This year sees the tenth anniversary of Buffy The Vampire Slayer leaving our screens (it was actually back in May 2003, where has the time gone?!). If we just put to the side the fact I am a few months late to make this article relevent, I wanted to share with our beloved readers some of my favourite ever episodes.
Buffy was, and still is, my favourite TV show of all time. The fact that in the 10 years since it ended, or indeed during the 7 years it ruled our screens, the only other show that could touch it (in my opinion) was the Angel spin-off is a testament to how highly I regard Joss Whedon’s supernatural creations.
Often, when I tell people that this is my top TV show, I am met with a response along the lines of “Really? Really? What about The Wire? What about The Sopranos? What about [insert socially acceptable TV show here]?!?!?!” (the alternative response I get is “I loved Buffy. Sarah Michelle Gellar is HOT!” ¥Perverts), but I tend to find that these are people who have never even seen the show. I am sure anybody who has taken the time to plough through the 144 episodes, plus the additional 110 Angel episodes, will appreciate the show for what it was; a game changer.
The younger generations may not know, or even care, but shows like Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries and even The Walking Dead, probably wouldn’t be on our screens today had Buffy (a show which made superstars of SMG and David Boreanaz) not blazed a trail for supernatural TV dramas back in the swinging Nineties. You’re welcome, kids.
So without further ado, I present the top seven reasons I call myself a Whedon-ite.
Honorable Mentions – The Pack (S1 E6), When She Was Bad (S2 E1), Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered (S2 E16), I Only Have Eyes For You (S2 E19), The Wish (S3 E9), The Zeppo (S3 E13), The Prom (S3 E20), Graduation Day (S3 E21 & 22), Superstar (S4, E17), Restless (S4 E22), The Gift (S5 E22), Tabula Rasa (S6 E8), Hell’s Bells (S6 E16), Grave (S6 E22), Same Time Same Place (S7 E 3), Chosen (S7 E22)
7) Conversations With Dead People (S7 E7)
A controversial and probably unlikely choice, this episode stood out to me in particular as it follows 5 different and separate stories, all of which involved both members the living and the dead. You have Buffy battling an old schoolfriend-turned-vampire, Dawn helping her deceased mother fend off an unseen malevolent force, Spike picking up and “siring” a girl from the bar, Jonathan and Andrew returning to Sunnydale High as prompted by ghostly Warren, and finally Willow having a conversation with the ghost of Cassie, which turns out to be The First.
What is impressive is that in an episode of roughly 45 minutes air time, each story (barring perhaps Spike’s) is given decent screen time, with each coming to a clean conclusion by the end of the episode. The different scenes also offer a perfect mixture of both standalone tales (for example Dawn, and to some extent Buffy) and portents of things to come (Willow and Andrew/Jonathan).
In addition to the variety of stories on display, I am a big fan of the simplicity of the exchanges between Buffy/Webs and Willow/Cassie. We get to see two characters just going back and forth, showing off both the writing (Espenson, Goddard, Noxon and Whedon all had their hand in this one!) and the acting chops available.
It may not be a popular choice, but this episode has definitely stayed with me longer than most.
6) Fool For Love (S5 E7)
Fool For Love is also a relatively simple story, albeit with it’s own gimmick, and equally an unconventional choice on my part. In the seventh episode from season 5, Buffy finds herself vulnerable after nearly being killed by a regular, run-of-the-mill vampire, and seeks out Spike to find out how he killed his two Slayers victims so that she can ensure she does not get complacent as she grows older.
With the threat of physical violence, not to mention a cash incentive on hand, “William The Bloody” proceeds to regale Buffy with the tales of him killing Slayers in his more bloodthirsty days, and also how he came to be a vampire himself. Having already developed an unhealthy crush on Buffy, Spike also sees this as an opportunity to damage her self-confidence further in the hope that she will accept his “romantic” advances.
The reason I loved this episode so much was largely due to the Billy Idol-wannabe, Spike. Having burst onto our screens early in the second season, Spike captured the viewing publics imagination. However, other than his connection to Angel (plus Drusilla and Darla), Spike’s extensive history was only teased at and mentioned at brief intervals. Fool For Love finally allowed us to actually see what a vicious killer he was, and the motivations behind his actions, further building up this oh-so-cool character.
It also allowed the viewer to explore some of the pre-Buffy Slayer history. Since episode 1 we have been told that in every generation, a Chosen One is born, however the only real link between Buffy and that past was The Watchers, the majority of whom worked against her. Fool For Love presented us with two other Slayers, one from the Boxer Rebellion, and the other from 1977 New York. Buffy is our heroine, but this episode reminded us that she was not the first, and that hundreds, if not thousands of girls before her may have lived a life just as dangerous and confusing. Having built up an impressive present-day Buffyverse, it was a nice touch to investigate what came before.
5) The Body (S5 E16)
Without doubt, The Body is the most artistic episode to appear in the Buffy canon, and easily one of the most ambitious. It appears mid-way through season 5, and is by far the best thing about the whole season, which in this writer’s opinion was largely disappointing on a number of levels.
For a few episodes, one of the subplots had concerned the health of Buffy’s mom, who discovers she has a brain tumour and has a seemingly succesful operation to remove it. Unfortunately, complications arise and Buffy returns home one day to find her mother dead on the sofa. The Body strips away almost ever supernatural aspect of this show and dissects how each character is affected by the huge and unexpected loss.
With a long running show, which prides itself on having drawn out interweaving stories, it is difficult to write a stand alone story and fit it in to the season without any need to reference the rest of the events going on around the characters. The Body manages to do just that with perfection, and is a totally harrowing experience.
I can only imagine watching this episode on it’s own can induce emotional reactions from a first-time viewer, but from the view-point of someone who was emotionally connected to the characters, and whose own mother had sever health issues at that time, The Body was a difficult episode to experience, but ultimately a rewarding one too.
It was handled with immaculate grace, apparently drawing on Joss Whedon’s own experiences, and for that I am thankful. Just remembering it now gives me goosebumps.
4) Once More With Feeling (S6 E7)
Anybody building a list of top Buffy episodes that doesn’t include Once More With Feeling needs to have their head examined. One of the charms of Buffy was that it unashamedly intertwined dramatic stories with a strong helping of cheese. Once More With Feeling was the epitome of this, thrusting both drama and fun at us without remorse……oh, and did I mention it’s a god damn musical episode?!
Yup, you read that right. A musical. Joss Whedon had apparently planned to do a musical episode ever since the show started, but had decided against it until the chance reared it’s theatrical head following a cast party where certain members showed their singing ability.
The story itself, is relatively singular, bearing no real significance on the overall story arc of season 6, until the closing moments when a revelation cause untold ripples. Having died a the end of season 5, and being resurrected from what the gang assumed would be a demon dimension, Buffy finally confesses in Once More that Willow actually pulled her out from Heaven, which obviously racks everyone with guilt.
Musical episodes have become a bit of a cliché, and anybody attempting to shoehorn one into a show has to make sure the songs are strong. Anything less than that can expect a barrage of hate mail as they sell out the concept of the show for the sake of a cheesy gimmick. To some degree Once More is a completely unnecessary, gimmick-filled, cheese-laden episode, however the songs are perfect, ranging from the hilarious “I’ll Never Tell”, the poignant “Something To Sing About” and the subtle “They Got The Mustard Out”.
Hands down, this is the most fun episode in the entire catalogue.
3) Surprise/Innocence (S2 E 13 & 14)
For my number four choice, I am gonna switch things up a little bit. I am going to include two episodes, and not for the last time in this list. Before you get your panties all in a twist, remember that Buffy often had mini stories which ran over consecutive episodes (even crossing over into Angel), and it is difficult to appreciate one, without considering the other side of that same coin. Plus this is my article, so I can do what I want, ok?!
Anyway, back to my choice. Until this point Buffy’s world was relatively straightforward. Ok, so yes she was a typical teenager that wanted to enjoy life, and sometimes vampires and other forces of evil disrupted that, but she knew her place; defend the world, get a drink at The Bronze. Simple. Meeting Angel, and consequently falling in love with him, complicated things for her, but his soul stopped him from being a vicious killer, and allowed Buffy to have a companion that she didn’t need to worry about protecting.
On Buffy’s 17th birthday however EVERYTHING changed. After battling some vampires at the dock, for reasons I shall not divulge here, they retreat to Angel’s home where they end up having sex. Tut tut, raunchy stuff for a teen drama! Long story short, Angel loses his soul and goes on a killing rampage. Buffy is now faced with having to protect her friends from the one man she loved, whilst battling with her own emotions and trust issues.
Not only do I love how Angel’s change in persona to bloodthirsty Angelus affects the group dynamic, but it kickstarts the best storyline of the entire show’s run. The clashes between Buffy and Angelus are made all the much better due to the emotional connection between them.
Surprise/Innocence has a great mixture of tenderness and horror, with some great comedy moments and the introduction of underappreciated Oz into the “Scooby Gang”. These episodes got it just right.
2) Becoming (Parts 1 & 2) (S2 E 21 & 22)
Let’s not stop with Surprise/Innocence though shall we? Season 2 was, in my opinion, the best season of Buffy. It is sad to say that it peaked so early, but it did. Let us deal with it and move on *wipes away solitary tear*
The reason it worked so well was due to the dynamic of Buffy, Angel/Angelus, Spike and Drusilla. The first half of the season was building up Spike and Drusilla as the unpredictably dangerous challenge for Buffy, but when Angel switches sides the battle become even more difficult.
I have already commented on how the emotional connection between Buffy and Angelus improves their battle. Whilst I loved The Mayor, The First, and even The Nerds of Doom (Grace can take a walk!) none of them compared to Angelus because they couldn’t get to Buffy the same way he did. The return of Angelus to the vampire crowd also ruffled some of Spike’s feathers, and so you had this charismatic, bloodthirsty villain who was a splinter in both sides.
Becoming, just like Surprise and Innocence before it, throws every trick in the book at you. There was Buffy’s inner turmoil as she had to face up to the fact she needed to kill her ex-beau to save the planet, the action that resulted from that was as good as in any episode, throw in a sprinkling of comedy from Spike, and finally the confrontation Buffy and her mom when she discovers her daughter’s secret. Even ignoring the 32 episodes that came before it, these two are so strong that they can almost be watched in isolation and still be meaningful to the casual observer.
1) Hush (S4 E10)
So for all the praise I have lavished on the others listed here, what one episode was capable of beating them all? Well that would be the scariest episode of them all, Hush.
Let me set the scene. Imagine one day you wake up and you can’t speak. For all your might and muster, not a single peep will leave your mouth. Crazy right? What about if that wasn’t just you and it was everyone across your city? Overnight everyone simply lost the ability to speak. Frightening thought. Oh, wait, there’s also a bunch of floating smiling demons, called The Gentlemen, followed by their straight-jacket-wearing minions going through the city every night and harvesting human hearts. Unable to call out, each victim must suffer their torture in silence, with next to no hope of anyone noticing their struggle….*shudder*
For a show like Buffy, which is grounded in horror, you might think that shouldn’t be enough to make this stand out. And that’s a fair point, however the synopsis above doesn’t fully convey how creepy this episode is. Buffy was aimed at teenagers, and as such, any horror elements were light, however Hush’s story and execution is fully worthy of an adult audience.
Not only that, but with half the show filmed without words, the cast needed to draw on other aspects of their acting capabilities to convey the story. As a result, this lead to some of the drama being more heart-felt (pun intended) and even moments of unexpected comedy (Buffy miming staking was every teenagers wet dream, I am sure).
As a standalone episode it works perfectly; the story is interesting and unique, it’s got scares and fun, and the acting is as good as it gets in the show. You also finally get to see “Slayer” Buffy and “Initiative soldier” Riley finally coming face to face, having led double lives up to this point, meaning that even though the show works excellently on it’s own, it has further repercussions down the road.
For me, Hush is quietly perfect.
There you have the sacred seven. What are your thoughts? Do you agree, or are there some classic episodes you think I might have missed. Leave a comment below, or visit us on Facebook and Twitter to give us your feedback.