For those of you who may be unaware, I have a deep and abiding love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Part of me would like to say that this is merely limited to a mild crush on Sarah Michelle Gellar, but that’s just not it. In my humble opinion, it’s a brilliant TV show. Thanks to Joss Whedon’s creation of Buffy, I’ve chosen to give any of his work a chance, leading to a not quite as deep and abiding love for Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, all of which ended before their time.
On a side note, my friends Leo and Erynn once tried to convince me that Joss Whedon is not actually one person, but a conglomeration of individuals. Maybe they believe that one person couldn’t possibly come up with something as brilliant as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’d agree, but I’ve seen interviews. I’m pretty sure he’s a real guy.
Anyway, I’ve recently been rewatching Buffy on the Netflix. It’s interesting to go back to the beginning and watch how the actors and writers evolved over the seven years span of the series. And so, without further ado, I give you my ten favorite episodes…
10. Innocence – Season 2, written by Joss WhedonIt’s the one where Angel lost his soul and became the Big Bad that Buffy would face for the rest of the season. It’s bad enough that she had to deal with Spike and Drusilla, but then the love of her life turns to the dark side after a moment of true happiness. But even though watching Buffy get her heart broken was… well… heartbreaking… watching Angelus torment her and her friends was pretty much awesome. Angel was pretty depressing as a good guy, but as a bad guy he was all kinds of fun.
9. Prophecy Girl – Season 1, written by Joss WhedonThis was the first season finale, in which Buffy finally faced The Master, her first real adversary. The ancient vampire escaped his mystical underground prison and attempted to open the Sunnydale Hellmouth, killing Buffy in the process. But she was only mostly dead. Xander was able to give her mouth-to-mouth and save her from drowning. She dusted The Master, the Hellmouth closed, and the day was saved. It was a good end to Buffy’s first year in Sunnydale.
8. Helpless – Season 3, written by David FuryAnd you thought I was just gonna pick Joss Whedon’s episodes. Buffy prepares to celebrate her 18th birthday by having her slayer powers taken away from her. The Watchers’ Council performs this test on all Slayers that reach their 18th birthday. The Slayer’s typical strength and reflexes are removed, then she’s placed in a difficult situation facing a dangerous vampire which she must slay relying only on her wits. What’s great about this episode is that it really strips Buffy down to who she is beyond being the Slayer. It also deeply explores her relationship with Giles, who proves to love Buffy like a father, rather than merely being her Watcher.
7. Restless – Season 4, written by Joss WhedonThe fourth season finale had no Big Bad. The Scooby Gang beat him in the previous episode by performing a magic spell that ticked off the spirit of the first Slayer. The first Slayer then attacked our heroes in their dreams. In each dream, we saw a bit of each character’s fears and fantasies. And we found out a little more about the Slayer mythology, discovering a little more about what makes her tick.
6. Becoming, Part II – Season 2, written by Joss WhedonIn the season 2 finale, Buffy was forced to kill Angel in order to stop an awakened demon from sucking the world into Hell. I know that sounds really complicated. But what it boils down to is that Buffy had to give up everything in her life to do what was right. In the end, she was fighting an evil Angelus without the support of her family or her friends. When Angel pointed this out to her, she realized that she was left with herself, the Slayer, which was more than enough to take out her former boyfriend. But just before she made the killing blow, Angel’s soul was restored. But Buffy still knew that Angel had to die in order to save the world. Slightly more heartbreaking than when Angel lost his soul in the first place. Maybe it was the moving number by Sarah McLachlan at the end while Buffy was riding a bus out of town.
4. Earshot – Season 3, written by Jane EspensonAt the time, this was a pretty controversial episode. I guess even today it would be considered controversial, considering part of the plot revolves around a kid that brings a high powered rifle to school. Buffy gains the ability to hear people’s thoughts and hears someone’s thought that they’ll kill all the students in the school. The psychotic thinker turns out to be a crazy lunch lady. But Buffy is still able to reach out to Jonathan, a student that wants to commit suicide. Buffy learns, while hearing everyone’s innermost thoughts, that everyone deals with their own crap. Jonathan is whining about how no one notices him or even knows he exists, but Buffy knows that’s only because people are busy whining about their own pain, their own fears, their own insecurities. It’s a pretty good put-yourself-in-someone-else’s-shoes kind of lesson.
3. Passion – Season 2, written by Ty KingThis is one that took place while Angel was still a bad guy. And in it, we see just how evil Angel really is. The writers weren’t playing around when they made him the Big Bad. Buffy’s boyfriend wasn’t just going through a phase, and they wanted the audience to know that he was seriously bad. Giles’ girlfriend, Ms. Calendar, was attempting to find a way to restore Angel’s soul, which would bring him back to the good guys. And as a way of thanking her for her trouble, Angel snapped her neck. Knowing that he was playing for keeps prepared Buffy for what she would have to do to stop him.
2. Hush – Season 4, written by Joss WhedonMuch of this episode was done with zero dialogue, which was just an awesome way to get back at critics that claimed the show relied too heavily on dialogue. Everyone in Sunnydale has their voices stolen by a group of demonic creatures known as the Gentlemen: real creepy looking guys with permanent smiles plastered to their faces. They steal voices because a human scream can destroy them. Turns into a pretty nasty ending for them when Buffy gets her voice back.
1. The Body – Season 5, written by Joss WhedonThe death of Buffy’s mom, Joyce. She wasn’t killed by a vampire or a demon or some other supernatural entity. She died from an aneurysm, thanks to a complication from an earlier brain surgery. It was sudden and it was unexpected. Watching this episode again after losing a parent myself, it hit a little harder than the first time I saw it. It’s a great look at how each of the different characters express their feelings of loss when someone they know and love is suddenly gone.