7 Things: My Favorite Episodes #1 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I feel kind of sorry for those people who refuse to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer based on its genre, premise or title alone. Or because it’s based on that terrible movie from the 90s – which really isn’t that terrible if you recognize that it’s supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. Or for any other “face value” reason. Not only are those people missing out on one of the most dynamic TV universes ever created, they’re missing out on some of the most well-written TV episodes of all time.

I started watching Buffy almost smack in the middle. Hush, just by chance, was the first episode I saw all the way through. And what a freakin’ episode to come in on. It was a blessing really to have come in halfway, because I freely admit that, had I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the pilot, the pilot would have likely been all that I ever watched. With few exceptions, season one of Buffy is really pretty terrible. I sat through it solely because I had already seen future episodes, so I held out faith there would be a few gems in the first season. There were. A few. Very, very few.

After season one, Buffy the Vampire Slayer became a different show. The kinks were straightened out and the creators truly embraced all that their fantasyland had to offer.

Counting down my favorite episodes from Buffy. The best writing. Some of the best moments. The best overall. Per me.

Of course, there will be a few spoilers.

7 – The Wish 3.9

When I first started watching – from the beginning of the series – Cordelia wasn’t one of my favorite Buffy characters. At the end of her Buffy run, Cordelia still wasn’t one of my favorite Buffy characters. She had a few moments – trying to hide the fact that her family was broke, trying to hide the fact that Xander could hurt her – but, by and large, she wasn’t all that memorable. She shined much brighter on Angel. Literally, for a while.

Cordelia’s antagonistic Buffy attitude does serve the Buffy-verse in this episode, though. When she wishes that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale, viewers get insight into what Sunnydale would be like without the vampire slayer, complete with vamped-out Willow and Xander.

Fun on the surface, with its Buffy-free Sunnydale and plenty of evil shenanigans, this episode is vital in showing just how much responsibility Buffy truly carries, and also foreshadows the first episodes of season six. Plus, it’s the first appearance of Anya, whose introduction to the series is a revelation.

6 – I Only Have Eyes for You 2.19

The Angel and Buffy ‘ship ended truly and fully on Angel, but before that, they really did go through the wringer on Buffy. After Angel’s I Will Remember You episode, this episode – with one incredibly well-acted scene in particular – was my favorite from the Buffy-Angel doomed romance category.

As far as villains go on Buffy, vampires, demons and humans with inclinations toward evil are the show’s bread and butter. Ghosts are more of a treat – the cookies of the Buffy-verse, if you will. This episode brings the sweetness on with an old-fashioned ghost story that carries out in an utterly brilliant manner. The build-up that leads to the finale grows more intense by the scene, and by the time Buffy and Angel – who isn’t himself at the time, but his evil alter ego Angelus – become possessed by the spirits of two ghostly lovers and meet face-to-face, you know that it’s going to be something. And it is.

That scene is perfection in every possible way. The writing, the acting, the switch-up of the characters. It couldn’t have been better.

And, as cheesy as it may be, what gives that scene the power to stay with you long after you’ve turned off the television is the fact that Angel’s reaction to what he just experienced shows that even the soulless monster that he is at that moment isn’t immune to Buffy’s love.

Hey… I said it was cheesy.

Now, before I launch into my top five Buffy episodes, I would like to point out the fact that my top five episodes come from only three seasons. For me, Buffy hit its stride when each of the main characters entered into their grown-up lives and relationships. I believe that the ensemble gelled the most from seasons four through six when Spike became a quasi-member of the Scooby Gang, Anya was with Xander, and Willow and Tara were together. Then, throughout the latter half of season six, Buffy sort of broke its stride again, the gel melted into a greasy spot, and the show sort of puttered to an end.

But that’s just one girl’s opinion.

Anyway, here we go –

5 – Tabula Rasa 6.8

When this episode comes by in the series, it is seriously needed. Talk about rock fuckin’ bottom. Despite the fact that season six of Buffy is a dark, dark stretch of television, I take no issue with the season. Yes, it was a little darker than seasons past, and, yes, there were some out-of-character moments (for Buffy, a couple went too far), but I dug the fact that the creators went there when they had to know that the viewers would be uncomfortable. I also sort of think that a hero’s life is bound to have times of utter darkness and ignoring that would have been a mistake.

No matter how many viewers hated season six.

It actually comes in as my third favorite season.

Anyway, coming right after the brilliant musical episode Once More, With Feeling*, Tabula Rasa has the entire Scooby Gang – which is in the midst of imploding – forgetting their identities. The assumptions they make about their identities put them in the most compromising positions, and lead to some exceptional, totally-out-of-character exchanges that we would never get to see any other way.

It’s just damn funny.

“Ready, Randy?”

“Ready, Joan.”

Also, for Willow and Tara fans, it’s a beautiful thing to see that different identities can’t erase their relationship. In fact, at the point in their relationship where Tabula Rasa takes place, different identities are their saving grace.

4 – The Gift 5.22

The end of what was, for me, Buffy’s finest season – A God as the Big Bad? And a sarcasm-dripping God with a fashion sense at that? Oh, hell yeah. – this episode was a truly great ending for a great show. On one network. Then, they moved to a new network, went dark and went off the air within two years. So, there you have it.

The Gift has Buffy going into the ultimate showdown with the God Glory. And it shows every member of the Scooby Gang at their absolute finest. Hopelessly romantic Spike giving his all for love. Self-sacrificing Anya. Self-sacrificing Buffy. A moment that reaffirms just how much power Willow and Tara have together. And then Xander gets to deliver my favorite line of this episode, as well as my favorite line of his from the entire series.

One of the best things about Xander is that, unlike the other Scoobies, he has no otherworldly power. He’s just a regular guy trying to do his best by his friends. The fact that he feels a little lesser-than is a regular theme throughout the series, so much so that an entire episode was dedicated to his belief that a better Xander was doing a better job in his life. (Don’t worry. He discovers the other Xander was really just a part of himself.)

Anyway, after a put-down earlier in the episode where Spike calls him a glorified bricklayer – to which Xander replies “I’m also a swell bowler” – Xander gets his moment to shine, taking Glory out with a wrecking ball and summing it up with –

“The glorified bricklayer picks up a spare.”

* Once More, With Feeling (6.7) – As delicious as this episode is, I feel it relies heavily on its kickass show tunes. When I subtract the music from the equation, I simply don’t feel that, as an actual episode, it deserves a spot in the top seven.

3 – Normal Again 6.17

If you want a truly awesome mindfuck, Normal Again delivers. After getting stabbed by a demon, Buffy begins to hallucinate – or is she remembering? – that she is a patient in a mental institution, her mother is still alive, her father is around, Dawn doesn’t exist and she isn’t the vampire slayer.

In her hallucination – or reality – the doctor tries to convince Buffy that her friends and made-up sister tether her to her an invented world, and that she will only get better if she gets rid of her friends. Which puts the Scoobies in imminent danger at Buffy’s own doing.

The absolutely believable – far more believable than the life Buffy has lived for nearly six seasons – alternate universe in this episode is convincing, and the uncertainty about which world is real, regardless of the fact that we have only spent our time in one of them, gives the episode its number three spot.

Writers on another show might have cleaned up the ending. ‘Of course, she’s hallucinating her life in the mental institution,’ another show might have assured viewers. Instead, the parting scene of Normal Again insists it could go either way.

2 – Hush 4.10

Putting this episode in any number two spot is difficult, because this episode is really something to see. And watch carefully, you must. Because if you glance down at your cookie plate as you watch, there’s nothing to fill in the blanks for what your eyes miss. At the beginning of the episode, The Gentlemen, some of the creepiest monsters in Buffydom, float into Sunnydale and steal the voices of everyone in town. They do this, of course, so that people can’t scream when they cut out their hearts. The people don’t get their voices back until episode end, so, from intro to tag, the episode is largely silent.

This gives everyone a chance to show some real physical acting chops and to deliver some hand gestures that would probably have never made it to air if the episode wasn’t so uniformly brilliant. It also opened up a spot for one of the coolest unimportant scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. A guy walks through a common area that is full of college students and almost dead silent. He accidentally drops his glass bottle and it’s the loudest shatter ever heard.

And, if the overall brilliance of the episode isn’t enough, Hush also introduces Tara, who really rounds out the Scooby Gang. And, in a scene that deserves to watched over and over again, binds her to Willow in an undeniably magical way.

1 – The Body 5.16

If you haven’t seen this episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you haven’t seen what is possibly the most unrelentingly heart-wrenching TV episode in existence. And I’m not just saying that. Only an episode like this could conceivably knock Hush down a peg.

The body of the title belongs to Buffy’s mother Joyce. Buffy finds the body on her couch. She tries to resuscitate the body. She spends a long time alone with the body in an extended tracking shot that leaves her no privacy in which to breathe, cry or throw up. Then, when her Watcher Giles arrives, Buffy refers to her mother’s body as “the body” and it suddenly sinks in that her mother is actually dead.

Camera angles, no musical score and an emotional breakdown by Anya – which is hands-down the finest half-page of script in the show’s seven seasons, and, quite possibly, the finest minute or so of acting as well – give this episode even more emotional punch. As if it needed more.

Honestly, if you haven’t seen it, I can’t do it justice.

I wouldn’t even begin to try.

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  1. As soon as I saw what this post was about, I knew Hush would be on here. Was shocked to see it was at #2, but it made sense when I saw what #1 is.

    Will never forget how you sucked me into the series with Hush. 🙂

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