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December 05, 2010

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Josh

I could never stand X Files specifically because it was all stand alone.

As for Buffy, I don't really love it until Season 3. I love, love, love their graduation. After that I really like Season 6 when Buffy comes back, though I know a lot of people disagree with me.

"The Body" is amazing.

adam807

In later seasons I think that balance shifted. The whole series really kicks into gear with School Hard, which also kicks off season 2's main arc. Starting in season 2 the big season finales are usually my favorites. Becoming Pt 2 always makes me cry, and Graduation Day is phenomenal.

But that wasn't what you asked! The Wish is far and away my favorite standalone. And it's great how they later referred back to it in various ways - years later in some cases. Halloween is an oft-overlooked fun one. And of course Hush!

Aaron

Yeah, "Hush" indeed, and all the other concept episodes that changed the normal circumstances for our characters. (Most were written by Joss.) I mean, my favorite is still "Once More With Feeling," which tied up a lot of narrative threads, opened many new ones, remained true to characters, and oh, earned the right to be a musical. But aside from that, I think tonally Buffy worked best for me in Seasons 3-5, after which I switched over to Angel (Season 2.5+), which grew darker, more mature, and in my mind, far more original.

Anne Moore

I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never seen Angel in its entirety--I watched the first season and then the final season (to fill the void in my life that followed the end of Buffy). "The Wish" is a fantastic standalone; I also really love "Superstar," if only for its opening credits sequence, which is one of my all-time favorite Buffy moments.

I would say, though, that "Once More with Feeling" doesn't really count in my mind as a stand-alone, since so many of the actions in it go on to have such significance in for the rest of the series (for instance, the small detail of Spike and Buffy kissing!). I'm defining a "stand-alone" here as an episode that doesn't profoundly change the future direction of the narrative. I'm not sure episodes like that happen much at all after the first season. Even "Inca Mummy Girl" features the first encounter between Oz and Willow, after all.

Josh

P.S. I miss Anya and Cordelia all the time.

Susan

Favorite stand-alone is definitely "Hush." I think "The Body" is amazing, but it's not a standalone episode - they'd been doing the arc of Joyce's illness for a while by then, and this episode, while being separate from the "monster of the week" type, still continues a story. Same with the brilliant "Once More, With Feeling."

For earlier standalones, I like "The Wish," and I'd forgotten about "Out of Mind..." but it is really good and creepy (with the inevitability of it all at the end...)

Isaiah Tanenbaum

Yeah, but the world of "The Wish" is referenced, and even visited, in a later episode (Dopplegangland), although that surely wasn't the intention at the time of the first episode.

"The Zeppo" was a fun episode, in that it focused on Xander and his (non-)heroicism, while the big epic A-story of the Scoobies fighting A Great Evil is shown in the off-moments.

But for sheer mind-fuckery, "Normal Again" is probably one of the best one-offs out there, of any series. The ending bravely leaves the viewer wondering whether the ENTIRE BUFFYVERSE exists inside the head of some nutter in LA. "That crazy person" says Joss Whedon "is me."

Eric Pfeffinger

A vote for "The Zeppo" here, though part of the reason it works so brilliantly is because it relies on our knowledge of the show's own preexisting tropes and tendencies that it's mocking. "The Puppet Show" is also a great little piece of storytelling.

While my fundamental commitment to the show never waned, I did grow disenchanted with it during the last couple of seasons, and at the time I was convinced it was because the show had abandoned its usually terrific monster-of-the-week episodes in favor of strict seriality. (I tend to define stand-alone less rigorously than you do on here, applying it to any episode in which the primary storyline isn't directly in service to the season-long arc, so for me stuff like "The Wish," "Hush," "Gingerbread" and even "The Prom" are all fantastic stand-alones.) If your season arc is built around Season 2's Spike or Season 3's Mayor and Faith, the serial stuff can still be great, but still I missed the narrative palate-cleansers, especially when the serial episodes didn't seem to be covering a lot of ground.

It was striking to me, then, when I rewatched the show on DVD, consuming episodes at a rate of more than 1 (or 2 or 4) a week, how much more I could appreciate the virtues of the non-stand-alone episodes. Something about not having them doled out on a weekly basis placed less pressure on them to deliver me a certain kind of narrative satisfaction.

Rob Weinert-Kendt

As much as I loved "The Wish," I retain a soft spot for the related spinoff episode "Doppelgangland." Willow was my way into this show from the start, and I loved seeing her play off her bad-girl double. Of course, by the time her hair went black, I had tired of the Bad Willow trope, but at this point it was fresh. I'm with Josh on season 3. As with "The Wire," that's the keeper season.

isaac

Rob,

Every season (Except for 5) of "The Wire" is the keeper season.

Anne Moore

Eric,

Maybe I'm just a masochist, but I love the waiting part of watching serials as they're released weekly, but I agree that some of the nuances of serial storytelling come out more clearly when you see everything all at once. For instance, they way particular plot points are set up early becomes a lot clearer when we're binging--I'm thinking of the killer in the second season of Veronica Mars, for instance, or the relationship between Xander and Cordelia (about which more next week!).
At the same time, the absence of the gap also makes stylistic tics apparent in a way that they weren't before. This isn't grating on me too badly in Buffy, but when I'm watching LOST all in a shot, issues like the way characters are introduced and then almost immediately killed, or the stilted dialogue become almost unbearable.
This is one of the things I really liked about Season 1's stand-alone focus--I didn't get as fixated on the show's issues since it felt to me like the narrative kind of restarted every episode. At the same time though, I didn't feel nearly as attached to the characters as I am now, in the process of watching Season 2.

Also, "Normal Again" might be one of my favorite episodes of television EVER (good call), and even Season 5 of The Wire is brilliant. But, as I'm learning, I like a lot more things (or, to his credit, "have lower standards") than Isaac does. :)

isaac

Anne,

I actually like season 5 of the wire. i was trying to sound reasonable...

also, might i suggest that your definition of "stand alone" MIGHT be too strict? To me, a stand alone episode is one where someone could watch it without lots of backstory on the show and it would make sense (or "work" although that's a bit vague and subjective).

As Season 2 progresses, that becomes harder and harder... nothing happens in "Bad Eggs" to further big plot arcs, for example, but at the same time, there might be a bit of "why are all these people making out? what's going on?" during the non-parasite-related moments of the episode.

Leigh

I wouldn't have thought of "Normal Again" as a stand-alone episode because the circumstances that allow for the episode (Buffy's inability to cope with being alive again) and how she then processes the experience inform so much of the central arc of the season (Buffy vs. herself (as opposed to Buffy vs. The Big Bad)).

But I suppose it is a stand-alone in the sense that you can watch it without much complex knowledge of the Buffy backstory and still understand and appreciate it. In fact, that's exactly what happened with me. I had seen a few errant episodes here and there, but nothing that really stood out to me enough to make me a regular viewer. "Normal Again" is what make me think to myself, "Okay, I've gotta check this show out."

...

"Earshot" is another great stand-alone which I haven't seen mentioned yet.

Anne Moore

This is a good question: the definition and nature of the stand-alone. My working definition takes two things into consideration--do you have to know what has happened so far in order to understand the episode, and do you need to have seen that episode in order to understand the episodes that follow? Of course, since Buffy's relationship with seriality changes so radically over the course of the show, I'm not sure any episode falls under the latter definition. Even "Witch," which is pretty unconnected to any other S1 ep, is key if you want to understand the context for Amy's character in S6 and 7. So I take your point--as fragmented as S1 can feel, it's never like Law & Order. Your point about "Bad Eggs," for instance, is well taken--although I think that Buffy makes the transition to being fully serialized in season 2, as signified by David Boreanaz's addition to the full-time cast.

Still, there are loads of episodes as late as season 4 that still *feel* like stand-alones (Superstar, Living Conditions), which makes me think I need to revise my definition. I liked Eric's definition above, which seems more focused on the episode's relationship to the overall plot arc of the season. For instance, even though "I Was Made to Love You" and "The Wish" are essential viewing for understanding later moments in the series ("I Was Made to Love You" even ends with a kind of cliffhanger!), I don't spend the episode making connections to the rest of the series in a way that I do with "Surprise" and "Innocence." Whether a show feels like a stand-alone might have more to do with its relationship to the narrative's past than its future.

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