5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Normal Again”
Being a horror series, (along with being one of the best TV shows ever made), Buffy the Vampire Slayer sort of regularly threw viewers off balance. But even in that context, this episode is a head-scratcher. I think it’s mostly because of the ending. The basic plot is that Buffy fights a demon, (so far, so normal), whose poison causes her to believe she is actually in a mental hospital and that her life in Sunnydale, or as we viewers like to call it, “the entire series,” is just an imaginary product of her broken brain. This is sort of a standard sci-fi plot, I suppose: Is what we’re living in really reality? BUT, the episode doesn’t conclude with her scenes in the hospital being written off as just an effect of the demon’s powers. It actually ends in the asylum with a doctor shining a light into an unresponsive Buffy’s eyes and telling her distraught parents that she’s “gone,” totally withdrawn into her delusion. So, what just happened? We’re left to assume that someone fighting monsters and saving the world every week is the fantasy of a hospitalized loon? Whatever.
4. Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Cause and Effect”
I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation just about every week, (OK, every week), during my teenage years. The episode that lands on this list has basically everything to do with its structure and, oh yeah, Frasier’s Kelsey Grammer arrives! It starts with the starship Enterprise in mid-disaster. Hurtling damaged through space, Dr. Beverly Crusher shouts, “Casualty reports are coming in from all over the ship!” in response to Commander Will Riker basically asking, “How screwed are we?!” More panicked dialogue, culminating in Captain Picard’s, “All hands abandon ship! Repeat, all hands abandon…” Then the ship is blown to smithereens, killing all the main characters. Then the opening credits sequence starts. “What…just happened?,” you would have asked if you were me watching this episode in 1992. Well, the ship is in one piece and going about its routine business after the commercials are over, so something odd is going on. As we eventually learn, the crew is sort of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, repeating the same loop in time over and over, always ending with them getting exploded. Unlike Bill, they don’t know they’re repeating the loop, so we get to watch them figure it out. Then Frasier Crane shows up! In conclusion, I’m a dork.
3. Twin Peaks, episode 2 or “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer”
I guess it’s not fair to have a Twin Peaks episode on the list, because almost every single episode could be here. But this is the first one that I remember making an impression on me. And it’s the ending that got me hooked. Agent Dale Cooper, who has recently arrived in town to investigate the murder of Laura Palmer, goes to bed and proceeds to have the weirdest dream in TV history. It has, among other things, a dwarf dancing in a strange room to cool/eerie jazz music, an old-man version of Cooper being informed that the gum he likes is going to come back into style, and Laura Palmer whispering the name of the killer into Cooper’s ear. What did all this mean? Did it mean anything? What kind of gum was it? At the time, I didn’t know, but I kinda watched the episode on repeat. Oh, and Cooper forgets who the killer is by next week’s show.
2. Lost, “The End”
I went into Lost with an open mind, I really did. And I enjoyed it…for the most part. I’d heard rumblings that the finale was a piece of garbage that ruined everything short of existence itself. But, I told myself, people like to exaggerate. I remained an optimist at heart. (This was before the 2016 election.) Well, people do exaggerate, but in this case they were right on. Instead of getting all of our questions answered, we get a final scene of the characters in heaven. Or something. I was too angry at that point to care what form of afterlife it was. Hell would’ve been funnier. It’s been a couple of years, so I honestly don’t remember all the convoluted particulars (i.e., nonsense.) I just remember a sinking feeling when it slowly became apparent that a huge, heavenly copout was coming.
1. Little House on the Prairie, “Sylvia”
I’ll start with a quote from Entertainment Weekly about this episode: “If there’s a step beyond shark jumping, it’s got to be mime rapists.” Yeah, that’s what we’ve got in this bizarro installment of Little House on the Prairie: SVU. I honestly haven’t sat down and watched this episode since I was traumatized by it as a kid, though I did catch a bit of it a few years ago on…I wanna say Hallmark Channel? I remembered the aforementioned creep wearing a mime mask, Sylvia getting pregnant, she and Albert falling in love, and Sylvia dying at the end. Oh, and it was a TWO-parter. Why did this happen? Because Little House writers were deviant freaks, apparently. To be honest, for a family show, Little House could be a little terrifying even when it didn’t feature nightmare mimes. Someone was always going blind or being burned alive in a house fire or watching their parents’ horse-drawn wagon careen over a cliff. But this episode was something else entirely.