What is a Bottle Episode?

Bottle Episode

From the episode “Cooperative Calligraphy” of Community, to TV Tropes definition, and the ubiquity of the phrase on the internet, the term bottle episode is well known. Yet for many people, particularly those new to the world of television, it is not quite so clear what exactly a bottle episode is. This article attempts to clarify the topic and set some common ground.

A bottle episode is an episode of a television show that has few sets, uses few stunts, and uses only a small number of actors to tell a self-contained story. It does not necessarily include a complex monster or a complicated plot, but it does require a minimum of complexity. A good example is a season-one episode of the X-Files called “Ice,” which was meant to be a simple, cost-saving bottle episode. However, a complex plot and elaborate fight choreography required a lot of time and money to film, and so the episode did not meet the criteria for a bottle episode.

The word comes from the Old English botel, which is probably a diminutive of Old High German botiel (botila). Bottles of all kinds are used to contain liquids and have been for millennia. Plastic bottles were once a popular form for household containers but are now becoming less and less common due to concerns about bisphenol A (BPA), an additive which disrupts endocrine systems. Glass bottles are still in use, although a recent backlash against BPA has led to many companies removing the chemical from their products.

Bottle terminology is a mix of collector jargon and technical glassmaking terms. Some of the words/phrases are sourced from historic bottle nomenclature published in historical archaeology (see General Bottle Morphology pop-up page).

Gather – The glob (gob) of molten glass gathered on the end of the blowpipe as it is blown to form a mouth-blown bottle. The person in the glass shop who collected the glob was often known as the gatherer.

Down-tooled – A description of a string-rim profile which slopes downward at the upper terminus of the finish (see the picture of an up-tooled finish on the Round Utility Bottle finish page). Down-tooling was done to enhance the sealing and closure fit of a bottle. Virtually all finishes had some down-tooling (Jones & Sullivan 1989).

Ground rim/lip – A finish with the lip/rim hand ground to enhance the seal and closure fit. This was a regular process on most hand-made bottles with outside screw threads, and it is also found on many Mason jars. This technique was not a standard practice on machine-made bottles (see bottle finish page).

See neck for more information on this topic.

A neck was a separate piece of glass which was applied to a severed finish/lip to complete the bottle. Necks could be one-part, two-parts (a crown finish is a two-part neck), or three-parts (see neck finish page).

A glassmaker made a neck by pouring hot liquid glass into a sand mold shaped to the desired shape and then allowing it to cool and harden into place. A neck may also be made by applying a heat source to the severed glass such as steam.