Purely opinionated, full of spoilers, and written with the assumption that you’ve seen the show.
10. Once More With Feeling
Some will disagree, thinking this belongs higher on the list, but I can never quite get past the “gimmick episode” feel of OMWF. Yes, they justify it, and they justify it well, what with a musically inclined demonic invocation, but it’s still “Buffy: the Musical episode.”
What’s good about it is the sheer amount of effort put into this episode, and some wise choices. Alyson Hannigan said she couldn’t sing: they gave her no more than two lines in the entire episode. Anthony Head and Amber Benson were accomplished performers – and it shows! The episode doesn’t need to be “Buffy is the main character, she must sing the main songs!” and it must be said that, while not horrible at all, Sarah Michelle Gellar is not a strong singer; but she does a good job.
The episode is great in that, despite keeping with the light humour and general cheesiness that makes Buffyso beloved amongst its fans, it still manages to devastate – the other thing that Buffy did really well in spades. Ending the relatively bright Something to Sing About with Buffy’s discordant revelation to her friends that they ripped her from heaven and happiness is quite the punch.
But the episode is fun, well-written and very re-watchable.
Even though it got darker as it went on, Buffy was always a very cheesy show, and that is half of the charm. But it’s never cheesier than in its first season, with the exception of Nightmares, much of which is genuinely terrifying and unsettling.
It’s a theme that they’d pick up again in the later seasons, personal fears manifesting in daily life, butNightmares did it first and was the first sign of the series growing the beard, and was a sign of the more mature themes to be tackled later.
It does have its silly moments – the giant mosquitoes ring particularly narmy – but the scary moments are really scary – I don’t like clowns to begin with, but this episode’s demonic clown is right up there with Poltergeist in terms of creating coulrophobes the world over. Furthermore, Buffy is not only horribly rejected by her father (it’s not real) which touches everyone on a familial level, but she gets buried alive. I have two fears in life – clowns and suffocating (and I suppose Marble Hornets, but it’s too soon to call that an ongoing fear). Yeah she gets turned into a vampire as well, but with the being buried alive, this episode goes from creepy to High Octane Nightmare Fuel. Oh, and even though he turns out to be the victim of the week, seeing the kid appear calmly in the midst of all the chaos is just unsettling.
8. I Only Have Eyes For You
This is another episode that’s pretty creepy, but it’s one of the best examples of how the show uses its supernatural elements to create amazing storytelling.
This is the episode which features two ghosts haunting the high school, James, the aggressive student who killed the teacher he was having an affair with, and Grace, the teacher herself.
What’s brilliant about it is how they take an independent story and fuse it in with the ongoing story arc – in this instance, Buffy is still struggling with the loss of Angel to his demon self, Angelus. So she gets possessed by the ghost of James, and takes out his aggression to Angelus, possessed by Grace.
Not only is this fucking brilliant in terms of showing character insight, they even use the two to progress the individual story – because Angelus can’t die from a gunshot, Grace is able to get up and forgive James, letting the two of them cross over.
The episode is creepy and awesome, but also just amazingly well written – and you won’t hear I Only Have Eyes For You again without thinking it creepy.
7. This Year’s Girl/Who Are You?
Yeah yeah, two episodes, but it’s part 1 and 2 so shut up. This is the two-parter where Faith revives from her coma, and inhabits Buffy’s body, running amok ad creating havoc.
One of the reasons I just love this episode is that I just love Faith. She’s a badass and she’s just awesome for it, and I love getting to see her again after being gutted in season 3.
But again, this is an episode that uses the supernatural to deal with the characters – namely Faith’s self esteem and development. Some consider it a bit too obvious, but the scene where Faith (in Buffy’s body) is screaming and beating the shit out of Buffy (in Faith’s body) shows us a lot about what Faith really thinks of herself.
Yeah, Faith then went on to have more character development in Angel (which I never really got into) and came back for the last few episodes of Season 7, but if they had just finished her storyline with these two episodes, I still would’ve been happy, because it’s just so well written. Also, shows that Eliza Dushku can really act – she captures all of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy mannerisms perfectly. Sarah Michelle Gellar does a good job of being Faith as well, but Eliza Dushku does the role-reversal better.
6. The Weight of the World
This is the one in Season 5 where Buffy goes catatonic after Glory kidnaps Dawn, and Willow goes inside her head and tries to figure out what happened to her to snap her out of it.
This episode is great because it finally shows that Buffy does get really affected by her life. Yeah she occasionally breaks down, but for the most part, she gets back to slayin’ the demons with a quip. When things did get to her, she always overcame it in a big way – when she killed Angel, she ran away to LA, went to hell and back, and then it was business as usual. But this episode shows how even the little things are getting to her, and that it all affects her in the end, sometimes in ways she can’t deal with.
There’s not much to say about it really, other than that it does its one thing really well. It shows Buffy’s guilt, the burden of her responsibility, and it plays around with narrative really well. It’s probably weakest in its subplot, outside of Buffy’s mind, but then again there’s probably not enough to make into a full episode on its own. What there is here is great, and even its weaker elements can be overlooked.
5. Band Candy
Possibly another gimmick episode – Buffy meets Freaky Friday – but this is one of the more enjoyable episodes. It’s funny and clever, and not even remotely creepy, but it doesn’t need to be.
It’s always fun to use the child-becomes-more-responsible-than-parents storyline, and this does it hilariously and smartly; not only does Joyce get a lot of insight – she’s not just a vagabond teenager, we see that she was a pretty uncool kid who was desperate to fit in with the cool guys – we also get to see Giles in his unkempt youth, which had been hinted at in Season 2, and here gets a bit of play.
Some of it doesn’t work – there’s no reason why every single adult in Sunnydale acts as though they’re a child of the 70s, regardless of age, and the demon that the series just needs to throw in is a massive let down, but it’s a really fun episode. It doesn’t contribute much to the overall story, but it’s just a good episode, devoted entirely to being funny and I love it for it.
Also leads to one of the series funnier moments in the episode where Buffy becomes telepathic and learns just what Joyce and Giles got up to that night.
4. Conversations With Dead People
Loooooooove this episode. It’s dark and serious, progresses the storyline, is creepy in parts, funny in others and it’s just awesome.
CWDP is a really unusual episode – it has four distinct separate storylines, a result of the filming schedule becoming too hectic to continue with the usual “large storyline with subplots” structure of most episodes, meaning they just got the necessary actors and filmed what they had to.
But rather than sticking out as an episode of weird design, it just becomes a subdued story, while still moving the storyline of season 7 forward. The episode is weakest dealing with Willow’s storyline – she gets visited by Cassie, a guest star who died a few weeks before, except it’s really The First toying with her mind – the episode was written with Tara returning to the role, but Amber Benson didn’t want her to come back as an evil being – and it’s pretty obvious they just shoehorned in another character. It’s still really good, and Alyson Hannigan does an amazing job, but it’s such an obvious character-swap, it’s hard to overlook that.
The episode is strongest with Dawn’s storyline – with her having visions of her mother being harassed by a demon. So Dawn busts out the magic books and messes around with stuff more powerful than her – and shit goes bad. The flashes of nightmare fuel that happen during these scenes are really creepy.
But for being able to take a production mishap and turn it into a really great episode, this episode sticks out as just great writing.
I like weird stuff, and let’s face it, Buffy didn’t get much weirder than Restless, an episode that plays out almost entirely in dreams.
A lot of people complained with this episode that it was just meaningless and weird for weird’s sake – it’s not at all. Every single dream tells so much about the character and who they are, and it foreshadows nearly everything that would happen in the next season.
Yes it’s weird and dreamy – but WHO HAS NORMAL DREAMS!? Also, props must be given to the first slayer, who makes her first appearance here and is pretty creepy. She’s not as terrifying as some other characters, but she’s still very malevolent, especially because she’s kept in the distance a lot. A note to all storywriters – things are creepiest when they’re not shown in great detail. Why was the first Alien so creepy? You barely ever saw the creature. Why is The Descent so terrifying? The monsters are really only glimpsed, or seen in shadows and darkness. Why is Marble Hornets so scary? Because you don’t know what the fuck is happening!
Also, the version of Death of a Salesman seen in this episode is just priceless. I heart it immensely.
Restless is awesome. It’s weird as hell but also meaningful. It seems really random, but it’s actually greatly significant to later episodes and the seasons. I wear the cheese, but it does not wear me.
Another gimmick episode, but an original gimmick and brilliantly done – an episode in near-silence. Even people who never watched Buffy seem to know of this episode, and with good reason – it’s one of the best, and one of the scariest.
Everyone remembers the Gentlemen – we never saw them again in the series, and possibly this is a good thing. BECAUSE THEY WERE TERRIFYING. They were creepy and evil, but so polite while they did their evulz. They are easily the scariest villains in the series, and this episode is just brilliantly constructed around it. It also helps that their lackeys are like demonic asylum patients – people in strait jackets are creepy. Another reason I was scared by Marble Hornets? The Slender Man reminds me of the Gentlemen!
One of the scariest things about the episode is that no one can speak – for some reason this plays into my fear of suffocation, cos when one guy gets his heart cut out and is silently screaming, it makes me just wanna take a massive breath and fill my lungs. I think having the strait-jacket slaves helps this as well – it’s bad enough to be terrified and have horrible things done to you, but to not be able to vocalise it…yikes.
There’s still moments of humour in the episode, but it really is just an amazingly terrifying piece of work, and even though I’ve seen it a thousand times.
1. The Body
Sorry to end this on a downer episode, but The Body is not only the best episode of Buffy, it’s one of the best episodes of any series ever.
Characters die in series, and it’s sad, but it’s rarely as devastating as Joyce’s death in Season 5. Buffy always developed its characters and made them feel real and deep, and Joyce was no exception. She was kind and loving, and very warm, but at the same time had her limits – you got the sense that she really loved her daughters, but at the same time was lonely, and frustrated with the weirdness that crept into her life. Compare Season 1 Joyce with Season 4 Joyce. That is character development people.
So when she died it was horrible, because we lost a friend. I know that sounds wanky, but it was really, really sad. So many characters on Buffy died and it was expendable, necessary to the story, but with Joyce it was really a tragic loss.
I think the episode is particularly devastating because it shows something which a lot of people try to ignore in dealing with death – when someone dies, it’s boring. You can’t do anything exciting because it’s disrespectful, and let’s face it, no one wants to when someone close to them dies. But it is dull, and there’s so much to do, but how to go about it? The episode is particularly sad because there aren’t many Tear Jerker moments – it’s mostly just subdued and slow, and you get how weird it feels to know that Joyce is gone, and that she’s not coming back.
It says something that every single time she made a guest appearance after her death, you instantly wanted her to be back for good. In The Weight of the World, you see her bringing Dawn home to a toddler-aged Buffy, and it’s so nice to see Joyce again, even despite the enormity of that episode.
It’s the most realistic depiction of how normal death affects people I can think of. It’s weird and disorienting, but eerily calm, and it’s all the more depressing. If anybody has ever said that Buffy is a shit show, this episode would shut them up roundly. It also has no music in it, which adds to the atmosphere. Normally there’s constant scoring in Buffy, and the silence only quietens the episode more, and I don’t mean that in a punny way. It’s harder to take, because there’s no music to tell us how to feel. We have to deal with this death, and the boredom and inaction of death, from our own instincts.
No one gives a bad performance in this episode, and it’s an absolute crime it didn’t even get nominated for an Emmy, let alone win many. Emma Caulfield, as Anya, gives one of the most heartbreaking speeches ever, and again it’s the show using supernatural with character development; as an ex-demon, she doesn’t understand human emotion, and as she struggles to understand death she gives a monologue that is reallyhard to not tear up at. Similarly, the scene where Buffy tells Dawn the bad news is also heartbreaking, shot from within a classroom looking at the two of them talking outside.
I don’t care what anyone says. This is the saddest episode of television ever. It’s also one of the best episodes ever created, of not only this series but all TV.
Copied over from my Facebook on inception of the blog. Originally written 3/10/2010