon degenerates into the Gang’s usual chaos, with each of the core characters exhibiting their usual bad behavior, with typically hilarious (if also deeply uncomfortable) results. This episode, even more than most, highlights the ability of the central cast to engage in cringe-inducing behavior. It highlights the series’ ability to make the audience laugh, both at the characters and, unsettlingly, even at themselves.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer – “The Body” (Season 5, Episode 15)
Even though it was often filled with quippy dialogue, the TV series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer also contends with many real-life issues. This is particularly evident in “The Body,” in which Buffy has to deal with her mother’s natural death and its aftermath. Unlike so many of the series’ other episodes, which focus on the supernatural, this one is surprising precisely because the issues it addresses are ones that have an impact on the world outside of the series itself. In addressing the universality of grief in the all-too-human world, “The Body”
Game of Thrones – “The Bells” (Season 8, Episode 5)
“The Bells” is a truly remarkable piece of fantasy television, and it’s one of those Game of Thrones episodes that helps to explain why the series was so popular. The highlight of this tense and explosive episode of Game of Thrones is when the bells ring and Daenerys finally goes mad and orders Drogon to burn King’s Landing. Though her transformation was seemingly too abrupt to be believable, Emilia Clarke delivers an astounding performance, showing how even a character who was supposedly a hero could in the end become the very thing she so strenuously fought to destroy. More than anything else, though, “The Bells” shows the darkness to which even heroes can succumb, and as such it punctures the myth of heroism itself.
Doctor Who – “Blink” (Season 3, Episode 10)
Unlike most other episodes of Doctor Who, “Blink” doesn’t focus primarily on the Doctor. Instead, it focuses on a human, Sally Sparrow, as she tries to prevent a group of creatures known as the Weeping Angels from taking over the TARDIS, with only occasional advice from the Doctor via videotapes. The episode is particularly notable for the introduction to Doctor Who of the Weeping Angels, who are terrifying and deeply unsettling. The very real stakes of being sent back in time by the touch of a Weeping Angel and the distance of the Doctor lend a frightening immediacy to the episode that isn’t always present when the Time Lord is there to save the day.
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