Fifteen years ago, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” aired its final episode “Chosen” on Sky One here in the UK (some three weeks or so after its US airdate), so it’s the perfect time for Sweetie G – the person who introduced me to Buffy – and me to sit down and agree our Top Ten Favourite Buffy Episodes. In the end, we both agreed on four episodes so without further ado, here are sixteen favourite episodes of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. Because it took us so long to whittle it down to just ten, we’ve listed them in chronological order, not preference.
S1E01 “Welcome to the Hellmouth”
Whats not to love about the pilot episode? I mean the re-done one, not the discarded original or the Kirsty Swanson movie. The soundtrack that supported a good few years of my life, the introductions of locations like the school, the library and the bronze as well as the characters (including Mr pointy). The wit and sass of the script and even hearing ‘Grr Argh’ for the first time! It was love at first bite for me.
S1E08 “The Puppet Show”
I usually hate ventriloquist dummies but Sid is the exception. I love the idea of a demon hunter trapped in the body of a ventriloquist’s dummy and it’s a great subversion of the usual possessed dummy trope. This episode also sees Principal Snyder (Armin “Quark” Shimmerman) take over from the late, lamented, hyena digested Principle Flutie becoming a thorn in the side of the Scooby Gang for the rest of high school. The story is gory and fun and it’s a definite high point in season 1.
BTVS always turned it out for their Halloween episode, and their first is one of their best. The Scooby Gang turn into their Halloween costumes and hilarity ensues along with a lot of cunning character development and back story as well as seeding useful and important details for things to come. Buffy as the helpless heroine is a super-cheeky resubversion of the show’s subversive premise, the glimpse into Giles’ past intrigues and the Buffy & Angel arc grows stronger. Speaking of stronger, Drusilla’s accent lays it on pretty thick but never really finds a place to call home.
S2E22 “Becoming Part 2”
The Craggus won’t let me have a two for one in picking my top ten and if I’m going to use up two slots for the whole of a two-part season finale it won’t be this one, even if it is tempting. The melodramatic season 2 story arc comes to a tragic close with Buffy being expelled from school by the perpetual ass-wipe that is Principle Snyder, Giles tortured by Angelus, and Buffy having to kill Angelus to prevent the end of the world just as she realizes that his soul has been restored so she’s actually killing Angel. And I thought I had a hard time at high school!!?! The season closes on a cliffhanger, with us not knowing if we will see Buffy again as she abandons Sunnydale feeling there is now nothing keeping her there. It was heartbreaking at the time (and sadly also let down by a dull season 3 opener).
Although it’s not one of my top ten favourites by any stretch, I quite liked “Anne”, the story which opened season three. It was a nice – and necessary – touch to allow the characters to process the events which had unfolded, something that’s quite rare in genre TV shows. In a way, it’s like when “Star Trek: The Next Generation” did the episode “Family” after “The Best Of Both Worlds”.
S3E03 “Faith, Hope, and Trick”
Hello Faith! 💗 When a slayer is killed the next is called, when Kendra was killed we assumed that the “mistake” of 2 slayers would be rectified, but apparently not, because, be still my beating heart, Faith arrives in town; the Rizzo to Buffy’s Sandra Dee. This is a great episode; in addition to introducing Faith to Sunnydale, we kick off the ‘big bad’ story arc for season 3, and discover that maybe Angel isn’t completely dead (undead?) after all…
S3E09 “The Wish”
A kiss is just a kiss except when it kicks off a whole chain of events that lead to the creation of a nightmarish parallel universe. Driven by the humiliation after Willow and Xander share a kiss before dying, Cordelia wishes Buffy had never come to Sunnydale only to have her desire granted by wish demon Anyanka. Dark, even for Buffy, and violent, it’s a wonderful touch to get The Master and some of his original goons back and let us see what would have happened to Sunnydale had the Slayer never arrived.
An episode which is possibly more relevant now than it was when it first aired, this is a superb exploration of the power of fake news and populism to twist, distort and exploit people’s fears to get them to do things they would never normally condone. It’s also our first introduction to Amy, who goes on to reappear in several future episodes, sometimes as a human.
Returning to the alternative reality first introduced in “The Wish” and we even get a little bit of foreshadowing about character developments to come in Vampire Willow’s fluid sexuality. It’s a nice riff on the usual jock/ nerd trope with Willow’s alt-universe counterpart inadvertently doing her nice side a favour. It’s also the beginning of the fleshing out of Anya’s character as we see a different, more sympathetic side to her, preparing the way for her to become a series regular.
S3E21 “Graduation Day Part 1”
S3E22 “Graduation Day Part 2”
There’s just no way of splitting these two up. As the Mayor and Faith prepare for the Ascension, Buffy and Angel dealing with the ‘challenges’ of their relationship. Sunnydale High School is preparing for a very important graduation ceremony and many ancillary characters coming forward and claim their time in the spotlight as the gang make their plans. We see Angel heal from what should have been a mortal wound only to leave Buffy at the end of the episode. The episodes also see the series finally acknowledge that everyone knows that there’s weird shit going on in Sunnydale but they all mostly conveniently ignore it until there comes a time when they can’t, like when the whole of the high school coming together to fight off the Mayor during his ascension ceremony. Buffy is coming of age in this episode, heading off to college and it’s cathartic that the high school is razed to the ground when she leaves.
Yeah, you can’t have a top ten episodes of Buffy and not include the two-part season finale. It’s quietly setting up what will become the spin-off series “Angel” yet never feels overcrowded as it neatly weaves all the plot threads from this and previous seasons into a satisfying and cataclysmic conclusion. The inclusion of the wider school cast is a nice touch, even if it sees Harmony fall victim to a vampire surely never to be seen again *cough*. The series addressing the fact that Sunnydale makes Santa Carla look like Scranton, PA is good too and anyone who doubts that an entire population could just choose to ignore monsters and horrors in their midst hasn’t been watching the current season of “The United States Of America”.
S4E04 “Fear, Itself”
Another Halloween episode, this time dealing with the subject of fear. It’s fun exploring what is revealed as each of the characters is forced to confront their darkest fears but it’s in its denouement as the gang fail to stop the fear demon Gachnar from rising that the episode fully revels in its dark sense of humour.
Make no mistake, this is the scariest of all Buffy’s episodes. Long before John Krasinski brought us “A Quiet Place”, Joss Whedon forced us to endure the pure terror of “Hush”. The demons here are just as terrifying as The Silence or The Weeping Angels in “Doctor Who”. Relentless killers who remove the voices of everyone in Sunnydale, rendering them all vulnerable to being brutally murdered at the hands and scalpel of the silent killers, The Gentlemen. They float around just above the ground, they have a paranormal homicidal menace akin to the Cenobites in “Hellraiser”. Honestly, if you haven’t seen this episode, you need it in your life. The team have some GREAT physical humour injected into the episode to break the tension at times… cue Buffy making a hand gesture that should have been a stabbing motion…😉 Possibly my favourite episode? Maybe.
“Buffy The Vampire Slayer” continuously played with horror tropes, usually subverting or reimagining them to great effect, but with “Hush”, the series produces a pure horror story and one which makes an impression. Growing tired of the constant focus on the series’ witty dialogue, Joss Whedon set out to defy the critics by producing, in effect, a silent movie episode. The cast rise to the occasion magnificently, as does the score by Christophe Beck but it’s in The Gentlemen that “Hush” finds its power, especially in their treatment of their victims: not random but methodical, calculated and unanaesthetised – far and away the most horrific of any monster the show ever dealt with. One of the best episodes of the whole series and one of the best episodes of television ever.
S5E16 “The Body”
Just over a year later, “Buffy” delivers yet another potential best episode of TV ever as, amidst the growing supernatural crisis of Glory’s plans, Buffy suffers her most devastating loss yet. Whedon keeps the direction tight and upsettingly intimate, with the production stripped right back to let the performances shine. There’s very little score, hardly any special effects and, until the end at least, nothing supernatural at work. It’s a devastating dose of immutable reality that all the powers and magic in the world cannot help with and Sarah Michelle Gellar gives one of her finest performances of the series.
S5E22 “The Gift”
Sweetie G might not have much time for Season 5 but for me, it’s one of the stronger seasons thanks to a wickedly realised big bad, the mystery of Dawn’s creation (foreshadowed all the way back in “Graduation Day ”, folks) and culminates in the best possible ending for the series. Had it ended here, it would have been a courageous triumph. There’s even an argument to be made for continuing the series without Buffy, either with Faith or a new Slayer called when Buffy sacrifices herself because Season Six spends a lot of its time trying to justify bringing her back and restarting everything up again. In any event, “The Gift” is a far more fitting finale to “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” than “Chosen” ended up being.
S6E07 “Once More, With Feeling”
The final episode on my list is the now obligatory musical episode. I think it was Whedon and Buffy who initiated this tradition that was picked up by many long-running series, “Scrubs” being another favourite of mine, but also seen in fellow hospital drama “Grey’s Anatomy”, and in “How I Met Your Mother” too.
It’s a strong episode too… a bad guy that casts a spell/curse that causes people to burst into song (and release their inner monologue). The emotional rollercoaster of this episode is not really the risk to Dawn from calling up this demon in the first place, it’s the revelations of Buffy singing about being happy and peaceful in heaven when her friends pulled her back to Sunnydale at the beginning of the season. The heartbreak of that song is an almighty punch in the gut to us as the audience, but the reaction of the Scooby gang as they find out and realise what they’ve done is crushingly sad too. The impact of all this coming out via the medium of song throws off what you normally expect to see, and the surprise of it only magnifies the impact of it all. Well worth a watch – but you do need the context of the wider story arc for this episode to hit as hard as it can.
Although Buffy often gets credited for kick-starting the renaissance of musical episodes, it was actually “Xena: Warrior Princess” who first did it (in modern television terms) with “The Bitter Suite” (S3E12) but there’s no denying that “Buffy” pulled it off with wit and style and, crucially, insanely catchy tunes which not only managed to advance the plot but also provided genuine character development. In a wildly uneven season, this was definitely one the high points.
S6E21 “Two To Go”
For me, season six of “Buffy” was a difficult watch. Uneven, patchy and uncertain of itself, for every highlight there were at least two lowlights and a whole bunch of mediocrity. It suffered from the lack of a cohesive ‘big bad’ until finally Willow snapped and started flaying people alive. Having wasted a few episodes on dreary mediocrity, its like season six finally wakes up and tries to cram at least four episodes’ worth of plot and payoff into the last two episodes. But nothing, nothing – in any season of “Buffy” – comes close to the ‘fuck yeah!’ punch-the-air moment when Giles takes Dark Willow down a peg or two just as she is about to slay the Slayer.
So, there you have it: sixteen top-notch episodes and not a “Bad Eggs” or “Beer Bad” among them. Did we miss out your favourite episodes? Let us know in the comments below.