Much like my recent look at format busting episodes it occurred to me that another manner of busting out of the same show was the alternate reality episode. This is where you can have the same cast and a similar enough premise, but you also have the opportunity to tell different stories, have different stakes and take risks without costing the main series anything.
It’s unique to fiction that idea of what if, we can’t re-write history, or our memories, but if it’s a story, then you can do whatever you like. One of the best early examples of this was the classic Star Trek episode titled Mirror Mirror, also known as the one with evil Spock with a beard. This was an episode where Kirk, McCoy, Uhura and Scotty are beamed up from a planet during some kind of storm, they rematerialise on another Enterprise in another universe, a more savage and merciless universe. This became such a trope that half a dozen other episodes in this place followed, Deep Space 9 had annual looks into the mirror universe and Enterprise did a two-parter set there as well, a highpoint for a series I really had little time for. So when I was thinking about this, I decided to have no Trek at all in this list and to be honest, it left me with more interesting variations on this idea.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Wish
Season 3: First aired Dec 8 1998.
During the final High School season of Buffy was this little gem. After being betrayed by her boyfriend and humiliated by her friends Cordelia makes a wish that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale in front of new girl Anya, only Anya is actually the vengeance demon Anyanka who makes her wish come true, creating a parallel world where two years earlier the Vampire king known as the Master rose and conquered the town. The humans hide at home and during the night the vampires (including main characters Xander and Willow) do whatever they want. Everyone is on top form with Xander being funny, but still threatening and Willow going from goofy nerd to undead bombshell. The whole thing is a masterclass on how to do alternate takes, with no character the same as you know them, but all can be recognised. The vampire Willow eventually made a bit of a comeback and it was a standout episode of that season in my opinion and it was a season full of great episodes.
Doctor Who: Turn Left
Season 4: First aired June 21 2008
A similar type of story to Wish, in that a supporting character makes a choice and that choice alters the main character’s story. Coerced into altering her own history Donna Noble prevents herself meeting her fiance and as a result changes the events of the Doctor Who story the Runaway Bride. This has the effect of the Doctor not being stopped at the end of that story, which means he dies and is unable to regenerate. So he’s unable to prevent the destruction of London by the space ship Titanic, or the Sontaran plan to poison the world’s cars, he’s equally unable to save the London hospital that Martha Jones works at. In a world growing more and more bleak, Donna then has to sacrifice herself, to put the timeline right. It’s a facinating look at what one person’s presence or absence can mean to our lives as well as what happens when the hero doesn’t save the day.
Grey’s Anatomy: If/When
Season 8 First aired Feb 2 2012
Other than the parallel earth method, the most common used is the butterfly effect method, where a simple change spins events out in very different ways. In this episode, we get Meredith Grey imagining a world where her mother kept her health and stayed with Richard Webber and raised her together. Here we see all the cast, with their lives changed, there’re are different relationships, different friendships and yet somehow certain patterns reassert. It’s a strange episode that is part what if and part study on destiny. It doesn’t really fit in anywhere in it’s run, but it was an interesting look at what could have been.
Lucifer: Once Upon a Time
Season 3 First aired May 28 2018
Another changing history episode, this had the pairing of Decker and Lucifer not happening when it was meant to as God (voiced by Neil Gaiman) altering history so that Decker never became a cop, so she never met Dan Espinoza, who became a dirty cop and not a father, other characters took different paths and yet somehow all ended up connected again. This was how the season ended, until Netflix stepped in it was how the whole thing was to end and once again, doesn’t fit in with the more dramatic elements of the 3rd season finale. The different paths were interesting with Dr Linda being in TV and Ella Lopez being a car thief instead of a forensic specialist. With no Decker or Trixie to soften her edges Mazikeen became darker and darker and Amenadiel cut off from both his home and the people in his brother’s life. After the tense finale to the Cain storyline, we needed a palette clense, but this was a bit of an oddball.
Bones: The End in the Beginning
Season 4 First aired May 14 2009
This was a bit of a stranger one. It wasn’t the result of a change in history, nor another world as such, the framing sequence is more of a novel being read to the post surgery Seeley Booth and the dream that this reading conjures up. Here everyone is the same for the most part, but living different lives. Instead of scientists in a lab, most of the cast work in a nightclub called the Lab, run by Brennan and Booth, very much a couple in love. Here Brennan is less empirical in her attitude and Booth is a bit more fun loving and more outlandish in his dress. The interns are the barman, doorman, chef, waitress, assitant and DJ. All the cast are there, having fun in these different roles with the same names. We still have Brennan, Booth, Angela, Hodgins et al, but they are all different and often happier and yet still involved in a murder mystery. Out of all of these alternate looks, I find this one to be the better episode and I can watch it again and again.
Well that’s me for now ttfn internet people.