Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer is now over two decades old and still remains one of the most ground-breaking pieces of genre television to have ever aired. I often go through phases in my life where a new TV show becomes my newest obsession, luring me into the false sense of security that it is now my favourite show. But no matter what happens that show will eventually disappoint me, or just fall into the usual ‘no more ideas’ blues. Buffy has never done that for me, and these days I am proud and confident in announcing it as my favourite tv show of all time. So I thought I would share with you my top ten favourite episodes of the show, as well as provide a little insight into why I consider them to be my favourites, as well as some of the best episodes of the show. Mild spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t watched every season yet.
10. Passion (Season 2 – Episode 17)
Some may wonder why I have put this episode at the bottom of the list. Well firstly, this is a list of my favourites episodes, so no placement on this list is in any way negative. Secondly, this episode is one of the best that the show ever produced, it is one of my favourites, and yet it is also one of the hardest episodes to watch as a fan. Not only did this episode viciously kill off series regular Jenny Calendar, but it also proved to Buffy that Angel was no longer the man she once loved. It’s literally heart-breaking to see the emotional turmoil of the Scooby Gang in this episode, as they mourn a significant loss and prepare to fight in a slowly brewing war.
9. Entropy (Season 6 – Episode 18)
The sixth season of Buffy is an emotional watch. By the time the final episode has faded to black, you’re wondering how long the sickening feeling of loss will remain in your stomach. It’s ironic that a season where the main hero is suffering from PTSD, makes you also feel like a victim of the trauma. I would even argue that it is the darkest season of the show in its lack of victory, even though the world is saved again, the characters are none the better for it. ‘Entropy’ takes place at the latter part of the season and follows Anya’s heartbreak after being left at the altar by Xander. Having now retuned to her vengeance demon ways, Anya hopes to make her ex-lover pay, but instead finds herself finding solace in the arms of Spike, who is also trying to overcome the denial he has suffered at the hands of Buffy. It’s a raw, gut-punch of an episode and it still remains to be one of my favourites to this day.
8. Hush (Season 4 – Episode 10)
Buffy’s fourth season is arguably the weakest season the show ever produced. Although it is still bleeding with the usual Buffy goodness, it does act like more of a bridge from what the show was, to what it would become. Like the first three seasons, the fourth entry of the show demonises an educational facility, but now its College! Say goodbye to magical cheerleaders and subterranean swimmer jocks and say hello to haunted frat parties and secret government bases. But through all this, the season does hold some beautiful episodes, as evidenced by entry number 8 – ‘Hush’. Some of the best episodes of the show are the ones that deconstruct and question the typical formula of the series. Joss Whedon is actually the master of doing this, and in the case of ‘Hush’ it is such a simple change – what if there was no dialogue? That’s right, the episode plays out almost completely void of any speech, giving the story an overwhelming and eerie feel. The episode also holds one of the best musical scores in the show’s history, as well as the creepiest monster of the week in the form of the grinning Gentlemen. Season four may not have been a gem, but this episode certainly is.
7. Chosen (Season 7 – Episode 22)
I often find that when I’m re-watching a beloved show, that I find the first season to be the hardest to get through. I always prefer watching the final season because it is often a testament to how far the show has fallen, or in the case of Buffy, grown. Season 7 went back to basics in terms of overall narrative, all of the focus was back on Sunnydale High, and early regulars such as Faith and Angel returned to the game. ‘Chosen’ may not be the greatest finale in the world, but it did hit some perfectly timed notes in terms of the show’s closure. Sunnydale sinking into the ground, the loss of Anya and Willow awakening every dormant slayer in the world, make this episode an outstanding farewell for the Scooby Gang. Buffy’s last warm smile before the credits roll is like looking in a mirror, because the episode leaves you with a subtle grin of your own.
6. New Moon Rising (Season 4 – Episode 19)
When asking a person who their favourite Buffy character is, many will say Willow. And it’s understandable, Willow starts off as every outsider in High School and slowly blossoms into a quick thinking, computer hacking, mega-witch. In terms of development she arguably receives the best when compared to her fellow monster hunters. And there are many ‘Willow-centric’ episodes that I could discuss, but my favourite will always be ‘New Moon Rising’. Season 4 marked a hard time in Willow’s life, with first love Oz eventually having to leave her life due to his dangerous werewolf nature. And for a while, it seemed that our favourite witch may never move on, which is why it is so refreshing that she did and through a brand new love interest in the form of Tara. Although their romance had been hinted at for most the season, it is with this episode and the dramatic return of Oz, that it was finally confirmed – making them one of the first LGBTQ+ relationships to appear on mainstream, American television. The final moments of the episode remain the most poignant, with Willow declaring her love for Tara, over an extra ‘flamey’ candle, during a blackout. Promising that their relationship will be the beginning of something new and something beautiful.
5. Selfless (Season 7 – Episode 5)
Anya Jenkins is one of, if not, my favourite character from the show. I love her dry and sarcastic nature, her inability to convey the correct emotions for the correct situations and her natural aversion to people and their stupidity. Overall she’s just a fun and bubbly character and one who is alluded to have lived a very exciting and grandiose life before the events of the show and her banishment to a mortality. I had always hoped to learn more about her time as a vengeance demon, as well as the events that led up to it. Well this episode delivers on all those counts. Not only do we see Anya as a human living in a small Viking village, but we also see her bloody adventures with fellow vengeance demon, Halfrek, and her eventual acceptance of love and human life. And while all this is taking place, we also watch as the present day Anya struggles with being a demon again, having to kill humans after experiencing all the emotions that come with being a part of the species. Anya’s remorse and suffering in the episode only adds more layers to her already complex characterisation, making her one of the most realised and morally complex characters in the show.
4. The Wish (Season 3 – Episode 9)
From the Anya’s greatest episode, to her first. ‘The Wish’ does not centre on the vengeance demon, who actually acts as the primary villain of the contained story. Manipulating a heart-broken Cordelia into wishing that Buffy never came to Sunnydale, Anya inadvertently creates a parallel world where Sunnydale has been taken over by the forces of evil. Willow and Xander are murderous vampires, Angel is a slave and The Master rules the town from his throne room in The Bronze. The episode gives us a glimpse of the world that could have been and although it is fascinating to behold, it is also unsettling. Especially when a hardened warrior Buffy comes into the fray, demonstrating just how much the Slayer needed her friends to keep her humanity. ‘The Wish’ will always be a Buffy classic and there is nothing you can say that will change my mind.
3. Once More with Feeling (Season 6 – Episode 7)
Over the run of its show, Buffy has executed some interesting ideas – not all of them successful, but definitely notable in their uniqueness. In Season 6, Joss Whedon decided to test the show’s popularity even further by writing an entirely musical episode. ‘Once More with Feeling’ was a triumph is every sense of the word. The score is catchy, the choreography is done well for amateur dancers and the whole episode plays beautifully into the main conflicts and sub-plots of the overall season. Amber Benson and Anthony Stewart Head both steal the show with their stellar vocals, demonstrating how both Tara and Giles often go unnoticed by the fandom, even though they both hold a hidden depth to their characters. Stand out musical numbers include ‘I’m Under Your Spell’, ‘Standing’ and of course the epic ensemble number that is ‘Walk Through The Fire’. The episode has remained a fan favourite for a reason, demonstrating the strength of the show’s production and the imagination of Whedon as both a director and writer.
2. The Body (Season 5 – Episode 16)
As I have already stated on this list, some of the best episodes in Buffy’s show run are the ones that dare to question and deconstruct what we, as the audience, expect from it. By applying this critique we get episodes lost in dreams, episodes where the monstrosity of the Scoobies themselves is questioned and episodes like ‘The Body’ that do a lot with such a simple addition. For ‘The Body’ does what no other Buffy episode had truly done until that point, it added normality. The episode follows our core characters as they deal with the death of Buffy’s mother, Joyce, who dies from a brain aneurism before the events of the story. But there is no ulterior motive, there is no evil puppet master at play – the death is something that the Scoobies can barely comprehend, it’s mundane, it’s normal. Whedon again demonstrates his talent as a director, comprising shots that help to disorientate the audience in comparison to the confusion felt by Buffy and her friends. The episode’s lack of any musical score (a regular staple of the show) only helps to add to the awkward, uncomfortable atmosphere of the narrative. This episode has since been referred to as one of the greatest pieces of television to ever be created and that is a title it truly deserves to carry.
1. Helpless (Season 3 – Episode 12)
Often when asked what my favourite episode of Buffy is, I answer with ‘Helpless’ and I am often met with blank stares. Either because the questioner can’t remember the episode, or because they can’t believe I would love such a small and pointless nothing of an episode. But my reasoning behind it can be summarised by two points. One, my favourite element of the show is the relationship distilled between Buffy and Giles. Their Father/Daughter relationship is beautifully crafted over the course of the first three seasons, never coming to the fore front until this episode. And two, I love the mythology of the Slayer, of a constantly changing bloodline of chosen ones. The epicness of the concept alone is breath taking when you think about it. And this episode furthers the mythology by introducing a test that Slayers must take upon their eighteenth birthday, adding another horrifying level to the role that Buffy was forced to adopt. Like ‘The Body’, the episode challenges what we as the audience expect of Buffy, namely her superhuman strength and fighting skills. In this episode she is robbed of both and is made to face a psychotic vampire alone. The episode is dark, gritty and ferocious and I adore it. And when the evil has been defeated, we have one of the most poignant scenes in the show’s history, as Giles cleans Buffy’s wounds, after having just been fired as her Watcher for loving her too much. It’s a stand out episode and I will always regard ‘Helpless’ as my favourite Buffy episode of all time.