Dylan McKay was never supposed to be a regular character on Beverly Hills, 90210. But take one look at the guy in his first few episodes of the show and you can see why he became an integral part of the series. In Dylan’s glory days, he was smoldering, with his eyebrow scar and tiny hoop earring and sideburns. It helped that Luke Perry had chemistry with everyone he worked with, including Jason Priestley and both actors who played the parents of twins Brandon and Brenda Walsh on the show. As Dylan, Perry was effortlessly cool but approachable, cynical but earnest, and intellectual yet goofy. He was just the right amount of bad boy to make people like me feel like they owe large chunks of their sexual coming of age to him. So in honor of the late Luke Perry and the impression he left on all of us, we present the most essential Dylan episodes of 90210.
8. “One Wedding and a Funeral” (Season 6, Episode 10)
The fact that Dylan McKay’s first wife turned out not to be Brenda (Shannen Doherty), Kelly (Jennie Garth), or me was devastating, but even more devastating was how long his marriage lasted. Just hours after the ceremony where Dylan married Toni Marchette, played by the Noxema Girl, a.k.a. Rebecca Gayheart, she was killed. The mobster’s daughter couldn’t outrun her father’s goons, who mistakenly took her for Dylan. As always, Dylan McKay’s tears were an aphrodisiac. Years before Ryan held a dying Marissa in his arms on The OC, Dylan was crying in the pouring rain for the love he had lost. The meanest of loyal fans were also grateful to have Toni out of the way.
7. “Sweating It Out” (Season 5, episode 17)
An unremarkable episode overall, this one was essential for documenting Dylan and Brandon’s beautiful bromance. Their road trip via motorcycle to Lake Whitney features them bickering like an old married couple, arguing about the merits of Jack Kerouac (Dylan is pro), and reconciling after competing with each other for Kelly. In retrospect, that their trip ends with them on a reservation naked and panting in a sweat lodge feels more than a bit problematic. But as a narrative device to explore the legacy of a friendship, it was gold.
6. “Halloween” (Season 2, Episode 13)
Sometimes the best Dylan episodes are ones in which he’s mostly there for comic effect. Take the Halloween episode in which he and Brenda dress up as Bonnie and Clyde, proving that Luke Perry was such a stud he could even look good in a fedora. He and Shannen Doherty seem to have had a great time being fun and silly when the focus of the show wasn’t on them. Plus, any bad-boy loner rebel who could be talked into a couple’s Halloween costume is trainable and therefore ideal.
5. “Beach Blanket Brandon” (Season 2, Episode 1)
The first thing to know about season two of 90210 — which premiered in July of 1991, just two months after the first season ended — was that it was trailblazing at the time for a hit TV show to broadcast new episodes during the summer. Even better, 90210 had a fun new opening sequence, the one with Priestley doing the little “punch, punch” on the drumbeat affectionately at Perry, and the whole cast galavanting around the beach in bathing suits and sunglasses. If the camaraderie wasn’t there for the cast at the time, it was hard to imagine otherwise.
The promos promised sun and fun, but this was a Serious Episode. Brenda’s period is late even though her sex with Dylan was protected, and Dylan takes her to the gynecologist wearing the gnarliest pair of JNCOs because, “It’s my problem too.” After they furiously make out in his Porsche at the beach, the episode ends with Brenda breaking up with him, saying that they’re going too fast. Over the sounds of “Losing My Religion,” Dylan takes it the only way he knows how, declaring that he’s a loner: “The only person I have to depend on is me, and I always have to remember it.” Wise or not, we were all mad at Brenda for breaking Dylan’s heart.
4. “Higher Education” (Season 1, Episode 6)
“Everyone says he’s trouble,” Brenda says when she first lays eyes on Dylan, like he’s the main character from the song “The Leader of the Pack.” Dylan only appears in the episode for a few scenes, but Luke Perry made them count, establishing his star quality in mere minutes. This was back when the character of Brenda Walsh was still silly and relatable, so she dyes her hair blonde in order to impress Dylan. The hair turns out to be a disaster, but it doesn’t stop Dylan from pulling his motorcycle over while Brenda is jogging to smooth-talk her. “I like your butt,” she says. “I mean your bike.” “Hop on,” he replies. I still swoon to this day.
3. “Shooting Star/American in Paris” (Season 3, Episode 5)
Team Brenda for life, but in the episodes when Brenda was off with Donna in Paris for the summer, eating cow brains and meeting cute American tourists, it was hard to deny the sparks forming between Kelly and Dylan. She tried to deny the attraction and keep it platonic in order to not hurt Brenda, but he continually pushed her for more. At the time his insistence felt urgent and exciting. Although I can’t deny that today Dylan’s tactics might seem creepy, back then everything he said was pure poetry. The episode ends with Dylan wearing a drug rug, holding Kelly in his arms on the beach. They watch shooting stars while snuggling and it’s all just gorgeous in a way that can only be gorgeous in high school.
2. “Spring Dance” (Season 1, Episode 21)
“We’ll make our appearance and then we’ll make our disappearance.” How sly Dylan is when he and Brenda make plans to ditch the Spring Dance early to go to a hotel room and do it. “It’s our night,” Dylan says, holding up room keys. When it’s finally time he eliminates all awkwardness by goofily picking Brenda up and throwing her on the bed. For all of us nervous virgins out there, here was a sex fantasy fulfilled. Dylan and Brenda got to have joyful sex on a prime-time TV show, and they got to smile at the end and continue to enjoy each other. Consensual as hell.
1. “Isn’t It Romantic” (Season 1, Episode 10)
Here for this drama. In one single episode, Brenda and Dylan go from being just flirty pals to being the hottest item in the zip-code. It all begins with Dylan popping out from under Brandon’s car all greasy and sweaty and in need of a shower at Casa Walsh, where Brenda walks in on him. Then they’re on their notorious first date, during which Dylan has a fight with his abusive father and the bad-boy side of his persona comes to full fruition. Dylan yells, Brenda gets scared, Dylan throws a flower pot to the ground, then he chases after Brenda and grabs her and kisses her. Dylan cries in her arms. Here’s the Dylan we know and love: unstable, tortured, dreamy. By the end of the episode Dylan and Brenda are wrestling on the grass at West Beverly High as though they know theirs will be one of the great romances of the 20th century. It was.