Is it possible to pick just five Buffy episodes and label them “the best?” I was asked on Twitter what my favourite episode was, and I couldn’t answer. I just couldn’t. Looking around the interwebz, I found that many had taken a stab at it – Joss Whedon included – but no two lists were the same. None the less, I decided to give it a go!
This is a dueling column because our own Jimmy Bean saw my brilliant idea, and wished to share his very different list as well! So whatever perspective you have… make sure you side with me. ;)
Seven solid seasons that had me captivated from beginning to end, how on earth am I meant to choose only five episodes?! Do I go for the funny? The iconic? The tragic? The episodes that represent larger themes, or standalones? There’s even too many categories to choose one episode to represent each! And there’s too many seasons to have one episode from each season, too.
In the end, I’ve decided to go nontraditional on their undead butts, and pick episodes that are particular favourites of mine, rather than the “standard best.” Some episodes I simply chose not to include because they are so often mentioned by others, so I thought I’d open up my list and give the rest of the episodes a chance! You’ll find no ‘Hush,’ ‘Once More With Feeling’ or ‘Conversations With Dead People’ here, so be warned. And the rough cut of my list was 17 episodes, so I’ve had to cut episodes that I really, really loved.
Now, on to the five-by-five! Drumroll please!
5. ‘Storyteller’ (7×16)
Well we’re off to a great start, because I already broke my own rules. While I do genuinely like ‘Storyteller,’ this episode is partially on the list to represent season 7, because while the show peaked for me in season 5, I feel like the last season really recovered from the depressing tone of season 6 (which was great, but we needed a bit of lightness before the end).
There are many characters I would like to honor by representing their centric episodes on this list, and Andrew is a strange character to choose over Xander, Giles, Anya, Willow or even Jonathan (‘Superstar’ ALMOST got this spot, but again, representing season 7 here), but here’s my reasoning: besides from the character Andrew being a great 11th-hour addition to the cast and Tom Lenk being like, awkward comedy on legs, this episode managed to do what Buffy does best, which is total over-the-top random hilariousness coupled with poignant tragedy and amazing, heart-wrenching performances by the entire cast.
Andrew showing us his version of the events (which he likes to call “Buffy: Slayer of the Vampyrs”) allows us to escape from the usual Buffy format and leads to some great character moments, and when the pretense falls away at the end and Andrew breaks down only becomes more effective because of the light tone up until that point. It is a great storytelling technique, and one which has been used in other shows since Buffy to great effect – for example Supernatural, in which the episode ‘Ghostfacers’ follows the exact same formula.
‘Storyteller’ also includes one of my favorite things in the entire world: the Mutant Enemy monster doing something besides “Grr Arr.” This time it sings “We are goooods!” which just kills me. The only other times this has happened has been for (I believe) ‘Amends’ (it wore a Santa hat), ‘Becoming’ (“I need a hug!”) and ‘Once More With Feeling’ (it sings “Grr Arr” in true musical style). Hmm, maybe the Mutant Enemy monster factors into what episodes I love because all four of these are some of my all time favourites.
Best moment: Surely the “we are gods” dance, closely followed by Andrew zooming past the kissing girls to focus on Xander. This episode had a lot of heartbreak, but I’m a sucker for the funny.
Jonathan: “I don’t deserve this. I wasn’t even that evil.”
Andrew: “I thought you were evil.”
Andrew: “Sure. I respected your ideas for-for evil projects, and I thought you had good follow-through.”
Jonathan: “Oh. Well, thanks. It’s nice that you noticed.”
Andrew: “Here’s the thing. I killed my best friend. There’s a big fight coming, and I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I don’t even think I’m gonna live through it. That’s, uh, probably the way it should be.”
4. ‘The Gift’ (5×22)
From the “previously on” which recapped the entire Buffy story so far, to Spike’s speech to Buffy, to Dawn’s willingness to sacrifice herself, and finally to Buffy’s realization that her blood could save Dawn and the world and end all the pain (allegedly, ahem season 6), this is probably one of the most beautiful episodes Buffy has ever done.
A lot of people felt like this should have been the finale of the series, and while I’m happy that the show didn’t end with Buffy dying after all, I sort of agree that it might have served the show better than to drag it on for two questionable seasons on a network that wanted more suicidal sex and less Whedonisms, but whatever. This episode gives fans one of those aha! experiences that I wished the final Harry Potter book had done; where everything just came together and suddenly made sense.
Xander proposing to Anya in the middle of her bunny breakdown… I was never really a fan of their relationship but how can you not love that moment, despite everything that followed? And I thought Dawn showed great courage; I never really understood the hate towards her, and I wish she’d turned out to have some actual powers in the end even though Buffy was kind of allowed to live out her ‘normal girl’ fantasies through her. It was also like all the characters somehow knew it was the end of something significant, and that was beautiful.
Besides, Glory was a great Big Bad, and the fact that it was Giles that killed her/Ben in the end was awesome. I love Giles! ‘The Gift’ is a tragic episode, but amazing.
Best moment: A tie between Spike trying to save Dawn from ‘The Other Mister Sloane,’ aka the Doc, and Spike and Giles actually bonding (“We few, we happy few…” “We band of buggered”)! Also the very beginning, when Buffy dusts a plain, normal vampire, season 1 style. It ends with the beginning. It eats you, starting with your bottom.
Guy: “But… you’re just a girl.”
Buffy: “That’s what I keep saying.”
Spike: “I know you’ll never love me. I know that I’m a monster. But you treat me like a man, and that’s…. Get your stuff, I’ll be here.”
3. ‘Restless’ (4×22)
“Restless as number three!?” you exclaim. “Are you crazy?!?” you cry in frustration. But the interesting thing about this episode is that people really do love or hate it, and I’ve always loved it. First of all, ‘Restless’ was such a different finale than any we’ve ever seen. ‘Primeval’ was really the finale (and uh, that was a weird one. Adam is really hard to beat in the game, too. I never liked him), and this was a sort of breather episode; let’s relax and reflect back on what we’ve gone through, and gear up for what is probably going to be our final season (even though it wasn’t).
I’m always excited for dream sequences in TV shows because I always hope they’ll do something half as good as what ‘Restless’ did, and I’m always disappointed. Every moment of what looked like mere hilarious randomness turned out to have significance: so much so that the one thing thrown in there connected to absolutely nothing, the Cheese Man, was over-analyzed and dissected by fans who desperately needed to find a meaning in his cheese-waving (the Cheese Man actually reappeared very briefly in ‘Storyteller.’ It’s all connected, I love it!).
This episode revealed so much about the characters: Xander’s feeling of worthlessness when Giles chooses Spike to be his watcher-in-training (“Spike’s like a son to me!” Ouch!) and his doubts about dating an ex-demon, Willow’s insecurities that she’ll always be geeky s1 Willow, facing a nightmarish scenario so much like what she faced in ‘Nightmares’ which shows that underneath the new style and the witching, she’s still the same old Willow, then Giles’ feelings of uselessness and failure to protect Buffy, and Buffy leaving her mother in the wall, not having time to save her. Reflective while still hinting at the future.
Not to mention the telling “be back before Dawn,” and Buffy pausing to gaze at the empty room that Dawn will soon be inhabiting. This episode had it all: the randomness (my favorites being the Death of a Salesman bits and Spike in black and white), the Whedonisms, the poignancy and relevance, and the mythology (The First Slayer is just such a brilliant concept, I’m a sucker for past Slayers. I’ve got the books, for crying out loud!). And Giles sings!
Best moment: Willow’s Death of a Salesman dream sequence. Harmony, Giles, Riley and Buffy were all absolutely hilarious in that sequence, and what random lines! It gets me every time. Also Giles, Olivia and Buffy at the fair, and the “It’s a pretty big sandbox” scene with Giles and Spike on the swings. Why do I have to pick just one moment again?!
Cheese man: “I wear the cheese. It does not wear me.”
Giles: “Honestly, you meet the most appalling sort of people.”
Adam: “This could be trouble.”
Riley: “We’d better make a fort.”
Adam: “I’ll get some pillows.”
2. ‘Fool for Love’ (5×07)
So yeah, I like Spike. I am unapologetic of this fact. So, it makes sense that the only other character-specific episode on the list is dedicated to him. Season five is my favorite season, and this is largely because of Spike. I was absolutely in love with the idea that an evil, soulless being could fall in love and as a result could renounce their evil ways. I remember treasuring those moments when Spike would be kind to other people besides Buffy, recognizing that he was really trying to change for her.
And while James Marsters portrayed the change from Spike to William perfectly when he got his soul back, I always felt it was a bit of a cop-out. Spike was a great character because he tried to be good despite being inherently bad. Kind of like the anti-Faith. This episode represented that change in Spike for me. While Buffy and Angel will always be the OTP of everything, I have to admit I was more of a Spuffy shipper back when the show was going on, and this episode was largely the reason why.
Towards the end of the episode when Spike goes to kill Buffy but ends up putting down the gun and putting his arm around her remains one of my favorite scenes of the entire show. The flashbacks were also really awesome, with the completely unexpected (for me anyway) twist to Spike’s character with the revelation of who William the Bloody really used to be before he became a vampire. And of course there’s the fact that this episode only showed one half of what was going on – the Angel episode ‘Darla,’ which aired around the same time, showed Angel’s perspective of those same flashback scenes.
A lot about Spike’s character was established and defined in this episode, and it pretty much served as the foundation for the entire Buffy/Spike relationship as well as Spike’s development throughout the rest of the series. ‘Fool for Love’ is probably my own personal favorite, but it’s at #2 because… well, I’ll tell you in a moment.
Best moment: When Spike sits down with Buffy and puts his arms around her. Siiigh.
Spike: “Come on. I can feel it, Slayer. You know you wanna dance.”
Buffy: “Say it’s true. Say I do want to. It wouldn’t be you, Spike. It would never be you. You’re beneath me.”
1. ‘Becoming: Part Two’ (2×22)
Ah man, I just realized that I have three finales on this list! I fail. But come on, with all its random genius, I think Buffy did finales better than most. This is a popular episode to go on top 5 lists, and I feel it’s somewhat anticlimactic to make it my number one. This was by no means my favorite episode back when I was a really hardcore Buffy fan and made my own stakes… I mean, what? I did no such thing.
Anyway, I wasn’t really into the first few seasons of the show, and I really wasn’t old enough to start watching before Angel was long gone and Buffy and Spike were the new hot couple, so it wasn’t until much later when I re-watched the entire series and talked to other fans that I realized how important the Buffy/Angel relationship really was. ‘Becoming’ might not be my personal absolute favorite episode, but I feel that as far as importance goes, it deserves to go above ‘Fool for Love,’ and thus the other episodes on this list.
And in retrospect, this is probably the episode of Buffy that I have watched the most times and still cried during. When Angel’s soul is returned and Buffy realizes that she has to send him to Hell to save the world, oh my god, that is genius television. Giles being tortured and seeing Jenny again, Spike’s unexpected alliance with Buffy, Joyce disowning her daughter, Cordelia being the most tender we’ve yet seen her (not that Xander cares), Willow going to that place for the first time, I mean where do I stop?!
It’s one of the most famous Buffy episodes for a reason guys, and probably the one that’s referenced the most throughout the rest of the show – and I can see exactly why. This episode defined the series, and marked the beginning of Buffy’s golden years. So while there are individual episodes that probably appeal to me more than this one, this deserves the top spot, as I think it’s probably the best episode of the entire show. It encapsulated everything that was Buffy at its best. Also, for years after watching this I would play Sarah McLachlan’s “Full of Grace” when I was on a bus and stare soulfully out the window. Just cause.
Best moment: Ah see, I’m a not-so-closeted Willow/Xander shipper, so the moment where Xander finally admits his love for her… it’s too little too late, and honestly it just ends up ruining three great relationships (Willow/Xander, Willow/Oz and Xander/Cordelia), but it still makes me smile. Also when Drusilla makes Giles see Jenny Calendar, and he spills all his secrets. How tragic and beautiful.
Spike: “You haven’t told her?”
Joyce: “Told me what?”
Buffy: “That I’m uh, in a band. A rock band. With Spike here.”
Spike: “Right, she plays the- the triangle-”
Spike: “Drums, yeah. She’s hell on the old skins, you know.”
Joyce: “Aha. And what do you do?
Spike: “Well I sing.”
Xander: “I mean, how am I gonna pass Trig? And who am I gonna call every night and talk about everything we did all day? You’re my best friend. I love you.”
Buffy: “Close your eyes.”
Honourable mentions: ‘The Wish,’ ‘Surprise,’ ‘Once More With Feeling,’ ‘The Zeppo,’ ‘Halloween.’ Oh look at that, I just made it a top 10. Oops!
And there you have it! I hope you enjoyed this list, feel free to leave a comment with your own favorite episode or top 5, and let me know if you agreed/disagreed with my choices. And if you are interested in comparing my list to Joss Whedon’s [far superior] one, you can check it out here! We only share two episodes (but then, he did go for the obvious ones… typical), hehe, I don’t know what that says about my choices!
Don’t agree with my choices? Check out Jimmy’s picks right here! Don’t agree with either of us? Let us know about your personal top five in the comments below!