The List: Favorite penultimate episodes

Though the site is still in its infancy, the plan to is to have some regular features that will hopefully serve as fun, light reads to support the more longer-form stuff I’ll be doing. One of those features is a weekly television-centric list that hopefully applies to something that is happening in the industry at that moment. I know lists can be lazy and lame in a lot of ways, but I love them when they’re done right. So hopefully I can do them right.

With the unofficial end of the television coming quickly, many series are airing their penultimate episodes this week. Thus, in this week’s list, I bring forth my favorite penultimate episodes. Not necessarily the best, just ones I enjoy for a number of reasons. Let’s do it.

Oh yeah, these are in no particular order.

The Wire, “Bad Dreams” (Season 2, Episode 11): I know a lot of fans consider season two of The Wire as its weakest arc, but it still remains as my favorite to this day. I appreciate and respect the decision to jump from the streets to the docks with no warning, and some of the characters that were unique to S2 are some of the most memorable of the series, in my opinion. The Wire has a tendency to wrap a lot of its season-long arcs in the second-to-last efforts and “Bad Dreams” isn’t much different. Frank makes the decision to become an informant, but not without consequences, while Omar, Stringer and Brother Mouzone get caught up in a web of lies and half-truths. Plus, I just love the sequences where the tail is put on Vondas.

Lost, “Greatest Hits” (Season 3, Episode 21): Everyone remembers the season three finale, “Through the Looking Glass,” and rightfully so. However, the episode before that is one of the most emotionally charged in series history, as Charlie runs through the top moments of his life on his way to an eventual demise. Though the series had lost sight of Charlie as a sympathetic character for most of season two and somewhat so in season three, “Greatest Hits” reminded us of why he was so damn great in the first place and allowed even only the skeptical viewer to become invested in the Charlie-Claire relationship.

Chuck, “Chuck Versus the Colonel” (Season 2, Episode 21): Though completely enjoyable on multiple levels throughout its second season, “Versus the Colonel” pushed Chuck into another storytelling gear. Here multiple arcs met their satisfying and sometimes frustrating conclusion: Chuck and Sarah fully embrace their feelings for one another (and almost have sex), Devon learns the details of Chuck’s secret and the intersect is removed from Chuck’s head. This episode still remains as the series highlight, barely outreaching the following episode and season two finale.

The Office, “Beach Games” (Season 3, Episode 23): Comedies are typically not overly serialized, meaning the events in the penultimate episode aren’t necessarily attached to what happens in the finale. However, season three’s “Beach Games” brought a number of Office issues to a head, most notably the Pam and Jim relationship that would take off in the following episode. Plus, the episode is just plain funny, with Michael holding a makeshift Survivor to determine his successor and the Nard Dawg floating away in a sumo suit. Ah, remember when The Office was always funny?

Supernatural, “When The Levee Breaks” (Season 4, Episode 21): Supernatural‘s ability to bring together its coalescing stories while simultaneously building tension for the finale in their penultimate efforts is underrated, just like the series itself. Though all five seasons feature rock-solid second-to-last episodes, the best season also happens to have the best lead-in to the finale. Here, Sam’s demon blood addiction comes to a head when he’s locked inside a panic room and forced to face his internal struggles in what is a tremendous performance from Jared Padalecki. It also features the knockdown, drag-out fist fight between Sam and Dean that’s was basically four years in the making.

Breaking Bad, “Phoenix” (Season 2, Episode 12): Breaking Bad tests its audience, forcing them to find sympathetic qualities in characters who do awful, awful things and generally, are just horrible people. “Phoenix” encapsulates that approach perfectly, as lead character Walter allows a certain person to die because it betters his situation, even though he has the opportunity to make it all okay. And as a series all about consequences, Walt’s choices in the episode have a major impact on the season two finale and are still being felt throughout season three.

The O.C., “The Night Moves” (Season 4, Episode 15): Serving as both the penultimate episode of the season and the series as a whole, “The Night Moves” highlights the series’ best relationship: Seth and Ryan. When Ryan is injured in the post-earthquake insanity, he and Seth try to figure out how to get help. They don’t really succeed at that for awhile, but they do run through a list of all the people Ryan has punched — an obvious recapping of the series as it comes to an end — and make other meta comments about how if they would have switched bodies after a blood donation, they could have gotten another year of things. The episode is a reminder that amid all the ridiculous plot lines, stupid love interests and decline in popularity, The O.C. knew how to write the perfect bromance.

And there we go. What are some of your fav penultimate efforts?


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