Ten years ago today, one of television’s defining series ended forever. That’s right, Buffy hung up her stake and Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the airwaves forever (you know, in originals form). I had never watched Buffy until just last year, when readers of the NWN blog asked me to — and with success! It took about seven months, but I finished the entire series. I’m very thankful that I finally got a chance to watch this beloved classic.
As such, someone actually sent me an email over the weekend telling me that today was the anniversary of the the series finale. “Do with that information what you will,” they said. And I really didn’t know what else to do… except compile a lost of my top 10 episodes. Of course, this isn’t really the best episodes; they’re just some of my favorites and I have a feeling some of them go against convention.
Without further adieu, here are my top 10 favorite episodes (with about 134 in the honorable mentions section below):
10. S4, E22 “Restless”
One of the more important elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer were the dream sequences. Where other series would get them all wrong and muddle the story lines up, Buffy knew exactly how to reign in those scenes. There is no better example than during the season 4 finale’s episode “Restless.” The writers decided to tie up the arc in the penultimate episode and used the finale as a way to forewarn viewers (and the characters within the show, alike) that there was much more story headed our way. The details from this episode had reprucussions until the final episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; just another reason to love this show so much: continuity, and deft planning.
9. S3, E16 “Doppelgängland”
Sure, we could have chosen “The Wish,” but there’s something much more special about “Doppelgängland,” where the alterna-characters mingle in with ours. Once again, this episode just proves that the powers that be in the Buffy writers room knew exactly where they were headed with their story — and just who these characters were. “Doppelgängland” works like a character study, having Cordelia take charge of being a main character for a change and showing us why that could never truly work out. Then, fan favorite Willow meets her alternate universe self… and well, shenanigans ensue. We can list episodes as favorites because shenanigans, right?
8. S4, E16 “Who Are You?”
Here’s an episode that I think goes widely underrated. For one, you probably wouldn’t know it unless you watched Buffy on a regular basis, but “Who Are You?” beautifully exemplifies what a terrific actress Sarah Michelle Geller really is. She effortless slides into her role as Faith for this installment. Another reason to love this episode? It once again propels a character, this time it’s Faith, into her story arc for the rest of the series, providing the first true time that Faith can get a glimpse of what it’s like to be Buffy and what it’s like to feel loved and cared for.
7. S7, E7 “Conversations With Dead People”
“Conversations With Dead People” works more like an experimental film. They say you can’t make a story about people just sitting around talking, but Buffy attempted to do so… and it succeeded. “Conversations” gave immense insight into most of the characters’ inner struggles at this point in their arcs, and most importantly gave us this little nugget: “You have an inferiority complex about your superiority complex.” Talk about Slayer problems.
6. S6, E8 “Tabula Rasa”
You said I was allowed to choose episodes based off shenanigans right? Well, good, because “Tabula Rasa” is the epitome of shenanigans… mixed in with good, ol’ gravitas, to boot! One of the best elements of Buffy is that it can easily coalesce the important with the humorous. The events of this episode transpire because Willow decided to exploit magic once again. And once again, such little moments move forward into Willow’s final arc during the last two seasons.
5. S4, E10 “Hush”
The network executives must have thought Joss Whedon was nuts when he said, “I want to do an episode where for the most part, no one speaks.” But you got to handle it to him: this episode fires on all cylinders — from silent hijinks to one of the creepiest antagonists the series has had!
4. S6, E7 “Once More, With Feeling”
Most series would use a musical episode just for fun and games, but we’ve already established that Buffy mastered the art of hijinks and humor. “Once More, With Feeling” is an episode that, yes, is a musical. But it’s also imperative to the overall narrative of the sixth season. It’s where Buffy finally admits that since coming back from the grave, she hasn’t felt the same; it’s the start of her, quite depressing, arc of the season… and beyond. It’s a powerful episode, that just features some sing-alongs as a perk.
3. S2, E17 “Passion”
After about a season and a half of teenage supernatural drama, Buffy the Vampire Slayer grew up — and it did so in just one episode, “Passion.” Jenny’s death was almost proof from the writers themselves that we weren’t watching some silly teen show. This was the real deal. It showed everyone what Buffy and Co. were up against, and it did so beautifully… in the most morbid sense. Just a terrific installment from the earlier onset of episodes.
2. S4, E4 “Fear, Itself”
So sue me! Many people may not place “Fear, Itself” so highly on a list like this, but I’m a sucker for bottle episodes. Besides the humor, this episode also gave great insight into all of the character’s current fears and perceived issues… some issues stemming from the first season and continuing until the series finale.
1. S5, E16 “The Body”
Obviously. I wouldn’t say that “The Body” is the perfect example of what Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a series wanted to be, but there’s no denying that “The Body” is one of the best hours in television history. It’s that good. It’s brilliantly written, smartly directed, and packs top-notch performances from every single cast member. Buffy did many things well; one of them was setting up the supernatural world as a metaphor for the adversities of real life. In “The Body,” Buffy goes beyond that and delineates that a supernatural series doesn’t even need to put supernatural entities front and center to make its mark. “The Body” works on its own, and is honestly one of the biggest Emmy snubs ever.
Honorable mentions: “Prophecy Girl,” “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” “Killed by Death,” “Band Candy,” “The Wish,” “The Zeppo,” “Earshot,” “Graduation Day Part 2,” all of season 5 to be honest, “Grave,” and of course the series finale “Chosen.”