We were discussing last week on the Station Agents the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad, and Joanna suggested that — if Vince Gilligan had another episode to work with — how nice it would’ve been if he could’ve slowed it down and limited Walter White’s time in a New Hampshire cabin to a single bottle episode. While it might have slowed the momentum of the series down, it could’ve worked as a brilliant bookend to “The Fly,” and provided a slick way to contrast Walter White on his way up with Walter White on his way down.
Given where Breaking Bad ended up, it’s hard to argue that such an episode would’ve been necessary, but it would’ve been cool. In either respect, it got me thinking about ideas for bottle episodes on other television series and opportunities for the showrunners to slow down the action and let us get to know the characters better in situations in which they are forced to be intimate, conversational, or self reflective.
The following ten bottle episode ideas need to be written and executed as soon as possible.
Parks and Recreation — Ron Swanson is trapped in the locked lunchroom of the Parks department on a Friday night with no way of escaping. He’s stuck there until Monday morning, and the only food left in the refrigerator is the veggie burger Chris Traeger left behind. Can a starving Ron Swanson make it from 5 p.m on a Friday night until 9 a.m. on a Monday morning without eating the veggie burger? It’s the immovable object (his hunger) vs. the irresistible force (his anti-vegetarianism). WHICH WILL PREVAIL?
Doctor Who — This may have already been done at some point, or at least some iteration of it, but in the post-2005 era, I’d love to see an episode where the Doctor and his companion do not go on an adventure, but instead, the entire episode takes place inside the TARDIS (and I don’t mean the extended TARDIS; I mean, just the control room). Maybe there is a small, but fixable malfunction that the Doctor spends the entire episode fixing, while carrying on a philosophical conversation with his companion about time travel, the nature of existence, and maybe his favorite destinations in time and space. It would be a great early episode for D12: They could slow the pace down, and just let us get to know the new Doctor so that we feel more invested in his adventures.
Mad Men — I know it’s been done many times already, mostly in sitcoms, but given how much time is spent in an elevator on Mad Men, I think there’s plenty of dramatic potential in an episode where Don and Peggy are trapped in one for an entire episode. They’d be forced to confront their issues with one another, and Don would have no choice but to hear Peggy out. It would also be interesting to see, while trapped together, if an emotionally honestly moment unleashes any of the pent-up sexual tension between the two.
Masters of Sex — It’s early yet, and this would obviously need to be held until a second or third season of the series (should it go that long), but with two naked strangers who are about to have sex (FOR SCIENCE) trapped together alone in a locked observation room, there’s potential for an interesting morality play. The forced intimacy might provoke the two human lab rats to look into each other’s lives, and transform the clinical sexual experience into an emotional one. I’m a simple man who enjoys the power of small moments, and I could see such an episode ending with the two putting their clothes back on an opting to go on a date instead of having sex together. I also think that Masters and Johnson could learn as much about sex by listening to talk people talk about it, as they could in watching to people engage in the act.
Modern Family — Luke finds out that a female classmate likes Manny, but he’s sworn to secrecy. Manny finds out that Luke knows, and Manny ties Luke up in the basement and tries to torture the information out of him using a D-cell batteries and nipple clamps. The entire episode takes place in the basement, and at the end of the half hour, Luke manages to free himself. When Manny chases Luke up the stairs to prevent him from escaping, Luke kicks Manny back down them, killing him instantly. TA DA!
New Girl — If New Girl is going to sustain itself long term, I’m sorry, but Nick and Jess eventually have to break up. The show thrives on sexual tension, and without it, the sitcom cannot continue to be creatively interesting. I like the idea of Nick and Jess being trapped in, say, an ATM vestibule (“I hate doors!”) overnight, and being forced to talk their way through to the logical conclusion of their relationship. When a bank employee releases them the next morning, we are hit with a bittersweet conclusion: They are no longer dating, but they become even closer friends.
The Good Wife — Kalinda is trapped for three days in a hotel room with her ex-girlfriend, who works for the FBI and has been assigned to protect Kalinda from a death threat. All the ex-girlfriend wants to do is talk about what happened to provoke Kalinda into breaking up with her. All Kalinda wants is for her ex-girlfriend to shut up, so Kalinda can be alone with her thoughts. After a day of non-stop jabbering, Kalinda finally finds a way to shut her up. It looks something like this, and goes on for hours.
Scandal — Due to a terrorist threat, the President’s mistress, Olivia Pope, and the President’s wife, Mellie Grant, are forced into an underground bunker together. They enter as enemies who loathe one another, and they exit six hours later as sisters in solidarity against the President and his sexual and emotional manipulation.
The League — I’m actually surprised this one hasn’t already been done, but here’s the scenario. They’re in an 8-team league. Four teams go to the playoffs. It’s the final game of the regular season. The six main cast members all have the same record, and they each have games against one another. The three teams that win join Ted in the playoffs; the three teams that lose enter the Sacko Bowl. The outcome of every single match-up will e determined by players in the Monday night matchup between the Denver Broncos and the New Orleans Saints. The entire episode takes place in Andre’s man cave, in front of the television, and involves a series of side bets. It all comes down to one final play, with three fantasy players (Peyton Manning, Eric Decker, and the Saints DEF) deciding the fate of the entire season. It ends with three people celebrating their victories, and three suffering humiliating defeats.
Justified — Boyd and Raylan are tied up in a barn together by a common enemy, and left alone to chew the fat for 42 minutes while working together to come up with an escape plan before they are shot and killed. Best. Episode. Ever.