Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

Welcome to the Tournament Of Episodes, an unending game of bloodsport between some of the best episodes of the 2013-14 TV season, inspired by The Morning News’ Tournament Of Books. To learn more and see the schedule, go here.

After we made the initial 15 selections for the Tournament Of Episodes, we wanted to have the 16th selection result from a proper play-in match. And to make the picks for the two play-in competitors, we turned to two of our favorite TV critics from other publications.

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Maureen Ryan is the television critic for The Huffington Post and one of the best writers about television out there. You can find her on Twitter as well. Here’s what Maureen had to say about her selection, Arrow’s “Three Ghosts.”

Most shows have a lot of trouble shoehorning in a backdoor pilot (see Supernatural for a recent example of this kind of struggle). But Arrow’s deft, two-part introduction of the Flash, which concluded with this stirring hour, was about as elegant and exciting as TV gets.

For our second pick, we turned to Alan Sepinwall, the head television critic for Hitfix and much of the reason we even have a TV Club to begin with. Alan’s on Twitter as well. This is what he said about his selection, True Detective’s “The Secret Fate Of All Life.”

This will be remembered first for Rust Cohle’s mesmerizing, oft-parodied “Time is a flat circle” monologue, but the conclusion of the stories’ time in 1995 was in many ways the stories’ peak, beautifully contrasting the present-day narration against the past action and conveying the emotional toll the investigation took on all who participated.

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But there can be only one victor, and to judge the play-in match, we turned to The A.V. Club’s own Josh Modell. Judge with impunity, Josh!

Josh Modell: A true play-in match should probably be a little closer than this one, which pits a solid episode of a fun, lightweight superhero show—Arrow’s “Three Ghosts”—against a monstrously phenomenal piece of what has already become the stuff of TV legend, True Detective, specifically “The Secret Fate Of All Life.” True Detective is the Harlem Globetrotters in this scenario, and Arrow is any other team.

This shouldn’t take away too much from The CW’s well-liked action show. I hadn’t seen a full episode before checking out “Three Ghosts,” which left me confused but at least a bit intrigued. There’s a deep mythology that required some pre-screening research, but I quickly caught up (I think) with this story about a vigilante, his team, and the various baddies that he’s trying to disrupt. It’s clearly an attempt to bring darker superhero visions like The Dark Knight to the small screen, and it seems to do an admirable job of that. The action sequences and special effects screamed “TV!” and the characters are pretty broadly drawn—dare I suggest this is a show at least partially aimed at kids?—but it grabbed me enough that I’d watch more episodes.

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But True Detective wasn’t typical TV (or even typical HBO)—it was more like an epic film that happened to stretch over eight parts, with episodes four and five (“Who Goes There” and “The Secret Fate Of All Life”) acting as the amazing crux. After a breathtaking, highly cinematic fourth episode, the fifth doesn’t exactly let up on the action, with the episodes-old payoff of Detectives Rust and Marty getting their man. The brilliance is in the use of the unreliable narrators, who in this case actually narrate the death of prime suspect Reggie Ledoux with one story, while the pictures show what really happened.

Though it’s something of a triumphant moment, with our flawed heroes seeming to solve the case, it’s beautifully measured with the human element: Two children are found in Ledoux’s shack of horrors—one is dead and the other scarred for life.

But “Secret Fate” doesn’t stop there. It also features one of Matthew McConaughey’s best scenes, in which he explains the whole “time is a flat circle” business, and it opens up the case beyond whatever scope it had when a suspect offers these seven words that push Rust Cohle over the edge: “I’ll tell you about the yellow king.” It was the kind of episode that made a week’s wait seem like an eternity (which, of course, is what’s happening in the fourth dimension, according to Rust).

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Winner: “The Secret Fate Of All Life”

Disagree? Vote for your favorite below!

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