It’s October, and that means Halloween! In honor of scary things, this week we’re looking at my top ten favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
This one wasn’t easy. I am quite sure about my top several favorites, but a lot of episodes are equally good. I went with Passion because it marks the first time that a major, established ally died. Jenny Calendar’s death made it clear that anyone could die – even if they usually didn’t. This also helped make Angel’s death later in the season seem more credible. Plus, the juxtaposition of Jenny’s murder with the Valentine’s day surprise shows better than anything else I can think of how utterly depraved Angelus is. Excellent episode.
#9: Buffy vs. Dracula
This one will probably surprise a lot of people. However, I really loved this stupid, cheesy episode. It stands out in my mind as one of the funniest episodes of the entire series. Why? Because it broke all audience speculation. Joss Whedon did a masterful job setting the episode up only to immediately begin subverting it. The best moment remains when Dracula begins to reform only for Buffy to re-stake him and remind him that she has seen his movies and knows that he always comes back. He tries again and she scolds him saying “I’m standing right here.” Beautiful.
This episode also introduces Dawn in the most shocking and confusing manner possible. A lot of people don’t like Dawn, but I actually found her a welcome addition to the cast. I just wish they’d done a little more with her – I think the audience hate started a vicious cycle preventing the writers from developing her. Ah well.
#8: Graduation Day Parts 1 and 2
This two-parter is a personal favorite of mine for several reasons, not the least of which because it was the first episode I saw. A friend of mine had been trying to get me into the series, and this is the first one I sat down to watch with him. I was instantly hooked. Faith is one of my favorite characters, and her dynamic with Buffy in this episode drives the entire first half. I would say more, but I need to leave room for the Mayor who absolutely steals the second half. I have always appreciated how interesting and well developed most of the Buffy villains are. Speaking of which -
#7: This Year’s Girl/Who Are You?
Another two part episode featuring Faith. And not only Faith – Faith and Spike. How could I not love it?
This episode both marks the return of Faith and is a very interesting acting exercise for Eliza Dushku and Geller as each has to act like the other. I love Drushku’s range in general – one of the reasons I loved Dollhouse – and seeing her play Buffy is a joy. In fact, this episode always leaves me wishing that they’d cast Dushku for the roll of Buffy in the first place. Ah well.
#6: Tabula Rasa
Another funny one. Everyone losing their memories is a plot that almost reaches the level of cliche, but Whedon does it amazingly well in this one. The cast trying to make sense of who they are – who they love, who they’re related to, and what to do when facing a fairly low-key threat – is absolutely wonderful. Spike is particularly funny when he thinks he is both the son of Giles and a vampire with a Soul. Also, Willow quoting herself from season 2 when she realizes she has feelings for Tara was a simultaneously sweet and funny. This one also moves forward the Tara/Willow magic issues around which the season centered, making this also an arc episode. A must see.
#5: The Gift
This episode was almost the series finale. It is powerful, it pays off the Dawn plot, and it is one of the most epic end-of-season battles of the entire series (only Chosen beats it).
Glory was my favorite major villain from the entire series. I honestly had to really work hard to edit this list down to only two Glory episodes – I just love any episode she appears in. She has the manic energy of the Mayor, the twisted sense of humor of Druscilla, and the cruelty of Angelus.
The Gift crowns her arc and shows her defeat at the hands – or should I say foot? – of Giles. The episode also features Buffy’s second death in the series, this time in a moment of self-sacrifice. It is beautiful and had it been the final episode it would have been an amazing way to leave the series.
#4: Seeing Red/Villains
I honestly only included Seeing Red for its last few minutes. If your version of Villains comes with a Previously recap, then you can ignore Seeing Red entirely.
Tara’s death and Willow tracking down and killing Warren shocked me when I first watched these two episodes. We hadn’t permanently lost a major cast member since Jenny Calendar (the deaths of both Buffy and Angel having been brought back) so Tara was a shocking splash of blood on the face.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Willow becoming the big bad of the season was a massive left turn. There was plenty of foreshadowing, but it didn’t really seem possible – until Villains. This episode still gives me chills.
If you didn’t see this one coming, you weren’t paying attention. The series finale is… words like epic fall short. Chosen is a worthy final episode to such an amazing series. Not only did it conclude the series, it did so in a way that very thoroughly killed any possibility of continuation. After all, if Buffy is no longer the only slayer – if there are hundreds of slayers – then why follow her story? (And no, I have not read “season 8″ – I have not heard positive things.)
#2: Once More With Feeling
Buffy the Musical, the best funny episode of the series. The songs are amazing – funny, catchy, and just really good. The fact that the musical interludes are actually the threat of the episode is icing on the comedy cake. I can’t sell this episode highly enough – if you haven’t seen it, watch it.
Oh, and Once More with Feeling marks the beginning of the Buffy/Spike romance. That helps elevate it over several of the other episodes in this list.
#1: Tough Love
I told you Glory was my favorite villain. While “The Gift” was her defeat, this is her triumph. She brain-eats Tara, faces Dark Willow and wins, and discovers that Dawn in the Key. We finally see Glory in all her glory, as the terrible, godly threat she really is.
I’d write more, but honestly I find it hard to sum up all the reasons why this episode is amazing in a single paragraph. It just does everything right. It is my single favorite episode – from my single favorite arc – in all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
So there you have it – my top 10 favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes. They may not be your favorites, and they may not even be the best from a technical or literary stand point, but they are the ones I love most.
I hope you all enjoyed that. Happy October!