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TMS Round-Up: What’s Your Favorite Time Loop TV Episode?

Because this week is one long time loop.

Russian Doll on Netflix

2020 has already been a spectacularly slow year, but right now it feels like time has stopped thanks to the yet to be determined presidential election results. As we white-knuckle our way through Thursday (aka more Tuesday), we can’t help but feel like we’re caught in the most stressful time loop ever.

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But time loops aren’t necessarily a bad thing. In the best example of the trope, Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day, the loop transforms Billy Murray’s sarcastic weatherman into the hero of Punxsutawney, PA. And Happy Death Day‘s heroine Tree (Jessica Rothe) gains some self-awareness and battles her inner demons, as well as a relentless masked killer.

Time loop episodes are a staple of the sci-fi/fantasy genre, dating back to Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. In “Judgment Night,” episode 10 of the first season, the show follows a passenger on a British ship during WWII, fighting to fend off a U-boat attack. A similar take on the trope is featured in season 4, episode 6 “Death Ship.”

Here are our favorite time loop episodes, which are so good you’ll want to watch them again and again and again …

Chelsea Steiner: Plenty of shows have delivered their own take on the time loop in standalone episodes. The critically acclaimed Netflix series Russian Doll built the entire series around a time loop. Natasha Lyonne plays Nadia, a self-destructive game developer who finds herself repeatedly dying on her 36th birthday.

The darkly comic series, which Lyonne co-created with Leslye Headland, and Amy Poehler, finds true pathos and emotion in Nadia’s predicament, and Lyonne delivers a powerhouse performance in the role. The series is both wildly entertaining and a poignant metaphor for addiction. If you haven’t watched it yet, now’s the time, sweet birthday baby.

And I have to give an honorable mention to Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s season 6 fifth episode “Life Serial.” After Jonathan and the Trio set out to test Buffy’s powers, they trap her in a time loop within The Magic Box. A customer wants a living mummy hand, but the wily hand refuses to be sold. The segment has some solid jokes, and some great physical humor from Sarah Michelle Gellar.

mummy hand

(20th Century Fox)

Rachel Leishman: In Star Trek: Discovery, there’s the wonderful seventh episode in the first season titled “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.” The episode, which stars Rainn Wilson as Harry Mudd, is the first time that Discovery truly felt like a part of Star Trek to me. The episode reminds me of 2020, as the crew of the Discovery find themselves living in a time loop where they all perish one way or another. Relatable.

Jessica Mason: Do you feel like you’re stuck in a Tuesday that keeps repeating over … and over … and over? Do you feel at the whim of capricious cosmic forces as you’re forced to watch something you love die? And then you wake up again in the morning and have to do it again, thinking you can change it? That’s what happens to Sam Winchester in “Mystery Spot,” the 11th episode of season 3 of Supernatural. For me, it’s the ultimate time loop episode for right now.

Sticking with the CW, Legends of Tomorrow has plenty of wacky time travel shenanigans every week. But the Zari-focused “Here I Go Again” episode 11, season 3 (same as SPN– what does it mean?!) is a uniquely great episode. When Zari, new to the crew, gets trapped in a time loop on the Waverider, it’s a unique opportunity for a bottle episode that allows Zari to truly know her crewmates and for us the audience to have a great time (after time) with our favorite Legends.

Kaila Hale-Stern: Fringe‘s season 2 episode 18, “White Tulip,” is considered by many fans to be the best in the show, while some fans contend that it’s one of the best hours on television, period. While Dr. Walter Bishop struggles with whether to tell his son Peter the truth about where he comes from, the case of the week involves guest star Peter Weller—yes, RoboCop! From there we witness an ingenious and tragic use of the resetting-time trope, while the always-magnificent John Noble does truly astonishing work as the guilt-ridden Walter.

Princess Weekes: Xena: Warrior Princess plays with time in season 3, episode 2 “Been There, Done That.” Lucy Lawless gets to work on her amazing comedic chops when Xena gets stuck in a time loop. Characters die (one time even by Xena’s own hand) and our titular heroine throws her most complicated long-distance maneuver with her chakram. It’s pretty epic, funny, and just a good 45 minutes of campy television.

Dan Van Winkle: It’s not exactly a traditional time loop (more of a Jeremy Bearimy TBH), but I’m partial to The Good Place season two time loop opening, culminating in the season’s third episode, “Dance Dance Resolution”—and not just because its title is perfect. The show had a difficult task after the first season’s ending, wherein the characters we’d come to know over the course of that season learned that they were, in fact, already in the Bad Place and would have their memories wiped to begin their psychological torture all over again.

That could easily have been frustrating and repetitive, but the two-part season two opener didn’t really belabor the point and ended with the characters figuring out the truth all over again already—which led to the third episode’s series of repeated iterations of Michael’s attempts to get their “Good Place” torture just right. Rather than walk us through each one, it presented us with character insights through the repetition, including Eleanor and Chidi’s bond and Eleanor’s savvy, as she was repeatedly the one to figure out what was really going on.

Add that to some of Jason’s own unique brand of wisdom and an appearance by the always delightful Mindy St. Claire, and you can’t go wrong.

Briana Lawrence: Near the end of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, you find out that transfer student Homura Akemi has been living through the same scenario on a constant loop. She’s trying to figure out a way to save the girl she cares about, Madoka Kaname, but every loop ends in tragedy that forces her to lose Madoka until she restarts the cycle and tries again.

Oh, and the one in The Haunting of Bly Manor where you find out [REDACTED]’s been dead the whole time (UGH WHY!).

What’s your favorite time loop episode? Let us know in the comments!

(featured image: Netflix)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.

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