Why Buffy's second season is the best

Feature Juliette Harrisson 16 Apr 2013 - 07:00

In the first of a new series, Juliette makes the case for Buffy the Vampire Slayer's second season being the best of a good bunch...

This feature contains Buffy the Vampire Slayer spoilers.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer ran for seven wonderful years and many viewers thoroughly enjoyed them all. But no show, no matter how great, can keep hitting the same heights over and over again – every show has its highest points, and its lowest. 

In Buffy’s case, although seasons one, four, five, and even six and seven have their fans, the competition for which season was the high point of the show is pretty much a straight fight between season two and season three. 

The arguments in favour ofseason three are not to be dismissed lightly. Fighting in season three’s corner are two of Buffy’s best antagonists; Faith and the Mayor. Both are individually fascinating, Faith representing the dark side of Buffy in the form of the charismatic and energetic Eliza Dushku, the Mayor hilarious, beautifully individualised (an invincible demon who doesn’t like germs) and chilling when he has to be. But together they are a true work of genius, their twisted father/daughter dynamic reflecting Buffy and Giles through a mirror darkly just as the Watcher’s Council do their best to disrupt our heroes’ perfectly strong and well-functioning team by firing Giles and throwing Wesley into the mix. 

There are other great things about season three too. Certain individual episodes shine: Band Candy, Lover’s Walk, The Wish, Doppelgangland and Earshot are classics, while Homecoming, The Zeppo and The Prom all have plenty of enthusiastic fans as well. The characters’ romantic relationships, while in a continual state of flux, are focused on some of the series’ most popular pairings, to the extent that a number of Buffy tie-in novels are set in a sort of nether-time in between Revelations and Lover’s Walk in which Buffy/Angel, Willow/Oz and Xander/Cordelia are all going strong at the same time. And our heroes somehow, in between all the demon-fighting, manage to graduate from high school and continue to mature and move forward in their lives. 

But season three has its low points too. While Bad Girls and Consequences are important episodes and the arc plot developments they focus on are darkly brilliant, the episodes themselves are not all that great shakes (especially Bad Girls’ unnecessarily unpleasant demon Balthazar). Although Wesley would rise to greatness on Angel, his appearances in Buffy season three are grating, especially if you’re British, since he covers all the most irritating stereotypes not already embodied by Giles. Gingerbread forces its censorship metaphor and makes Willow’s mother, in her only appearance, disappointingly cartoonish. Beauty and the Beasts says some very strange things about men and women and features, in an episode about domestic violence, Buffy needing to be rescued by Angel, which seems like a bit of a mixed message. 

Ultimately, though, it isn’t season three’s low points that put it behind season two, for while season two’s low points are arguably lower and more numerous (Reptile Boy, Ted, Bad Eggs, Go Fish) it comes out on top in the end because its high points are just so high. 

Some of season two’s highlights include: 

School Hard 

From the moment Spike mows down the Welcome to Sunnydale sign as he drives into town, he and Drusilla make their mark as Buffy’s coolest, funniest, wickedest, most twisted villains, and Spike seals the deal when he ends the episode by killing The Annoying One. The Mayor is great, but Spike and Dru are the Buffy’s most awesome and beloved villains (their double act later enhanced by the addition of Angelus). 

Lie to Me 

Tragic, heartfelt, dark in the best way. Also includes Willow’s hilarious realisation, ‘That’s what that song’s about?!’ 

‘What do you want me to say?’

‘Lie to me.’ 


Surprise, which precedes Innocence and is the first of a two-parter across both episodes, is decent but rather sappy (inevitable, for the episode in which Buffy loses her virginity to Angel). But Innocence is a work of quiet genius. The metaphor is fairly simple – Angel(us) is the monster version of the guy who’s all sweetness and light until you have sex with him, at which point he changes and starts treating his girlfriend like dirt. But it’s exquisitely written and performed, with Willow’s horror at finding out about Xander and Cordelia’s relationship adding to the overall tension. 

Also, it ends with a rocket launcher, as all the best episodes should. 

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered 

Season two has several comic highlights, like Halloween’s ‘the ghost of what, exactly?’ Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered is perhaps the most fun. Just ignore the terrifying implications of Xander’s spell, and the unpleasant intention that motivated it, and revel in Xander being chased by every woman in Sunnydale, including lunchlady Doris and Buffy’s mum. 

Becoming Part 2 

Everything in this episode is great, from Willow’s ‘resolve face,’ to Xander’s emotional rollercoaster, to Spike teaming up with Buffy for the first time and meeting Joyce just as she finds out that her daughter is a vampire slayer. The emotion is raw and real and Buffy somehow manages to withstand all the horror the episode throws at her, hardened but not bowed, because if you take all that away, what’s left? ‘Me.’ But it’s those last few minutes that make this climax of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a show. The special effects may be a bit ropey, but the moment Buffy is forced to drive a sword through suddenly-ensouled Angel’s heart and send him to a demon dimension is the defining moment of the show, around which all the other seven seasons revolve. And it is fantastic. I need a hug. 

If these were just individual hours of brilliance, season two wouldn’t necessarily be Buffy’s best season. But all these wonderful individual episodes add up to a season that takes us from teen romantic angst, through sweet romance, to that fabulous metaphor that powers Innocence and out into an arc-driven back third which features a trio who are, for my money, Buffy’s best villains. Finally, it culminates in Buffy making the ultimate sacrifice, not of herself, but of someone she loves, and leaving a town that seems to hold nothing for her any more to the strains of Sarah McLachlan. Perfection. 

Season three puts up a good fight, but ultimately, as is this case in many, many shows (including all-time greats like Friends and The West Wing), season two is the quintessential season of Buffy.

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Interesting points. My wife has just started getting into Buffy. So I've been watching them all from scratch again, and it's brilliant. Better late than never I guess.

Season 2 was really really important to Buffy as a whole as it evolved the show a great deal from the 1st season. Which if we're honest was built on a novelty which wasn't sustainable for a 2nd season. It needed to build on the idea that high school is hell allegory, rather than horror clichés meet Sweet Valley High, which is why Innocence and the other high points you mentioned score so well.

However, for me Season 3 takes it, purely for Faith and introducing the concept that made Buffy such a successful Slayer; the Scooby Gang and her support structures. Not simply, 'What if she was born on the wrong side of the tracks'. What happens if she was all on her own and that was the direction she was taking, and which we saw glimpse of following her first expulsion and arrival in Sunnydale.

You are right though, a lot of people glide over the low points of S3

I totally agree with every word of this article. Having recently finished Buffy, most of the defining moments and characters come straight from the two seasons mentioned here.

I don't think Seasons 6 or 7 get enough credit though. Their low-points are somewhat lower than other seasons, but they didn't touch the low points of Season 4 for me. The Trio should totally get at least a consideration as best villains, too, they were fantastic, especially when they ushered in (SPOILERS) Dark Willow. Nathan Fillion as Caleb was also a standout villain.

Still, it would be a heated contest between 2 and 3 for my favorite season for pretty much the reasons above, mostly the villains.

Season Five for me. Despite the higher number of average episodes and *shudder* Glory, it still has the greater high points. 'The Gift' and 'The Body' for emotion, 'Buffy vs Dracula' and 'Intervention' for the laughs - "Angel's lame. His hair goes straight up, and he's bloody stupid" and Fool For Love for not only being the best Buffy episode ever but also the best 45-odd minutes of TV ever. Full Stop.

Fool For Love is excellent - a brilliant piece of screenwriting.

If I have to pick between season 2 and 3 id pick 2, Spike's in it. It's Spike, the coolest Vampire ever

I agree that season 2 was so exciting because it showed us just how much further Whedon et al could take the show. I'm not sure I can pick a favourite season (well, I know that season 1 is the worst), but 2 and 3 were definitely high points.

Also, you mention season 3 driving home the idea that Buffy is successful because of the Scoobies; remember that when Spike is driven off in his first episode, he makes reference to that very point ("A slayer with friends?" or something like it) so i guess the seed was sown in s2.

All good arguments, but I still prefer the one-two punch of Faith and the Mayor. I think Faith illustrated very well the importance of Buffy's friends and family (something the Watchers frown upon if we remember Kendra) as they're the element that grounds her, keeps her connected.

Hear! Hear! I thought season 6 was brilliant, but I seem to be in the minority... I'll admit Once More With Feeling colours my judgment, as does the pairing of Spike and Buffy. But the idea of Willow turning out to be the big bad and only stopped by a yellow crayon?! Brilliant! :)

...and it wasn't one of Wheden's either. Proof if proof be need be that the other writers contributed a huge amount to that show.

Just remembered the Buffy / Faith fight at the end of season 3. Specifically the skin-tight red and black leggings they were wearing at the time. I'm now changing my vote to season 3. That is all....

It also shows the central structural flaw of Twilight. If you are going to have a character who keeps going 'oh noes I'm dangerous and could turn into a terrible monster, killing the ones I love', it becomes cheap and meaningless unless there's some point at which it actually happens (and no, flashbacks and references to past events don't count). From the moment Angel was introduced as a 'vampire with a soul', yet still presented as having a dangerous element about him, it was utterly necessary to have a season where he actually does turn evil. And it was necessary to give it teeth - to kill of a main character as a consequence.

Whedon seems to realise this - both Buffy and Angel had a season each where Angelus spends at least part of the season being 'the big bad'. In a way, it's simply an illustration of the 'Chekov's gun' rule of writing - if you place a gun over the fireplace in the first act of a play, and make any kind of reference to it, that gun had damn well better be fired at some point in the second act, or it's just a waste of the audience's time.

Plus, Spike always worked far far better when placed in conjunction with Angel/Drusilla. As a villain in season 2, they managed to nail Whedon's original concept for him as a Sid Vicious type character (which gradually disappeared in later seasons). But a lot of his appeal also came from bringing out the shared history between Angel, Darla, Spike and Drusilla, and how the four made each other into what they are. For the same reason, I thought both Darla AND Spike were more effective in Angel than Buffy (excluding season 2 of course).

While season 2 left a greater impact due to that amazing finale overall I loved season 3 more (I do think Mr.Trick was a wasted villain though) but it is close Faith swings my vote (before she became all wigger in Season 7)

Dushku can't act, which is why season 3 will never be a 'classic'.

As much as the things I love about season 2, namely Angelus, there are too many monster of the week eps that drag it down. Anyone remember "Ted?" Ugh. I love the season as a whole, but season 3 had my favorite Big Bad and story arcs.

She can't act? how dare you! haven't you seen her in Tru Calling, Dollhouse, Bring it on, The New Guy...Oh hold up you might be right - Great as Faith though

Not at all. She oversells every line & couldn't do subtle if she was in a coma.

I just though that worked well for the character. I also have to applaud her for the body swap episode with Buffy in season 4 This Year's Girl/Who Are You and I bought her more as Buffy than Gellar as Faith

All the writers on that show were great. Conversations with Dead People would have been on the 'great episodes Whedon didn't write' list, except for the fact that he did write a quarter of it, though was unbilled. In fact, in the audio commentaries, the writers are always quick to point out that the best line in every episode they wrote was usually Whedon's.

oh Lord "The Body." I don't think I've ever watched any other movie/episode that captured the raw emotion and hurt and...daze of losing a loved one. That feeling of not knowing HOW to react and just..saying meaningless things and getting caught up in random acts that seem to matter a whole lot (Willow looking for the perfect tshirt, getting emotional about her STUPID CLOTHES.) It is brilliant.

Half of season 2 is very weak. If you count the superb episodes of season 2 you get the Angelus arc and some gems in the beginning. Also, I don't know where you got those infos but season 5 is one of the favorite seasons of the entire show among fans. Even more than season 3. I'm speaking from almost 10 years of intense fanatical Buffy-dom. I'm over it now but it was a major part of my teenhood, and even then I never considered season 2 as a strong one throughout, just the second half (I'm trying to ignore craps like Go Fish and Killed by Death here....). But it is, without a doubt, the most important.

Totally agree about 6 and 7 not getting the credit they deserve. The low points were low, but not lower than the lows of S4! Maybe it's also cos I couldn't stand Riley as a character OR a love interest for Buffy. The high's of S4 are very very high though ( might never get over the comedic brilliance and uber creep of Hush and the spot on dream nature of Restless) so I get why it balances out, but 6 and 7 definitely deserve more love. Caleb gives me bone deep creeps man.

Disagree. Best seasons were 3,5 & 7.

Have to vote season 6 as my favourite, then season 3 then season 2! It just affected me more than the others and felt that much more powerful from the build up of 5 previous seasons

having read through all the comments below it seems that season 2,3,5,6 & 7 were all the best season!! Lets just say that its one of the best things ever to hit telly and leave it at that! Personally my man crush on Nathan Fillion colours me to season 7 a little but really i can pick out a hand full of stunning episodes in every season! Theres a reason i watch it from start to finish every single year!

That's the problem with Buffy is there are not shortages of great moments, episodes and seasonal archs. For me it would be Season 6. The show may be about Buffy but, we all know it's trully about her cast of friends and life through Highschool and shortly thereafter, Season 6 gives us somethings that no other season did. For one finally the dark evil of Magic that Giles had been warning Willow about had fully come to fruition, Buffy is weak and isn't the hero for the first time in the series (I guess other than when the Master kills her) and struggling with her own mortality and the pains of life having come back from bliss, and most importantly to me personally Xander finally gets his shining heroic moment that made the hardest manboy cry when he saves the world from Willow. I'm getting chills now just remembering. Plus Spike's change from evil to good where he makes the choice himself to turn from his evil ways, even though he is forever a badboy. Season 2 is a close second, and season 4 is the funniest overall imo and much loved by me, but Season 6 is encapsulates the wear and tear the scoobies have been dealing with for 6 years since their inceptions. Even after winning all those times, scars are still left and those scars finally show their face.

Totally agree with Azrael. Season 2 was the best of both Buffy and Angel in my opinion. Darla totally owned Season 2 of Angel and was probably the best I've seen Julie Benz, and both's shows mythology and emotional resonance just worked better when it was these characters with their storied history at the forefront of proceedings. Still, Season 3 of Buffy has the Mayor and the Scoobyness and all those classic episodes. Think the whole debate is a classic example of why "best of" lists are really just conversation starters than serious declarations of worth.

Haha funny this article came up Ive just finished watching the entire box set (first time) Wow what a show :o. I started November and just watched Chosen. Don't know what to do with my life now.......
For me I would rate them ...from best to worst
Season 5 - 9/10
Season 3- 9/10
Season 6- 8/10 (Those last 3 episodes .... WOW)
Season 2- 8/10
Season 4- 7.5/10
Season 7- 7/10
Season 1- 6/10

Season 5 was my favourite as well ( very very close with 3 though)
What was wrong with Glory?? I loved her character! My favourite Big Bad

Season 6 was brilliant ! Don't get the hate! ( the double meat burger episode was awful though) The cliff hanger at the end of Two to go left my jaw on the floor!!

I can see why season 7 is frowned upon though... Despite some great moments its a bit of a mess!

"......From the moment Spike mows down the Welcome to Springfield sign as he drives into town,....."

Spike knocked over a welcome sign on "The Simpsons", TOO? Howcum no one told me? ;-D

I'm going to come down pretty strongly on the side of Season 3 here. The mayor was a fantastic nemesis. And I also love me some Season 5, which turned the show on its head in a load of ways and included the brilliant 'The Body'.

I actually agree with the points you put forth as to why S2 is the greatest. Sadly, these points are not representative for the entire season. Had it focused soley/primarily of Buffy vs. Spike/Dru/Angelus - hell yes! It would have been the best season ever! But instead we get a season with tons of mediocre filler episodes. If we are only voting on highlights and best moments I'd agree, because Innocence might be the best episode of the series, but if we are voting on consistency it just can't win.

My pick for what the best Buffy season is might be a bit counter-intuiative, as the big bads were hardly the most eye-catching, but I believe season 4 is hands down the best one. Some reasons why:

1. Even more Spike than in season 2, including some of his most awesome moments, plus him hooking up with Harmony, follows: which brings us to:

2. Comedic relief. Season 4 is probably the most consistently hilarious of all BtVS seasons. With several classic episodes like Fear Itself, Beer Bad, Pangs, Something Blue and Superstar. The comedy is also ceiled by:

3. Anya. Our very favorite ex-demon with a fear of bunnies. A big fan fav, and definitely one of the very best characters on the show. Her relationship with Xander is great to watch.

4. The characters are all settled in, and the comedy blends into the drama perfectly. Sure, this has to a large degree been the case from early on, but this gradually progressed and here all the interactions between the scoobies are just so perfect, and this leads to how:

5. The monster of the week episodes are actually just awesome, and do not feel like fillers at all. Unlike the 3 first seasons all of these just feel like a new present. This includes a gem like Hush, who many considers the best episode of the series.

6. Though not as stand out or shiny as many other BtVS villains Maggie Walsh (if she can be called a villain) added a really creepy vibe to the show and you never knew were you had her. Adam didn't really feel like a true big bad but he did in no way detract from the overall story, which, as I've already pointed out was primarily driven by the characters.

7. And this also leads to how it was perfectly acceptable to get rid of him in ep 23, something which has been really happened before or since.

8. And this lead them to have one of the most creative and creepy finales ever, Restless. Which demonstrates the overall mood of the season so well. Comedy mixed with horror, to perfection.

The characters are strong, the comedy comes naturally and doesn't detract from any other aspect. We also get great character from earlier making big appearances, such as Faith and Angel.

I won't get into the whole "best season" arguement since A I can't pick just 1 and B it has been talked to death below, but I will just mention how much I loved Angelus' entry to the show. Remember the scene? He staggers out of the bedroom after just having slept with Buffy, into an alley where he comes across a girl smoking a cigarette, then he bites into her neck as she takes a drag, drops her dead on the ground and blows out the smoke. Showing us that he is now absolutely evil. Not pretending, not just having a bad day - Evil. And in a very cool way.

Ben is Glory?

Season 2 of Angel was incredible, and I think better than Buffy s4. It's just such a pity that Angel took a dip in quality during s3 and 4.

I'd also like to point out that 'Lie to Me' had one of the series all-time best guest performances in Jason Behr.

You do have a superiority complex and you have an inferiority complex about it....kudos!

I've always felt season 3 was more consistent but that doesn't matter because season 2 is what the whole show is about. The Buffy/Angel love story simply was the story that the show wanted to tell, and it told it so brilliantly. The show could have ended then and it would have been perfect.

I love the later seasons and there are some fantastic moments, but from Surprise through to Becoming Part 2 is the greatest arc ever seen on television. What comes after may hit great heights, but it could never match the emotional depth in season two.

Another vote for season 5 from me, can't agree that 2 and 3 are particularly above the rest, there are many reasons for disliking season 6 but when you look at individual episodes it has several of the very best!!

Season 2, Season 3, Season 4 were the best seasons for me. Did not like the idea of a sister for Buffy. That is why I do not like season 7. There have been some great episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Season two was the best season, I completely agree. From the amazing Spike/Dru to the amazing moments with Angel going bad until the very last moment where Buffy stabs him. I just wish Joss Whedon kept Spike as the bad guy, kept Spike and Dru together. I hated the idea of Buffy with Spike together. Maybe one day Buffy the tv show can be rebooted ! I mean, that would be amazing

I have no counter argument.

Not bemoaning Season 2 for a second, I'd say it ventured more towards the stereotypical vampire-emo scene we've come to loathe so well in this day and age. In other words, it hasn't dated brilliantly. That's not a commentary on its general quality, which as with Buffy is always very high, but the dark/romantic undertones were a lot less original in Season 2 than what later seasons had to offer. Season 3 balanced this out with some terrific villains and a real sense of scale to the story.

For me though, Season 5-7 were far preferable. I really enjoyed these far more, despite Season 5 taking a while to get going (a.k.a. to cart Riley off) and Season 7 having a very poor middle-act. The stories surrounding Joyce's death, Buffy's sacrifice and subsequent resurrection, Willow's downfall and the first encounters with The First Evil were individually amazing.

Seasons 1 and 2 are the best seasons in my opinion, with season 3 following very closely. I actually like the variation of the "filler" episodes. I started watching back then from episode 1 and that's an important part of the fun of the show for me.

Season 5 was the best because Glory.

Easy! Watch Angel. If you haven't seen any of it you've even missed out on large overlapping storylines, for example the Faith arc in S4 is resolved in Angel S1 and the return of Faith in S7 starts in Angel S4. You also get a lot more of Angel, Cordy, Wesley, Spike, Harmony + several appearances of other Buffy characters.

I think Season 2 is the best television ever. Period. I mean, the fate of Jenny; the appalling implosion of Buffy’s romance; and the equally-appalling implosion of her eventual revenge, made for televisual tours de force that I have never seen equalled.

Seasons 3 & 1 are my second and third favourite seasons.

As for the others? Well, it’s interesting seeing here so much love for seasons 4 onwards. Because it’s my own view that the show pretty much hit the skids after 3. Now, as a genuine lover of all things Buffy, this caused me no end of anguish at the time they were playing out, and I have over the years tried to put my finger upon exactly what went wrong. And now, having watched the earlier episodes again recently, I think I’ve found the answer: the show, which started off being brilliantly self-referential, began taking itself far too seriously, rendering the show significantly less enjoyable as a result. I would cite as 'Exhibit A' the interminable exploration of the origins of the Slayer. Not only was this completely unnecessary, because it was executed with no winks to the audience and scarcely any levity, it only served to highlight the silliness of the show's premise; but without Season 1-3's crucial ability to have a laugh at such silliness.

Then we had things like the life and times of Dawn; Tara chastising Willow for using ‘too much magic’ (I still cringe at that); The Body, which was like watching an entirely different show; the dreadfully unfunny/uncharismatic/unbelievable/unscary Big Bads of 4, 5 & 6; Spike forcing himself on Buffy; Buffy’s clinical depression; Willow going off the rails – none of this substandard, unfunny, and, frankly, depressing fare would have made it anywhere near the gold standard of Seasons 1 through 3.

Thank God for the wonderful character of Spike, or else I would have found 4 through 7 almost unwatchable.

Having said all this, reading the different, positive, perspectives here has made me want to take another bash at them. You see, I would like nothing more than to be proved wrong, and to be able to derive from 4-7 the same joy as I derived, and still derive, from the first 3. Yep. I’m going to try them again. Soon.

I'm glad there's something to look forward to! I'm currently on Season 4, finding it the funniest too, so I'm hoping we share the same viewpoint on Season 6.

Season 3, for me, was far too dark at the beginning and it didn't get much better throughout. As the author of this article says, season 2 was brilliant.

I agree! Even if you only watch the four (3??) crossover episodes it does resolve a lot of stuff and make things more awesome for the Buffy viewer. For me, Sanctuary was where I stopped waiting for Bangel to happen again, permanently.

There's two episodes I always skip, when Buffy goes to L.A. as Anne and that double meat palace episode.

I love season 6 so much because of the nerds. There were so many nerd references, which I hadn't seen on tv at that point, that I giggled through the whole season.

I'm just about to start season 2!

Good post. I've been rewatching Buffy recently, most of it for the first time and find Season 5 to be superior to any other season so far. But, what you say here makes a lot of sense as to why many Buffy fans prefer the earlier seasons.

The show was more fun. Really, Seasons 2 and 3 were fun television. They had their heavy moments, sure, and while the Angel/Buffy relationship was pretty standard soap opera fare, it was very well done and had a huge emotional impact. But I think people came to expect the show to continue handling some rather dark and serious topics of both teenage and adult angst with levity. I think they also expected more monster-of-the-week stuff, since by Season 3, they'd really figured out how to make some quality MotW stuff, but Season 5 was heavily searlized, and the MotW stuff they DID do was almost always tied into the regular plot, and rather weak by comparison to the serialized elements of the season. Except for "The Body," of course.

I think season preference largely comes down to what you want out of the show. I maintain that it was a fairly natural progression for these characters, as they matured, to act more serious and less flippant, and for the tone of the show to reflect this by being less funny, and more serious about the subject matter. But I think that being so serious and spending significant time and energy dwelling on the nature of the Slayer has a huge payoff in the end when you watch "The Gift."

I think that what elevates Season 5 is that they managed to tie the major themes from the season, and some going back all the way to season 1, together to provide an ending where Buffy dies, and the show has earned it. The audience is fully aware of why she did it, and the reasons aren't nearly so simple as "She did it to save the world." After all, she wasn't willing to kill Dawn to save the world. Giles calls that heroic, but I'm not so sure.

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