Sunday, August 12, 2012

Top 10 Joss Whedon Series Episodes of All Time

(photo @ wikipedia)

When I graduated from college, I spent the following year at home with my mom and dad while saving up as much money as I could and looking for a decent teaching job. One day, a message board I frequented exploded over the fact that the show 'Angel' was being canceled. 

I had heard that the show was good, but I was not prepared to read people write about its demise as if puppies were being murdered on national television. My dad and I decided to take a look...and instantly became hooked. The show became a a bonding point for us as well as a major annoyance to my mom. In addition to her being sick of repeatedly hearing the theme song, she claimed that it was just some show about "sex and vampires." Matters were not helped when she somehow always managed to walk into the room during some of the more explicit scenes.

Nevertheless, my dad and I ended up declaring it our favorite show. When I left a few months later to move to South Carolina (and had burned through all five seasons of Angel), I needed a new drug to feed my addiction to what many referred to as the "Whedonverse"; a tapestry of characters and creatures spawned from the mind of Joss Whedon. 

And his production company/team, which was guarded by a paper monster.


I didn't like Buffy as much as Angel, but I still enjoyed it immensely and found it to be infinitely better than anything else on television at the time. I had also heard about another show Joss created (that did not involve vampires) called 'Firefly.' I never really gave it a chance for a few reasons:

1. Fox constantly preempted it or moved it around into different time slots.
2. The promos that Fox ran for the show looked terrible.
3. Find someone that doesn't know anything about Firefly and try to explain to them what it's about. You'll end up sounding crazy and completely embarrassing yourself.

                                                                                      g-pop.net
Just saying it's a "space western" will not lower anyone's eyebrows, either


But eventually, my need for a fix of Joss' great dialogue and excellent storytelling made me give in...and kick myself repeatedly for not supporting this amazing show from the beginning. 

While the Avengers movie has brought mass attention to Whedon's incredible ability to make larger than life characters speak to an audience, many of us (even late bloomers like myself) were fully aware of the great stuff this guy could do when pen touched paper or he got behind the camera.

The following list is RamblingBeachCat.com's top ten episodes from all of the Joss Whedon television series (including Dollhouse, even though none of them made the cut). Before you dive in, there a few things I'd like you to keep in mind:

1.) This is a list of the best ten episodes out of of nearly 300 possible choices. There are many great ones that will not be on here, but that doesn't mean I think poorly of them at all.

2.) My opinion on these episodes, of course, is 100% correct and can be basically taken as fact. However, I do give some explanations at the end as to why certain ones were left off. I also encourage you to make a case for why I'm wrong about some (or all) of my choices or their placement in the comments. All joking aside, I'm actually wrong quite a lot, but sometimes my wife forgets to to tell me. 


And now, onto the list:

10. Angel 2.09: The Trial


Story: David Greenwalt
Teleplay: Douglas Petrie
         Tim Minear
Director: Bruce Seth Green

Synopsis 
Angel's sire and former lover, Darla, is dying from syphilis she contracted nearly 400 years ago while working as a prostitute. She desperately wants to become a vampire again, preferably via Angel's fangs, but anyone will do as long as it keeps her from facing a mortal death. Angel decides to take a much more noble (and infinitely painful) route to spare her life, while Darla begins to understand what being human truly means.

What makes it great
-For most people, Julie Benz is recognized and beloved as Dexter's ill-fated lover, Rita. But for me, she will always first and foremost be Darla. This episode gave us a chance to watch Benz expertly shift between a cold, soulless killer (in flashbacks to her pre-1900's glory years), a desperate/broken girl, and a brave woman that had resolved to stare down her own mortality with dignity and grace. We also got to hear her sing, which was an unexpected treat.

-Watching a character like Darla (who has lived for centuries and carries a profound respect for traditional/antiquated ways) attempting to get herself turned into a vampire by the child of the 90's "Shempire" is hysterical.



-Despite the fact that Whedon has a knack for killing characters that we love, no one would ever expect Angel to actually die during the trials he took to give Darla her life back. But somehow during the scene where he walks through a hallway filled with crosses...only to have to plunge his hand into a fountain full of holy water...we actually became concerned. When he firmly declares that his life be exchanged for hers, it's one of his most heroic moments.

-Darla's constant snark and cynicism over her "weak" human state give way to love, concern, and compassion as she watches Angel go through hell for her. Her decision to accept death as someone with a soul (and love in her heart for another) is isn't out of character at all; it's the beautiful completion of a very long journey.













-"Things fall apart. Not everything can be put back together, no matter how much you want it." 

Lorne gives Angel this depressing little nugget of wisdom while Darla serenades the bar with her very blue rendition of 'Ill Wind.' It turns out to be more true than anyone expected; right when Darla seems to have finally accepted and even embraced her humanity, Lindsey and a team of operative burst through the door. 

Angel is subdued and forced to watch as the woman he fought fought for with everything he had is turned back into a soulless, evil creature by Drusilla. The character of Darla may have not actually died, but the woman who's character arc seemed to finally give her a chance at peace and happiness was gone for good.

Behind the scenes tidbits






-Julie Benz was absolutely terrified about doing her scene at Lorne's club due to her not being a singer. I think anyone who listened to the performance would beg to differ. 



9. Buffy 3.09: The Wish
                                                                                                                                                                wikipedia

Writer: Marti Nixon
Director: David Greenwalk

Synopsis
After Cordelia and Oz discover their significant others (Xander and Willow, respectively) kissing each other in a near death situation, both are incredibly hurt...and deal with it in completely different ways. While Oz tells Willow to give him space (and reminds her that her repeated attempts to still communicate with him were more to assuage her own guilt than make things right with him), Cordelia makes a wish that Buffy had never shown up in Sunnydale.

In true Whedonverse style, she made this wish while speaking to a new student...who also happened to be a demon that specialized in helping scorned women avenge unfaithful lovers. This contrived plot device, however, gives way to a brilliantly realized alternate world in which Sunnydale is ruled by creatures of the night, old friends have now become psychotic enemies, and Buffy herself has forgotten why it's worth fighting the good fight.

What makes it great
-While Charisma Carpenter's eventual transformation into a champion (during her time with Angel) is what won me over to her acting skills, this episode is one of the first times we really get to see Cordelia appear vulnerable...and Carpenter actually makes it work. 

-Allyson Hannigan often gets typecast as the ever lovable "quirky girl" in her many sitcom and movie roles, but her turn here as a deranged, unremorseful killer is superb...and incredibly unsettling.


-The normal course of a "stuck in an alternate future" plot like this would have the person who actually got stuck make things right. Writer Marti Nixon completely turns this conceit on its head when he has Cordelia get brutally killed before she can barely make an impact in the new world that she accidentally brought into existence.

-When this universe's version of Buffy (from the city of Cleveland) arrives to help save Sunnydale, we realize the true importance of the supporting cast around her in the "real world." They provide her with humanity, sanity, and a constant reminder of why she fights. This version of Buffy is very scared (both mentally and physically) and stares right through you with cold, dead eyes. Gone is the snark and liveliness that makes her such a great character; in its place is a robotic killing machine that can only muster bored ambivalence when considering the prospect of her own death.


-While a beautiful score by composer Christophe Beck plays in the background, we watch in slow motion as former friends and lovers kill each other without remorse. Before Giles smashes the amulet that holds this reality in place, Anya (the vengeance demon that made it possible) asks what makes him so sure that a different world would be any better.

When Giles replies "Because it has to be," there is no doubt that he is correct; this is the worst of all possible outcomes for the lovable Scoobies...and it was awesome.

Behind the scenes tidbits
Joss Whedon liked the evil version of Willow so much that he wrote another episode, Doppelgangland, in which to feature her.



8. Firefly 1.12: The Message
                                                                                                                                                       wikipedia

Writers: Joss Whedon 
          Tim Minear
Director: Tim Minear
Synopsis
Mal and Zoe receive a very strange and morbid mail parcel; the body of one of their dead war buddies named Tracy. Also included in the crate is a recorded message from him asking if they could carry him "just a little bit further" to be buried back home on his family's planet.

But when a relentless (and ruthless) alliance lieutenant begins hounding Serenity for their friend's corpse, the crew decides to do an autopsy. The first incision reveals that Tracy is very much alive...and carrying black market organs. His decision to back out on his original buyer for a higher bidder has put himself and the rest of ship's crew in great danger.

Why it's great
-Any chance to see Mal and Zoe back in their Unification War days is always welcome. While Zoe is still her cool, collected self, we see a happier and much more inspired Mal that still retains enough of his hard edge to remind us why he's such a great character.



-Book's discussion with Jayne about how people react to death (along with a shots of the crew reminiscing over funny stories about their departed friend) rings incredibly true. Sometimes the loss of someone we barely knew can unsettle us to a surprising degree. Other times, the loss of someone we care deeply for can remind us of all the joy they brought into our lives, giving us a break of laughter during our time of grief.

-When Tracy takes Kaylee hostage, it provides a chance for Mal to face down some demons from his past. As Tracy confronts him about the man he used to be, he forces the Captain to make a decision that he doesn't want to, but does without hesitation.

-When Shepard Book reveals to their pursuers that he knows of their illegal activity and threatens to expose them...all while staring down the barrel of a gun without blinking...his badass level increases to a higher level than was thought to be possible.

-"That hat makes you look like an idiot."


-As Tracy lays dying from his wound, apologizing to Mal for how much he had messed up his own life, we see  that some of  war's worst casualties happen long after and very far from the battlefield. We also see a string of attachment to Mal's days as more than a smuggler and when his heart didn't lose as many arguments with his mind. Mal and Zoe make good on their old saying and promise to deliver Tracy home to be buried by his family.

"When you can't run, you crawl. And when you can't crawl, that's when we carry you."

The final scene of Serenity delivering Tracy's body, overlayed with a haunting score by Greg Edmonson, is narrated by Tracy's recording to the crew of Serenity, which has much more sadness (and meaning) to it than when he first arrived on the ship.

Behind the scenes tidbits
-According to the DVD commentary, this was the last episode the crew filmed together. They had just received word that Fox had decided to cancel the show right before the scene in which Tracy's body is delivered to his family. The sad expressions you see on the actor's faces are very real.


-Also according to the DVD commentary, the beautiful music that played at the end of the episode (which you can listen to here) was composed by Greg Edmonson as a farewell to the show itself...dang it, who started cutting onions...



7. Angel 5.14: Smile Time



Story: Ben Edlund
Teleplay: Ben Edlund
                Joss Whedon
Director: Ben Edlund

Synopsis
A wildly popular kids television show called 'Smile Time' is somehow stealing children's souls...which is probably due to the fact that it's run by demons in the guise of harmless looking puppets. When Angel goes to investigate, he ends up being turned into a puppet himself.

Meanwhile, Fred desperately tries to let Wesley know that she has feelings for him, while Angel struggles with a decision over getting back into the dating world with a very attractive woman/werewolf.

What makes it great
-Puppets are creepy enough by themselves, but when puppets from a kids' show begin coercing children through the television set (paralyzing them in a morbid smiley face), drinking alcohol, swearing, and discussing the creation of their very own hell dimension, the skin crawl factor goes up beyond 11.

-For many long time fans, seeing Angel with anyone other than Buffy or Cordelia is sacrilege. But Nina seems like a perfect fit, right down to her own struggle with a monster that dwells within her soul. Wesley's speech to Angel about how very few people find perfect happiness (one moment of which would cause Angel to lose his soul again) is in its own sad way a perfect reason for Angel to try and find love again...along with a reminder of just how much heartache Wesley feels over his (self perceived) unrequited love for Fred.



-When Angel gets turned into a puppet, the opportunities for comedy are exploited to the fullest; Fred fawning over how adorable he is, Angel angrily declaring that doesn't have "puppet cancer," and that incredible moment when Spike walks in and declares "You're a bloody puppet!" I could list many more, but it wouldn't do them any justice; the combination of visual and verbal gags that a puppet version of Angel provides is one of the funniest things imaginable.

-Despite the great amount of comic relief provided by the episode, the "relief" portion is definitely needed to offset just how evil and terrifying the puppets truly are. At no point is this more than apparent than when we see the puppet's ring leader, Polo, stick his hand into the back of the show's human creator (who is barely alive and pleading to be killed) while Groofus the dog excitedly suggests that they make him swallow his tongue...again.

-Maybe this is just me, but the fact that Ratio Hornblower only speaks in beeps, but somehow can be understood by the other puppets (and makes complex statements) causes me to have giggle fits.


-In another subplot, Gunn is beginning to notice that the legal intelligence/acumen that he was blessed with by the Senior Partners is beginning to disappear. But what could have easily turned into television's 437th homage to 'Flowers for Algernon' takes a very dark turn. We aren't initially sure what the consequences of Gunn's deal with the devil will be, but you won't have to wait long (it's revealed in the very next episode) to see just how terrible they truly are.

-When the puppets attempt to do one last show that will steal of the souls of all the children in their television market, Puppet Angel and the gang swoop in to save the day. The fight is particularly brutal, but at the same time it's one of the most ridiculous things you will ever see. This brilliant juxtaposition is summed up perfectly when Polo stares down Angel and growls "I'm gonna tear you a new puppet hole, b#$ch!"


-Asking someone out, especially when you've been out of the dating game for a while (or had your heart broken) is one of the most awkward things imaginable. The fact that Angel is forced to do this with Nina while still in the form of a puppet...and after Nina had nearly killed him while she was a werewolf...is about as symbolic (and funny) as it can get.

-One of the very best things about shows set in the Whedonverse is the way that Joss makes his characters evolve and grow over time. One of the most profound transformations we see is when Wesley goes from a bumbling, barely competent Watcher into a hardened, cynical man. He becomes so focused on doing his job that he can't even tell that the woman he has had a crush on for almost three years desperately wants to be with him...



...until Fred finally gives up, lays a huge kiss on him, and declares "That was a signal...is that clear enough for you?" 

For the first time in a VERY long time, happiness lights up in Wesley's eyes. As the song "Self Esteem is for Everybody" by the Smile Time Gang (which you can listen to here) plays in the background, Fred and Wesley continue to kiss each other, both of them finally able to put aside their past demons and regain a large measure of much needed joy in their lives. If only they knew what horrible fate would soon befall them due to Gunn's selfish decision....

Behind the scenes tidbits
-Joss Whedon, who is the son of Muppet writer Tom Whedon, had wanted to do an "evil Sesame Street show" for a long time.

-Gregor Framkin, the ill-fated human puppeteer, was played by show producer David Fury.

-Several members of The Jim Henson Company were involved in the production of the episode.

-James Marsters (Spike) had to redo multiple takes during his fight scene with the Angel puppet because he was laughing so much.



6. Angel 3.09: Lullaby


Writer: Tim Minear
Director: Tim Minear

Synopsis
This episode is a continuation (and the far superior installment) of a two part story. In the first one, a legendary vampire hunter named Daniel Holtz is shown hunting Angel and Darla in England during the late 1700's. When he gets to their assumed location, however, he instead finds a note from the pair informing him that his family is in imminent danger. Sure enough, Darla and Angel trick Hotlz's young daughter into inviting them in, which they repay by murdering his wife and infant son. The daughter, on the other hand, would experience a much worse fate.

Years later, Holtz is a broken and bitter man. He is then approached by a demon named Sahjhan with an offer to be sent 200 years into the future to kill both vampires and avenge his family.

Back in the present, Darla's inexplicable pregnancy via Angel is causing her to experience increasing degrees of pain...and humanity. Angel's crew is able to examine the baby with an ultrasound, which shows them that instead of being the harbinger of a possible apocalypse, it's a healthy boy. (Editor's note: Healthy boys can still be harbingers of the apocalypse).







The team is forced to retreat when they realize that the unprecedented offspring of two vampires is being sought after by multiple evil factions, including Wolfram and Hart. But when they stop by their base to retrieve some important materials, Holtz is waiting there with his demon army to capture Angel. He keeps him alive in the hopes that Darla will come looking for her mate and he can stake them both.

What neither of them counted on, however, was how the pregnancy would effect actually Darla, who realizes that once the baby (and his soul) have left her body, she will no longer feel the love and maternal protection that she was finally able to experience. After Angel escapes, Holtz learns that he now has a soul. Instead of this inspiring pity, however, it makes him all the more determined to hunt the vampire down and make him truly feel the retribution that he deserves.

As Angel and the rest of the team try to figure out how to help Darla give birth, complications arise that threaten the baby's (and Darla's) life. While they search for a solution, Holtz continues to hunt them down with single minded determination.

Why it's great
-Holtz may be one of the greatest and most sympathetic "villains" in television history. Even though we are hard wired to pull for Angel, it's hard to root against a man that is justifiably entitled to vengeance. Watching the evil versions of Darla and Angel kill his wife and baby in the prior episode was sickening enough, but seeing Holtz have to kill his own daughter (who had been turned into a vampire by Darla) was heart breaking.


-Holtz's single minded determination takes on a sadistically obsessive streak by the end of the episode. When he discovers that Angel has a soul (and therefore is not the same creature that killed his family), he only looks at it as a means to adjust his tactics and help him punish his prey even further. When he tosses the explosives into Lorne's club (while humming "All Through the Night," a song he used to sing to his daughter) and marches through the flames towards his target, it looks like nothing will stop him from getting his revenge...

...except a newborn infant. But what looks like a moment of compassion by the vampire hunter was merely a means to an end. He decided right then that the child would be involved in a plan to cause Angel far more pain and suffering than a wooden stake to the heart ever could.

-Speaking of the baby, the effect of the soul it carried on Darla gives Julie Benz another opportunity to show her incredible range as an actress. From her comedic hormone swings to her heartfelt speech to Angel about how she didn't want to forget how it felt to love her unborn child, Darla's final present day appearance on the show was amazing.

She also saved the best for last: Telling Angel that the child was "the only good thing we ever did together," then driving a stake into her own heart, ending her life before she reverted back into an evil/soulless creature. It also allowed her baby to be born unharmed as she faded into dust. Unlike the ending of The Trial, Darla got to meet the end on her terms...and made the ultimate sacrifice to save her child.



Behind the scenes tidbits
-Julie Benz loved Darla's final episodes, saying it was "one of the most beautiful gifts I've received as an actor."

-The alley shown in the final scene was known as the "Piss Alley" by the cast and crew due to the constant smell of urine.




5. Buffy 5.07: Fool For Love



Writer: Doug Petrie
Director: Nick Marck

Synopsis
While on patrol one night, Buffy gets bested by a run of the mill vampire. This causes her to fixate even more on the typically short life span of a slayer. She decides that the best way to combat this is to ask Spike, who has killed two slayers during his lifetime, how he did it.

Due to a chip that was planted in his head by the Initiative (a military special ops group dedicated to hunting demons), Spike is unable to harm Buffy physically. His explanation for how other slayers died by his hand, however, does far more damage than she was prepared for.

Why it's great
-A trip to the past in the Buffyverse is always enjoyable, but this one might be the best. We get to see that Spike's assertion that he's "always been bad" is about as far from the truth as you can get. When Cecily rejects his advances because she considers William to be "beneath her," it's easy to see why he embraced and perpetuated his Spike persona with such fervor.



-Watching Buffy and Spike interact here (before things got all weird in Season 6) is riveting, particularly the scene in the alley. The way that their conversation in the present juxtaposes with Spike (in full on Billy Idol mode) killing a slayer in the 70's is some of the best camera work and editing you could ask for.

-When Buffy throws the wad of cash at Spike and echoes Cecily's sentiment of "you're beneath me," (something he surely did not tell her when he was recalling the story in the present day), it's jarring to see him  look so broken. James Marsters always did an excellent job giving life to Spike's arrogance and sadism, but he really took the character's emotions to another level here.

-Spike's obsession with Buffy takes a completely unexpected turn when he decides to try and kill her anyway (chip implant be damned), but instead finds a her crying and distraught over her potentially terminally ill mother. I was never a fan of the relationship between Spike and Buffy that formed over the next two seasons, but that moment was very touching and still managed to ring true with both characters.



Behind the scenes tidbits

-This episode crossed over with the Angel season two episode "Darla." The shot of Angelus, Spike, Darla, and Drusilla walking together while fires from the Boxer Rebellion burned in the background was shown in both episodes.

-Cecily shows up in midway through Buffy's sixth season as a vengeance demon. She and Spike recognize each other (she even refers to him as William), but they do not reveal their familiarity to anyone else.

-The slayer that Spike killed in the 70's is the mother of Robin Wood, who would end up becoming a main character in Buffy's seventh season.



4. Angel 5.12: You're Welcome
                                                                                                                                                     nikkistafford

Synopsis
After taking over Wolfram and Hart, Angel and his team have been able to accomplish more good deeds than ever before...but only in regards to quantity. They still have to represent and help many beings that are pure evil (as evidenced by the group of dead nuns they find at one of their clients' homes).

Angel, feeling that he is no longer fighting on the right side of the battle between good and evil, strongly considers quitting before he receives a phone call from the hospital. Cordelia, who was put into a coma after being possessed in Season 4, is awake.

After a warm reunion, she helps Angel deal with the threat of a resurfaced and powered up Lindsey...along with remembering who he is and why it's still worth it to fight the good fight.

Why it's great
-After a very uneven fourth season, the fifth season of Angel was arguably its best. But it still felt like there was missing something. That "something" was Cordelia as the heart and soul of the show. While she had started out in Sunnydale as a reluctant (and somewhat shallow) member of the 'Scoobies,' her time on Angel transformed her into a true champion while still retaining her trademark snarkiness.



-The return of Cordelia also gave the show an injection of some much needed comedy and perspective. Much like Angel, things had gotten very dark and a bit vague; no one was really sure how Angel running the organization that he had fought against for so long could ever end up being good. One of the best moments was right after Cordelia accused Angel of making a deal with the devil. When he tried to deny it, an actual devil walks by to confirm their upcoming game of racquetball.

-Watching Lindsey get his ass kicked is always fun.

-I know this will be sacrilege for some folks to hear, but the relationship between Angel and Cordelia always felt much more genuine to me than the one between Angel and Buffy. While the love story in Sunnydale may have been star crossed and mythic, the one between Angel and Cordy grew organically and over a long period of time. Instead of constantly causing each other pain and torment, Angel helped Cordelia find her purpose while she kept him grounded and gave support.

-In their last scene, however, it's Cordy who gives purpose to Angel. When she tries to explain to him why she has to leave (and pass from this earth), she also explains that her brief return was her one favor to cash in, and she used to "get her guy back on track."

When Cordelia tries to leave, only to turn around and declare "Oh what the hell; one for the road," their kiss was the culmination of years of sexual tension, battles fought side by side, and trust that bonded them together. Even as a guy, I have to admit that it was beautiful...and I really wish the jerk that started cutting onions nearby would knock it off.

   
Behind the scenes tidbits
-This was the 100th episode of the series. The cast and crew had a party to celebrate one of the network's highest rated shows. Just 10 days later, it was announced that Angel was being canceled.

-The episode was originally supposed to have Buffy return, but Sarah Michelle Gellar was unavailable.





3. Buffy 4.10: Hush
                                                                                                                                  thetvcritic

Writer: Joss Whedon
Director: Joss Whedon

Synopsis
After an insanely awkward dream sequence, Buffy and Riley continue to have their relationship negatively affected by the fact that they're both hiding basically the same secret (they're demon hunters) from each other.

Meanwhile, a group of fairy tale monsters known as The Gentlemen come to Sunnydale and take everyone's voice. This allows them and their henchmen to move through the town and cut out people's hearts (of which they need seven because they're evil or something) without anyone being able to scream.

As the town falls into chaos, Buffy and her gang must find a way to stop these creatures while dealing with the fact they none of the Scoobies (or anyone, for that matter) can speak with each other.

Why it's great
-The Gentlemen are pure nightmare fuel. The fantastic practical make up effects and unearthly way that they float around (which was accomplished by wires and cranes) is bad enough, but the permanent grins that they maintain...even while cutting into a victim's flesh...is truly unsettling.



-Getting to watch all of the characters communicate without actual dialogue was a lot of fun. A plot device like this can easily cause some actors to fall into the trap of over exaggerated "eye acting." But the under the direction of Joss himself, the cast did an outstanding job.

-Anya's complete lack of a brain filter or tact (due to only recently becoming human) gives her some of the best comedic moments of the episode. Even when she is unable to speak, her realization that Xander truly does care about her gives Anya yet another chance to be hilariously inappropriate.



-Like most Buffy fans, I did not like Riley. This episode, however, was one of the few times that his interaction with her was actually enjoyable to watch.

-We get to see the beginning of Tara and Willow's relationship, the strength of which was foreshadowed when their combined efforts were able to accomplish something that neither of them could do by themselves.

-The score by Christophe Beck is always good, but this episode really allows his ability to tell a story with music shine.

Behind the scenes tidbits
-One the DVD commentary, Joss Whedon claims that the inspiration for The Gentlemen came from a nightmare that he had as a child.

-'Hush' was the only episode in the entire Buffy series to be nominated for an Emmy (which is a travesty).



2. Firefly 1.08: Out of Gas


Writer: Tim Minear
Director: David Solomon

Synopsis
The episode begins with Mal as the only one aboard Serenity...and barely clinging to life. As the ship continues to give warnings about decreasing oxygen levels, his memory flashes back to how he got into this situation in the first place and how he met each of his crew members.

Why it's great
-By itself, the "present day" plot line of how Mal ended up near death and alone is riveting. When it's interspersed with flashbacks showing how he met the rest of his crew, however, the episode resonates even more with every trip back to a dying Mal and his desperate attempt to save Serenity.

-I was not at all prepared for the Kaylee sex scene.

-One of the things that makes Mal great is how Nathan Fillion is able to perfectly walk the line of someone with a hard edge that still retains a measured degree of humanity and faith. A character like this would normally be fertile ground for a glut contrived, emotional moments, but the team behind Serenity was careful never to over do it. The scene at the end where Mal asks if everyone will still be there when he wakes up was one of those times they let his soul come through...and it was great.


-It's always understood that the crew has faith in Mal, but their decision to come back for him purely in the hopes that he beat impossible odds gave us a chance to see just how solid their belief in the captain was.

Behind the scenes tidbits
-The ship's failure is caused by a malfunction of the catalyzer on the port compression coil, an issue that had been mentioned multiple times since the first episode of the series.

-On the DVD commentary, Alan Tudyk (Wash) took the red recall button from the ship and gave it to Joss. He said that if the show could ever get renewed, pushing that button would bring them all back. While the show never did get it's second chance, they were able to come back together one last time to make an incredible movie.



1. Buffy 5.16: The Body
                                                                                                                          wikipedia

Writer: Joss Whedon
Director: Joss Whedon
Synopsis
Buffy arrives home to find that her mother has died of an aneurysm (She had been afflicted with a brain tumor before, but a recent surgery successfully removed it). Her death turns Buffy's world upside down at a time when things were already too much for her to handle.

The episode also examines how the rest of the Scoobies deal with the passing of a woman that they all felt very close to.

Why it's great
-For anyone that has ever dealt with the death of a loved one, this episode hits so close to home that it's sometimes very hard to watch. Just like Buffy, we react in ways we don't expect and inexplicably focus on phrases and objects. 

-When Buffy steps outside while waiting for the coroner to retrieve her mother's body, she can hear the sound of the world still going on around her. It may seem simple, but it's a jarring realization that everything is still moving forward you while your entire world is crashing down.



-The camera direction and dialogue is amazingly well done, particularly the long camera shot at the beginning and Buffy's horror at her mother being referred to as a "body" rather than a person.

-You've probably noticed that I've mentioned music a lot in this list, but part of what makes this episode great is the fact that there is no background music at all. We never get to be comforted or emotionally manipulated by a beautiful, soaring theme while the character's comfort each other. Instead, all we're left with is ambient sound and patches of painful silence.

-Like most fans at this point in the series, I was getting pretty annoyed with Dawn. Watching her react to her mother's death made me feel truly sympathetic to her for the first time.

-Anya, who is played by Emma Caufield, is normally reserved for moments of comic relief (sprinkled with a side helping of eye candy). Her inability to understand her new human emotions or unspoken social contracts gives her a super charged, mystical version of aspergers that provides some of the series' funniest moments.



In this episode, however, her method of processing things gives her what I consider the most touching lines out of the entire cast. While the rest of the Scoobies talk through her Joyce's death in their own ways, Anya continuously asks what at first seem like very inappropriate questions. When Willow snaps at her, her response is:

"But I don't understand! I don't understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I knew her, and then she's...there's just a body, and I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore! It's stupid! It's mortal and stupid! And ... and Xander's crying and not talking, and ... and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever. And she'll never have eggs, or yawn, or brush her hair...not ever. And no one will explain to me why!"

Later, when the gang is with Buffy and struggling to find an appropriate/sympathetic thing to say to her, Anya blurts out:

"I wish that Joyce didn't die...because she was nice...and now we all hurt." 

Anya's inability to to internalize her curiosity, emotions, and feelings gives us some incredibly pure dialogue in regards to how our minds work while trying to process a tragic death.

-Even more than 10 years after the episode aired, homosexuality on network television is often treated as a comedic plot device or something titillating (particularly with regards to women). Tara and Willow share their first on screen kiss in this episode, but it's not something sensual or "hot." Instead, it's Tara's way of reassuring Willow that she is there for her while she grieves; even though she hadn't known Joyce as long as the rest of the group, she understands the pain she's going through and is there to give her support.



-Speaking of Tara, it was interesting to watch someone who was easily the most timid member of the group be able to show incredible poise and offer so much support (her mother died when she was young, as well).

-For most of the characters, their home lives were something that  they actively tried to avoid. Xander's family was abusive. Willow's family was frigid. The rest basically didn't have anyone. But Joyce had ending up becoming the group's mother. Losing her was like losing a family member, whether they were blood related or not.

-I initially did not like the vampire fight at the end; it felt incredibly out of place with the rest of the episode. But after talking to a friend of mine about it, I at least understand it better. While most of Buffy's fights are very stylized, this one (like the episode itself) was incredibly raw and a bit painful to watch. It also symbolized that for Buffy, the day to day battles that she always deals with will still keep coming.



Why it's THE best episode
Despite how amazing the three shows represented on this list are, they're also heavily steeped in genre. While great stories can be told on a multitude of platforms, some people genuinely don't like fantasy or science fiction...they're crazy and need to have their heads examined, but they actually do exist.

This episode however, works on a level that transcends any sort of label. Aside from a few references to "Glory" and the short vampire fight at the end, 'The Body' is a powerful 44 minutes of television that can reach out and grab any viewer that has experienced basic human emotions.

It's not just the best episode from a Joss Whedon series; it's one of the best episodes ever shown on television, period.

Behind the scenes tidbits
-Joss Whedon's mother also died of a cerebral aneurysm.

-The network asked Joss to consider removing the kiss between Tara and Willow; he said it had to stay in or he would leave the show.


-----------And now, time to answer some of your complaints/questions before they are asked---------


You sir, are an idiot! How could you leave off:

-Buffy 6.07: Once More with Feeling









Buffy produced some of the best episodic television ever created. (That may just be my opinion, but I'm also 100% right about that). 'Once More With Feeling' was a highly entertaining episode of television, but it was not one of the greatest musicals ever created.

Also, keep in mind that I had to choose from literally HUNDREDS of episodes. This made me take things into account such as special effects, editing, and of course, plot...and the one for OMWF has a giant hole in it.

Xander, in an effort to figure out his relationship with Anya, ended up being the one who called forth the demon that made everyone sing and dance...and it got people killed. The fact that he made such a selfish/disastrous decision is never discussed.

-Angel 5.22: Not Fade Away


















Series finales, particularly for long running shows, are tricky. You have to wrap up a whole bunch of plot lines while giving fans that will tune in for the first time (or after a long absence) something entertaining to watch. Lost, for example, completely failed in both of those respects with its last episode.

Angel on the other hand, executed this perfectly. The ending may have been a little cliff hanger-ish, but the idea of our heroes going down swinging against impossible odds fits right perfectly with all that they had dealt with before.

Add into that Illyria's beautiful line to Wesley of "would you like me to lie to you now"...and the fact that CONNOR ACTUALLY SEEMED LIKABLE FOR ONCE...and you've got an incredible send off for an incredible show.

But if you take away the emotional attachment of long time fans and examine the episode purely as a stand alone story, then...well...actually it's still pretty great. Just not quite good enough to crack the Top 10. Definitely in the Top 11, though.

-ANY of the other Firefly episodes!










Buffy the Vampire Slayer ran for 144 episodes. Angel ran for 110. Firefly ran for 14...so from a numbers perspective, over 10% of Firefly's run got put on the list compared to a much smaller amount for the other two.

But honestly, I consider Firefly hands down to be a better overall series than Buffy and very close to Angel. One can only imagine the incredible stories and character growth that would have occurred had the show been allowed to have even half of one of the other's time on the air...

...but since that will never happen, thinking about it just makes me curl up into the fetal position and cry over the fact that people consider Two and a Half Men to be a good show. So thanks for bringing it up. Jerk.


-Buffy 3.22: Graduation Day















The Mayor was one of my absolute favorite characters on the show. Watching his interaction with Faith completely run in the polar opposite direction of his evil nature made him one of the most interesting villains on any show that I've seen.

Unfortunately, his best episode, while one of my favorites, also had some weak points. One of them was the part where Faith's spirit (while she's still in a coma) magically comes to Buffy and helps her figure out how to defeat him. It completely betrayed the character arc that had been wonderfully built for her during the entire season.

Plus, remember how I said I was taking everything into account...including special effects?

Yeah...that giant snake looked terrible, even after you take into account when the episode was made.

The part where it crashes through the wall of the high school, however, was admittedly pretty awesome.

-Buffy 2.22: Becoming


















See my above statement about Angel/Buffy vs. Angel/Cordelia. While their story was wonderful, tragic, and full of metaphors about what terrible jerks guys can be when it comes to sex, it still didn't get to me like the organically developed bond between Angel and Cordelia did. There's no doubt that this was a great episode, but it's not in the top 10...

...oh yeah, and go watch their final sword fight again. You can totally tell when it's a sword wielding stunt double standing in for David Boreanaz.

-ANY of the Dollhouse episodes











Because Dollhouse just wasn't very good. Don't get me wrong; it's still better than most of the stuff on television. And despite some of the criticism that Eliza Dushku got, I thought she did an excellent job changing characters on a weekly basis. But the show never quite hit the stride in two seasons that Firefly was able to manage in just a few episodes.

I will say, however, that Epitaph One was very close to being put on my list for a while. In addition to having Felicia Day, there was a lot to like about it...but not enough to beat out the gems that reside within RamblingBeachCat.com's Top 10.

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And that's it folks. I'm sure that more than a few of you will disagree with my choices, but that's part of what makes being a fan of Joss Whedon fun. There is so much great material out there that it's hard to pick favorites...and once we do, we'll fight like a rabid dog to defend it.

Fun fact: My favorite MOMENTS from Joss Whedon's television series do not line up very neatly with my favorite episodes..but that might have to be an article for another day.

Until next time, continue to fight the good fight, and keep flying.


Sorry, but I just had to put this at the end



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