The Best Buffy Episodes...Ever?

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I have to admit, sometimes when I'm feeling a wave of Buffy nostalgia, I'll just google around and hunt down new sites that have "Best Buffy Episodes" ranking lists - and there are plenty. It did direct me a couple of years ago to the incredibly thorough and thoughtful website Critically Touched, which has crazy in-depth reviews of each episode, season, and character. As a matter of fact, I was actually supposed to write this particular post - my own take on the best Buffy eps ever - eons ago, it was one of the things I thought for sure I'd do in this blog, but I just found it too challenging and shelved it for awhile.

Well folks, that ends today. I happened upon one of the worst compilations of Best Buffy Episodes ever today, and scoffed at the audacity of the creator to pick such a random group of 25 episodes - leaving out at least one universally revered episode, and several more that often make people's 'best' lists.

That being said, I understand every list is very subjective - there are often a handful of episodes out there that people will go 'Really?' to, and many that are quite polarizing. There are some that often make people's 'best' lists and they don't really make mine.

The other problem is the definition of 'best'. Some people define it as, plain and simple, what are the best episodes for character & plot development combined with artistic integrity? To that end, episodes like 'Hush' and 'The Body' are up there, even though the latter is generally pretty painful to watch in comparison to something fun like 'Halloween' or 'Storyteller'. I came across a web forum discussion at some point in my life that covered the debate between 'best' and 'favourite', which in the Buffyverse are generally two different things.

So here is my compromise. I've selected the top 20 episodes that I simply look forward to the most whenever I watch the series (or know that a friend of mine who has it on loan is about to watch). I've found in the three times I've watched the entire thing now, I get a general sensation as I go to hit the play button on each episode - sometimes doom - but even the dark but awesome episodes like 'The Body' generally give me the squee feeling of excitement, especially when it comes to someone new watching the show.

One final thing I'd like to point out - the seasons that typically have a stronger season-long story arc are the ones with less individual standout episodes. Seasons 3 and 5 in particular had a great continual thread, but less knock-em-dead episodes. Meanwhile seasons 4, 6, and 7 are generally regarded as weaker seasons, but they have a few amazing standouts each. Without further ado, these are my favourite Buffy episodes, ranked by order of appearance. Please don't ask me to actually rank them. I will crumble...this was hard enough!

SEASON 1


Episode 12: Prophecy Girl
Here's the thing about Season 1 of Buffy: it's generally universally regarded as a campy joke, and in general, it's hard to convince people of the show's awesomeness as they go through eleven episodes of monster-of-the-week hokeyness. That being said, the show cleverly interweaves mythology from Season 1 in a humorous way in future seasons (particularly in regards to jokes about Xander) to make it an integral part of the Buffy watching experience. The good news is, the season finale of the show's first season gives a solid glimpse into the world to come and Sarah Michelle Gellar's acting chops. The scene in the library when Buffy overhears her prophesied death and yells and Angel and Giles to tell her what her fortune is shows the emotional weight the show manages to pack, even in a relatively light season, and rewards the dedicated viewer with a teaser of just how good the show can get. Plus, Buffy's death sets up a variety of interesting scenarios with long-lasting repercussions on the show. Shame about the hokey library monster though :)

SEASON 2


Episode 17: Passion
Much like the Season 1 finale, Passion showed us how grim Joss Whedon was willing to get, shockingly killing off a major non-evil character and then setting up one of the series most brutal send-offs with Giles' discovering the deceased Jenny in a decidedly creepy faux romantic scene. Rewatching the series, this is the episode of all the evil Angel episodes that told me this guy meant business, and got me truly nervous for what was to come.


Episode 22: Becoming Part II
Generally considered the best season finale (or at least up there), this episode makes me cry every single time I watch it. There are so many emotions running so high - Willow is in the hospital! Xander is hellbent on seeing Angel die! Buffy and Angel swordplay! Giles is being tortured! Angel backstory! Spike is making bargains! Plus the devastating final scene between Buffy and Angel, I mean...it was incredible. Plus I enjoyed the very clear beginnings of outlining the true burdens of being the chosen ONE that were particularly highlighted in this episode towards the end, and the sacrifices Buffy will continually have to make in her life. Fantastic!

SEASON 3


Episode 22: Graduation Day Part II
I feel weird not picking out more episodes in Season 3, but I've always felt like the season suffered a little in the balance between too many monster-of-the-week main plots with b-plot story arc development. There are several others I considered - Earshot and The Prom being key - but ultimately I feel like giving a nod to the Season 3 finale is a nod to the general solidness of this entire season. There are a lot of classic moments here, including the set-up for the Season 5 finale (I mean really!), Angel feeding on Buffy, the dream sequence that - like many others for Buffy - unlocks the key to her success, and the final epic battle. Mixed in with all of the drama we had genuinely touching moments between Anya and Xander, Willow and Oz, and Buffy and just about everyone. Great solid episode representing the culmination of Buffy's first consistently solid, tied together storyline.

SEASON 4

Episode 10: Hush
Many people thought Hush was the best Buffy episode ever, until they saw Season 5 of course. Hush was just about the mid-point of the series and tied in the monster-of-the-week set-up of the earlier seasons with the mythology / plot arc-heavy style of the later ones. We got some truly hilarious scenes and moments - Giles' lecture being the number one example - as well as the series' most creepy villains, ever. This episode ranks high for artistry, and even higher for wiggins' inducement.


Episode 16: Who Are You?
I often forget about this episode, but I actually really love it. I always manage to suspend my disbelief and get into the headspace with any body switching storyline that they really *have* switched bodies, and Sarah Michelle Gellar's acting here is a testament to how believable this plot device can be. I liked how even a brief reintroduction of Faith shook up the slayer's world so thoroughly, while also giving new depth to the character. Seeing Buffy through Faith's eyes kind of made me as a loyal Team Buffy fan step back and go, hm, maybe she is a little too Suzy Sunshine for her own good. It's certainly a creative way to get the viewer to look at both characters in a new light, so kudos there!


Episode 22: Restless
For the record, I don't put as much stock in this episode as other people do. I simply appreciate it for its artistry more than anything - there are many little memorable scenes and moments that I've never asked to make sense, I just simply enjoy. I've read many interpretations of what the episode is foreshadowing, exploring, and revealing but at the end of the day, there is some ethereal quality about this episode that makes it worth rewatching, versus a Lost-esque "WHAT IS HAPPENING?" curiosity. Of course, knowing some of the obvious hints - like the references to Dawn - are satisfying to pick up on as you watch it, and making observations that may have nothing to do with Whedon's original intent or lack thereof is always a fun game. Also, I tend to really enjoy episodes that explore specific elements of Slayer mythology, and the introduction of the first slayer here is done in an interesting way that sets up her return in the future. I could point to scenes in the Season 5 opener, and many in Season 7 that could be plucked from each episode for their excellence at building a portrait of what it means to be the slayer.

SEASON 5

Episode 7: Fool For Love
I decided to do this post (note: in multiple sittings, go save drafts!) because the latest 'best Buffy episodes' list that I read did NOT include this fantastic ep in the top 30. For the record, I tend to love the stories that explore the characters beyond the Buffyverse, which is why episodes like Becoming, Selfless, and even Hell's Bells appeal to me so much. The development of Spike here sets up his arc quite well for the remainder of the series, and the continued development of 'What does it mean to be a slayer' is seen through a vampire's eyes. I actually use Spike's commentary of 'They had a bad day and I had a good day' when it comes to killing slayers as a metaphor for when a favoured sports team just can't make a big W happen.


Episode 16: The Body
Many people call this not only the finest hour of Buffy, but the finest hour of television ever created - including Entertainment Weekly's look at the top 100 pop culture moments of the past 20 years. I was emotionally devastated when I watched this episode, and repeated feelings make it feel no less raw. The sheer genius of subtle shifts in what we're used to as viewers and Buffy fans - no score, single scene 'acts', and humanity interfering in a world dominated by the supernatural. It's crushing. It's not my favourite episode owing to how dark it is, but it's easily the *best* episode of Buffy.


Episode 21: The Weight Of The World
This is an obscure one to be on any person's list, but it's always resonated with me for some reason. I thought it was a very interesting set-up to the dilemma Buffy faced in the season finale, and the reverse of what we saw at the end of S4 (action-packed finale followed by dream sequence). Deciphering what was going through Buffy's head and actually being told what was going on was a welcome change from 'Restless' however.


Episode 22: The Gift
Season 5 was my favourite season, and the season finale had a lot to do with that - it culminated in a truly heartwrenching climax, but really the entire episode was enjoyable. I spent the whole season wondering how Buffy would overcome this super demon and was truly nervous for her in the end - and Whedon surprised us all by giving us an ol' you win some, you lose some smackdown. The image for this episode is possibly one of the most famous of the series.

SEASON 6


Episode 3: After Life
The success of this episode really lies in the scene this screencap is from. When I first unpacked my complete series, I randomly but specifically sought out this particular episode just to rewatch this scene. That being said, the rest of the episode is a welcome change of pace from the razzle dazzle hocus pocus of the season opener - it doesn't let Buffy off the hook right away, and it explains why to the viewers by the end of the episode. I also found the villain (minus the final fight) pretty creeptastic.


Episode 5: Life Serial
There are a lot of dark humour episodes in Season 6 that I like - Tabula Rasa and Gone among them - but for whatever reason Life Serial goes down as one of my fave fun episodes in the entire series. The four-act set-up lends itself brilliantly as an introduction to our so-called villains, and I particularly enjoy the claw scene the most. The final drunken scene is relatively funny as well...kitten poker anyone?


Episode 7: Once More, With Feeling
How could a top episodes list not include the Buffy musical, Once More With Feeling? I own the soundtrack to this and know pretty much every lyric, which while not the most sophisticated stuff ever written, certainly is clever and on point with the plot development. The fact that an episode that was such a departure from the show could gel with it so incredibly well speaks volumes about how damn good this show actually is!


Episode 17: Normal Again
Unlike 'The Wish', which shows up on most people's top lists, 'Normal Again' is the episode for me that turns the series on its head. In fact I often tell people it's my favourite episode because it doesn't ram this potential explanation down your throat - it simply inserts a level of reasonable doubt into your mind for the remainder of the series. Obviously fans would have been disappointed if this were the series finale, but it wasn't, and it put all of Buffy's angst and struggling into perspective. Loved it!

SEASON 7


Episode 3: Help
Another random choice, up there with 'WOTW' (S5), but I've always enjoyed this episode and look forward to watching it. There are echoes of Joyce's death here, except this time Buffy is given fair warning. The message in both is the same however - that sometimes you can stop humanity from interfering. The actress that plays Cassie (Azura Skye) is what makes this particularly convincing for me -hope she gets some future work in Hollywood.


Episode 5: Selfless
I always thought this episode occurred earlier in the series, and last time I watched it I was so choked you have to wait this long for a brilliant Anya-centric episode in the same vein of Spike's S5 turn in 'Fool For Love'. The flashbacks mix hilarity with heartbreak (the revisit to the musical episode and 'Mrs.' put S6 into perspective) and the actual real-world storyline between Anya, Xander, and Buffy was a shake-up like none other. Plus the payoff of Season 2, with the truth finally coming out about Xander's lie to Buffy when she was off to kill Angel in a similar fashion.


Episode 7: Conversations With Dead People
Wow, three really strong episodes in the first string of Season 7. What went wrong? Sigh. Regardless, I didn't get what all the hype with this episode was until I rewatched the series. There is something magical at work here, and I once again enjoyed the decision to separate the storyline based on the four-act structure of the show. The creepiness by the end of the episode set up high expectations for the rest of the season, which sadly were never met.


Episode 16: Storyteller
I always loved Andrew as the newcomer to the nerd trio in Season 6 - his self-deprecating unintentional humour was a welcome change to Jonathan's backstabbing and Warren's downright scariness. Keeping him around in Season 7 paid off both hilariously and emotionally in this episode as we once again - my fave! - get to watch the Slayerverse through an outsider's eyes - that which hilariously echoes the fanboy to end all fanboys of the show.


Episode 22: Chosen
Whenever I lend the series out to people, this is what I say: don't worry, it ends well. I had NO clue how Whedon could successfully end the show, and yet he did. He didn't wuss out too badly when it came to some final bloodshed (although I totally forgot about one of the major deaths and was shellshocked the last time I watched it), and he provided a successful resolution to the weight of being the chosen one, at least within Sunnydale. Brilliant and epic in an uneven season.

And for the record, episodes I know people LOVE that for whatever reason just didn't make my cut:

- Season 2 'Innocence' - I know this is a really classic episode of Buffy and the major turning point of Season 2 (plus rocket launcher) but for whatever reason it doesn't resonate with me. I always find it kind of uncomfortable to watch Buffy have to continually reveal what exactly might have made Angel wake up on the wrong side of the bed.

- Season 3 'The Wish' - Another episode I know people view as critical to the series. At the end of the day, I always go into this ep thinking that I will love it, but I never do as much as I think I will, tingly "Press Play" feelings aside. It's fun to see the characters in an alternate state, and weird to see Cordelia in such a main role, and Giles' line of 'Because it has to be!' is one of the greats of that season, but I just can't put my finger on why I'm not blown away by this one.

Also, some honorable mentions:

Season 1
Nightmares - The first episode I ever saw, and a precursor to another honorable mention in Season 4, Fear, Itself. A good example of foreshadowing re: Buffy's fear of dying.

Season 2
Halloween - The first episode I really remember being eager to make. sure. I. taped. and discussed with friends. I know I had been watching Season 2 up to that point, but this episode always sticks out in my mind and has many fun moments. Again, kind of a precursor to another hon. mention in Season 6, Tabula Rasa.

What's My Line Parts 1 & 2 - I know a lot of people hated Kendra, but the whole other slayer thing was such a 'WHOA!' concept to me that I quite enjoyed this two-parter. Plus, the start of Xandelia!

Ted - Although this follows the MOTW format I kind of eschew, John Ritter's performance here makes this episode memorable, funny, and creepy.

Innocence - See the above. I know it should be in my top 20.

I Only Have Eyes For You - I actually really love this episode and was tempted to put it in my top 20, but alas, here it sits, a notch or two shy of greatness. The main thing I will highlight here is that this episode eases us into a 'What if Angel *could* be good again?' scenario, which makes the season 2 finale that much more crushing.

Becoming Part 1 - I like the Angel development here, and the set-up for part 2 is a-ok in my books.

Season 3
Lover's Walk - Great character development here that sets up Angel's departure, adds depth to Spike, and has some heartbreaking moments between the b-characters.

The Wish - I know I know. It's a great episode.

Consequences - The contrasts between Buffy & Faith throughout this episode brilliant set up the race to the finish line.

Doppelgangland - Return of evil Willow, plus good Willow as evil Willow! Funny stuff.

Earshot - This episode mixes humour with one last 'after school special' issue that the show so brilliantly turns into metaphors throughout its existence. From feeling invisible to turning invisible in Season 1 to feeling unheard and wanting to eliminate oneself in this season, the show has always done a good job at highlighting the oddballs (given Buffy and her friends are outcasts themselves).

The Prom - I hate the 'monster' in this episode and find much of the Buffy/Angel stuff superfluous by this point - the set-up was all there between Lover's Walk and the Mayor's speech in Consequences I think. That being said, it's fun to see the show's take on prom, and Jonathan's little heart-tugging speech on Class Protector (an award that is symbolically destroyed at the beginning of next season).

Graduation Day Part I - Lots of great set-up here, including the epic battle between Faith and Buffy.

Season 4
Fear, Itself - I like this revisit to Season 1's 'Nightmares'. It's funny yet also insightful at continuing to delve into our character's psyche's in supernatural ways. Possibly the best of the 3 Halloween episodes.

Pangs - This is one of the stupidest episodes in terms of Buffy lore (with an obligatory Angel appearance and an uninteresting and kind of offensive villain), but also one of the funniest. Unfortunately for it, the *best* episodes combine both.

Something Blue - I know some people don't like this episode for whatever reason, but I always have. Seeing the characters in a different light as we do in Halloween, Once More With Feeling, and Tabula Rasa is always a treat.

The I In Team - This is sort of the peak of The Initiative episodes - in some ways I felt like our insider introduction was followed by too swift a kick to the ass out, but I always enjoy this most revealing look inside and the big mid-season cliffhanger that happens at the end.

Superstar - Buffy's hair is awesome for these last few episodes, can I just say that? Why didn't she keep it like this always? Whatever. This episode was a clever way to reintroduce Jonathan and keep him somewhat top of mind before season 6, and it was done in a funny way that still advanced the plot a bit.

Primevil - There are things I like about Primevil, but I'm glad it wasn't a season finale. The rebonding of the Scoobies, and the first big exploration of just how powerful Willow has become makes this a decent episode.

SEASON 5
Buffy Vs Dracula - My favourite season opener, although I always enjoyed 'Anne' and 'The Freshman' as well. Slayer lore abounds here as the show pays homage to the ultimate vampire.

No Place Like Home - The big reveal about Dawn was thankfully done relatively early in the series, plus we got a taste of the big bad unlike any other we've seen before. She's not aiming for immortality like our past villians, she's got that in spades kittens.

Intervention - This episode combines more of my fave slayer lore stuff (plus sets up the finale perfectly) while also featuring a pretty hilarious look at the Buffybot, she of a thousand lives.

SEASON 6
Tabula Rasa: If you couldn't tell by now, I like this episode, a lot. The last time I watched it I didn't love it as much as a few other similar episodes so it's just a hair shy of the top 20, but I think it's another fun 'What If' scenario the show plays with while also putting the final nail in the Willow/Tara relationship, and a 'No Turning Back' label on Willow's use of magic.

Gone: As I mentioned when talking about Life Serial, there are many fun episodes in this season, and Gone is one of them. We've had several bouts of invisibility here, but none as interesting as the slayer's, and the dark emotional feelings behind it.

Dead Things: The morality lessons of Season 3 come back to bite Buffy as she grapples with having blood on her hands. Plus the gang finally figures out who they're up against.

Hell's Bells: Another episode I wish I could have room for in the top 20 - definitely in the top 25. I didn't like the payoff for who the 'old Xander' really was, but the glimpses into the future and Anya's heartbreak made this one of the best character episodes in the entire series.

Season 6 4-Part Finale: This is the only finale that did not make my list of top 20 episodes. I think it's partially because it spreads across these four episodes so it's hard to pick one single episode that rocks the most. I liked the bait and switch of the real villain in town, and there are tons of great epic battles, and mortality via human-oriented murder was a big shocker.

SEASON 7
Get It Done - I was pretty generous in awarding 5 episodes from season 7 among my faves. In fact as I write this I'm considering swapping 'Help' for something like 'Tabula Rasa' or 'Hell's Bells', but whatever. As a result, the only other episode worth mentioning in my books is 'Get It Done', which explores the final themes leading up to the battle side of the finale - Willow tapping into dark magic, Buffy and the shadowmen and understanding where her power comes from, and the big reveal of just what they're up against make this the best of the otherwise pretty weak story-arc episodes.

Phew! That was done over a couple of sittings. Sorry for the EPIC length but this is an EPIC show!

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