From start to finish, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a great show, with it really hitting its stride at the end of Season Two. However, amidst all of its greatness, there were a handful of episodes that are my favorite, because of their uniqueness, their emotional impact, their humor, or all of the above. Buffy may have been classified as a Fantasy/Horror show, but at times it made me laugh more than any traditional comedy did. (This was true of Angel as well). Credit Joss Whedon’s and the other writers’ abilities to create a variety of episodes ranging from tragic to scary to funny, as well as dynamic characters that we cared about. Thanks goes to tv.com for having such an excellent Buffy episode guide, which I used as a memory-jogger in compiling this list. Spoiler warning: I do give away some plot information below, so if you haven’t seen these episodes but plan to, please don’t read too closely!
The Best of Buffy (in chronological order)
- Becoming (season 2 finale) – This episode was the beginning of Buffy and Spike’s professional relationship, as Spike became Buffy’s unlikely ally in the fight against Angelus. This episode also gave us the first sign of Willow’s magical talents, as she restores Angel’s soul. Sadly, the episode ends with the heart-wrenching scene where Buffy is forced to kill Angel, even though he is himself again, to save the world. In my opinion, this was the first truly epic episode of the series.
- Band Candy (season 3) – I doubt anyone would describe this episode as “epic,” but it certainly is funny and gave the “grown-up” actors a chance to break the mold. The setup: boxes of chocolate are turning the adults into uninhibited, irresponsible teenagers, leaving the Scoobies to make sure things don’t get too out of control. Some of the highlights: Giles and Joyce going out on the town together, Principal Snyder following Buffy and the gang around like he wants to be one of the “cool” kids, and the teenagers reacting with horror and disbelief to the various antics of the adults.
- The Wish (season 3) – One of the benefits of a fantasy show is that anything goes: body swapping, spontaneous singing, alternate realities – it’s all good. So, when Cordelia unknowingly made a wish to a vengeance demon that “Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale,” we didn’t have to worry about the “how,” but instead were able to enjoy the “what if.” We saw an alternate reality where everyone had a curfew and drab clothing, Xander and Willow were vampires, and the Master was still alive. This episode gave us a greater appreciation for all the main characters, and reminded us how well they worked together in their fight against evil.
- Something Blue (season 4) – Here was a comedic episode that also hinted at the future Buffy/Spike romance. Willow casts a spell that goes awry, causing Xander to become a demon magnet, Giles to go blind, and Buffy and Spike to fall in love. Hilarity ensues, as Buffy and Spike plan their wedding while a perplexed Giles suffers through listening to them, and Xander does all he can to escape the sudden onslaught of demons.
- Hush (season 4) – This is the only television episode of any show I can remember that almost entirely lacks verbal language. Instead, the cast had to improvise with more exaggerated facial expressions and body language. The story: when The Gentlemen come to town, they “steal” all the voices to make it easier for them to take care of their horrific business. What follows is one of the creepiest, yet entertaining episodes of Buffy.
- The Body (season 5) – This is by far the most tragic episode of this series. From the moment Buffy walks into the house and sees her mother laying dead on the sofa, the emotional intensity never lets up, and we are forced to experience shock and grief along with each of the characters. There was no fantasy in this episode (well, at least until the last 5 minutes). Instead it was a harsh dose of realism, and it was very well done.
- The Gift (season 5 finale) – “Death is your gift.” We learned the meaning of those words in the closing minutes of this episode. Many viewers voiced their dislike of the introduction of Buffy’s kid sister Dawn in season 5, but I think the writers did a fine job of developing Buffy’s relationship with Dawn throughout the season. Because of that, Buffy’s sacrifice to save Dawn, as well as everyone’s reactions to her sacrifice, were very moving. Every time I watch this episode, I am crying real tears by the end. That’s saying something, since I rarely cry in response to tv and movies.
Another reason I like this episode is that it nicely wraps up the “Glory and the Key” story arc. Glory was one of my favorite “Big Bads” of the entire series, and she had a grand send-off in this episode.
- Once More, with Feeling (season 6) – This is my single most favorite episode of the ten in this list. I love musicals. I love Buffy. And, I sometimes imagine what it would be like if life were a musical. So, a Buffy musical episode about people spontaneously bursting into songs amidst their daily lives was perfectly delightful! Some people may have seen this episode as gimmicky, but even with all the flashy song and dance numbers, the ongoing stories of the season were still moved along: Xander and Anya’s doubts about their relationship, Dawn’s cleptomania, Giles’ feelings of purposelessness, Spike’s love for Buffy, Willow’s overuse of magic, and Buffy’s guilt over being unhappy about being brought back by her friends. Pitch perfect!
- Tabula Rasa (season 6) – Another comedic episode, in which Willow casts a memory spell aimed for Buffy, but she overshoots and causes everyone in the gang to lose their long term memories. As with the previous episode in which a Willow spell went awry, hilarity ensues. Giles thinks he is Spike’s father, Spike thinks his name is Randy, Anya thinks she is engaged to Giles, Willow and Xander think they are dating, and Buffy decides to call herself “Joan.” It is very entertaining to watch these characters interact with each other under these incorrect assumptions. There was an episode of Angel that was very similar to this, and it is also one of my favorites. There’s something very fascinating about memory and identity.
- Chosen (series finale, season 7) – This was by no means the best episode of the series, but it did a fine job of closing out the show’s seven year run. I could have done without all the redundant “slayers in training” episodes of the final season, being that I was more interested in continued focused on the core characters. However, everything meshed well in this finale, from the Potentials becoming an army of slayers to Spike’s chance to show Buffy he truly was a hero. But my favorite scene of the episode is not one of the epic ones (although watching Buffy leap across the tops of the buildings and onto a school bus was rather memorable), but is instead the scene where the original Scoobies stand in the hallway of Sunnydale High and chat. It was a shout out to all those season one scenes, when life was simpler and when Buffy, Xander, and Willow didn’t have so many heavy problems to deal with. This reminder of how far our favorite characters had come since season one took the series full circle. It was a great, yet small detail to include as the final page was turned.