Following on from Angel, time to tackle this one… Buffy: Slayer of, the Vampires.
This was hard to narrow down. Really hard. I’ve had to leave out some corkers and I know I’m going to take some flak for it in various quarters. In honesty, though, I’m really happy with the final 10 that I decided upon.
First up, these are the ones that didn’t quite make the final cut but I thought were worthy of an honourable mention. They’re all cracking episodes but they just fell short of the mark set by the top 10. These ones are in no particular order. **I’ve just finished writing this and realised that I left out Lover’s Walk. It should have a place in amongst the also-rans for sure.
Close but no cigar!
(7:7) Conversations With Dead People
Distinctly creepy episode with fantastic moments and a great reveal at the end. I’m not a fan of the Buffy/Holden psychoanalysis session, however.
(6:17) Normal Again
Some may not like the “it was all a dream” cliché but it’s handled very well and brilliantly acted.
(3:13) The Zeppo
Very funny episode and I love the ending in the basement. “I like the quiet.” Great line. In fact there are loads of great lines in this one. “Cute knife, although technically it may be a sword.”
Brave direction for a season finale with lots of interesting nuggets dropped on the audience. Intriguing and different.
(3:21,3:22) Graduation Day (pt. 1 and 2)
An epic way to close out a great season. Buffy vs Faith, the mayor’s ascension and all the students of Sunnydale High coming together.
Leading on from The Wish, this is a great look at the other side of Willow. It has some great comedic moments and is very well written. Hannigan clearly enjoys her dual role and it shows.
(7:17) Lies My Parents Told Me
So much to love in this episode. I was very close to putting it in at 10. Great performances from James Marsters and DB Woodside and a nail in the coffin of the slayer/watcher dynamic between Giles and Buffy.
Now, on to my favourites. These are the ones that, after much thought, stand out from the crowd as far as I’m concerned.
Best of the best
10. (5:18) Intervention
In the bleak latter half of Season 5, Buffy has little to be happy about. After the death of her mother, the troubles keep on piling up and comic relief is often hard to find. That’s why Intervention is such a special episode. Introducing Spike’s robot version of Buffy gives Sarah Michelle Gellar the chance to be super-chirpy as she strides through the episode. The writing simply sizzles throughout, whether it’s Spike insulting Glory about her perm or Buffy calling Xander on his admiration of the aforementioned blonde vamp’s compact but well-muscled physique. It also has a lovely emotional payoff at the end when Buffy pretends to be the robot in order to find out what information Spike gave up during his interrogation. Great episode.
Best line: Buffy -“Devour me!”
9. (2:19) I Only Have Eyes For You
This story of a pair of star-crossed lovers doomed to play out their tragic end over and over again through surrogate hosts fits so nicely into the season 2 arc. Buffy is forced to face up to her own feelings of anger and helplessness after what has befallen her and Angel. The episode is well acted, especially at the climax when Buffy and Angel assume the roles of the two lovers, having such a tender conversation that has such resonance with their current situation. This is brought to a jarring end when they come back to themselves and he shoves her away. Marti Noxon is a big fan of ghost stories; she and the team behind this episode really knew about putting people through the emotional meat grinder. It’s a simple idea, executed perfectly. This was also the first episode of the show to have a public service announcement at the end; Sarah Michelle Gellar voicing a warning about teen suicide.
Best line: Xander – “Something weird is going on. Isn’t that our school motto?”
8. (3:9) The Wish
I love a good alternate timeline story. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ comes to Sunnydale here as we see the sorry state that the town would be in had Buffy not arrived there. The Master has taken over; he rules the town with his most feared lieutenants (Willow and Xander who are now vampires) and keeps Angel locked up in a cell to be toyed with. Charisma Carpenter is the glue that holds this idea together and does a wonderful job bringing the audience through this alternate world. This is also a wonderful chance for the actors playing Buffy, Willow and Xander to experiment and take things in a different direction. There’s some quite grim imagery in this episode in the form of the ‘harvesting machine’ that the Master has devised and things build to a very satisfying ending. This episode also gives us the welcome introduction of Emma Caulfield as Anyanka, who would go on to become a marvellous addition to the regular cast.
Best line: Giles – “I have to believe in a better world.”
Buffy – “Go ahead. I have to live in this one.”
7. (3:6) Band Candy
Joyce and Giles take centre-stage in this wonderful episode that reverses relationships all over the place. The adults are drugged into reverting to their teenage, apathetic, self-absorbed selves so that they will let their guard down and allow the Mayor to steal their babies to sacrifice them to a demon. Anthony Stewart Head and Kristine Sutherland are wonderful when they’re let off the leash in this way. Armin Shimerman as teenage Snyder, complaining about being ditched by people, is also a hilarious shadow of his normally tightly-wound self. There is also a great scene between Mr Trick and the Mayor at the end: a scene which gives you a look beyond the jovial side of the Mayor at something a lot darker.
Best line: Ms. Barton – “So let’s just sit quietly…and pretend to read or something until we’re sure old Commandant Snyder is gone, and then we’re all outta here.”
6. (2:21,2:22) Becoming (pt. 1 & 2)
The second half of Season 2 is a rollercoaster and Becoming is the perfect way to round it off. It brings home all the things that have been built up over the season. We get unlikely alliances, tragic deaths, expulsion and the ultimate gut punch of Willow managing to magically re-ensoul Angel but too late to prevent Buffy from having to kill him in order to save the world. There are wonderful scenes throughout, including Buffy revealing all to her mother, Spike and Joyce’s awkward sofa talk and Giles’ torture scenes. Anthony Stewart Head chopped up raw chillies and stuck them in his mouth during each take to increase his portrayal of discomfort. The tragic end is underscored by a great soundtrack selection, both in Christophe Beck’s score work and the Sarah MacLachlan song that brings the episode to a close.
Best line: Giles – “You must perform the ritual… in a tutu. Pillock!”
5. (5:22) The Gift
If the series had ended with this episode, as was the plan, it would have worked brilliantly. We would have been deprived of some quality episodes that were yet to come but it would have rounded off the series with a brilliant piece of sacrifice: the fundamental theme behind most of the show. The Gift is a wonderful examination of sacrifice, family, friendship and the growth into adulthood. One of my favourite parts of the episode is the beginning. After the crazy montage of clips from the entire series that replaces the usual ‘previously on’, we get the alley scene that Joss Whedon wrote for old time’s sake. Just Buffy and the one vampire in town who doesn’t know who she is. Cue, “Oh God, my leg, my leg.” Love it.
Best line: Giles – “She’s a hero, you see. She’s not like us.”
4. (6:7) Once More With Feeling
Other shows have tried to copy this unsuccessfully, It could only work in Buffy’s case because of the familiarity we all had with the characters, the time we had invested in them and, frankly, just how wonderful the songs are. Really, they’re excellent. From start to finish, this is a fantastic showcase for everyone concerned in the show. Here isn’t a single song that I skip on playing the album through. It moves the arc of the series and doesn’t just drop everything to have a sing-song which is a credit to the writing team. The episode is full of emotional ups and downs and has a real punch as the gang discover where exactly they brought Buffy back from. All in all, it’s a joyous hour that highlights everything great about the series.
Best line: Mustard Man – “They got… the mustard.. out!”
3. (4:10) Hush
This comes top on many lists. It operates as a brilliant standalone horror film, having at its core a great premise of being unable to call for help. The antagonists are genuinely unsettling with their rictus grins and delicate movements and I can imagine they made some college students wary of opening their doors to knocks in the middle of the night for some time afterwards. The lecture hall scene with Giles and his drawings is a piece of comedy gold. Sarah Michelle Gellar improvised the reaction to the size of her hips in his sketch. Joss Whedon challenged himself to write an episode largely lacking dialogue in order to prove that he could make something work without his trademark witty dialogue. It worked exceptionally well and stands as a cracking hour of television, accessible to fans and non-fans alike.
Best line: Spike – “I’m not having these two shag while I’m tied to a chair three feet away.”
Xander – “That’s not exactly one of my fantasies, either.”
2. (2:17) Passion
I chose an opera to see based on this episode. Way back when I had spare money to go to the opera, I chose to go and see La Boheme because of the beautiful O Soave Fanciulla that plays at the episode’s most harrowing moment. Anthony Stewart Head lists this episode as his favourite from the series because of how wonderfully it was written and shot. Jenny Calendar’s death is a turning point for the series; the serious nature of the proceedings brought starkly into light. Characters can be killed off, often just as they are about to achieve happiness. It became something of a theme for the show. There was debate about how Jenny should be killed off and whether Angel should have his human face or his vampiric one. It was decided to have him in his vampire guise so the audience would retain some sympathy for him if he ever got his soul back. The Jenny scene is horrible enough, but then to see Giles discover her in such an awful fashion will stay with you for a long time.
Best line: Angelus – “It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank… without passion, we’d be truly dead.”
1. (5:16) The Body
My number 1. This transcends the story, the series and everything else that stands around it as an absolute tour de force. When I first saw it, I was a little annoyed by the fight scene in the hospital at the end. I thought that it had been shoe-horned into the episode because of some network requirement that there be at least one fight in each episode. I’ve come to realise that this was all just part of the brilliance at work. The fight is a complete intrusion on everything; just a cypher for the way real life can intrude on our grief at the most inconvenient times. Life does not pause for grief. There’s no dramatic music during the fight scene; just the uncomfortable sounds of slapping and breathing. There’s no music throughout the episode. this was done to leave the audience no place to seek comfort. Whedon put a lot of his own experience into this episode and the emotions come through in waves. He made the decision to include the long, dinner scene at the beginning so that the credits could be over and done with and not there to distract from the important stuff that follows. There are only four scenes in the entire episode, each one made long so that it captures the sense of time one feels during grieving. There are so many nice touches throughout, from Buffy’s fussing over pulling her Mum’s skirt down for modesty to the fake, miracle recovery scene that smash cuts straight back to Joyce’s lifeless body. All the leads play their parts brilliantly. People watch shows like this to be entertained, to be swept along in the lives and travails of the characters. Once in a while, if the creative team behind a show is skilled enough, there comes a chance to give people something they can use; that they can derive comfort from in dark times. There are probably countless fans of the show out there who have been through similar experiences and turned to Buffy as a waypoint for their emotions.
Best line: Buffy – “She’s cold.”
911 Operator “The body’s cold?”
Buffy -“No, my mom. Sh-should I make her warm?”
writing this has reminded me just how much I loved watching this show. There’s so much to love about it. As I’ve written, other scenes from other episodes have come to mind and I realise that, on a different day, in a different mood, I could reorder this list or substitute episodes. However, as I sit here now, these are the ten best episodes of what I feel is one of the best television series of all time.
Thanks for reading,
if you enjoyed this, please check out my other lists here: