Contains spoilers for Buffy The Vampire Slayer seasons 1 – 7
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Buffy The Vampire Slayer is one of the best shows to ever grace the airways. It was funny, it was smart and it resurrected the vampire in pop culture. Running over seven seasons from 1997-2003 we were introduced to Buffy and her friends as they save the world while trying to make their way through something even scarier, high school.
Picking the top ten episodes hasn’t been an easy job, and I can guarantee that not everyone is going to agree with the choices here. After all, I could probably go for a top 100! But below are, in my humble opinion at least, the best that Buffy ever had to offer. And if you disagree? Head to the comments at the bottom of the article and let the debate begin…
10. Chosen Season 7, Episode 22 (2003)
By the time it was confirmed that Season 7 would be Buffy‘s last, anticipation was high: how was it all going to end? Compared to previous seasons, season seven was really a bit slow. It hadn’t really delivered on exceptional instalments and most of the episodes felt like filler to get us to the end. But what a way to end it.
The First had been killing potential Slayers left, right and centre while building a legion of über vampires underground to put onto the world. But Buffy and the gang had other ideas and decide to take the war underground to them. Having figured out a spell that will turn all potentials into Slayers, a can of whoopass is opened, and in the process, Willow channels her inner Goddess. Anya dies in battle while Spike ends up sacrificing himself to finish off the war, which leads to Sunnydale being sucked down into Hell. All in a day’s work, really.
9. Nightmares Season 1, Episode 10 (1997)
Season one of Buffy was short and sweet at only 12 episodes but it helped to grow the fledging WB network (which was later to hit paydirt with Dawson’s Creek) and really set the groundwork for future seasons by introducing the characters. Plus it set up the monster-of-the-week format, as well as the full season progression of the big bad. It was really finding its feet, but Nightmares is the one episode that still always sticks out to me.
When a local boy falls into a deep coma after being beaten by his baseball coach, his fear manifests itself and starts to make all of Sunnydale’s nightmares come true. Buffy is informed of a history test she hasn’t studied for, and time runs out before she has a chance to write her name. As well as this, her father tells her that the divorce between her parents was all her fault. Xander ends up walking out in his underwear, Giles finds he can no longer read and Willow has to perform Madame Butterfly, but immense stage fright forces her run away. There is also a very creepy murderous clown (naughty Joss for invoking all children’s nightmares of Stephen King’s It) and Buffy losing her fight with The Master and being turned into a vampire.
This episode is truly creepy and showed that Buffy isn’t all about battling the demons of the world but your own fears and insecurities as well.
8. Angel Season 1, Episode 7 (1997)
Back before falling in love with a vampire became a stock teenage daydream, there was Angel and Buffy, the vampire and the slayer. But before the romance started the audience knew little about Angel. He had been a figure in the shadows, a helping hand, but nobody had expected what was to be realised in this episode – that Angel was a vampire, and to make things even more interesting, he had a soul.
After killing a favourite among their clan, gypsies put a curse on Angel so his soul would be restored, filling him with guilt and horror over all the acts he had committed as Angelus, and leaving him to live forevermore with the consequences of his actions. As Angel, he managed to find a way to start repenting his sins and work with the Slayer. However, he didn’t know he was about to fall in love with her and make things much more complicated and dangerous, which leads me into my number seven pick…
7. Innocence Season 2, Episode 14 (1998)
As the day of Buffy’s 17th birthday approaches, Spike and Drusilla are planning to put together the pieces of The Judge, a fearsome demon who can literally burn a human apart. After a failed attempt at stopping them getting the final piece, Buffy and Angel find themselves alone in his apartment and the two make love for the first time. Naturally, they’re unaware that this moment of true happiness will break the curse put upon Angel, removing his soul and turning him into Angelus, one of the most violent and feared vampires of his time.
Unaware of what has happened at first, Buffy is heartbroken when Angel is nonchalant about their night together, but soon finds out that her IT teacher and Giles’ love interest, Jenny Calendar knows exactly what is going on as she is from the gypsy clan that first put the curse on Angel and was there to watch over him. Knowing that she now has to take down the one person she truly loves, Buffy puts on her game face and first takes down The Judge with a rocket launcher and then comes face to face with Angelus. The two fight, and although she can’t end it then and there, she lets him know she will soon.
6. Once More, With Feeling Season 6, Episode 7 (2001)
I’ll admit I am a big musical theatre fan and when they announced there would be a musical episode of Buffy, I did go a bit fan girl over it. Boy, did Joss Whedon really manage to pull it out of the bag.
On a routine patrol Buffy can see that something is up when all demons she comes across are singing and dancing, and she is soon belting out her own number. The next day, the gang all confess that the same thing happened to them, and while trying to figure out what’s causing this to happen, they see the entire town is infected and singing to the world about their innermost feelings. While Xander, Anya, Tara and Willow have plenty of fun dancing and singing around town, Dawn is kidnapped by the demon, Sweet, who is the cause of all the hoopla. As he believes she summoned him, he wants to make her his queen.
Singing about your feelings isn’t all it’s cracked to be, though, and soon Tara finds out Willow cast a spell on her, Buffy finds out Giles is leaving to go back to England and the gang find out that, rather than saving Buffy from hellish torment, she actually was in Heaven. With everybody’s secrets out and Xander admitting he summoned the demon because he thought it would be fun, Sweet leaves. As the spell starts to wear off, the gang sing about where they go from here, but it ends on a kiss between Buffy and Spike.
5. Passion Season 2, Episode 17 (1998)
I think there must have been a bit of a collective gasp around the planet when Buffy viewers saw lovely Angel turn into murderous Angelus and this episode really sums up just how evil he is. Much like an animal stalking his pray, Angelus makes nightly visits to Buffy while she sleeps, leaving her pictures he has drawn, mocking her to show how easy it would be to kill her. The next night it is Willow’s tropical fish that are his victims.
Determined to stop any further visits, the gang look into a spell to revoke the invite given for Angel to enter. Meanwhile, Jenny Calendar is secretly working on a programme to restore Angel’s soul and when Drusilla realises what she is doing, she sends Angelus out to stop her. Determined not to return to his former ‘good’ ways, he kills Jenny but then arranges for her to be discovered under the ploy of a romantic evening in Giles’ apartment. Devastated by the grief of his loss. Giles goes after Angelus but it is Buffy in the end that saves him, telling him that she can’t do this alone. By the end of the episode, Buffy believes nothing will bring Angel back and she is now ready to finish the job in hand, just as the disc with the spell to restore his soul hits the ground.
4. Becoming Part II Season 2, Episode 22 (1998)
Having discovered that Angelus’ final plan is to suck Earth into a hell dimension, Buffy is finally ready to take him on with a fight to the death. At the end of the first of this two-episode finale, Angelus calls Buffy out only to discover he has done so as a trick. While she is with him, the library is being attacked. Xander’s arm is broken, Willow is put into a coma, Kendra, the second vampire slayer, is killed and Giles is kidnapped.
With Buffy arriving back too late, she is now forced to take Angelus and his gang on by herself, while at the same time being hunted by the police who believe she is behind Kendra’s murder, being expelled from school and finally having to tell her mother what her out of school activates are. She does, however, form an unlikely alliance with Spike, who actually doesn’t want the world to end and is willing to trade his and Drusilla’s safety and getaway from Sunnydale in return for Angelus’ life.
As she readies herself for battle, Buffy is unaware that Willow, who has awoken from her coma, is trying to restore Angel’s soul. They are soon in a fight to the death but then Angel’s soul is restored. As the vortex to Hell is now open, Buffy must make the hardest decision of her life and kill Angel, sending him to Hell and closing the vortex up. Feeling as though her life in Sunnydale is over, Buffy leaves town.
3. The Gift Season 5, Episode 22 (2001)
The final episode of Season 5 also marks the series 100th, which is celebrated with a great 100 episode recap at the beginning. And if we had thought Buffy has it tough before, Season 5 really was shooting at her from all corners. Firstly, her relationship with Riley fell apart and ended with him leaving. She found out that Dawn wasn’t actually her sister but, in fact, a key to opening demon dimensions. She was up against the god, Glory, who wanted this key and would stop at nothing to find it, including warping Tara’s mind, and lastly and most horrifically, she had to deal with the death of her mother.
With Glory having kidnapped Dawn and intending to use her blood to open the portal, Buffy has to make a decision that will change the lives of everybody she loves. Knowing that she and Dawn share the same blood, as she was made out of her, she chooses to sacrifice herself to save the world and Dawn. As her friends find her body at the bottom on the tower Glory built, they all begin to break down. We then move into the episode’s last scene of Buffy’s grave which reads: ‘She Saved the World A Lot’.
A fantastic episode this, as everything finally comes full circle, and in many ways I wish this was how the series ended. Buffy has made her final sacrifice and it wasn’t just to save the world, it was to save the one person she loved more than anybody else and that really is what the Slayer is all about.
2. The Body Season 5, Episode 16 (2001)
By the time we reached Buffy‘s fifth season there was a feeling that if you were in some ways related to or friends with Buffy you had a good 90% better chance of staying alive than, say, you were best friends with Jack Bauer. However, episode 16 changed all that up when Buffy arrives home and finds her mother dead on the couch. This episode is by far one of the most upsetting, moving and ultimately truthful that has been aired as a part of any TV show for as far as I can remember.
From Buffy’s terror at finding her mother to the moment she screams to Giles not to move the body and the horror of realising her mother is actually dead is defining, this is superb television. There is no weak link in this episode; the remaining reactions of Dawn, Willow, Xander and Anya merge perfectly in the four very distinctive acts that the episode was filmed in. I don’t think there has been before or been since such a capturing of the human emotion concerning the death of a loved one on television that can hold a candle to this episode.
1. Hush Season 4, Episode 10 (1999)
“Can’t even shout, can’t even cry, The Gentleman are coming by. Looking in windows, knocking on doors, they need to take seven and they might take yours. Can’t call mom, can’t say the word, you’re gonna die screaming but you won’t be heard.”
Agh! There literally has not been a creepier monster of the week then The Gentleman, who come to Sunnydale to steal the voices of the town and then begin their hunt for seven hearts. Floating along with scary smiles plastered across their faces, they are the stuff of nightmares and can only be stopped with the sound of a real scream. With Buffy and the gang working together to foil them, the Initiative are doing the same. When Buffy finally tracks them down, she comes face to face with Riley, both of them now knowing each other’s secret. It is also the first episode that Willow meets Tara. Surprising what can happen when you can’t say a word!
Not only is this a great episode because of how scary The Gentlemen are, but it was also a landmark in modern television with nearly 90% of the show shot in silence. The audience instead has to follow what the characters do, with eye and facial expressions and written words on boards and notepads. Creepy beyond extreme, if you ever need something to watch on Halloween, ditch the movies and pick this instead.
While writing this top ten I have changed my mind a million times and episodes have been shifted up and down the list, which speaks volumes for the quality of the show and the cast, scriptwriters and directors that were involved. So that’s my top ten, but what’s yours?
This article originally appeared in July 2009.