Thursday, March 1, 2012

A look back: The best episodes of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

10. Innocence (Season Two): A confused Buffy wakes up in bed alone after giving her virginity to Angel the night before. In a true cautionary tale for young girls, Buffy realizes that boffing Angel cost him his soul and not only was he not her ally any more, but he was her most dangerous adversary. Between Giles’ heavy handed attempts to talk about sex with Buffy and Buffy’s inability to kill Angel in the end, the whole episode sticks with you. Plus, kudos to the show for managing to work a rocket launcher into the action.

9. Restless (Season Four): This used to be my favorite episode. I loved the symbolism behind it. The goofy cheese guy was a hoot, too. Somehow, though, in the years since it first aired, ‘Restless’ lost a little of its luster. I think it’s because it’s just not nearly as “smart” as it was originally. When Tara urged Buffy to be back before dawn back then – the cleverness of the Buffy writers was clear. After spending three years with a whining Dawn, it actually didn’t turn out to be such a great thing. I still enjoy the symbolism and surrealism of the episode – it’s just not my favorite anymore.

8. Hush (Season Four): The interesting thing about this episode is that the bulk of it is spent in total silence. Thanks to a spell/box, the characters can’t speak. It’s a testament to the quality of the actors that they not only remain true to their alter egos but they also manage to deliver some truly comedic moments (Xander confusing hearts for boobs, Buffy looking like she was doing something a little freaky with her stake, etc.). The emotional ending is the real payoff, with Riley realizing that Buffy isn’t just some clueless college girl – but the buildup is outstanding. My favorite moment of the episode is still Anya’s reaction after Xander’s declaration of love. If you don’t know what it is, go watch the episode, because I can’t reenact it for you here.

7. The Wish (Season Three): You always hurt the ones you love. Well, that’s the message at the end of this season three episode anyway. This is one of those alternate reality episodes that revolves around Cordelia wishing that Buffy had never came to town. What do we find out? Not only would Cordelia have died a senseless death, but Xander and Willow would have been vamped first and staked later. The whole episode is a fun exercise in change and imagination – plus it’s always good to get a glimpse of the master and evil Willow is totally hot.

6. Passion (Season Two):  I think this was the moment most Buffy fans realized that Angelus wasn’t some brooding fuzzy vampire anymore. Not only does David Boreanaz relish his part as the devilish Angelus, but his monologue as he watches Buffy and Willow find out about Jenny Calendar’s death from outside the house Is just plain creepy.  The most interesting part of the episode is when Angel snaps Miss Calendar’s neck vs. drinking her dry – the ultimate show of degradation if you’re a vampire. The haunting scene of rose petals up his stairway will probably forever haunt Giles (and me).

5. Graduation Day (Season Three): While this was officially the moment the Scooby gang grew up, the group had actually did it before (they just didn’t realize it yet). The entirety of season three was wrapped up with the three central relationships of Willow and Oz, Xander and Cordelia and Buffy and Angel. Two of those relationships were torpedoed in the waning episodes of season three – mostly because Angel and Cordelia were getting their own show – but also because it allowed a lot of personal growth for Buffy and Xander. The ultimate fight is a lot of fun, and I don’t know anyone who didn’t enjoy the mayor’s campy breed of mayhem. Plus, that drinking blood being equal to sex metaphor is never more apparent than at the end of the first hour.

4. Once More With Feeling (Season Six): This is the only episode in the final two seasons of the show I would miss. I’m not actually a big fan of musicals, but they did a good job with this one. Gellar isn’t the strongest singer, but she pulls off her part well. Hannigan and Brendon can’t sing at all and they’re relegated to small/bit parts (and rightfully so). Someone should have given Amber Benson and Anthony Stewart Head recording contracts after this, though, because they’re clearly the ones who carried the episode. Buffy is the rare show that a musical wouldn’t be out of place. Plus it’s the episode where her friends and family realize they ripped her out of heaven and not hell. Good stuff.

3. The Body (Season Five): This episode is gut-wrenchingly real. The director smartly decided to go without a soundtrack and Buffy’s imagination going wild with preposterous “what if” scenarios even though her mother’s body was cold was actually something I think everyone does. The fact that Joyce Summers succumbed to a mortal disease and not a demon was a lesson for everyone – sometimes life just happens. Personally, I’ll never forget that brief moment when Buffy went back to being a small child and said “mommy” before running to her mother’s side.

2. The Gift (Season Five): Even years later, this is one of the most powerful images in Buffy history. I know they say hindsight is 20-20, but the overall legacy of Buffy would have been so much better if this had been the series finale. I would have been angry at the time – I admit that – but Buffy’s beautiful swan dive to save Dawn in the fifth season finale packed an emotional wallop. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Buffy told Dawn to be brave and live for her.

1. Becoming (Season Two): A couple years ago this would have been number three on my list. That’s not the case anymore. Angelus is not only the most entertaining arc, it’s the most emotionally moving. Both parts of the second season finale are important, from Buffy’s slow-motion run down the school hallway to discover Kendra’s lifeless body, to her admitting her destiny to her mother to her plunging a sword into a newly “soulful” Angel, Becoming is that moment when the Scooby Gang makes the transition from kids to adults – even though they won’t be able to admit that for another full year.

Honorable mentions:

Doppelgangland (Season Three): Watching Willow come on to herself is worth the price of admission.

I Only Have Eyes For You: The emotional ending, with Buffy taking the male role and Angel taking the female role was gutsy – and it paid off. Plus, it gave jonesing Buffy and Angel fans a taste of their favorite couple during a long drought.

Band Candy (Season Three): I don’t care what anyone says, Principal Snyder yelling “Aw, Summers, you drive like a spazz!” is worth the entire episode. Yes it’s cheesy and the babies as tributes storyline is stupid, but Snider is hilarious.

Halloween (Season Two): This is another gimmick episode that takes the characters out of their comfort zone. It’s still fun, though, especially Willow's sexy ghost and Giles' response to her costume.

Prophecy Girl (Season One): The first season finale wasn’t great but it was one of the better early episodes. Plus, Angel’s innocent “I like your dress” comment had teenage girls swooning everywhere.

Earshot (Season Three): This was one of those episodes that got postponed because of Columbine. It still stands up today, though, as you can’t help but feel for Buffy when her original joy at her new power turns to confusion and ultimately danger.

Who Are You (Season Four): A body switch could have been trite, but since Eliza Dushku and Gellar looked like they were having so much fun, everyone enjoyed the ride.

Normal Again (Season Six): This episode freaked a lot of people out but I thought it was smart and inventive to have viewers question Buffy's sanity. I think everyone wondered how Buffy got a sister so much taller than her, and they also mulled how her introduction basically threw the mythology into chaos.
What do you think? What episodes did I miss?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I know they say hindsight is 20-20, but the overall legacy of Buffy would have been so much better if this had been the series finale. "

No, it really, really wouldn't. A show about female empowerment and a female hero trying to be more than just a weapon for a patriarchal organization and to have a life - friends, family, romantic relationships - while fighting to save the world, should never, never end with her dying at the age of 20, like every Slayer before her. Now, Buffy soldiering on, dismantling the status quo, sharing her power with other women, and going on with life however tough it is? That's a fitting ending to the show (even though I think the execution lacked in Chosen).

Also, hindsight in this case makes The Gift better because it wasn't the series finale, fortunately. (It's a great season finale, but would've been a terrible series finale.) The callback in Once More, With Feeling makes it all the greater. But then, season 6 is my favorite season and I love season 7 as well (even though it has its weaknesses).

My favorite episodes:

Most of my favorites from the first 4 seasons are on the list; among those not mentioned:
season 2 - Lie to Me
season 3 - Consequences, Doppelgangland
season 4 - Something Blue
season 5 - Fool for Love, Intervention
season 6 - Dead Things, Tabula Rasa, Seeing Red, Villains (yep, I really like it)
season 7 - Conversations with Dead People, Selfless

May 3, 2012 at 7:05 AM 

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