/Answers: The Best Television Episodes Of All Time

Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. This week's edition asks "What is your favorite television episode of all time?" As always, we have submissions from the /Film writing crew and podcast team, along with a special guest. This week, we are joined by The Leftovers and Lost showrunner Damon Lindelof.

If you'd like to share your favorite TV episode, please send your thoughts to slashfilmpitches@gmail.com for a chance to be featured on the site. Find our favorite episodes below!

Damon Lindelof: "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen," M*A*S*H

I feel like there's so many [shows] that have incredible sticking power, but the first thing that popped into my head when you asked the question was M*A*S*H finale. That made a massive impression on me when I saw it for the first time. I felt like I was watching something incredibly adult, and I was still a kid. I was also watching something at the same time that 60 million other human beings were watching it. I had a very profound experience watching that episode, and every time I've revisited it over the years, it takes me back to exactly what I was wearing and what I was eating, and where I was sitting in my childhood living room when it was on.

Is that the best episode of television ever? Who knows. But all I can do is answer the question you asked, in terms of what my mind immediately leapt to. There's a bunch. In the modern era, I think the greatest single episode of television produced is probably the "Ozymandias" episode of Breaking Bad. I sat there watching it, and when it was over I couldn't move for, like, five minutes. It was just staggering.

Hoai-Tran Bui: "Zuko Alone," Avatar: The Last Airbender

Antiheroes are a dime a dozen in today's pop culture landscape, as are their obligatory redemption arcs. But try as many shows might, they will rarely best the character development of Prince Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender. That's right, a Nickelodeon animated series does character work better than your favorite cable prestige drama. And that pristine character work is fully realized in the breakout season 2 standalone episode, "Zuko Alone."

In an episode that forgoes the main protagonists in favor of the show's resident villain-turned-antihero, "Zuko Alone" is a miraculous homage to iconic "ronin" films like Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars, condensed into a 25-minute episode. The episode follows Zuko after he has parted ways with his wise, tea-drinking uncle, in an attempt to make it on his own as the disgraced outcast prince of the Fire Nation. He runs into a poor boy being terrorized by Earth Kingdom military thugs and — in an uncharacteristic moment of chivalry — decides to help him and the village under the sway of the brutal soldiers. What follows is your classic antihero grappling with identity, the horrors of war and poverty, intercut with flashbacks to Zuko's unhappy upbringing alongside his psychotic sister. But brief moments of nobility and compassion thanks to the kindness of his mother in his past are reflected in Zuko's own journey of self-discovery, as he clumsily tries to do good by the villagers.

It's the bitter ending of the episode that sets this episode apart from other "lone noble warrior" stories, however. Backed into a corner, Zuko ends up revealing and reveling in his identity as the crown prince of the Fire Nation, the object of both the villagers' and the soldiers' hatred. He's cast out again, despite his small, baby steps toward doing a good deed, and hurt, he retreats back into his proud, antihero shell. The episode is a fantastic piece of storytelling and character work, and while "Zuko Alone" does nothing new, it does it with such aplomb that it deserves to be ranked up there with the movies it pays homage to.

Ben Pearson: "Ozymandias," Breaking Bad

I think Breaking Bad is the greatest television show of all time, so naturally my pick for this category is the best episode of that show: "Ozymandias," the third-to-last episode of the show's five season run. As great as the pilot is, I think "Ozymandias" is the best hour of television I've ever seen. Directed by Rian Johnson and written by Moira Walley-Beckett, it contains the heart-wrenching murder of a major character, the gorgeous cinematography the series was known for, and an absolute masterclass in tension with a knife fight sequence that still gets my heart racing just by thinking about it.

Anna Gunn and Bryan Cranston deliver titanic performances here (they both won Emmys for their work in this episode), and the scene in which Cranston's Walter White drives away with his daughter Holly as Gunn's Skyler screams in despair is one of the most guttural, powerful things I've seen on any screen, big or small. It's the culmination of years' worth of secrets and lies, all coming to a head as the show speeds into its finale. It's riveting, breathtaking television, and in a show full of fantastic episodes, this is the pinnacle of its achievements.

Jacob Hall: "Once More With Feeling," Buffy the Vampire Slayer

"Once More With Feeling" isn't the best episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer because it employs a cute gimmick where the entire story is presented as a musical. It's the best episode of the series because creator, showrunner, writer, and director Joss Whedon uses that gimmick to actually push the season's larger plot in incredible directions, taking advantage of the song-and-dance format to let characters bare their souls and have the kinds of conversations they'd normally avoid. It's a spectacularly entertaining break from format that refuses to be a monster-of-the-week episode – everything that occurs here hurts and lingers and matters.

In true Buffy fashion, there's a malevolent reason for everyone suddenly breaking into song. A demon named Sweet has arrived in Sunnydale and his mere presence causes the population to break into song and dance, singing their darkest truths, sharing lovely romantic ballads with their partners, and getting all Busy Berkeley over mustard stains. Some people literally burst into flames after singing and dancing too much, so naturally, it's up to Buffy and her crew to deal with the problem. While some members of the cast are much better at singing and dancing than the others, that's part of the charm. Even the less talented singers throw themselves into each scene with gusto, as if they were, you know, compelled to do so by a supernatural force.

And while those songs are great and the series' trademark wit and winking camp are on full display, it's the final scenes that seal the deal here. Whedon uses this very silly, potentially gimmicky episode to finally deal with the ramifications of the fifth season finale and the season six premiere. Only through song can Buffy be honest with her friends about what they've done to her and what she has gone through. It's heartbreaking and catchy and bold and yeah, this is the best hour of TV ever made.

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Jack Giroux: "The Doll," Curb Your Enthusiasm

If there's one show that brings me more than joy than any other, it's Curb Your Enthusiasm. Picking a favorite episode of television is tough enough, but choosing a favorite episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm is even more challenging. Maybe more than any other show, I think about Larry David's HBO comedy because thinking about the series instantly brings a smile to my face. If had to pick one episode of Curb, one of an episode of television I wouldn't later feel too embarrassed about calling my favorite, it's "The Doll." Partially because no other show has Susie Essman's pronunciation of "decapitated."

It's 30 minutes of a play toy wreaking havoc for Larry David and his "yes man" pal Jeff. Episodes in which the world is against Larry at every turn tend to be the best of the series and in "The Doll," he faces all sorts of challenges: a former hall monitor, a door without a lock, a chest freeze, Judy the doll, and Suzy, a character who always sees through his bull. This is a show that challenges its lead every chance it gets. Each plot thread intersects so seamlessly.

Most of David's conflicts, both in how they're set up and paid off, are surprising. The jokes and storylines rarely go where expected. It's incredible to me how exciting and fun it is to see how much can go wrong for one character in half an hour, and how you still empathize and like him despite his pitfalls. The final line and David's last reaction shot are also absolutely perfect. You share in his state of horror, before laughing as Larry David escapes a mob only he could attract.

Peter Sciretta: "The Constant," Lost

I am a big Lost fanatic and for me, the best episode of the series, or any television series for that matter, has to be "The Constant." Written by Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof and directed by Jack Bender, this fourth season episode is notable for a variety of reasons. Lost began as a mainstream show with some science fiction undertones and slowly ramped up the genre elements as the seasons went on. This is the jaw-dropping, mind-blowing episode where they went all-in, introducing the concept of time travel to the series.

Desmond's consciousness unexpectedly travels through time between 1996 and 2004, adding a whole new Twilight Zone-style dimension to the already mysterious series. The episode is brilliantly executed, smarter than almost anything else that has aired on network television before and since, and expertly constructed around a moving love story. And while the episode didn't introduce us to Dr. Daniel Faraday, Jeremy Davies cemented himself as a core part of the series with his performance here. It also features one of the most emotional scenes in the history of the series, which you can watch above. God damn it, Lindelof and Cuse, you're making me cry again almost a decade later.

Ethan Anderton: "The Debate," Parks and Recreation

When you watch the first season of Parks and Recreation, it's amazing to see how little the show resembles what it would become, which is one of the best comedies network television has ever seen. What started off as a weak, local government version of The Office became a series that quickly found its voice in the second season and evolved into a witty, touching and hilarious show. And no episode exemplifies that better than "The Debate" from the tail-end of the fourth season.

In the fourth season of Parks and Recreation, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is running for city council with her main opponent being the dimwitted and spoiled Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd), part of the Newport family that owns the Sweetums candy company in Pawnee, Indiana. This storyline in general is one of the best serialized arcs in the entire series run, not to mention one of the best narratives in a network comedy, but having the election boil down to this debate where Leslie is forced to match wits with a rich lovable idiot is just as poignant as it is funny.

In this episode, which was written and directed by Amy Poehler herself, not only do we get to see Leslie doing what she does best by showing the pure passion she has for improving Pawnee, but we get to see how well she continues to jibe with her nerdy husband Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) as her campaign manager. Their romance is an all-time great one, and the fact that their relationship works seamlessly both professionally and personally is a testament to how rich and carefully crafted these characters are to be such perfect matches.

It's a bonus that the rest of the ensemble cast has plenty to do, including Andy providing one of his finest moments in reenacting the entirety of movies like Road House for voters who were expecting to watch the debate. The only shortcoming of this episode is how it extends the romance between Tom (Aziz Ansari) and Ann (Rashida Jones), an inexplicable romance that didn't really go anywhere. Still, it's nothing that detracts from the sheer greatness of this episode. For what it's worth, a close runner-up would be "Lil Sebastian", the third season finale.

Christopher Stipp: "M.I.A," Quantum Leap

There is no question that in 2017 there is a glut of high-quality of television. The number of series that are worth your time is genuinely staggering considering the depth of writing and the deep benches of showrunner talent. And, from that pile, to pick one that was a smidge better than the rest is truly a difference of inches when you consider how uniformly excellent many series have been as of late. For me, though, I'm going into the way back machine and picking an episode of a series that many don't talk about enough and that's Quantum Leap.

I'm not sure if the series is remembered as fondly as I remember it. This is the high concept story of a man who is stuck leaping from time-to-time, body-to-body, righting wrongs and inhabiting the lives of strange people every week. Being on NBC, this was no hand-crafted indie series made on a shoestring budget. Perhaps it's the mass market appeal that keeps it from being remembered as much, but there was one episode that was downright sad and I've never lost my love of it.

The episode was called "M.I.A." and it was the season finale of the show's second season. Our time traveler Sam (Scott Bakula) leaps into a police detective's body in 1969 and he believes his mission is to prevent a woman from marrying another man while her husband is missing in action in Vietnam. His sidekick Al (played by the wildly talented Dean Stockwell), the one person Sam can see from the future who guides him throughout the series by supplying the probabilities of what he's supposed to be doing in any given episode, intentionally leads Sam astray in this episode as the man who's M.I.A. is actually a younger Al and that the woman was Al's wife. The back and forth of the episode ultimately ends with Al being able to "visit" with his wife who ends the episode alone, listening to Ray Charles' "Georgia on my Mind", as he talks to her and begs her to wait for him as he knows he'll be coming home someday. It's a one-way moment that was touching and sad without it being melodramatic. I've never been able to listen to "Georgia on My Mind" since without thinking of this final scene.

Leftovers season 3

What do you think of our picks? What is your favorite television episode? Talk about it in the comments below or email your personal answer (a paragraph or more) to slashfilmpitches@gmail.com with the subject title "Favorite TV Episode." Our favorite responses will be featured on the site in a future post!

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