Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time 06.21.12: The Top Ten Episodes Of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

June 21, 2012 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

Welcome to A Bloody Good Time.

Last week I took a look at the unfortunately short-lived series Masters of Horror. Let’s see some feedback.

APrince66 said: I couldnt agree more. Amazing series, each episode offering something different. Family especially stuck with me. IIRC, it starts with sweet, lovable Norm from Cheers whistling away in his basement, pans out, he dumps acid on some dude in a bathtub. So disturbing, I loved it!

That’s one of the reasons I liked it too. Then it had another twist at the end on top of that.

LitasRevenge replied: I watched a little bit of Jenifer on Chiller channel, although it was watered down, but it was okay…heavily edited. But will have to check out the dvd. The Imprint wasn’t as disturbing as I thought it’d be. I’d like to see Cigarette Burns and the ones based off Poe and Lovecraft. You ought to do a column where you cover “The Biggest Twists” Good/Bad in horror/suspense movies…just a suggestion.

I’ve done the top horror endings before, which sort of went into that. Maybe a revisit is due in the future. As for Jenifer, you should only check it out uncensored if gore is make or break for you. Otherwise you’ve seen all you need to.

JLAJRC added: While I haven’t seen all of Masters of Horror, the episodes I have seen were pretty good. Although I have to admit to being underwhelmed by THe Black Cat and it’s lame ending. I hope you go into other tv horror anthologies, specifically Tales from the Darkside, Night Gallery, and the really underrated Monsters.

I’ll definitely be exploring more anthology shows in the future. Possibly movies as well.

Steve: asked: You don’t think Mick Garris did at least a decent job on Psycho IV or the television version of The Shining (Yes, it’s not Kubrick. That doesn’t determine its quality when it was never trying to be and that was part of the point.)? That’s fine if that’s the case. I just wondered as I think both of those works have something to offer the horror genre.

I did not like the TV version of The Shining, not because it wasn’t Kubrick, but because it just wasn’t that good. Steven Weber tries really hard to ham it up like Jack did when he should have tried something new, and the kid playing Danny is especially annoying. Also, they should not have even attempted the hedge animals scene if they couldn’t pull it off with the budget.

Okay, this week, we’re going to step into the world of Joss Whedon.

I am a new Whedon fan, as I didn’t start watching his stuff until recently with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I wanted to see what all the buzz was about with the show, and the man himself before I sat down to watch both Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers. So unlike a majority of Buffy fans, I did not watch the series when it first aired. I was more of an X-Files guy anyway. But now I’ve seen every single episode and love the series. I’m a fan of Whedon’s work, but I’m not obsessed like some people seem to be on the internet.

So when I decided to do a list of the top ten episodes of Buffy, I knew I was in trouble. There is no way this list pleases anyone no matter how I do it. While there are plenty of Whedon fans that are sane and rational (everyone I know that is a fan falls into this category), there are plenty that are not. Who am I to pick just ten episodes and proclaim the best? I’m just a fan, and I’m picking my favorites.

Let me just go ahead and say, this was really hard to do. Buffy had a lot of great episodes during its seven season run and to limit myself to just ten means I had to sacrifice some episodes I love just to cut the list down to a smaller number. But that also means that when I say these are the ten best episodes, you know that I’ve thought long and hard about which ten I wanted. I think these ten are not only great from a quality-perspective, but give a really good selection of what this series is about. Let’s not waste any more time and get straight to the list.

Oh yeah, if you’ve never seen the show, there are some serious spoilers here.

Honorable Mentions: Restless, Innocence, The Zeppo, The Gift, Becoming

#10: Storyteller
Original Air Date: February 25, 2003

“We are as gods!” I wasn’t really feeling Andrew as a character until this episode. Yes, he was a “villain” of season six and has been around for a while, but I think this one really cements who he is and what he’s all about. He’s a huge giant nerd who just happens to have done an evil thing or two. Considering the murderers within Buffy’s ranks, he’s practically a saint. In this episode we see Andrew attempting to document the final preparations leading up to a fight with the First, and what led him to this point.

This episode is both hilarious and a little sad. Andrew’s interpretations of events are really funny, like the “gods” scene and a bit where he’s suddenly knocking away Dark Willow’s attacks in season six. All that leads up to an emotional end where he find out he really is sorry for the things he’s done. In a show that’s usually almost always about the core characters, it’s nice to see one of the lesser ones get a moment in the sun.

#9: Passion
Original Air Date: February 24, 1998

Innocence was a really good way to introduce what Angelus is. But Passion takes that to a new level by showing just what kinds of torture he is capable of. He’s entering Buffy and Willow’s houses, leaving photos of them sleeping to show he can kill them at any time. He’s using psychological warfare because in his warped mind, they deserve to pay for showing Angel kindness. But that’s not even the worst of it, as he eventually kills Jenny Calendar and leaves her dead body for Giles to find.

This episode starts a trend with Buffy in that if a character is close to being completely redeemed, or at their happiest moment, something really awful is going to happen to them. Joss Whedon will kill off the people you love at a moment’s notice. It should come as no surprise in The Avengers; just be glad he didn’t kill off Thor or Iron Man. That happens here as before Jenny can restore Angel’s soul, Angelus kills her. When I said earlier that he leaves the body for Giles to find, but he also makes Giles believe he’s about to have a great evening with the love of his life first. Angelus is a sick guy, and this episode moves him up to a very legitimate threat.

#8: The Wish
Original Air Date: December 8, 1998

Fun fact about me. I love anything to do with alternate universes. It’s why I occasionally run “What If” editions of this column and Exiles is one of my favorite comics ever. So it should come as no surprise that this season three episode makes the list. Cordelia is so upset over splitting up with Xander that she begins ranting to anyone who will listen. Unfortunately, the person listening just happens to be vengeance demon Anyanka, who will gladly grant her wish of Buffy never coming to Sunnydale.

What we get after that is a Sunnydale that is almost post-apocalyptic. Willow and Xander are vampires, the Master is alive and well, Angel is kept in a cage, Buffy is hardened by battle and Cordelia dies almost as soon as she arrives in the future. Then there’s the ending in which we see Willow, Xander, Angel and Buffy all die. Luckily everything is back to normal by the end, but it’s really cool to see alternate stories even if they end the way they do. Plus, this led to Vamp Willow returning in Dopplegangland, another fun episode.

#7: Band Candy
Original Air Date: November 10, 1998

Speaking of fun, we have this hilarious episode which sees everyone who eats the titular candy regressing to a less mature state and acting like teenagers. Giles and Joyce end up together (as in they have sex on a police car) and Buffy has to grow up a little bit to try and restore everything to normal. Ethan Rayne episodes of this show stopped in season four, and that’s a shame because every time he showed up something new and strange happened to the Scooby Gang.

This is probably one of the funniest episodes of the series, and certainly one of the best of the earlier seasons. It takes the opportunity to explore who the adults are by looking at who they were. Even Snyder gets some good laughs in, and who thought that was possible? There’s a demon involved at the end and the final battle is nothing to write home about, but it’s everything before that which makes the episode worth it.

#6: Normal Again
Original Air Date: March 12, 2002

There’s a lot of people who say this show started to go downhill with season six. I have no idea why, as it may be one of my favorites. This is partially because Willow is my favorite character and partially because of episodes like this. This is another “alternate universe” tale, one where Buffy was never the Slayer and is locked up in a mental institution for her elaborate fantasies. We get to see Kristine Sutherland again as well, which is always a bonus on this show.

The alternate universe this time is through the effect of a demon’s poison. Buffy goes back and forth and there is evidence shown to say that either side could be the real one. Of course as fans, you want to believe that the asylum universe (which is the “real world”, so I guess Earth 0000) is the fake one, because otherwise it’s way too depressing to think about. Plus, I doubt Buffy’s dreaming up the entirety of Angel in her head too. The ending is what makes this a step above the rest, as it actually has the guts to try and convince the viewer that everything they saw was a lie. It’s obviously not, but kudos for trying.

#5: Chosen
Original Air Date: May 20, 2003

The series finale. It’s everything you could want from a Buffy finale. Angel comes back, there’s a battle between the ultimate force for evil and good, Spike is redeemed with a sacrifice, Willow overcomes her darkness, etc. The world is also fundamentally changed when all of the potential slayers become actual slayers. While this is a lot to stuff into a 42 minute episode (which was originally supposed to be a two-parter), I think it mostly plays out well and gives an action-packed ride as Sunnydale is gone forever and Buffy is no longer the only one to carry her burden.

I think one of the best (or worst, depending on how you feel) is that even on the finale no one is safe. Spike dies in a noble fashion, but Anya is brutally killed without very little build-up. It’s one last shocking moment before the series is over as yet another great character is wiped out from the series. It’s not like there was really anything left to explore with Anya (even in the new comics), but it was still sad to see her go if you were a fan.

#4: Graduation Day
Original Air Date: May 18, 1999 and July 13, 1999

This is what I think a Buffy finale should be. A huge climactic battle with the main villain of the season, changes made to the show and characters and some great dramatic moments thrown in. Mayor Richard Wilkins III (my personal favorite of all the Buffy villains, outside of Angelus) is finally ready to become a giant snake and eat the people of Sunnydale, and he decides to do it at the graduation ceremony. Buffy obviously can’t fight a giant snake alone, so she needs a plan.

But first there is some drama to work through. Faith poisons Angel and he needs a slayer’s blood to live. Buffy and Faith finally have their big brawl and it’s crazy. Entire rooms are destroyed, blood is spilled, and that’s just the end of part one. Once Faith is taken care of, we have to take care of Angel, then the Mayor. If Chosen were two parts and able to successfully blend several plot elements like this one does, it’d be higher. But this is the perfect way to end the high school years and move everyone on to new experiences. It also sends Angel away for his own show, but more on that later.

#3: The Body
Original Air Date: February 27, 2001

Everyone can be expendable on Buffy, we already know this. Joyce has been put in danger so many times you expect a vampire or demon to be the one to finally take her out. Maybe Glory (season five’s Big Bad) is the one to do it and give Buffy the strength to defeat her. Nope. Nothing supernatural kills Joyce at all. She dies of a brain aneurysm after she just recovered from a tumor. There is really no build-up, either. In the episode prior she was going on a date. At the beginning of this one, she’s dead. It’s a lot like how life is. Sometimes people die suddenly.

Sarah Michelle Gellar gives her best performance of the series (and likely, ever) here and the ten minutes that follow the discovery of Joyce’s body (really, the entire episode) are incredibly hard to watch. It’s like being in the room watching someone discover a dead relative. Even if you don’t know the person you have to feel something as someone tries to revive their dead mother without success. When you throw in the fact that this is a character that fans had grown to love over the years, it’s a heartbreaking moment. It’s odd that such a dark and depressing episode that echoes real life could be found in a show about a vampire slayer, but there it is.

#2: Hush
Original Air Date: December 14, 1999

I could say a lot of positive things about Buffy, but until this episode I could never really say it was scary. It just isn’t, not when it’s a show made for television and it continuously uses humor to defuse most of the tension after a while. But then this show introduced us to The Gentlemen. Just look at those guys. Maybe the picture doesn’t do it justice, maybe it does. But when I first saw these guys floating around town looking for victims, I was shocked that this show actually gave me the creeps.

Hush is also great because it’s a silent episode. The Gentlemen steal the voices of everyone in town leaving us with nothing but music and sound effects. This leads to some funny miscommunication as well as wonder that the story was able to be made around the fact that no one is able to speak. It’s an idea that doesn’t sound too good on paper, but they pull it off and it makes for one of the best episodes ever. Everything from its villains to the execution of the concept is pulled off perfectly.

#1: Once More, With Feeling
Original Air Date: November 6, 2001

But this is the best. Before I begin, let me just say it’s a very good thing this episode was executed now and not when Angel was still around. This is the infamous musical episode of Buffy, and like so many horror (well, horror-esque) musicals before it, I loved this thing from start to finish. First it’s discovering the hidden talents of so many of the cast members. We knew that Anthony Stewart Head could sing (I did see Repo before this), but who knew the rest of them could (except Alyson Hannigan)? Who knew Emma Caulfield would be good at dancing? Who knew a brief song about “Bunnies” could be so great?

The singing happens when a demon named Sweet comes to town to make Dawn his bride. If you keep singing and dancing before long you burst into flames. It becomes a musical because that’s what the demon is forcing people to do. If you’re excited about getting the mustard out of your shirt, you’re going to have a grand production about it. I never did decide which of the songs is my favorite, because each bring something different to the table. It’s probably either “Rest in Peace” or “Under Your Spell”, but it’s hard to choose. If you’re a fan of this show, you probably already love this episode. It’s incredibly fun from start to finish and even as a musical, it’s the perfect example of what this show is.

That’s it for me. What’s your favorite episode of Buffy? Leave some comments here on or my Twitter. Next week, TV month concludes, and we’re staying in the Buffyverse for the ten best episodes of Angel.

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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Joseph Lee

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