Buffy the Vampire Slayer is widely regarded as one of the best series of all time, combining both comedy and drama to tell the story of a young girl with the world on her shoulders. Whether you related to the struggles of Buffy or one of her many friends, everyone can get something from the show. In honor of 2017 being the 20th anniversary of this incredible show, here are the top ten episodes of the show from two fans.
10) Tabula Rasa – Season 6, Episode 8
Sara’s Thoughts: This show can be dark and upsetting, with moments that seriously get to you. Thankfully, they tended to be balanced out with episodes like this. Sure, there’s still the through-line of Willow abusing of her magic because of the power rush it gives her, but since everyone forgets who they are, the majority of it is pretty hilarious. Buffy starts going by Joan, Anya and Giles think they’re married, and of course, Spike the dutiful son. Season 6 is just never-ending sadness and it’s just nice to get an episode full of some levity.
Karl’s Thoughts: Tabula Rasa is an interesting look at Willow from a magic standpoint. We get to see the beginnings of her abuse of magic and, as usual being a Willow story, everything going to shit in a hand-basket. The results of the spell to make Buffy and Tara forget their recent problems (Buffy revealing that she was pulled from Heaven in “Once More With Feeling” and an argument between Willow and Tara a few episodes before) are quite amusing as you get the situations like Spike thinking Giles is his father because they are both British. However the extent of the comedy comes from the usual amnesia trope that a lot of shows have gotten into at this stage. The bigger and better story here is Willow herself, her abuse of magic and how it all ties into her relationship with Tara, as the result of this episode shows the two breaking things off for a while.
9) Wild at Heart – Season 4, Episode 6
Sara’s Thoughts: This is one dramatic episode, but it’s an important one for both Willow and Oz. Oz’s werewolf-ness had not really been dealt with yet by the show, but having him meet Veruca really puts it into perspective. Unlike Oz, she gives all in to her animal instincts, and in the end, it becomes Oz’s downfall when he realizes that he’s not as in control of his urges and desires as he wants. Unfortunately, this also comes at the expense of Willow, who is desperately trying to hold onto Oz as he slips away from her. Even after seeing her boyfriend with another woman and then killing that other woman because she was about to kill Willow, our witch still wants to be with Oz. However, in a turn for the mature that more teen-focused shows could learn from, Oz leaves to learn more about who he s and how the wolf fits in with that identity. As far as episode-ending romances go, this was an excellent one.
Karl’s Thoughts: Personally, I’m not one of those people who had a connection to any Willow relationship drama, especially the time she spent with Oz. However while the crux of the episode revolved around deep issues of trust between the two, the better story here comes from the man vs beast with Oz himself coming into conflict as a female Werewolf comes onto the scene, free from the trappings that Oz has put himself in and wanting him to give into his more primal side. At the end of the episode does see Willow and Oz break things off, with Oz preparing to leave Sunndale for good in order to find balance with the beast inside him, it serves as the best character development Oz ever got in the series. Shame it was at the end of his time on the show.
8) Enemies – Season 3, Episode 17
Sara’s Thoughts: Oh Faith, such a good character with so little screen time. Faith is the other slayer in this universe, a concept which is confusing because apparently death in this universe does have consequences. Faith and Buffy have had a lot of back and forth, first trying to work together before turning against each other when Faith decided to become evil. This episode fully cements her choice to go with the dark side because of childhood problems and a lack of love and support. However, the twist reveal at the end is pretty well done, even if it does leave Buffy and Angel’s relationship at a weird place. I wish Faith had gotten a spinoff or other means to continue her ass kicking because this episode shows how good the character really is.
Karl’s Thoughts: Some of the best mind games played in the whole series. Revolving around Faith and her downfall from Slayer to Psychopath becoming complete and the Mayor of Sunnydale getting his hands on the “Books of Ascension”. The highlight here is the return of Angelus, the darker Vampiric side of Angel, for the episode. Sure the whole thing was a fake out in order to get Faith to spill on her new allegiance to the Mayor and get details on his plan, but it was good to see the character return in some form. At the end of it all though, we get to see the “heel turn” of Faith come to it peak and her new place in the series as sort of a gatekeeper to the big evil of the season. We do get to see a lot more of this showdown between Buffy and Faith in later episodes and seasons before Faith redemption in the Angel series, but it good to see some of the characters, Faith and Angel, at their peak evil selves.
7) Fear, Itself – Season 4, Episode 4
Sara’s Thoughts: Halloween episodes are usually the best of a show, but with Buffy they tend to be a little…lackluster. For sure, the best of the bunch is Fear, Itself in which the Scooby gang ends up trapped in a haunted frat house that uses their own fears and anxieties against them. Xander’s fear ends up being the funniest, being invisible to his friends, even if it also has its deeply sad element. Of course, the message is that you should face your fears and that nothing is that scary when you finally take the time to confront it. The set-up is smart, the way it addresses the fears of the characters, and of course Bunny Anya, this is the episode I turn back to every Halloween.
Karl’s Thoughts: The Buffy crew seems to have a habit of getting into some weird shit during Halloween. Given that it’s meant to be a time where all the demons, vampires and other creatures actually stay indoors and away from humans leaves the traditional scary holiday to be filled with something different. This time around the theme is fear, with each member of the group having to deal with a different fear that they have about themselves. Buffy’s fear of abandonment, Oz with his werewolf side, Willow and her abilities with magic, Xander and his fear of being forgotten, etc. All of these are played upon extremely well as the grou investigates a house where a demonic symbol has been activated by accident. Though the payoff to the big scary demon of fear at the end of the episode is the best laugh I’ve had in years, it kinda feels like a letdown, but that’s not the point of the story. Not every bad thing is something Buffy can hit, sometimes the biggest enemy is inside your mind.
6) Doppelgangland – Season 3, Episode 16
Sara’s Thoughts: I think Whedon got antsy from time to time and used these alternate reality episodes to explore the weird ideas that he and the other writers had. Spinning off the vampire versions of characters from “The Wish” we see the world that could have been, we get the return of vampire Willow, who fans still have way too much of a thing for. She comes out into the show’s reality, causes havoc before heading back to her own timeline, with little to show for it other than the foreshadowing that Willow is not straight. Still, in terms of a Willow episode, it’s one of the least whiny and does actually work within the realm of her character instead of using her like the sidekick comic relief when Xander isn’t around.
Karl’s Thoughts: “Bored Now…” The follow up to “The Wish” is just as amusing as that episode was. While dealing with Willow’s insecurities about being “the reliable one” (Notice a lot of this Top 10 has a lot of episodes dedicated to Willow and her emotional problems?) she is conned into helping the recently de-demoned Anya into getting her amulet back, but upon seeing the world of “The Wish” Willow interjects and accidentally brings her vampire self into the main reality of the series. Personally this is one of my favorite episodes due to the fact that we rarely get to see the good and evil side of a character meet and interact. Plus more vampire Willow is always a welcome thing.
Side note: Best recreation of this episode goes to horror director twins The Soska Sisters (Jen & Sylvia Soska) which you can see here.
5) Normal Again – Season 6, Episode 17
Sara’s Thoughts: Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer let us escape from reality, but what if our main character were using it the same way? Yup, Buffy might be crazy. She might have created the entire Sunnydale scenario as part of dealing with some trauma. But is it true or is it just a side-effect of some demon? That to me is a brilliant set-up, especially since it comes at a point in the show where everything in Buffy’s life has gone to total shit – she’s working in fast food, she’s left school, her friends are falling apart around her, and the role of being the slayer does nothing but weigh her down. Would that it were all some delusion that Buffy could snap herself out of — and she does almost take that option. It’s not so much that we think Buffy is suddenly going in an all-new direction, but the idea that Buffy chooses to suffer, she chooses for her life to suck because in the end, it is worth it to her. Damn if that isn’t life-affirming.
Karl’s Thoughts: Normal Again is an odd one. For one, they do try to get very psychological over how Buffy is nothing more than a girl in a mental hospital who has imagined the world that we have known for six seasons. They do the usual jumping back and forth between the two realities in order to create a state of confusion in the viewer that keeps them guessing everything that we have seen over six years. Honestly though, I don’t think much of the episode as it’s one of those by the numbers plots that comes way too late in the show to be considered anything worth believing.
4) The Wish – Season 3, Episode 9
Sara’s Thoughts: Anya is criminally underrated as a character. There, I said it. Anya is my favorite and I make no apologies. And her introduction is done perfectly, turning the recently heartbroken Cordelia’s wish against her by creating a reality where Buffy did not go to Sunnydale. Things take a very dark turn with the town becoming terrified of sundown, the Master is running around, and it looks like there’s no saving the day. And in fact, save for a last second effort, the day was nearly lost with everyone dying and Anya gets what she wants. However, good prevails and Anya get’s stuck in Sunnydale with no powers and as a mortal, which is the start of her epic journey. Comic straight out left field, this episode reminds us that you never know what’s going to happen next.
Karl’s Thoughts: As far as alternate reality stories go in the Buffyverse, this is probably one of the ones that was done right. After being dumped by Xander and wanting to reclaim her rightful place as Queen Bee of Sunnydale High only to find that she is now lower than dirt, Cordelia makes the wish of “I wish Buffy never came to Sunnydale”, right within earshot of the demon Anyanka, and so we are sent into a world where Buffy is still in California (I think, it might be Colorado or one of the other places starting with C), The Master is still alive and planning to create a blood sucking plant to feed his army of vampires which include Xander and Willow, Angel is nothing more than a tortured plaything, and Giles leads a small group of “White hats” who are the only ones saving the dwindling population of Sunnydale from becoming vampire lunch. Now while most shows will have the missing character show up and save the day, bringing the world back to what it should be, The Wish goes the opposite direction. The arrival of Buffy does nothing to change things; Cordelia is killed by Willow and Xander, most of the White Hats are killed in a battle, and Buffy herself dies at the hands of The Master… only to have everything reversed by Giles destroying the Amulet of Anyanka, leaving the demon powerless and mortal in the original Sunnydale.
3) The Body – Season 5, Episode 16
Sara’s Thoughts: Holy shit. Just holy shit. Amidst a world of monsters and vampires and ancient prophecies, no one expect for such a sudden, quiet death as an aneurysm, let alone the death of Buffy’s mom Joyce. The episode is slow-paced and goes through the realistic motions of discovering your dead mother’s body. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s performance in this is heart-breaking, and just thinking about this episode makes my chest clench. No music, no build-up, just crushing, upsetting reality of the situation and how each of the characters come to deal with the passing of a loved one. Pulling no punches here, this is Buffy at its finest…if only it didn’t then lead into just the slowest of plot crawls until the end of the season.
Karl’s Thoughts: Talk about powerful. Opening with Buffy finding the dead body of her mother on the couch and trying to revive her before paramedics confirm that Joyce is dead. From here, most shows will skip to the funeral and the characters will spend time talking about the positives, but instead we get the very real look at the many stages of grief and how different people deal with death in their own way. From Anya being confused by the whole concept of death and the emotions attached to it being a highlight since the character was once a demon to whom the rules of death did not apply to her and the people she knew. Buffy telling Dawn about the death, the first time Buffy refers to her mother as “the body”, Xander punching a hole in the wall (something I did when my Grandfather passed away), and Willow panicking about what to wear; all are valid and powerful moments in this episode. This is all tied together by the fact that there is no background soundtrack to the episode, leaving the natural sounds of the world around them help tell the story and enhance the emotions attached to them. A very powerful episode that belongs in the Top 10 of every Buffy listing if not the top episode overall of the series.
2) Hush – Season 4, Episode 10
Sara’s Thoughts: TV is a medium where sight and sound play equal parts, but Joss Whedon is full of weird ideas like, “Hey, screw the requirements, let’s make an entirely silent episode.” But Hush is a feat, with actors having to solely portray emotions and dialogue, and no, there’s no subtitles for the audience either, you just have to do your best to follow along. The plot is simple – these beings called The Gentlemen take everyone is Sunnydale’s voice so they can steal 7 hearts for whatever reason. However, Buffy manages to defeat them by letting out a scream after the voices are freed once more. Lackluster resolution, sure, but all the points here go to the creativity of the set-up, in telling a complete and complex story not using voice, and of course the stellar score that creates some great ambiance.
Karl’s Thoughts: What is there to say about Hush? Well nothing since everyone loses their voices in the episode. Well worth the Emmy Nomination that the episode got when it first aired, Hush is a masterpiece of acting from everyone involved. It’s really hard to talk about the episode too since the plot is very bare bones, as The Gentlemen are after hearts for some unknown reason and prefer the sound of silence above anything else since any human voice could kill them. I have to give props to whoever came up with The Gentlemen as a villain group as their wide eyes and inhuman smile makes for one of the most striking creature design for the whole series. As mentioned before, the acting is amazing,since the characters can’t say anything you pay a lot more attention to the movements and gestures they do to tell the story, sometimes with extremely funny results in some cases. Just like The Body and our number one pick, this is an episode that deserves the Top 10 list, if not the top spot.
1) Once More With Feeling – Season 6, Episode 7
Sara’s Thoughts: I love musical episodes. I just think it gives show creators the creative licenses to be absolutely and totally insane with the characters and the situations. Once More With Feeling embodies all of that, with the early issues of season 6 being dealt with in turn: Buffy dealing with being pulled out of Heaven, Willow’s abuse of magic, Dawn’s weird shoplifting problem, the breakdown of Xander and Anya’s relationship. But it’s all okay, because SINGING! Dawn’s ballet is a great fit for the character, and of course Anthony Stewart Head is incredible. My favorite number is, of course, “I’ll Never Tell” which is Xander and Anya’s number. The song’s have excellent wordplay in them, and the idea of people singing and dancing themselves to death is…well it just feels very Buffy. The plot gets a massive push forward, and all with a little help of a song-and-dance demon – who can ask for more?
Karl’s Thoughts: A complete contrast with the number 2 and 3 spots, Once More With Feeling is that episode that should never have been but Joss Whedon always wanted. According to reports, this episode came about after hearing members of the Buffy crew sing at a drunken gathering Whedon put on. While there were a lot of issues coming behind the scenes around this shoot, like Sarah Michelle Gellar not wanting to do it at all till she saw the script and heard Joss was going to get a voice-double in for her role, to Alyson Hannigan not wanting to do any singing at all since she self-admits isn’t all that great, to Michelle Trachtenberg opting to switch a singing role with a scene that showcased her background in ballet. Of course there were some well known singers in the bunch including James Marsters & Anthony Stewart Head (Seriously, go watch Anthony in a movie called Repo: The Genetic Opera, you will not regret it). Surprisingly Amber Benson who played Tara turned out to be an amazing singer in her own right. As for the villain Sweets, well this is what happens when you get someone who was once cast as Cat in the US version of Red Dwarf; you get a very smooth villain; plus it’s one of the few episodes where the big evil for the episode just leaves on it’s own accord instead of getting killed or escaping to return later. From opening number to closing number Once More With Feeling is an episode worthy of the top spot on any list.