Note: Only one episode per series. Sorry, Mad Men.
10. True Blood – I Will Rise Up
Okay, so I watched True Blood in a marathon last month, and I honestly have a hard time singling out an episode as the best in the season. I enjoyed the season a lot – a very fun, guilty pleasure – and the cluster of episodes toward the end (8-10 of 12) were where things really came to a head. The Dallas storyline and the Fellowship of the Sun storyline came together nicely and concluded in this episode. The highlight though, of this episode and of the season, is the Sookie-Eric dynamic, which took an important turn here. And, of course, like every episode, it ended with a fantastic cliffhanger.
9. Dollhouse – Echo One
The second half of the first season of Dollhouse found Whedon doing the things that we all want him to be doing (developing a complex mythology that moves forward and regularly surprises viewers), and this unaired final episode was a high point. It is a problem when a series’ most successful episode only features momentary appearances from its stars, but this certainly suggests that Whedon is at his best when he defies expectations and works on a minimal budget (and with Felicia Day).
8. Dexter – The Getaway
So, I know a lot of people who have yet to jump aboard the Dexter bandwagon. Many of them read this blog. Stop reading now.
The fourth season of Dexter was, by most counts, a disappointment; the secondary stories were less compelling (or realistic) than those in season three, and the pacing and overall story structure were just off, for the most part. HOWEVER, the finale made up for that in a big way, providing a generally satisfying conclusion to the Trinity arc and then going out with a shocking final scene that shifts the show in a darker and much-needed new direction. Congratulations, Dexter, for going there. I honestly didn’t think you had it in you, and I’m so glad you did.
7. Lost – The Incident
I will be honest that the fifth season of Lost really didn’t do it for me. I just did not find it routinely satisfying, and when I think back on it, there are no real standout episodes (I mostly think about people getting nosebleeds and grabbing their heads). Except the finale. A Lost season finale is always an event, and this one was no exception, answering a number of questions and posting many more.
6. Rescue Me – Torch
For anyone who stopped watching Rescue Me during a previous season, I recommend checking the most recent season out on DVD (or keep an eye on FX for midnight reruns in the next few months). It is a long and mostly satisfying season filled with storylines that are both funny and poignant (including a great performance by Michael J Fox), and the first half is capped off with this wonderful dream-filled episode, finding Tommy descending back into alcoholism and encountering the ghost of his dead son.
5. Battlestar Galactica – The Oath / Blood on the Scales
While I continue to debate the successes and failures of the series finale, this two-part episode (does this series have a bad two-parter?), in which the fleet revolts against the government and the military, does exactly what Battlestar does best. It piles on the suspense and action while simultaneously making you question the characters you root for.
4. Curb Your Enthusiasm – The Table Read
Curb is the only comedy on this list, but what a fantastic season it had. The Seinfeld reunion storyline, brilliantly spread throughout the season’s ten episodes, culminated in the final two Seinfeld-centric episodes. The penultimate “The Table Read” saw the return of a number of secondary Seinfeld characters, in addition to the hilarious acknowledgement of Michael Richards’ real-world racist outbursts.
3. Big Love – Come, Ye Saints
One of the most talked-about episodes of any show during the past year, this episode focusing on the family’s road trip, during which a number of long-gestating secrets finally come out, was a masterpiece from the first minute to last. It was also the moment when I realized that this series had become one of my favorites on television.
2. Breaking Bad – Peekaboo
The show was at its most Fargo-licious in this episode, which focused on Jesse’s attempts to prove himself as an enforcer to a couple of meth-heads who stole from one of his dealers. The hilarious and tragic consequences of his attempt – expressed perfectly in Jesse’s interaction with the couple’s young son – made this the most memorable episode of the series to date.
1. Mad Men – Shut the Door. Have a Seat.
I was tempted to choose a different episode, such as the Halloween episode that had a number of characters removing their metaphorical masks, or the runaway lawnmower that sparked the season to life midway through it, or the brilliant, understated episode surrounding JFK’s assassination. But I really cannot shake the high from the Ocean’s 11-inspired finale. While I am sure that the game-changing aspects of the episode will not truly change the game (Don will never be as carefree as Danny Ocean) as much as some people think they will (do people really think Betty Draper is leaving the show?), I will continue to wait for its return this summer.