Titles with Character: The Subtle Significance of Episode Titles

I often wonder how much brain space gets devoted to naming TV episodes. The title of last night's Breaking Bad, for example, worked on so many levels. (In the interest of providing no real spoilers ahead, please forgive the vagueness.) "I.F.T." was an abbreviation for the final line of the episode, signifying a drastic shift in the show's focus and hinting at how the drama is going to unfold. Shortening it—aside from obvious language problems—gave it even more power to linger in our minds and in Walt's. Perfect. But was it totally deliberate?

In the case of Breaking Bad, I think so. Last season, the show's episodes carried such cryptic titles as "Seven Thirty-Seven," "Down," "Over," and "ABQ," all of which worked as metaphors for their episodes' content. Later, you could look back and see they spelled something out, and everything clicked. Episode titles have the power to emphasize what's important in a given episode, as well as to weave together clues on a grander scale.

Titles make rich dramas even richer. "Meditations In An Emergency," the superb Season 2 finale of Mad Men, called back to an earlier episode and set the necessary mood—frantic calm, if that makes sense—for the events to unfold. And without the title of Lost's Season 3 finale, "Through The Looking Glass" (which by my count is the best episode the show has ever done), we'd have lost some of the gravity of the final big reveal, and missed out on the sense that Lost, after a shaky season bereft of mythology, was back.

Of course, the effect is minimized when there's not a ton at stake, as is the case with comedies. Chuck, for one, uses its episode titles simply to stand apart from other shows. Each installment is labeled "Chuck Vs. Something-Or-Other," a simple little reminder of the silly low-impact drama Chuck faces—and in "Chuck Vs. Tom Sawyer," a reminder of the show's silliness in general. 30 Rock subscribes to a similar mentality, with episode titles like "Generalissimo" and "Cooter" evoking chuckles by name alone. As TV gets richer on all dramatic and comedic levels, episode titles can serve like hash tags on Twitter: a little burst of subtext, humorous or otherwise.

Did I just compare a TV thing to Twitter? Truly, we are living in the golden age of entertainment.

Do you pay attention to episode titles? Do you think they affect your viewing experience?

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I've never seen a British show that uses only episode numbers as the title. Interesting.
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Heck yeah I do! I love episode titles. :-)
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I never thought episode titles mattered much until I started watching non-American shows on my Ipod and online. A lot of British tv shows (Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Being Human, Ashes To Ashes, Misfits, etc.) don't use episode titles, and instead just call them "Episode 1" and "Episode 2" and so on. If they're on for more than one season you get Episode 1 from season 1 versus Episode 1 from season 2 and it can get confusing.

Many shows use song titles as episode titles. Grey's Anatomy, One Tree Hill, 10 Things I Hate About You. Episodes titles of The O.C. always started with "The". Smallville and syndicated Legend Of The Seeker always have single word titles. UK show Skins episodes are usually centered around a single character and the episode's title is always that character's name.
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I do pay so much attention to it. I love how they do it, and how they name them. For dramas... so important roles for us, and our understanding of the plot. For comedies, it's all about the "what's happening" with some laughs.. I love how they were on Friends.. with the "The one with/when (Insert plot" or Scrubs with "My (insert here)"
I love and pay A LOT of attention to TV episodes titles because they give them such personality. I'm from Venezuela btw. Cheers.
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Episode titles have no bearing on the quality of a particular episode, of course, some TV have episodes with memorable titles that you remember, like the episode of MASH when Henry is killed is called "Abyssinia Henry", which was a word that Henry used to answer the phone on several occasions or something like Mary Tyler Moores "Chuckles Bites the Dust" which is pretty much self explanatory if you are familiar with the show. But a show like Friends, which had "The One with___ for every episode, seems like kind of a lame use of episode titles. Of course, I didnt like Friends anyway, so it didnt matter.
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Definitely. Episode titles help me differentiate what the episode is about, which is super important if I'm, like, in a hurry and wanna see what episode of Hannah Montana comes on tonight. For example, if it's "Miley, Get Your Gum" I can like map out what the episode was about. Am I making sense? ...
They definitely affect the way I watch TV
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I had only paid attention to Friends titles because they were "The One With.." and it was simple. I do like that (I when I watched) Grey's Anatomy used song titles.
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Supernatural has brilliant episode titles, and I like the way that every Smallville episode has only one word for the title.
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I love the Amazing Race's titles as well, which usually is a great line from one of the contestants.
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I like the use of ep titles. Sadly, they aren't always given to the watcher during the viewing of the show, nor in the info of the show in the "system", which makes it just a bit more difficult to refer to the show.
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Many series/shows has had alot of great titles. Angel:
Star Trek:
Buffy:
Dexter:
Supernatural, like Lazarus Rising, luved that title^^ and they ended the season with Lucifer rising :).
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"Babylon 5" had the best episode titles - every one was poetry. Check out the episode lists on either Wikipedia, IMDB, or TV.com to know what I am talking about.
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I think Bones does a good job with titles...On the other end of the spectrum, I think Hung tries too hard...without success!
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All of the episode titles from One Tree Hill are names of songs.
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I don't pay attention to the titles. They don't affect your viewing experience. But they're preatty damn cool!!
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so does Grey's Anatomy and One Tree Hill
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Lost's and Fringe's titles have special meanings...especially the earlier episodes of Lost: the final season
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24 has great titles
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One tree hill has great titles too
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I've noticed that awesome serialized shows tend to have awesome episode titles. It seems like a lot of the writers for these shows look at each episode as a chapter and each season as a book, and it's really effective. That's how the Lost writers have referred to their stories, each season as a book in a series of 6 books. Personally, Lost and Supernatural have some of the best titles I've ever seen. And I love how Supernatural has always included the title in the show itself.
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You might want to check out Fringe's titles and while you're at it use the codes between each commercial break to spell another word that relates to the show. There's a whole code sheet at the Fringe entry at Wikipedia.
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Didn't Supernatural season 2 only take its names from songs? Same with a lot of Grounded for Life if I remember correctly. I like that.
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I'm liking the Gossip Girl titles. Fun wordplay on movie titles.
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"House" has good titles too. In particular the season 4 enders "House's Head" and "Wilson's Heart" were a great pair
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I never paid attention to episode titles until I started watching Lost.
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I got into following episode titles by watching ER, The X-Files, and The West Wing. They all put them onscreen, and it was interesting to see the episode reference the title somewhere in the hour. Now, shows like Lost, Survivor, Scrubs, and many more use them to highlight something special about the episode, even though they aren't shown onscreen. I wish they were shown because there is a reason the writers pick a certain title. I'll always enjoy seeing them, interpreting them, and using them to keep track of what I've watched.
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I like the style of Chuck titles, and they hold importance in the episode for example chuck vs the wookie, there is a very hairy man. I also like the bones titles, they are always the something in the something.
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Hey, I LIKE the ep titles for Chuck. And for the record. Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer refers to the song title Chuck used to unlock the actual missile codes locked inside a video game. They aren't silly. They refer to actual things within the episode. Most recently. Chuck vs. the other guy. Referring to Agent Shaw, Chuck's rival for Sarah. Two and a Half Men has some great ep titles too. They use actual lines from the episodes. And Fringe has great episode titles too. "There's more than one of everything"
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gossip girl does good titles
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the titles of the Big Bang Theory are very clever too! they have some complicated scientific term with something related to the plot ("The Dead Hooker Juxtaposition", "The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis", etc)
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I love the ep titles form Damages. They pick a random unusual dialogue line like "Tell me I'm not racist", "Don't throw that at the chicken", "I look like Frankestein" "They had to tweeze that out of my kidney"
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I like the titles of Desperate Housewives! each is the title of a song, or a line in a song from a musical from Stephen Sondheim... and they fit perfectly!!!
Also.. I LOVE the titles of Gossip Girl. The show may be crappy but the titles are awesome!!! the references to movies, and the adaptation to the characters is awesome!
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The best part about Chuck's titles is the heavy use of double entendre that can make the exact meaning of the episode unclear. For example, Chuck Versus the Ring could refer to either his sister's wedding, or the hint of the new bad guy organization for Season 3 (The Ring itself).
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Like with Friends and "The One". Chuck's is obvious too. Lost's are usually really good(Cabin Fever, ..and Found, The Incident) Some of Heroes make sense I guess(Company Man, Fight or Flight, Cold Snap, The Art of Deception) Smallville's all one word episode titles.I've noticed that with Fringe it's episode titles are usually great and has something to do with mythology and the episode(There's More than One of Everything, Momentum Deffered, Jacksonville)
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Scrubs
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Some of the shows have a great episode titles while other shows don't.
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No comment about Supernatural's titles? Not all of them are incredibly clever, but many of them are, and funny
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Episode titles have gotten more creative with newer shows and are good teasers for fans to know what to expect from future episodes. I like The Mentalist's episode titles, always with "Red" an allusion to Red John and of course Psych has great ones.
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Usually don't notice episode titles all that much
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it's strange, i was just thinking the other day how much i loved lost's episode titles, through the looking glass especially.
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I love shows that have creative episode titles.
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I pay attention to episode titles. Titles are fun to come up with when writing a story.
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First of all, Chuck isn't "silly" in a bad way. If it is at all, it is in the best possible way. I love Supernatural's titles and Arrested Development's, but PSYCH takes the cake. PSYCH HAS THE BEST EPISODE TITLES EVER. They're almost as clever as the show itself.
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My favorites are on Here's Lucy and The Lucy Show it's always Lucy Meets ____. Lucy Visits____ Lucy and ____ Lucy Goes to ___. Always find that funny
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And I love love love Supernatural's titles too. Funny, clever, pop culture-y. Just great.
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I like Bones' titles cause it;s always "Something/one in/on/under/other preposition something else". Very informative.
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I absolutely love episode titles. I've always made sure I knew the titles for every new episode of a show. Besides Lost's brilliant titles, I really like Gossip Girl's. Because each is a play on a movie (Ex: The Dark Night, Seventeen Candles). I probably like some of the titles more then the episode itself.
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Yeah, Supernatural does have some good episode names, usually rifting off of pop culture (song, movie, urban legend, etc.) Two and a Half Men episodes come from some quirky, off-color comment usually spoken by the characters in the episode. Chuck has the Chuck vs. . .formula, and the writers tend to get inventive with that. To me, episode names are there to give you a taste of what you can expect from the episode itself.
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I like when ppl put some effort into the episode titles. I think Supernatural tends to have good episode titles, some being witty, some being funny, and some just being the writers having fun ("Criss Angel is a D****e Bag" for example). But I think my favorite episode titles, and by far the most memorable, belonged to Gilmore Girls.
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i always care about the naming of the episode , and Lost i think it's the best in this field , The End it's the name of the last episode of the series and i think it's THE best naming for it . and Yea Friends and Seinfeld from the old shows.
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