I feel an extraordinarily strong urge to refute a recent BuzzFeed article ranking all 144 episodes of Buffy. I appreciate the author being a fellow super-fan, and I wish could re-rank all 144 episodes, but for now we will just have to settle for my definition of the top 10. And by top 10 I mean my absolute favorite.
Before I begin, I would like to thank FX for showing Buffy from the beginning every day at 7 and 8 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. I have all the seasons on DVD, and I imagine they’re all on Netflix, but I still get excited when I see Buffy on live (syndicated) television. Because of you, FX, I have fresh memories of all the below episodes. Thank you!
10. Welcome to the Hellmouth (Season 1, Episode 1)
A far cry from the movie that inspired the show, “Welcome to the Hellmouth” introduces us to Buffy Summers, Rupert Giles, Willow Rosenberg, Xander Harris and the demons surrounding them in Sunnydale, California, including main Season 1 villain The Master. This is when the Scooby Gang officially forms, and their chemistry is obvious right off the bat — Giles as the stodgy British father figure, Buffy as the slightly ditsy (but not for long) heroine, and Willow and Xander as the perfectly nerdy sidekicks. This is also when Buffy and Angel first encounter one other, before she even knows he’s a vampire, and you could cut the sexual tension with a knife. I just love seeing this episode, knowing everything is still ahead of them.
9. Halloween (Season 2, Episode 6)
Naturally, one of my favorite episodes is about my favorite holiday. This is the first appearance of Ethan Rayne, a blast from Giles’ sordid past. Ethan has opened up a shop filled with magical costumes — i.e., Buffy dresses up as an 18th century lady to please Angel thus turns into a vapid damsel who has never seen a motorized vehicle; Willow dresses up as a slut but covers it up at the last minute with a white sheet, so she turns into a ghost (Giles, upon seeing her: “The ghost of what, exactly?”); and Xander turns into a military officer, which the gang references and uses to their advantage for the rest of the series. Cordelia is the only one who doesn’t turn into her costume, a cat, because she got it at a different store, thus allowing her to contribute to saving the day. Or night. (You know, now I’m wondering if Joss Whedon got the idea for this episode after watching the Halloween episode of My So-Called Life in which Graham and Patty start behaving like the pirate and his lady…)
8. Prom (Season 3, Episode 20)
This episode reminds us that Buffy is after all just a teenage girl who loves her boyfriend. Angel, never that good with timing, starts to agree with everyone who’s been telling him he can’t give Buffy the life she deserves, and breaks up with her right before the prom. The scene where Buffy breaks down crying to Willow is gut-wrenching — this poor girl has battled countless evils, but she can’t even be with the guy she loves, whom she only just got back in her life because she had to kill him to save the world and then he returned from hell all crazy and weird. (Long story.) The actual “villain” in this episode is pretty silly — a high school boy who summons hell hounds to attack students at the prom because he didn’t have a date — but the pure teenager-ness of Buffy’s pain here is very compelling. And then there’s this:
“We’re not good friends. Most of us never found the time to get to know you. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t noticed you. We don’t talk about it much, but it’s no secret that Sunnydale High isn’t really like other high schools. A lot of weird stuff happens here. But whenever there was a problem or something creepy happened, you seemed to show up and stop it. Most of the people here have been saved by you, or helped by you at one time or another. We’re proud to say that the class of ’99 has the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class in Sunnydale history, and we know that at least part of that is because of you. So the senior class offers its thanks and gives you this [gorgeous sparkly umbrella]. It’s from all of us. And it has written here, Buffy Summers — Class Protector.”
7. Once More, With Feeling (Season 6, Episode 7)
This episode is probably in most other Buffy fans’ top three, but I cannot bring myself to rank it that high because of the season to which it belongs. Season 6 is an abomination; it went to some seriously dark and upsetting places I don’t think Buffy ever had to go, and it never should have been allowed to air. Except this episode, The Musical.
“I’ve got a feeling, that it’s a demon. A dancing demon? No, no something isn’t right there.”
Sunnydale is under a spell cast by, yes, a dancing demon. The hi-jinx that ensues is extremely entertaining with some great songs and an actual good reason (in Buffy world) for them to all be singing and dancing. However, each song-and-dance routine reveals some previously hidden information: Buffy sings that in bringing her back to life (she died in the Season 5 finale to stop the world from ending, again) her friends actually ripped her out of heaven, where she was quite content, and she also finally gives in to her attraction to Spike, who has been pursuing her since Season 5. I always root for those two to kiss at the end of this episode, but where their tumultuous relationship goes from there is extremely disturbing.
6. Passion (Season 2, Episode 17)
It’s Valentine’s Day in Sunnydale, and the gang is worried because Angelus (evil version of Angel) has a knack for sending some upsetting gifts to the objects of his affection. Meanwhile, Jenny Calendar is trying to figure out how to restore his soul — her gypsy ancestors were the ones to “curse” Angelus with a soul in the first place, but he lost it after he and Buffy, ahem, shared a moment of true happiness — because she wants Giles and Buffy to forgive her for hiding her identity and connection to Angel for so long. Sure enough, Angelus discovers her plan and snaps her neck (a vicious way for a vampire to kill a human because it doesn’t involve blood) and leaves her lifeless body in Giles’ apartment. Giles sobbing into Buffy’s arms after finding Jenny and attempting to attack Angelus is one of the most painful scenes in the entire series.
“Passion rules us all, and we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments — the joy of love, the clarity of hatred, the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow; empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we’d be truly dead.”
5. Pangs (Season 4, Episode 8)
The first time you watch Season 4, it kind of sucks. The Scooby Gang is no longer in high school, and almost every show loses its charm after the main characters go to college. But the second and third times you watch Season 4, it’s actually pretty funny, especially this delightful Thanksgiving-themed episode. And it’s mostly because of Spike returning as a main character. Between Willow’s adamant defense of Native Americans, Buffy’s attempts at cooking and Spike’s quips about syphilis, it is truly one of the most entertaining hours in Buffy history. Alas, underneath the humor is heartache in the form of Angel returning to Sunnydale to help Buffy, but not telling her. The episode of his spin-off that followed in a Very Special Buffy/Angel Crossover Event still tears me apart — Buffy goes to LA to reprimand Angel for not telling her he was in Sunnydale, but they encounter a demon whose blood somehow turns Angel into a mortal, allowing the lovebirds to engage in certain activities they have not been able to for years. Of course there’s a catch, though, and Angel must turn back time in order to truly defeat the demon, forcing him to live with the memory of a day that never really happened. (The reason I like “Pangs” so much is probably because of that Angel episode, but it’s still very funny!)
4. Hush (Season 4, Episode 10)
I’m telling you Season 4 has some really funny moments, even in “Hush”, which everyone says is one of the scariest episodes of any show. The gang is in despair as they (and the rest of Sunnydale) wake up one morning without the ability to speak, or make any vocal noise at all. Their silent interactions are extraordinarily amusing, especially when Giles demonstrates the story of The Gentlemen (the demons who stole the voices) and the gang must ask questions by writing them down on white boards. I also love the part where Buffy signals to Riley (a seriously weak Angel replacement, if you ask me) to smash the box with the voices to release them, and he smashes the wrong thing but looks mighty pleased with himself. Men. (Fun fact: this was one of the only episodes to be nominated for an Emmy.)
3. The Body (Season 5, Episode 16)
It feels a bit morbid to count this among my favorite episodes, but it’s just so powerful. Along with “Hush”, “The Body” is recognized as one of the most well-done episodes of any TV show ever (and not just by me). But now I’m wondering why the two best episodes of Buffy, critically speaking, involve minimal amounts of talking/noise… Anyway, “The Body” starts with Buffy finding her mom, Joyce, dead on the couch (from a brain tumor, not a demon). The rest of the episode is about the next three hours, approximately, just the process of everything that happens after your parent dies. Anya, still “newly human” at this point, has the most difficult time understanding what’s going on, and expresses her confusion in a way I think accurately describes every single human on earth’s confusion about it:
“I don’t understand how this all happens, how we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s…there’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore. It’s stupid. It’s mortal and stupid. And Xander’s crying and not talking, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.”
2. Graduation Day, Part 2 (Season 3, Episode 22)
For three seasons we watch Buffy become more and more alienated from her classmates — ridiculed for being weird, feared for being freakishly strong, generally stayed away from. But after recognizing her as Class Protector in “Prom”, they finally see her as their leader and easily agree to her plan for defeating Mayor Wilkins (by far the best villain, besides Angelus, in Buffy history) at their graduation ceremony. The scene where the mayor starts changing into the ascension demon and Buffy screams “Now!” and the entire senior class stands up with their weapons, ready to attack, always gives me the chills. Just typing it gives me the chills. Then the final few minutes of the episode, when Sunnydale High goes up in flames and they zoom in on the yearbook, are so powerful, so awesome, and so perfectly conclude the story arc of Seasons 1-3. “It’s the end of childhood, Hellmouth-style”, as beautifully said by my sister.
1. Becoming, Part 2 (Season 2, Episode 22)
Now this is how you do a season finale. (You’ll notice Season 5’s finale, “The Gift”, in which Buffy dies the second time, and Season 7’s finale, “Chosen”, in which Buffy saves the world for the 234th time, are not on this list, because a) Buffy dying nearly killed me and b) I hate those seasons so much.) I’ve cried my face off every single time I’ve seen this episode, from the first time I watched on my parents’ TV (when I technically was not allowed to) until a few months ago. If Willow had finished Ms. Calendar’s soul-restoring curse just a FEW MINUTES EARLIER (her eyes going all crazy during the spell is insanely good foreshadowing, by the way), Buffy wouldn’t have had to sacrifice the love of her life to save the world (again). It’s truly brilliant, as is all of Season 2, because the “villain” (Angel/Angelus) is someone the show had already made you love and care deeply about. Approximately once a month I think of the scene in which Angelus has almost defeated Buffy and is like, “No weapons. No friends. No hope. Take all that away, and what’s left?” and she looks up, stops his sword about an inch from her face and says, “Me”.
“In the end, you’re always by yourself. You’re all you’ve got. That’s the point.”