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.
You should probably take a bit of a breather from Buffy after the emotional fun and games of Season 2. Not too long though, as I’m sure you will want to know what has been happening to our pals in Sunnydale. Where did Buffy go? How did the Scoobies cope without her? Will she even come back? Have the bad guys taken over the town now that it is Slayer-less? Not to mention all of the budding relationships on the show. Season 3 answers all these questions in the first few episodes, possibly too quickly for some fans, but that’s because we have bigger issues to deal with – Season 3 issues. Namely, a new Big Bad, a new apocalypse (or 2), and a new slayer! Season 3 is probably the most popular season of Buffy, balancing that blend of humour, danger, and plot brilliantly, and delivering a consistent run of excellent episodes. It probably has some of the best fight scenes in the whole series, easily has some of the best standalone episodes, and while the sheer emotional weight has decreased from Season 2, it has better writing and less throwaway episodes.
Faith, Hope, And Trick
The first two episodes of Season 3 deal with the aftermath of Season 2’s events, specifically Buffy being expelled, killing her beloved, being thrown out of her home, chased by the cops, and leaving town, and neatly (or hastily – depending on which camp you fall into) wrapping up her return and the questions over what everyone has been up to for the last few months. Though they are good episodes, particularly Anne, they feel like a holdover from Season 2. In other words, they are crossover episodes, they are old news. Three episodes in and we are waiting for something new to happen, something bold, something to signify that Season 3 is truly getting underway. And with this episode, we get a host of NEWNESS, including Faith, Hope, and Trick, and a big, dirty cliffhanger too!
So, all appears well again in Sunnydale with the kids focussing on school, the Bronze, boyfriends, girlfriends, and Buffy is trying, as always to have a normal life. Enter Scott Hope, a nice, normal chap, who just wants some Summer(s) luvin’. Buffy seems more keen though on trying to get back into school. After celebrating he re-acceptance into Sunnydale High, we bump into Faith, slaughtering a vampire with relish, who promptly introduces herself and floors us and the Sccobies. Elsewhere, we meet the lovely Mr Trick and Kakistos, a vampire and demon combo, merging old school ways with the uber-stylish stylings of 90s LA. Mr Trick is the first ‘modern’ vampire we’ve seen who has truly embraced the fashions, ways, technologies of the day.
Favourite Moment: Faith’s entrance and another classic Buffy reaction.
Season 3 probably contains the majority of the fan favourite standalone episodes, and Band Candy is right up there with the best. Everyone’s favorite bumbling ointment fly Ethan Rayne is back to cause more chaos, and in doing so gives us some of the biggest and most memorable laughs in the series. Thanks to some scrumdiddlytastic candy, that classic parents-believing-they-are-kids trope is invoked, and suddenly The Scoobies have to be the adults. Like many of the ideas which have been used in TV shows since Merlin clenched his bum cheeks and created TV, it is a premise which the writers and cast of Buffy make fresh and unique. We are so invested in these characters by this point that any change is thrilling, hilarious, or heart-breaking. After two seasons of Buffy, who wouldn’t want to see what Joyce and Giles were like when they were young? And who the hell wouldn’t laugh their ass off at Snyder’s ill-favoured, joyous attempts at fitting in?
There is too much to mention in Band Candy that makes me laugh, I’ll just say that the whole crew go away above on beyond here. Special credit must go to Head, Sutherland, and Shimmerman though for their great performances. It is obvious that they relish the opportunity to break free of their respective stuffy characters, but the writers give them such brilliant dialogue and back story that the actors couldn’t help but excel. It isn’t a hugely important episode, we do get another glimpse of The Mayor, but it is the sort of episode you can stick on out-of-order and still enjoy as much as you would on a series rewatch.
Favourite Moment: Snyder tagging along… every moment is comedy gold.
One of the most memorable standalone episodes in the entire 7 year run is one which takes place largely in an alternate Universe (one which is returned to later in Season 3). The alternate version of reality is a common trope, but as this is Buffy we have a variety of twists on the template – namely that the focus is not on the main character (and also that the character whose focus the episode does centre on is killed in the episode!). Cordelia is understandably pissed after the Xillow (Xandow?) incident and decides that all the recent problems in her life can be traced to Buffy arriving in Sunnydale. Sparking up a friendship with new student Anya, Cordy mentions that she wishes Buffy had never come to Sunnydale. To everyone’s (no-one’s) surprise, there is evil afoot and Anya is actually a demon who grants vengeful wishes by scorned women. Cordy is spun away to an alternate Sunnydale which Buffy has never been to. Now the fun really begins.
The first part of this episode is mostly fallout from the previous, and it’s nice to see so much focus on Cordelia as the injured party, rather than Xander and Willow (although they get their moments here too, both in human and vamp form). However, it is the second half which is legendary, with Willow and Xander as an undead couple, The Master back in charge with Angel as his play-thing, and with Giles and a small group of White Hats valiantly holding off the inevitable end of the world. To add to the carnage, Xander and Willow kill Cordelia, but not before she gives Giles just enough information about Buffy and The Wish to bring the episode to its conclusion. This second half is so packed with ideas, humour, scares, and details for geeks like me to harp on about for decades, that it’s understandably an episode which is always listed in any fan’s favourites.
Favourite Moment: The final, masterful battle scene with an uncaring Buffy not flinching as Angel dies (again) and watching our former friends tearing each other to shreds. It would have been a wonderful catharsis if it had have been real.
Aah, Christmas – it’s the most wonderful time of the year, so I’ve heard. Over in Sunnydale though, the land of perpetual scorching sun, I imagine the festivities are lacking. This episode is filled with Christmas cheer, Buffy style – with vengeful spirits of days past, remorseful vampires trying to kill themselves, dead trees, camping, heartfelt gestures and attempts at forgiveness and reconciliation, the re-kindling of relationships, and the first appearance of… The First. Amends isn’t an episode which stands out with moments of LOL humour, or toe-curling terror, but is rather a character-centric episode, focusing on the pain and rehabilitation of several of the team, hence the title. Angel is plagued by nightmares, trying to seek help from the understandably tense Giles, Oz and Willow try to make up, Cordelia is still keeping her distance, while Buffy reaches out to Faith, and it all culminates in a fierce, fantastic, scene between Buffy and Angel. This ending, though Deus Ex Machina, is a highlight of the series, but the best moments are the reappearance of Robia La Morte as The First, in the guise of Jenny Calendar. These are chilling and poignant.
Favourite Moment: Robia La Morte’s back… yay!
BTVS has always been a fine example of merging fantasy and reality – of keeping a ridiculous concept grounded in the mundane facts of everyday life we all encounter. Often the most haunting moments of the series come when the fantasy elements cross the thin line and become almost fully intertwined with the world we understand and exist in – as Willow says earlier in the show – ‘ I’m not okay. I knew those guys. I go to that room every day. And when I walked in there, it… it wasn’t our world anymore. They made it theirs. And they had fun.’ The show is most scary when it’s believable, when our truest, most unspoken fears are shoved in our faces and we’re forced to look back. Gingerbread takes a typical Buffy idea, but twists things just enough that is becomes uncomfortable to watch – we are uneasy with the honesty which the story conveys and made to squirm by the fact that these things do happen.
The episode begins with Joyce deciding to help out her daughter’s latest slayage outing, and unsurprisingly this is awkward. Things take a turn for the worse when Joyce stumbles upon the bodies of two young children – sparking an investigation for The Scoobies and a literal Witch-hunt for Joyce and Sunnydale’s other absent/concerned parents. The main drama from the episode comes from the clashing of these two groups and the gnawing sense that the situation and unvoiced fears between the two groups will combust.
Aside from all the main plot antics and progression of Buffy and Joyce’s relationship, we see Amy turning into a rat amidst a lot of Witchcraft growth for Willow, discussion on censorship and persecution, and one of my favourite kills in the entire series – see favourite moment below. Again, you probably won’t find this episode appearing on many lists of best episodes, but as with many 2-3 season outings it has that perfect blend of writing and characterisation, humour, horror, and drama, and light versus dark that later seasons do not match.
Favourite Moment: Gellar’s delivery of the line ‘Did I get it? Did I get it!?’
There are some things Buffy should constantly be wary of – Public Holidays and Birthdays being right at the top of the list. It wasn’t enough that her 17th Birthday saw her losing her ‘Innocence’ and the man she loved, but a mere year later and fate is playing its dirty tricks again. Unknown to Buffy, The Watchers Council has had an essentially pointless, archaic ritual for countless years and that on her 18th Birthday she is forced to go through with it. Although this ritual is horrific, and almost causes her to lose her life, it causes irreparable damage to her relationship with Giles – the only true grown-up she has been able to put almost unwavering faith in. It’s another way in which Buffy is forced into adulthood unnaturally, and without her having any choice in the matter.
This is a rough time for Buffy, not only because she is betrayed by her main father figure – but also because her actual father abandons her in favour of his job/secretary. Luckily, things work out well in the end with Giles losing his job as Watcher, but in the same moments becoming her de facto Father. Special praise should go to Harris Yulin as the ever slimy Travers, and the excellent Jeff Kober as a freakishly horrifying vampire that Buffy is forced to fight. This is another episode which is rarely mentioned by fans or critics, but it is one which is uniquely important in setting up and cementing certain dynamics.
Favourite Moment For some reason, when Kralik licks his lips.
A definite contender for my all-time favourite episode, and for a long time during the first televised run of BTVS I frequently called this my favourite to anyone who would listen and many who wouldn’t. Now, a lot of people have a downer for Xander and have a dubious hatred for any Xander-centric episodes, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t genuinely enjoy this anarchic episode. Featuring a day in the life of Xander, we get to see the life through his perfectly normal, loner, geeky sex-scorched adolescent male eyes. Often the most useless member of the Scoobies, but also often the most overlooked and unfairly despised, Xander rarely gets to save the day on his own, but here he gets the chance – mainly because he is ignored by the rest of the group who are busy dealing with some hilariously vague apocalyptic battle – points for the show poking fun at its own ridiculous, high-concept ways. Not only is this one of the most chaotic, fast-moving episodes of the entire series, it’s also one of the funniest, and features many moments which honour Xander and (should have?) further (ed) his character.
Xander has just split from Cordelia, his fault of course, but he’s feeling pretty down about things. Cordelia is back to her best barb throwing self and naturally, Xander is at the top of her list of targets. Just a few weeks ago he was pretty high in the pecking order of the Scoobies and, for the first time, in school. But now he’s at the bottom again. The best way to gain some quick self-esteem and find your place in the world once more? Have a day of wacky adventures which include raising the dead, zombie-car chases, losing your virginity, and saving the school from large explosions. It’s like the Good Book says – if you don’t like this, you’re an idiot.
Favourite Moment: Xander’s driving beheads one of the zombie gang.
After a Xander-centric episode where he gets himself into various scrapes due to feeling down, we get basically the same situation but for Willow. Willow has been feeling bad after the issues with Oz and Xander, for being dumped on by Snyder and Percy, and for being seen as ‘Old Reliable’ by her friends. Meanwhile Anya is sick of being human, mortal, and horny. These two ladies clash (as they will continue to do over the years) and somehow the Vampire Willow from the Buffy-less alternate version of Sunnydale as seen in The Wish is pulled into this reality.
Again, this is a standout episode in terms of plotting, comedy, and performances, with Hannigan arguably giving her best performance of the 7 years. Much has been said about the multiple roles she plays here, it is superb, and the writing really gives her the freedom to move. It’s another vital episode in Willow’s growth and we get hints at what is in store for her in the future, in terms of magic and sexuality. Not a lot of the other characters get much time or growth, but pretty much every appearance and encounter is packed with laughs. A clear fan favourite.
Favourite Moment: When everybody thinks that Willow is dead and Willow appears – great dialogue, great looks between the cast.
For a number of reasons, hardcore Buffy fans suggest that newcomers to Buffy (or people who haven’t yet seen it but want to be convinced) should watch this episode first as a sample – to see if they like it, then start from episode one. It does have some major highlights, it’s tense, gripping, funny, emotional, topical, clever, and respectful, and of course the writing is dead-on and the performances a wonder. Anyone reading this will know that the episode coincided with the Columbine tragedy, and due to the subject matter, was pulled from the schedule for a few months. The episode deals with (not unlike any Season 1-3 episode) someone or something wanting to kill school kids, but here it is assumed that it is a pupil who is going to do the damage. One of the final scenes sees a student with a rifle in the clocktower. However, this is one of the most well-handled ‘issues’ episodes of BTVS and is genuine, realistic, and sympathetic. It’s an episode which supports those who have encountered tragedy or who are feeling suicidal.
The gist of the story is that Buffy gets some demon spunk all up inside her and gains some interesting additional superpowers. Namely, she can read people’s thoughts. This leads to many funny moments, and both Gellar and Buffy have a lot of fun. However, as great power comes with great annoyances, these thoughts soon become deafening and Buffy begins to lose it. She also hears one voice rising above the rest which threatens to kill everyone in the school.
The episode, like so many others, handles a wide variety of genres and tones flawlessly. We move from action to comedy to horror to good cop/bad copy to gut wrenching drama. Everything is genuine, from the heartfelt speeches to the pant-splitting laughs (twice!?)
Favourite Moment: The entire clock tower scene with Buffy and Jonathon is one of the best in the show’s run.
The calm before the storm; the sex scene before the machete through the neck. Overall it’s a strange episode – more of a loose-end-tying-up episode than anything else, acting as a prologue to the finale and it could be argued that this and Graduation Day could really have been a three-parter. To bulk this into a fully-fledged standalone episode, we get a throwaway plot about disgruntled student Tucker, who wants to ruin the Prom by training demon dogs to attack anyone wearing formal wear. It’s all very silly, but luckily it’s played well and isn’t much of a distraction from the central action.
With everyone that has happened between Buffy and Angel, Angel decides that the two of them cannot be together and decides to break it off. Some effect nightmares and prodding from Joyce help him make this decision, and naturally Buffy is heartbroken. Elsewhere, Xander takes pity on Cordelia, Oz and Willow are cute, and Anya tried to remember what it is to be human, while Wesley and Giles try to out – out-of-place – each other – Wesley wins. Buffy is determined through all of this, and with another apocalypse on the horizon, to make sure her friends have one perfect evening. It all leads to the final few scenes at the Prom where the students do indeed get their perfect evening, none more so than Buffy, who is awarded the worst looking Umbrella thing I have ever seen, and is lauded by the many people whose lives she has saved countless times. And Angel comes back for one last dance.
Favourite Moment: I think we can all agree that there can only be one, and that of course is Buffy receiving the class protector award after Jonathon’s speech – a lump in the throat moment if there ever was one, a great unspoken honour finally given a voice, and a fitting send off for our beloved Slayer.
Graduation Day Parts 1 and 2
For this two-parter there isn’t a lot to separate the two pieces, it’s more like a mini movie – season arc plot lines come to a head, several beloved, and some not so beloved characters lose their lives, others leave, some are left with uncertain futures, and those who escape and overcome can sigh a huge breath of relief having made it through school in one piece.
The gang know that the Mayor plans his Ascension on Graduation Day and begin their usual round of Scoobying to work out if there is any way to stop him, before or after he ascends. Anya gives us some scary info on what an Ascension truly means, and what the aftermath can be thanks to prior first hand experience. However, they still have the rogue Slayer Faith to contend with, who not only murders another human, but infects Angel with a lethal poison – the Scoobies are diverted now with their ranks split by having to deal with two threats. The first part dramatically ends with Buffy apparently killing Faith and losing her best chance at saving Angel – through the blood of a Slayer. Part Two picks up immediately from where we left off, leading to some of the Series’ most dramatic and emotionally charged scenes – Angel drinking from Buffy, the Mayor visiting Faith and Buffy in the hospital, etc. As time runs out, Buffy finally works through her plan – a plan we are not privy to until its execution. You all know what happens, and it’s one of the finest moments in the seven-year run – as every student is armed and fights back against the evil horde. The Mayor ascends, the whole school fights back, Snyder continues the tradition of Principals being eaten, and Buffy kills the Mayor by blowing up the entire school. Metaphors abound. The original gang spends their final moments together before eventually going their separate ways. Tears abound.
As I say below, it’s a perfect ending and if the show had not continued beyond this point, it would have been a great place to stop. As expected, the performances are superb and even some of the more minor characters get their moment in the sun. While it isn’t as haunting or as tearjerking as Becoming or The Gift, it certainly ranks high up the list of most action packed finale. As usual, the fights between Buffy and Faith are the best fights in the series’ history and although the humour meter is sacrificed for drama and plot pacing, there are still some bittersweet funny moments dealing with the end of school life, and the typical sarcastic punning we have enjoyed in the previous years. It’s all change for Season 4 – arguably the funniest season – before we begin our descent into darkness.
Favourite Moment: The final moments between the original gang, looking forward to a (hopefully) brighter future, going separate ways etc. I imagine this will forever resonate with anyone who has survived school, it certainly reminds me of my last days (though mine had slightly fewer explosions). When I was watching I, like the characters had no idea what was to come – I don’t I was even sure if there would be a fourth season. If it had ended here I would have been happy, but I’m glad it continued!