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.
Season 4, like Season 1, is more of an origin Season, or a mini-linking Season between the Main Plot Bonanza of 2-3 and 5-7. A lot of new characters are introduced, some old favourites leave, or have vanished already, and perhaps most importantly School is left behind and College/University is here. As expected, there is a loss of familiarity throughout the season for the viewers and the characters, and it doesn’t always pay off – at times it feels like a different show.
As you’ll see below from he number of episodes I’ve picked, this isn’t my favourite season. I’ll admit though, it is probably the funniest season of the bunch, with many standalone comedy episodes. What I love best about Buffy (or at least one of the most important pieces) is how it blends comedy, drama, tragedy, action horror all together – Season 4 has a fairly low emotional drive – it’s all comedy and action, with little horror or drama. Unlike others though, I never had much of a problem with The Initiative or Riley. I thought The Initiative was a good idea, which wasn’t pulled off as well as it could have been, again due to real emotional connection. I can’t stand Maggie Walsh – annoying character, acted badly in my humble, against the grain opinion. Adam was an ok baddie, but I never felt the threat as with Angel or The Mayor. As a linking Season I guess Buffy and her friends needed a break from all the trauma already suffered and that yet to come.
While Season Pilot The Freshman deals (wonderfully) largely with the excitement, fear, and possible loss (or discovery) of self which can happen in those first days and weeks of going off to University, Living Conditions is the come-down, dealing instead with the annoyances of coping with new people in confined spaces and striking that balance between new maturity and fun. Anyone who moved away from home in their youth, particularly those going to College, will find this episode particularly relatable. On the surface it is a silly, funny, Monster Of The Week episode which doesn’t really tie in with the Season Arc, there are underlying moments which hint at or discuss many of the themes which will be prevalent throughout Season 4; nobody trusts Buffy, and she feels like she is on her own, Oz sees Veruca for the first time, we see (without explanation) the Initiative Commando’s, and we meet everyone’s favourite heart-throb Parker for the first time.
Putting all of those moments aside, this is all about humour, and particularly the brilliant writing and Gellar’s wildly underrated comic abilities. Gellar is superb throughout, with super close-ups of her reactions, from gulping milk, to cringing at Cher, to many wonderful moments shared with Oz – moments which are too few and far between over the course of the whole show.
Favourite Moment: Buffy downing that milk – oh man, that is comedy genius, and if everyone watched a gif of that every morning, the world would be a better place.
Arguably the funniest episode of the whole of BTVS, Pangs sees fantastic comedy turns from everyone, with Spike getting most of the best moments. Five episodes lie between this and Living Conditions, and by this point in the series, the main arcs are in full swing – Spike has returned to Sunnydale and has been captured by, and escaped from The Initiative, and Buffy has been spending time with Riley. This episode sees Spike’s futile attempts at getting food, hindered by the chip which he has been implanted with, rendering him harmless to humans, while Xander and his fellow builders accidentally uncover a buried temple. Nothing buried in Sunnydale is ever good, so when Native American spirits begin murdering people and spreading STDs, it’s down to Buffy and the gang to save the day. On top of all that, this is a crossover episode as Angel comes to Sunnydale after Doyle gets a vision saying she is in trouble. There’s a lot to pack in, but as is true for many of the episodes this Season, all of the details can be glossed over in favour of the laughs.
And boy there are a lot of laughs. From Anya’s imaginings of having sex with Xander, to Spike’s banter with Harmony and attempts to get the psychological upper hand, and survive a siege whilst tied to a chair, this is less of a laugh a minute, more of a laugh every 10 seconds. This episode sets up the future wonderful scenes between Spike and Giles and Spike and Xander, and it’s this episode which truly brings Spike into the fold as part of the regular Scooby fixtures. A few commentators have commented on the racially insensitive plot – I think the writers wanted to actually make a point about the White Man killing all, but don’t manage to pull it off. Aside from some such gripes, this is another breathless lesson in comedy, and one which you will be hurting from afterwards thanks to those laughs – if you follow this up with Angel’s I Will Remember You though, you’ll need to hold those laughs dear to make it through that tearjerker.
Favourite Moment: Buffy makes a bear and Spike is not impressed.
Following on from the antics of Pangs is another wonderful laugh out loud episode. Spike is still living with Giles drinking pig’s blood in exchange for giving information. While useful info is not forthcoming, he does show his abilities at seeing what no-one else can, namely that Willow is in great pain. Willow’s powers as a Witch are growing, but she is having difficulty coping with the pain of losing Oz. To try to cope, she drunkenly casts a spell to make her pain go away, but somehow instead gives herself the power to make anything she says come true – Giles becomes blind, Amy briefly turns human, then back to a rat, Xander becomes a magnet for demons, and Buffy and Spike fall adorably in love and announce their marriage. It’s almost a fun mockery of magic and how the series deals with magic, throwing in as many ridiculous circumstances as possible. However, there is obvious (whether deliberate or not) foreshadowing of Willow’s future – her growing power, her reliance on magic, her lack of skill coping with loss, her sexuality, and her future as a force of destruction.
Before the darkness of the next two seasons descend though, the central tone of the episode is much lighter – the characters get into various scrapes, but it’s all humourous and there is no real threat or danger. It’s the utter confusion and chaos between each character, and the reactions of each character to what is happening which brings the laughs. The dialogue is whipsmart and fast-paced, the look on the face of Buffy when she announces she’s getting married, the cute flirting which goes on, and the shocked faces of Xander and Giles are perfect, while references to Wind Beneath My Wings, wedding invitations, and other plans are gold.
Favourite Moment: Xander’s triple question reaction to Buffy’s engagement.
Well, of course this one was going to be here. From a gimmick point of view, from a novelty standpoint, it’s a critical darling. For me though, it was superb writing and plenty of chills, and builds upon the gimmick of no sound by having the plot and character interaction play just as important a role – lesser shows have attempted the same sort of thing, but have failed miserably. Hush is a clear fan favourite too, appearing on probably every fan’s top 10 episodes. It is almost the perfect Monster Of The Week episode – we have a deadly villain who the gang have to investigate and destroy, the characters are put in jeopardy, and they are acting in an unusually weakened state due to losing their ability to communicate vocally. The particular monster – The Gentlemen, are a particularly memorable bunch – genuinely creepy, and filling the episodes with both dread and jump scares. Indeed, The Gentlemen are frequently voted as the best, and most terrifying bad guys in the whole of Buffy. Their gaping, razor-toothed grins, their silent floating, the calm and… happy way they go about their horrific business, all makes a memorable whole. The fact that they steal your voice and surgically rip out your heart helps too. However, as much as I love them, I don’t find them as terrifying as most fans – I find them quite jovial. I’m actually more disturbed by their bandaged henchmen – wobbling disfigured humanoid creatures who twist and spin about wildly, doing the bidding of their masters. What’s their story? Are they reanimated former victims – tortured into a future of blind obedient horror?
The episode pulls together a bunch of dangling threads from the Season so far – the group have been split this Season more than before, with new friends joining the fold and others leaving or featuring less. Certain members feel like they have metaphorically lost their voice already, and it takes something as drastic as the mass void of sound to make the group come together and flow as a unit like in earlier Seasons. Spike is dealing with being neutered by bitching and annoying everyone, Giles is trying to adapt to no longer being a librarian and having less contact with Buffy, Anya is annoyed that Xander can’t vocalize his love, while Willow is growing frustrated that she doesn’t have an outlet for her growing magical talent, and that the Wicca group is more interested in chat than action. Buffy and Riley are also looking for action of a different kind, but their respect secret identities are getting in the way of their relationship. By the time the episode ends, Buffy and Riley’s secrets are revealed to each other Willow has found a peer in Tara, Giles is left alone again, and Anya and Xander continue having sex.
The episode is notoriously inventive – with the Scoobies having to use a projector to discuss their investigative thoughts in one of the show’s best scenes. For a show known in its early years for witty dialogue, it was a brave move to abandon one of its best qualities for much of the episode. The show relies heavily on sound, with music being an important emotive force – again this is largely cut and replaced with a chilling, effective suite with fairytale qualities. It is apt that Buffy’s scream destroys the monsters, and apt again that having finally found her voice again, she is still unable to speak with Riley at the end. It’s a triumph by what was one of the most talented teams in TV.
Favourite Moment: A toss-up (ahem) between Buffy’s staking motion mime, Anya’s sex mime, and of course, those lovely drawing by Giles.
This Year’s Girl
Remember school? Remember Season 3? Remember Faith? For fans watching for the first time, the question of whether or not Faith would ever return is finally answered in this episode in the affirmative. If there’s one thing the appearance of Eliza Dushku’s Faith does for an episode, it’s increase the energy. Her boundless energy screams across the screen, giving everything urgency, and her fight scenes with Buffy are always a highlight – usually more violent and action packed than other fights. We get plenty of energy and urgency in this episode – the first part of a two parter – a two-parter that also features as a crossover with Angel.
The episode beings with a dream sequence – we’ve had a few of these before and we know that a Slayer’s dreams are often portents. We do get foreshadowing here (little sis) and the dream ends violently with Buffy stabbing Faith. We learn that this is actually Faith dreaming, still in a coma, and these dreams, or nightmares, appear to be frequent occurrences – another dream later in the episode features The Mayor and Faith having a picnic, a touching moment, but ruined when Buffy appears, kills The Mayor and again stabs Faith, but Faith later overcomes Dream Buffy and wakes from her coma. While all this is going on, we have the side story of Buffy and Riley chatting about their work and choices, while Willow and Tara get closer. All of this culminates in a superb couple of sequences – Faith watching the video of The Mayor, and Faith’s sudden attack on Buffy at campus, and capping it all off, a brutal fight in Buffy’s house where we learn that the pair have switched bodies.
Much of the episode feels like a prologue to Who Are You, but we get a lot of insight into Faith’s character here. It feels like a goodbye for Faith’s story from the previous Season – we have watched Buffy and Co gradually move away from High School over the course of the Season, but Faith has to do that in the span of a single episode – she learns that she lost, that her truest father figure is dead, and that Buffy seems to still live in a rosy paradise. The dream sequences are interesting – it’s nice to see Faith as the victim and Buffy as the monster.
Favourite Moment: Although Tara’s attempts at punches are pretty funny, that fight scene at the end is epic, one of the most violent in the show’s history, and ends with an awesome twist.
Who Are You
We pick up pretty much immediately from where we left off – Buffy and Faith have switched bodies – Faith is living it up with Joyce and The Scoobies, and Buffy has been taken away in an ambulance, then a police car, then an armoured track driven by Watcher’s Council members – it’s tough being popular. Faith… explores Buffy’s body…. and then variously interacts with the gang, shocking Tara, voice sexing Spike, and sex sexing Riley. Throughout these interactions we watch the gradual disintegration of Faith – each time someone shows her kindness or gratitude, it rattles her, bringing out unexpected feelings of guilt and happiness. This confusion leads her to want to get away from everything, first fleeing to the airport, but then returning to rescue hostages of Adam’s vampire group. It’s a nice way to both finish off Faith’s early storyline, and set up her redemption arc.
While Faith is growing, Buffy needs to use her skills to evade the Watcher’s Council. Learning that they are going to kill her, she beats them and escapes, leading to a humourous encounter with Giles, where she reminds him of his body switching, mother lovin’ past. Once again Buffy and Faith clash, with Faith (as Buffy) destroying Buffy (as Faith) in the midst of a breakdown. Buffy gets the upper hand, switching bodies again, while Faith escapes. We meet up with Faith again in LA, where she clashes with Angel and the gang, eventually turning towards the righteous path in a story that echoes Angel’s own past.
This is a wonderful episode for the fans, with a bunch of important continuity and references which reward long time viewers. There is character growth, largely on Faith’s part, we get more of Tara meeting the gang, we get some funny moments, more crushing fights, and two amazing performances from Gellar and Dushku – once again the actors on this show are incredible. This current run of form in the 4th Season is remarkable -it’s just a pity that we didn’t get a decent Big Bad to truly spark fear or emotional concern.
Favourite Moment: Faith trying out Buffy’s body in the mirror – that’s gots to be everyone’s favourite scene, right?
Woo hoo, another event episode, the middle part of the Season’s ‘Event Trilogy’. Hush had no dialogue, Restless is a Lynch inspired mess, while Superstar flips the Buffyverse on its head, giving an alternate vision of Sunnydale – a Sunnydale where our little friend Jonathan is a hero which men, women, and Slayers worship. It’s a fun episode, taking us back the central comedy stylings of the series. This episode seems to get a lot of criticism from fans, mostly because they don’t like Jonathan – I’ve always liked Jonathan, but again this is another well written piece of comedy, another interesting look at one of the most important, long serving side characters, and features laid-back, fun performances from all.
The episode sees Jonathan casting a spell on Sunnydale which turns him into a Superstar – actor, musician, demon-slaying hero, military mastermind, all-round genius, and ladies man, with everyone worshipping him. This leads to a lot of humour and interesting interaction, but it isn’t long before the gang realises that something isn’t quite right. It’s interesting that Adam is able to see through the lie immediately, the spell not impacting him, and equally interesting that the gang is able to remember the events and the feelings after the spell is destroyed. There is a fair amount of foreshadowing, with the gang learning of a potential weakness of Adam’s, with Jonathan learning, and showing some skill with magic – not to mention his continuing desire to bend the world to the way he wants it to be and need to be part of a loving family.
Overall this is a silly, throwaway episode, but one with a lot of fun antics and nods to pop culture, such as Jonathan starring as Neo in The Matrix. It’s not the strongest of the alternate reality episodes, but it’s nice to see a Jonathan-centric episode, and always funny watching the group react to bizarre changes.
Favourite Moment: Giles admitting he has a Jonathan swimsuit calendar.
The strangest finale of any Buffy series, and the strangest episode in all of the Buffy/Angel canon, Restless is a critic’s dream – an experimental episode merging dreams, foreshadowing, memories in a non-linear structure, wrapped around a loose plot and filled with memorable, cryptic dialogue, and even more memorable, cryptic imagery. It’s the stuff that bad essays are written on. Call it Lynchian, call it weird – it all at once is skippable and unmissable, unimportant and vital.
After an action packed, but emotion-lite true finale in Primeval where the group dispatched of Adam thanks to an uber-joining-spell, the Scoobies meet at Buffy’s house for a night of relaxing, movies, and chat. The group fall asleep and begin having strange dreams – the episode showing us the dreams of Willow, Xander, Giles, and Buffy in succession. The dreams flow like actual dream, with reality bending wildly, and characters appearing and disappearing without explanation, and saying and acting in strange ways. In each dream it appears that the dreamer is being stalked by a malevolent force, each dream ending with the dreamer being killed. It turns out that The First Slayer is not impressed by Buffy, woken by the joining spell in the previous episode, and is punishing her by killing her friends. In a Nightmare On Elm Street inspired ending, Buffy mentally defeats her foe, and everyone wakes up and discusses. The episode ends with Buffy staring, confused into her bedroom while Tara’s voice from Buffy’s dream again says that Buffy has no idea what is coming.
Phew, as mentioned, there are many terrible essays about this episode, and many well written pieces made by people much better and more dedicated than me. They go into minute detail on each dream, each word, incident, colour, speck. I won’t be doing that here, but I’ll cover briefly the main points in each dream, starting with Willow. Willow’s dream, like those of the others, centres on fear, her fear being that she could return to the mousey, nervous, no-friends Willow of the past after growing into a strong, independent woman. Willow is transported back to school, long hair, loser clothes and all, and is put on stage again recalling some Season 1 antics and fears. Willow eventually is attacked by The First Slayer and has her spirit sucked away. Xander fears are also adolescent and mirror many he has shown throughout the season – that everyone else is moving on while he is trapped in a loop, never maturing, never leaving his parents’ basement. Also punctuating the dream is, of course, a bunch of sex, with the notorious line ‘Do you wanna come in the back with us’ escaping censorship. He eventually has his heart pulled out.
Giles sings and acts as a father figure in his dream, one which is more concerned about anxiety than fear, and as he works out what is going on, the First Slayer removes his head. Buffy’s dream features a cryptic-speak Tara, a wall-living Joyce, a Dictator Riley, and various other quick-fire interactions before she confronts the First Slayer and defeats her. Buffy’s dream foreshadows her own death, the death of her mother, and the appearance of Dawn, and the episode acts (only upon recollection) as a nice bridge into the much darker 5th Season. It would have been nice if some of the other characters from previous seasons had made an appearance – Angel, Cordelia, Amy, Miss Calendar, Faith, even Larry were all meant to appear, but were eventually written out or replaced later. As tragic as that is, it’s great to see Oz and Snyder for one last time, and Harmony pops up in an amusing cameo. An utterly confusing episode for a newcomer, but wonderfully rewarding for the long time fan, especially on re-watch. I remember enjoying this first time around, and of course being a little bemused by it all, but it’s an episode that grows in stature with each watch. Oh, there’s also some moron with cheese.
Favourite Moment: Probably something from Xander’s dream, either the cool sets that he runs and crawls and climbs through only to keep appearing in his basement, or Snyder’s Col. Kurtz scene.
Well, there you have it – my favourite episodes in Season 4. The laughter is done, and all we have left to look forward to is darkness, death, and despair, otherwise known as Seasons 5, 6, and 7. Chime in below with your favourite episodes from Season 4, and your favourite moments. And don’t forget to check out the other Season recaps here: