For years I have laughed and cried my way through the seven seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I’ve fallen in love with the characters over and over, and I have fought side by side with the slayer herself.
For me, it still stands as the greatest show on TV of all time, and Buffy Summers is my favorite TV character of all time. I watch it at least once a year, and well, I don’t know how else I can say it – for as long as I can really remember, this show has been like my Mr Pointy. I don’t recall watching it for the first time. It seems to me that there was time without Buffy, and then there was a time with Buffy, and with that small change, came a life long obsession. I’ve owned the figures, the comics, bed spreads, PJS, backpacks, books, any number of Buffy memorabilia has been in my possession at one time or another.
I recently read an article about the best Buffy episodes of all time – I didn’t keep the link but perhaps I should of – and it got me thinking about my favorite episodes. I decided it was time to do my own list. I had no idea how much of a challenge this would be.
I found it incredibly hard. I wanted my list to be different to the standard lists, but how are you supposed to narrow down such a list, when you love each and every episode? Even now, as I write this, I find myself thinking about episodes not on the list, and if I have made the right choices!
I started by ranking each episode from 1-5, then I simply removed anything that wasn’t a five. Only a few episodes from season four were ranked as low as a 2 (Beer Bad, Doomed and Goodbye Iowa) and that’s not even because I don’t like those episodes, it’s just that I guess I value them slightly less than others. The majority were ranked with a five! In fact, 81 out of 144 episodes were ranked as a five, and I would say most of those came from season three and seven, as those two are my favorite seasons.
After that, a round at a time, I worked my way through the list and eliminated as many episodes as I could per round.
It was so difficult. I tried for days to get it down to twenty episodes. When I had finally accomplished this, it was just a case of narrowing it down to ten! There were episodes that I knew all along would make the cut. There were episodes that I agonized over – am I being dramatic? Maybe.
It was difficult to distinguish between loving every aspect of an episode, or loving a powerful moment from an episode, which didn’t help, but I soon realized that that was the key to cutting my list down.
Now, without further delay, here is my final list!
10. The Zeppo (S3, 13) – This isn’t one I see on many lists, but it’s always been at the top for me.
Xander, tired of feeling like he needs to be protected by the Scoobies, and fed up of feeling unpopular among his peers, decides its time to prove his cool. He ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the wheel man to Jack O’toole and his undead friends, who have plans to blow up the school. With the Slayer and the gang wrapped up in their own apocolypse, Xander must save the day on his own.
This Xander-centric episode shows us all that this loveable goofball is more capable than he seems. Simply by calling Jack’s bluff with his super cool “Yeah, but this is different. Being blowed up isn’t walking around and drinking with your buddies dead. It’s little bits being swept up by a janitor dead, and I don’t think you’re ready for that.”to which Jack responds “Are you?” and Xander, without even flinching, says “I like the quiet” he manages to get Jack to disarm his bomb. He knew that he was risking his life, but he did it anyway.
Meanwhile in a different part of the school, the Scoobies are risking their lives to save the world. Xander’s moment of bravery may have been on a smaller scale, and no one knows what he did, but it was big moment for him. He proved himself to himself. He didn’t need to share his story with the others. They don’t try to involve him, because they fear for his life.
For me, this episode is exciting, funny and clever, and it stands out to me because it’s different to the other episodes, it doesn’t follow the general Buffy formula (although I don’t think the show has a repetitive formula as such.)
9. Buffy VS Dracula (S5, 1) – Possibly an unpopular opinion, but this is my favorite season opener.
During a routine patrol, Buffy meets Dracula, who has come to Sunnydale to the meet the Slayer. She is proud that the most famous Vampire has heard of her, but soon finds herself struggling to resist him. He turns Xander into his slave, and bites Buffy to put her under his thrall. Buffy hides the bite but ultimately overcomes his mystical charms.
This show has on occasion dealt with famous ghouls and ghosts, using classic horror stories as the basis for an episode here and there, but it has never used a specific horror character. Dracula of course, is THE vampire. He has his own lore that doesn’t apply to other vampires. Buffy can’t just dust him like any other vamp, but proving herself as perhaps the greatest slayer to exist (I mean, we don’t have much to compare her to, but I’m going with it) she still manages to defeat him.
The whole episode is a bit unusual really, but it foreshadows much of Buffy’s journey, particularly when Dracula tells her “You think you know, what you are, what’s to come. You haven’t even begun.” Which is very similar to what she is told in her dream in the season four finale Restless. At this point in her life, Buffy still hasn’t really come to terms with the fact that she’s the slayer, but she doesn’t really know what her full potential is.
The episode itself is a bit of fun really, compared to the big reveal at the end. This is possibly one of the biggest and bravest television reveals I’ve ever seen, and I know Dawn is generally an unpopular character (I’ve nothing against her, she’s a teenage girl who has a beautiful, cool, older sister with super powers. I don’t think we can blame her for being a bit frustrated and a bit whiny) but I think that her introduction was so clever, and that she was a necessary character. I’ve read so many complaints about her, that she shouldn’t have been in the show, or that she should have died at the end of season five, but I completely disagree with such comments.
I don’t know if I have just interpreted this in my own way, or if this was intentional but I really feel like you can see the moment when Buffy goes from not knowing who Dawn is, to her memory being altered and knowing exactly who she is. In a blink and you’ll miss it moment, during the last scene of the episode, her face changes. She has this confused look on her face as she says “What are you doing here?” and as Dawn turns and looks at her, her confusion turns into mild annoyance and realization, as Joyce shouts through “Buffy if you’re going out, can you take your sister?” If it was intentional, just another example of Sarah Michelle Gellars exceptional acting.
I think it’s brilliant, how suddenly this character that we have grown with through 4 seasons, suddenly has this sister and all of these memories that she didn’t have before, and they make it work so well. Bravo!
8. Hush (S4, 10) – One thing that Buffy is really well known for is the clever, quick witted dialogue. It’s also a show that isn’t afraid to step outside of it’s comfort zone which is exactly what it does in this episode.
Following a creepy dream in which Buffy sees a girl singing a nursery rhyme about “The Gentlemen”, the town of Sunnydale is struck by a mysterious case of laryngitis. The gang – Giles – soon figures out that it is based on an old fairy tale, the horrifying demons need to harvest seven hearts, and the only way to defeat them is for a “princess” to scream.
This episode really is a work of genius, and probably the scariest episode to have been made – a close second for me being Fear Itself , Killed By Death. Or Conversations with Dead People – with the floating, silent baddies and their henchmen.
The score is brilliant, and sets the atmosphere off perfectly, and the way that the silence forces the characters to communicate in other ways is so clever. Buffy and Riley finally reveal their feelings for each other, Willow and Tara discover that they are both real witches, Xander shows his love for Anya when he thinks Spike has bitten her. There is a lot being said without anything actually being said.
7. Once More With Feeling (S6, 7) – I am trying to be as original as possible, but you can’t leave OMWF off this list, can you?
The town of Sunnydale again finds itself struck with a strange affliction – they’re all singing and dancing, some of them till they combust. As well as bursting into flames, they are also revealing their deepest secrets.
This episode from start to finish is wonderful. I have been listening to the soundtrack in my car recently – I love to sing it at the top of my voice, even though I am a terrible singer – and I feel like even though I always understood the messages behind the songs, I am discovering new layers to them.
Of course we all know that this is the episode that Buffy reveals that she was pulled out of heaven, and they all start to understand why she isn’t herself. It’s incredibly emotional to watch, and to listen to.
The villain, Sweet, is this suave, stylish demon with a great voice. He’s quite unlike the average Buffy baddie, it’s hard not to love him. His puppet henchmen are a bit on the creepy side though! Again though, they are so unusual compared to the norm, and I wonder where the idea for these puppet like creatures came from.
Now the next important question is – which song is the best song?
I think my ultimate favorite is Walk Through The Fire but I do love Standing and What you Feel Reprise. I love them all though!
6. Enemies (S3, 17) – Season three is a really important season for me, as for some reason, this is where it all began for me. I do not remember watching Buffy for the first time, but I do remember owning the second half of season three on video, before having any of the others. I have no idea why, but because of this, I think I’ve seen it more than any of the other seasons (only marginally, I re-watch the entire show from start to finish, at least once a year)
After stealing the books of ascention from a demon, and failing to seduce Angel to bring Angelus back, Faith and the Mayor turn to magic to remove his soul. The Mayor reveals his invulnrability to Angel, and approves his plan to capture and torture Buffy. Once they have her chained up, Faith divulges the Mayor’s plans, and then finds out that the pair have been playing her all along – Giles knows the shrouded demon that the Mayor uses, and the whole thing has been an act to get Faith to reveal secret information.
I really love that quite often in Buffy, you have no idea of the game plan until the very last minute. Even though I obviously know now what will happen, I still enjoy the not knowing.
That’s one of the reasons that this episode made it onto the list. I also love the look of ultimate betrayal on Faith’s face, when Angel says “second best” to her, and she learns that she’s been had. I think it’s a very underrated episode, and again is an example of some of the brilliant talent on this show.
I will never not get chills when Buffy says “May I say something… Psyche”.
5. Passion (S2, 17) – If you don’t love Angel’s speech throughout this episode, I think you’ve come to the wrong place.
Hoping to redeem herself in the eyes of Buffy and Giles, Jenny translates the gypsy curse that is to be used to restore Angel’s soul. Before she can get the chance to perform the curse, or tell anyone what she’s done, Angelus chases her down in the high school, and breaks her neck. Well known for playing with his victims, Angelus then leaves her for Giles to find, in what he believes to be the set up for a romantic evening.
Talk about a powerful character death. Unlike your bog standard vampire, Angelus plays with his victims. He doesn’t drain her blood, or turn into a vampire. He breaks her neck, then leaves her in Giles’ home, for him to find. It’s completely heartbreaking.
What’s more, as Angelus watches from the shadows, we see Buffy and Willow find out what’s happened. Her death is awful, but something that goes unmentioned is that Buffy will blame herself for this. Buffy brought Angelus into their lives, although unintentionally, and because of that, Jenny lost her life. What an awful burden for a teenager.
4. Becoming Part 2 (S2, 22) – Up until this moment, number four on my list was actually Becoming Part 1, but I realized that for the most part, it’s Whistler’s emotive speech that I really love about that episode, but that part 2 as whole is the better episode.
Buffy arrives too late to save Kendra and the Scoobies from Drusilla and Angelus’s trap, and instead ends up accused of murder. Escaping the police, she finds herself teaming up with Spike to put an end to Angelus once and for all. In hospital, Willow makes plans to curse Angelus and return his soul, but is too late, and Buffy must sacrifice him to stop the end of the world.
There is a lot of emotion in this episode. Kendra is dead, with Buffy (now expelled from high school as well) as the prime suspect; her mother is concerned that this might actually be true; Willow is in the hospital; Giles has been taken by Drusilla and Buffy is left with no choice but to form an alliance with Spike.
The final battle between Buffy and Angelus is one of the best fight scenes in the whole show, made even more impressive by the fact that it’s a sword fight.
Willow is successful in restoring Angel’s soul, but she is too late, and Buffy must make the heartbreaking decision to sacrifice Angel to save the world (I would like to point out that this is always referred to as the moment that Buffy killed Angel, however she doesn’t. Yes, she does send him to a hell dimension, but you can’t kill a vampire with a sword through the chest.) It’s beautifully filmed scene, and yet again SMG showcases her amazing talent – no cries like Sarah Michelle Gellar. Get’s me every time!
For me, the best part of this episode is Joyce finding out that Buffy is the slayer. Of course we will later find out that she had actually been told when Buffy was younger, but for the moment, as far as we know it’s the first time Joyce is hearing about it. As Buffy tries to make her mother see how awful this life is for her, I just want to hug her and tell her it’s all okay. Of course Joyce doesn’t want to accept that her daughter leads such a dangerous life, and I don’t blame her for that either. Her sacrifice of Angel isn’t the first one she makes in that episode, but by choosing to walk out of the house, she also sacrifices her childhood. She’s a teenager yes, but by walking out of that door, she is saying goodbye to the home comforts she knows from being a child, and walking into a terrifying, lonely world. Maybe she wouldn’t have left if it hadn’t been for loosing Angel, but I guess we’ll never know.
I have wondered before if her and Joyce ever sat down to discuss the cover stories Buffy had fed to her over the years. “No, there wasn’t a gas leak at the school… no there were no gangs on PCP… No, we didn’t own a barbecue fork…” and so on.
3. Graduation Day Part 2 (S3, 22) – Another season three episode! Again, I really struggled to pick between part 1 and part 2, but it really came down to a question of – exciting fight scene, or cryptic dream? The dream won out.
With Faith presumed dead, Buffy offers her own blood to Angel to drink to cure him of the poison. Accidentally taking too much, he rushes her to hospital where she has a prophetic dream about Faith, who reveals the Mayors only weakness. Upon waking she tells the gang that she feels ready for war, and devises a plan of attack to stop the mayor.
Buffy has spent her time at Sunnydale High trying to keep her secret identity, well just that, a secret. So naturally when it comes down to defeating a gigantic snake demon, she enlists the help of the entire student body, and from all accounts it would appear that they are quite happy to help!
I have never been disappointed by a Buffy battle, but this one is really epic, the school being blown up is spectacular.
Angel leaves Sunnydale with a graceful goodbye, and Buffy earns her diploma after all. The gang survived.
And who doesn’t love a prophetic slayer dream?
2. Chosen (S7, 22) – I know, I know another finale, but I really feel like they ended this show so incredibly well, it has to be included!
After killing Caleb with her new weapon, and briefly reuniting with Angel who gives her weapon of sorts to help in her final battle, Buffy comes up with a plan to stop the first – Willow will use the scythe to harness the power of the slayer, and turn every potential slayer into an actual slayer. Returning once more to the hellmouth, and this time actually entering it, Buffy, Faith and the potential slayers face the uber vamps as one, and Spike sacrifices himself with the use of Angel’s weapon, to close the hellmouth once and for all.
The plan itself is both crazy and brilliant. Let’s turn every girl that might be a slayer, into a slayer. That’s a lot of power to a lot of people. It works beautifully. And for the first time, Buffy is no longer truly alone. Yes she’s always had her friends, but none of them truly understands what it means to be a slayer. It is lonely, dangerous, and scary. She lives every single day knowing there is a possibility that it will be her last, and someone else will just come along and take her place.
It’s another example of an episode where the plan isn’t revealed to the last minute, and by now, we all know that I love that!
The battle, along with the score The Final Fight are incredible. It gives me chills to watch, especially as Buffy comes face to face with the first, wearing her for an outfit, and says “I want you to get out of my face” and gets up off the ground after being stabbed.
The shocking death of Anya, and the moving sacrifice of Spike have me in tears every time, and as soon as I get to end of the episode, I want to go straight back to season one.
- The Gift (S5, 22) – While I have had doubts over some episodes, and struggled to pick others, I knew all along that this would be my number one spot.
As Glory prepares Dawn for the blood letting ritual that will open a portal to the hell dimension she came from, and cause all other dimensions to bleed together, Buffy and the gang formulate a plan to save her, and to put an end to Glory. They are too late to stop the ritual from starting, but it is in this moment that Buffy learns the true meaning of her destiny, that death is her gift, and closes the portal by sacrificing herself.
I watch this episode from start to finish on the edge of my seat, and I sob my heart out. Those tears start pretty much as soon as she gets to the top of the tower, because I know what’s coming.
Buffy dies with such grace and dignity. As the realization of what she must do sinks in, and she looks at the portal, she is at peace with herself. She looks at it with an almost longing. The responsibility of being the chosen one is lifted, she will no longer have to live with the pain and burdens she has suffered in her life as the slayer. She can save her sister and the rest of the world. It’s beautiful.
Glory is my favorite big bad, but I still love to see her get her comeuppance, and to see Giles’ dark side as he ends Ben. It’s a brave move, to have the watcher, the librarian, the voice of reason and sense, take a life, and there be no consequence. But of course Buffy couldn’t have done it. She’s a hero, after all.
So, there you have it. My top ten. I am, as I write, wondering if I have made the right choices. The thing is, is that I really really love every episode. So this is more of a list of the episodes that I love just the little bit more than the others!
There is one episode that I feel I need to give an honorable mention to, or at least explain why I didn’t include it. I could give honorable mentions to all of the episodes if I really wanted to, but that’s probably not the fairest way to do things… plus I don’t have the time to do that!
By now, I know some of you may be wondering where on earth is The Body. Here’s the thing about The Body. It is an amazing episode. I cry from start to finish. It’s beautifully filmed, the acting is truly exceptional, it’s shocking and devastating. We see Buffy as a real person, a child almost, rather than the slayer. And we see her defeated by the very thing she is up against, battling nightly – death. She couldn’t have saved her mother, and can’t fight the thing that took her. It is pure genius. There isn’t much in the way of music either, Joss wanted us to really feel our feelings here, to not have them manipulated by a score. It’s a brilliant episode, a work of genius, but I can’t say that it has a place in my top ten, because seeing Joyce dead, and Buffy and her friends suffer in this way isn’t something that I enjoy. It doesn’t belong here, I’m afraid.