10. RM W/A VU from Angel 1.05
Cordy gets her comeuppance but she’s so likable that you can’t help but thank the Powers That Be for writing an episode all about her. When her situation is so dire that a night at Angel’s is her only option, she’s willing to live in a haunted apartment over a cockroach-filled one. Cordy versus the undead pensioner is both unsettling and hilarious, culminating in one of the best verbal smackdowns yet: “Back off, Poligrip! You think you’re bad, all mean and haunty? Picking on poor pathetic Cordy. Well, get ready to haul your wrinkly translucent ass outta this place, cuz lady… the bitch is back.”
9. The Hub from Battlestar Galactica 4.09
Like all Espenson’s breakout Buffy work, ‘The Hub’ mixed lip-quivering drama, humour (the three-way bickering between Baltar, Roslin and the Hybrid especially) and mythological pay-off. The scene where Baltar confesses his role in the fall of Caprica and Roslin’s reaction is fist-in-mouth stuff, but every moment of high stakes character conflict gets its opposite number as Roslin and Adama share a brilliant Leia/Han Solo-like exchange: “I love you.” “‘Bout time.”
8. Apotheosis from Caprica 1.18
While the premature cancellation of Caprica ensured that its finale could never be entirely satisfying, ‘Apotheosis’ was as close to a perfect finale as the Battlestar Galactica prequel could get. It’s cluttered, sure, but at the same time we get an incredible escalation of the drama as the terrorist subplot reaches its epic crescendo, and in its moving epilogue a real sense of how the mainline BSG universe came to be.
7. End Of Days from Buffy The Vampire Slayer 7.21
The penultimate episode of Season 7 was almost as good as the finale. After Buffy repeatedly getting her hide well and truly battered by Caleb, she finds the scythe and saves her gang who exiled her only a few episodes before. Her conversation with Spike about what they shared in ‘Touched’ is a heart-warming moment, making Angel’s sudden appearance at the episode’s climax a veritable mixed bag of glee and unease.
6. Doublemeat Palace from Buffy The Vampire Slayer 6.12
Buffy, hero of Sunnydale and often the whole world, is forces into taking a position at the Doublemeat Palace where she serves fast food and wears a hat with a cow on it. A vamp even refuses to spar with her because she smells so greasy. Her Slayer senses start twitching when she thinks the secret ingredient in the burgers may be people, much to Xander’s horror, but the villain turns out to be someone no one expects. It’s a classic Espenson episode in which Buffy is put through the wringer, sharing much of its DNA with ‘Life Serial’, another episode that tests the Slayer’s strengths in novel ways.
5. Briar Rose from Dollhouse 1.11
One of Dollhouse’s real game changers, Espenson deftly resolved a long-running mystery and introduced the big bad in one fell swoop. There’s a sneaky nod to Battlestar Galactica (“fracked up beyond recognition”) and a guest star in the form of Firefly’s Alan Tudyk, which is all kinds of meta, but the main story arc of ‘Briar Rose’ can’t be overestimated. There’s a powerful metaphor running throughout thanks to Echo’s use of the Sleeping Beauty fable and a twist that left us dumbstruck.
4. Superstar from Buffy The Vampire Slayer 4.17
Jonathan has had his memorable moments. Remember the time he turned a gun on himself, or when he delivered the emotional Class Protector speech? But this episode he was elevated to the main star. The title credits were changed to fit his new image as a playboy, singer, superhero and swimsuit model, and it’s all thanks to a spell gone awry. We have a great time in this parallel Buffyverse where the titular hero is reduced to a fangirl and Giles owns the aforementioned swimsuit calendar, but it also manages to make some serious progress on the troubled Buffy/Riley relationship.
3. Shindig from Firefly 4.01
Not only one of the best damn episodes of Jane Espenson’s career, but one of the best damn episodes of Firefly’s stellar – if short – run, and that;s in a series with Joss Whedon and Drew Greenberg turning in scripts. A brilliant period farce inspired by Jane Austen and the classic Edwardian comedy of manners, Nathan Fillion’s legend really began here as he embraces his jealousy, fights a duel and makes it proudly clear what sort of guy he is. Also, Alan Tudyk gets a bit more range as we focus on Wash doing something other than crack wise.
2. Storyteller from Buffy The Vampire Slayer 7.16
This Andrew-centric hour was a classic Buffy comedy. The former member of the geeky trio shoots a documentary about the slayer household, interviews the Scooby gang, and provides sensationalist commentary. We learn a little bit more about his character as he’s more interested in filming Xander’s carpentry than two girls smooching, and we couldn’t help but laugh at the comment about Buffy’s speeches being too long.
1. Conversations With Dead People from Buffy The Vampire Slayer 7.07
Want to know how to introduce a big bad? This episode pulls it off masterfully, plaiting several strands of encounters into one house that reveals more about the lead cast than most shows manage in an entire season. Some many things were said in scenes that contained no dialogue, such as Spike’s uncharacteristic murder and Jonathan’s brutal stabbing. It’s no wonder it picked up a Hugo Award for ‘Best Dramatic Presentation’.