In honour of the recent 10 year anniversary of Buffy’s final episode airing (tears), I’m adding my Buffy-related list to the millions of others slaying the internet at the mo. By way of introduction, this is slightly more than just a list, as I’m giving a tiny blurb on each episode along with why it’s a favourite, and I’ll be giving a favourite moment and piece of dialogue too. Most of the 12 people who will read this list, will likely be here because they are already Buffy fans, but for the rest of you, here be spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the show yet (weirdo) go do that first, then come back. I’ll still be here.
I’ve split my list into several parts as there are over 60 episodes, and no-one should be expected to read such a long list in one lunch-time sitting (for those of you reading this when you should be working – hey! Get back to that inbox – those emails aren’t going to reply to themselves… yet…). I’ve done the list in series order, as it is too difficult to make a Buffy list in order of importance – I don’t think there is really an episode I don’t like, and that includes Beer Bad. I either like them, love them, or worship them. I may revisit at a later to give more info on every episode, and why j’adore them so much, but until then, let us join hands and walk through the fire together, and remember our dear friend, Buffy Summers.
Welcome To The Hellmouth/The Harvest
The pilot episode/two parter brilliantly introduces us to the Buffyverse; we meet most of the series core characters, we learn the history of Slayers, Vampires, and Watchers, and both episodes give an idea of what to expect from the show – humour, horror, the destruction/inversion of tropes/expectations, clever dialogue, and pop-culture references aplenty. It sets the tone for both the first series and the show as a whole as all serialized TV fiction should.
In Welcome To The Hellmouth, Buffy Summers and her mother, Joyce, have moved to Sunnydale after a divorce and after Buffy was expelled from her previous school for burning down the gym. Buffy is 16, and is The Chosen One – the one person in the world handed super-strength and other powers in order to fight vampires, demons, and other assorted evils. In the first episode she simply ‘wants’ to deal with the evils of high school, and specifically, embarking on her first day in a new school. We meet the three friends who will become her most important friends and allies through the course of the series – Xander, who is a bit of a hopeless outsider/class joker, Willow, who is a timid science/computer geek/outsider, and Giles, the school librarian and Buffy’s new Watcher. Hoping that her Slaying days were behind her, Giles informs her of recent Vampire activity and the interesting fact that Sunnydale sits on top of The Hellmouth – an opening to Hell which draws evil like a magnet. Soon, an ancient evil threatens to rise, and its cohorts unleash a brutal attack on Sunnydale, threatening Buffy and her new friends, and drawing her reluctantly back to her fate.
Aside from the main characters, we also meet Cordelia, semi-antagonist, semi-Scooby, the mysterious Angel, The Master (this season’s Big Bad), Darla, and a host of other minor characters who will pop up throughout the series. The first half is all about introduction, the second is all about action, and even though it appears to be a fluffy little low-budget show to fill space for a few week, it is clear that this is a smart, super-entertaining, and potentially important show.
Favourite Moment: I can still remember the first time I watched this, the first time it was aired on BBC 2. Sitting in my bedroom, huddled on the floor against the radiator. I think I enjoy the overall mood of the episode and the fact that it has such a nostalgic power. There are a lot of moments to enjoy here, but I’ll pick the final chat (the first of many) between the scoobies with Giles quipping ‘The Earth Is Doomed’.
Luke: You forget, metal can’t hurt me.
Buffy: There’s something you forgot about, too. Sunrise!….It’s in about nine hours, moron!
The Puppet Show
As seasoned Buffy fans will agree, Season 1 is the weakest in the show’s history, not quite capturing the full 22 Season arc style that the other series achieve, and instead relying on standalone, monster-of-the-week episodes designed to endear us to the world and the characters, whilst simultaneously dripfeeding us information on the show’s mythos. The most positive things to be taken from Season 1 are (aside from the obvious strong acting and characterisation) how fresh it seemed at the time, and how inventive it was in terms of storytelling and surprises. The Puppet Show is a prime example of this, telling the story of an unknown killer taking the brains of its victims. A series of misdirects make this feel more like a detective drama, and you will be kept guessing until the end.
It was at this point in the show that it really began to earn credit for surprising the audience and flipping clichés on their asses. The episode has a high ick factor with ventriloquist dummies, brain-stealing demons, the first appearance of Principal Snyder, but it is the balance of the scares, the mystery, and the humour which makes this a highlight of the first series (other episodes either focus too much on the scares or the humour).
Favourite Moment: It’s gotta be the credits sequence, the only credits sequence in the whole show, and it is a thing of comedy genius.
Snyder: I don’t get it. What is it? Avant-garde?
Nightmares marks the first time where BTVS succeeds in being scary – previously it had felt more like X-Files lite scares, or a few steps above something like Are You Afraid Of The Dark. While it doesn’t come close to the terrific scares or genuine horror of some later episodes, it does a stellar job of pinpointing the fears many of us have had at various points during our lives, not just those we face in adolescence. While there are an assortment of typical, juvenile fears – Clowns, boogeymen, general insecurities about appearance, school, status etc, there are a handful which get to the core of the characters and in turn give us food for thought. Buffy has anxiety over the divorce of her parents, and the fact that her becoming a Slayer and getting up to perceived mischief may have caused the divorce – Buffy’s dad confirms this fear in a fairly brutal scene, telling her that he isn’t interested in seeing her anymore; Buffy fears becoming a vampire, and experiences it, really acting as a metaphor for her fears of losing/losing control/joining the dark side; Giles witnesses Buffy’s grave showing us his greatest fear – the Watcher losing the Slayer – this of course happens later in the show. Perhaps the scariest thing is in Billy’s fear of abuse – he is beaten into a coma by his coach and creates a nightmare world – not many shows deal with abuse in such a frank manner, at least not primetime shows in 1997.
The episode becomes more interesting in retrospect as quite a few of these nightmares are realised later; Buffy faces The Master and loses, Giles suffers the death of his Slayer, Buffy wakes in a coffin, Xander is continually confronted with childish fears, Willow struggles with confidence throughout the show. Aside from the witty dialogue, there aren’t too many laughs to be had with this one.
Favourite Moment: The quick sequence encapsulating Willow’s nightmare about singing, Xander and the clown, and Buffy of being buried alive in rapid succession is creepy, funny, and ridiculous in the space of a couple of minutes.
Buffy (As Vampire): Well, we better hurry… ’cause I’m getting hungry.
The (short) season long arc comes to a head with the final episode, where Buffy learns of a prophecy telling that she will face The Master and die, and that he will rise. Prophecies have a way of coming true on this show, but the writers have a knack of turning even these inevitabilities on their heads. This is really the first moment in the series where we get a glimpse of the strong emotional core as we are reminded, tragically, of the fact that Buffy is still only a sixteen year old girl, burdened with an insurmountable task she never wanted.
However, we see the power of one of the greatest themes/lessons of the show – that with friends/family you can overcome even the darkest foe. Previous Slayers have been a lonely, solitary bunch, but Buffy surrounds herself with an army of allies, and it is this fact which saves her here, and time again. Re-ignited, she is able to cast off her fears and doubts, and bring the reign of The Master to a speedy conclusion.
The finale feels almost like the real start of the show – every character experiences some growth and maturity, relationships are blossoming, the first great threat has been defeated, but still a recent danger remains, lurking in Sunnydale’s underbelly until Season 2 starts.
Favourite Moment: Quite a few here, but I’ll pick from my two main favourites and leave the other as my favourite dialogue. The sequence of Buffy being brought back and charging back towards the school, soaking in her Prom dress and swatting vampires out-of-the-way easily is one of the early iconic scenes. Actually, I also have to mention Willow and Buffy’s scene talking about Willow finding the Audio-visual guys massacred is powerful – thanks to Hannigan’s teary speech. This show has the best crying actors!
One of my favourite scenes in the whole show, and one which never fails to 0ver-moisten my eyes features the following dialogue (Yes, just reading it makes me want to dive into the TV, back through time to a 1997 that never existed, and slaughter The Master myself for daring to make Buffy cry):
Buffy: So that’s it, huh? I remember the drill. One Slayer dies, next one’s called! Wonder who she is. (to Giles) Will you train her? Or will they send someone else?
Giles: Buffy, I…
Buffy: They say how he’s gonna kill me? Do you think it’ll hurt?
Angel tries to hug her, but she puts up her hands and quickly steps away.
Buffy: Don’t touch me! (to Giles) Were you even gonna tell me?
Giles: I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to. That there was… some way around it. I…
Buffy: I’ve got a way around it. I quit!
Angel: It’s not that simple.
Buffy: I’m making it that simple! I quit! I resign, I-I’m fired, you can find someone else to stop the Master from taking over!
Giles: I’m not sure that anyone else can. All the… the signs indicate…
Buffy: The signs? (throws a book at him) READ ME THE SIGNS! (throws
another one) TELL ME MY FORTUNE! YOU’RE SO USEFUL SITTING HERE WITH ALL YOUR BOOKS! YOU’RE REALLY A LOTTA HELP!
Giles: No, I don’t suppose I am.
Angel: I know this is hard.
Buffy: What do you know about this? You’re never gonna die!
Angel: You think I want anything to happen to you? Do you think I could
stand it? We just gotta figure out a way…
Buffy: I already did. I quit, remember? Pay attention!
Giles: Buffy, if the Master rises…
Buffy: (yanks the cross from her neck) I don’t care! (calms down) I
don’t care. Giles, I’m sixteen years old. I don’t wanna die.
So, that’s it for Season 1.I’m sure there are plenty of you out there who hate this season with a passion, or maybe there are some episodes from Season 1 that you prefer. Let us know in the comments (Thanks to Ohbambi for all screengrabs).