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April 08 2010

Entertainment Weekly's Top 25 Flashback Episodes. Entertainment's Weekly's list of the 25 best flashback episodes includes 2 Whedon favorites. And there's a poll where you can vote for lots of flashback episodes.

That Fringe episode? So amazingly awesome!
I was nearly through the list, thinking to myself, "Where the hell is The West Wing?!" Aaron Sorkin writes a flashback episode better than anyone, or, if I were to acknowledge that I haven't read and seen everything ever, at least close to. And they didn't even choose the best one!
Lots of great TV on here -- both Whedon eps are among my favorites. Last weeks' Fringe flashback was also amazing.
"Out of Gas" is my fave Firefly ep because of how beautifully it melds flashback with present time. Everything about that hour is amazing. Same with "Fool For Love". It ranks in my top ten Buffy episodes annually (yes, I have a marathon every year and, yes, every year my top ten gets shifted around or changed completely).

In the non-Whedon world, "Walkabout" still sits high on my list of favorite Lost episodes. Terry O'Quinn is brilliant on so many levels and that was the episode that turned me into a Lost addict. Also agree with folks here on the Fringe episode and the fact that Aaron Sorkin rocks flashback eps.
I'm not sure whether this is supposed to be ranked, but it's pretty shiny that OOG and FFL as 2 and 3. At the same time, though it's nice that "Darla" got a shout-out, it really deserved to be on the list too.

Obviously in a list where more than one episode was allowed, "Selfless" would be a front-runner; I do think "Fool for Love" gets the edge. (Similar for "Becoming, Part 1," "Lies My Parents Told Me," "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been," "Destiny" etc.)

One problem with a list like this is that series which have flashback episodes often--Veronica Mars, Dexter's first season, even Mad Men--are probably shafted because there aren't very many examples of episodes that stand out for their flashback usage.

OMITTED (and I'm keeping in mind that there seems to be a one-per-series rule):

1. Epitaph One. I suppose given its format you might not consider it a flashback episode. I would, however. Origin story/moment for Topher and Adelle's tricky relationship. Buildup in scattered scenes to the apocalypse. An episode that tells an entire story while leaving enough room for the story to turn out to be something else entirely. The "present" (future) story is merely okay until Whiskey comes around, as engaging as the cast is, but the flashbacks are agonizing. And it ends with that look at the survivors on the wall. "I hope I find me alive out there."

2. Veronica Mars, Pilot: The entire show makes use of flashback structure, but I can't think of any episode that ever used--or needed to use--it as much as this one, or as effortlessly. (Some of my favourite flashbacks are in the otherwise unmemorable "Wrath of Con," and "Normal Is the Watchword" does a good job of reintroducing the setting via flashbacks--but those are both on the laboured side. "A Trip to the Dentist" plays up the Rashomon aspects fairly well but isn't as strong as the pilot.) Effortless storytelling. Any complaints I have about this episode (and they are mostly minor) have to do with the present storyline, which is good but mostly exists to hint at larger things to come. But the flashbacks, the oversaturated colours. Veronica's long walk to the sheriff's office. Logan tearfully asking why Veronica's father continues to pursue Lily's father. Veronica tossing the music box in the garbage. Amazing. (My second-favourite pilot of all time, with Firefly's "Serenity" in the lead.)

3. Darla. A key episode for Angel as well as for Darla, where, as he says to Cordelia, rather than seeking redemption "I sought her." The definitive treatise on their relationship (supplemented nicely by bits and pieces elsewhere), casting Darla as putting all her hopes and dreams into Angel and him doing the same. And they are so similar in their pain, but they both end up rejecting each other at their crucial turning points 100 years apart. "Don't come for me again."

4. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Well, I'm tempted to say "The Visitor," but I acknowledge that as the episode takes place in the future and reconstructs a timeline it might not quite fit the requirements. So instead I'll say "Necessary Evil," which shows the start of the complex (and at this point purely platonic) Odo/Kira friendship in earnest, where Odo is asked by Dukat to sort out a case. The morality gets murky and the end leaves things unresolved.

5. Mad Men: The Hobo Code. I really could pick almost any of the major flashback episodes on this show, but this is one of the first major insights into Don's upbringing and a particularly strong outing.

A few notes on some of the other listings:

BSG: Unfinished Business: This seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it episode, and I've seen several people decrying it as one of the show's worst. I quite liked it, though I acknowledge that Adama's behaviour toward Tyrol is pretty mystifying. Not #1 (if this is ranked) which...clearly goes either to "Out of Gas" or "Fool for Love." But still, high, and I'm not just talking about Bill and Laura.

Lost: Walkabout: I've got to hand it to Fury--he did good. I haven't rewatched this since the first time I saw it, but it remains one of the key episodes in defining the direction of the series as well as a showcase for (probably) the show's most entertaining and dynamic actor--tied for first place anyway with Michael Emerson who won't appear for another year and a half.

House: Three Stories: I know it's cliche, but I'm midway into the fourth season and this is still my favourite episode. The play with the format is particularly noteworthy because of the way it waits until partway through to let us in on the significance of the story: suddenly everything makes sense, and, as they say on the site, an entertaining yarn becomes dead-serious.

The Simpsons: I Married Marge: I was assuming it would be The Way We Was on here, but this one works as well, back in the early days of the show when emotional resonance was still sought very regularly and just as often achieved. Homer's useless, Marge's sisters insist that no good will come of their marriage, but they love each other, love their son-to-be, and are willing to make it work.

Star Trek: The Menagerie: Well, I would totally swap this for one of my choices (duh), but I do like how this makes a virtue of necessity. By losing Jeffrey Hunter the Trek writers managed to make a statement about the power of illusion (as well as showcasing Spock's tremendous loyalty) that serves as a lovely comment on the story in "The Cage" itself.
Out of Gas is one of my favorite episodes in all of television. Luck of the Fryrish gets the waterworks flowing every time. Good list
I definitely agree with you on the Veronica Mars Pilot, WilliamTheB.
I really feel that "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been" should be on this list.
That episode is beautiful to watch.
Beautiful episode, but Entertainment Weekly isn't going to go for that. I'd say their choices are a little more "feel good" in thier own ways. "Are You Now" is very creepy and ventures into very sad which is brilliant, but probably not what they're looking for.

I love both these episodes.

And I'm with you on "Unfinished Business" William. I actually don't find Adama and Tyrol that mystifying in that episode. I think Adama was trying to make a point to the crew, and he had a history with Tyrol, not that Tyrol was someone he had a major problem with. The idea being Adama feels he stopped being vigilent the moment he let Tyrol go to do a "nice thing." It's not really about Tyrol, it's about Adama. But the catalyst is Adama seeing the chief let one of his subordinates shirk his duties for the fight because Tyrol's doing the "nice thing."

I think in the ring, his issue with Tyrol was simply that Tyrol wasn't taking him seriously at first.

[ edited by azzers on 2010-04-09 03:23 ]
of everything i've seen on that list, i agree with almost all of them. that said, i agree totally with weevil, "manchester," from season two of west wing is one of the finest flashback eps i've ever seen.

and i <3 unfinished business. if you get a chance, you should listen to ronald d. moore's commentary track from the tv edit version, with guests tahmoh penniket and grace park. it's fantastic.
I really feel that "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been" should be on this list.

Unfinished Business has always been one of my favorite BSG eps... and not just because Lee and Kara pounding on each other and then falling into a weary embrace parallels a few too many of my own past relationships...

For Veronica Mars, the "flashback" format was used a lot, and I have to think of "An Echolls Family Christmas," but I admit it's not a true flashbacker.

"Fool For Love" is amazing work. Not only did it brilliantly reveal Spike's past, it also brilliantly explained an essential part of being the Slayer, underscoring the running theme of S5. I saw it early on, and even lacking the context it was stunning.
I'm shocked Veronica Mars' 'A Trip to the Dentist' wasn't on there. Most of the episode is a flashback, it solved one of the mysteries of the season and was a wonderful example of how memory can affect 'evidence'.
I was nearly through the list, thinking to myself, "Where the hell is The West Wing?!"

Funny I had the exact same thing! I was thinking mostly of In the Shadow of Two Gunmen but Two Cathedrals was just as close to perfect.

Veronica's "A Trip to the Dentist" and Whedon's "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been" and "Selfless" are indeed great too. And this list is already full of wonderful episodes. Suppose flashback eps can work really well in television.

[ edited by the Groosalugg on 2010-04-09 11:42 ]
I couldn't be more satisfied with the top three, in any order. I'm just finishing season 5 in my latest Buffy re-watch (to sooth the pain of losing Dollhouse) and FFL never loses it's brilliance.

Nice that Darla got a shout-out, but it really should have had an actual place on the list (AYNOHYEB is brilliant too, but I'd choose Darla, for an AtS ep).

I don't watch enough TV to be familiar with hardly any of the other shows, but I'll join in the chorus of flipping through impatiently, to see if they were going to include Two Cathedrals.

As for Walkabout - definitely an important ep and brilliant work by Terry O'Quinn. But on a show where flashbacks are too numerous to count, I'd choose The Constant.
Very happy to see Fool for Love in there. One of the best quality BTVS episodes which succeeded in given us plot development (including several Seasons in waiting plot threads), superb character development for both Spike and Buffy and givin us all the complex layers that changed Spike from just plain old William to being Spike the Bid Bad, whilst also giving us hints that underneath the Big Bad is a still sensitive soul masked by the evil Demon persona. Well acted, well directed, well written. Wonderful stuff. And a good top 3 list overall.

I'm also surprised not to see any West Wing episodes there...Shadow of Two Gunmen 1 & 2 and Two Cathedrals were great television.

[ edited by shazzam on 2010-04-10 14:34 ]
House: Three Stories: I know it's cliche, but I'm midway into the fourth season and this is still my favourite episode.

I've seen them all WilliamTheB and likewise. It's the "Out of Gas" of 'House' in my mind because it's one of those episodes where everything from script, to acting, to photography, to score just works together perfectly to create something greater than the sum. It turns on a sixpence and ranges over at least 4 distinct emotional tones and all of them are pitch perfect. And House's throwaway diagnosis of the ever-absent lecturer at the end is just icing.

Apart from that (and the Whedonverse inclusions, "Out of Gas" being one of my favourite episodes of TV ever), of their list I agree most strongly with "Walkabout", "Company Man" (shame 'Heroes' never really reached that standard again IMO) and "Luck of the Fryish" (which demonstrates that 'Futurama' may not be as laugh out loud funny as "The Simpsons" at its height but it had a wider range).

On my own list, though it's bending the rules slightly, i'd have "Tapestry" from ST: Next Gen (very good Picard centric episode about the dangers of pulling on a single thread of your past) and "The Way We Weren't" from 'Farscape' - brilliant episode featuring Aeryn Sun's first meeting with Pilot which in its moral complexity and truth demonstrated a big chunk of what made the show so special.
I realize it's a very near-flashback episode, but I think West Wing's "Noel" belongs on the list alongside Two Cathedrals. But I agree with all who said that Aaron Sorkin writes amazing flashback eps.

"Fool for Love" is easily in my top five Buffy episodes. Not only is the writing superb, but the EDITING is amazing.

Frankly, I didn't enjoy the BSG episode, but that's because the only characters I really like on the show are Adm. Adama and President Roslin.
I added constant's link to this entry.
"Bones" is winning? I mean I don't watch that show, so I can't judge but I'm surprised it has so many votes!
"Bones" is winning?

This is one of those "somebody needs to get a life" polls - I voted three times in a row, just to see if I could - twice for the same ep.

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