Today, Buffy the Vampire Slayer celebrates its 20th anniversary. To honor this occaision, the Buffy-likers at Kotaku talk about their favorite episodes.
You may expect me to pick “Once More, With Feeling” for this, but oh no, I will not be so predictable. I’ll be just a tiiiiny bit less predictable and pick “Hush,” a fantastic episode in the middle of a less fantastic season. The Gentlemen were among only a handful of Buffy monsters-of-the-week that were actually a bit scary, and the episode’s silent-film approach allowed for some great gags (that overhead projector sequence) and let longtime series composer Christophe Beck’s music come to the fore. No surprise that “Hush” netted Buffy a couple of Emmy nominations and pretty much always makes it into articles like this one. It was a narratively important episode because it marked the first time Riley learned of Buffy’s secret slayer identity, but who cares about Riley? Riley sucks. Hush was cool because it was cool, and that’s enough.
Runners up: “The Body”; “Once More, With Feeling”; “Restless”
Season 2 episode “Innocence” is equal parts phenomenal and flawed, triumphant and crestfallen. It’s Angel’s first full episode as Angelus, and Buffy’s basically catatonic with shock. She’s also overcome with shame and guilt because she thinks she caused this—with sex. Meanwhile, Angelus is working with Spike, Drusilla, and an apocalyptic demon called The Judge. They’re gonna go do a massacre at a mall, because there’s no place more “America in the ‘90s” to start armageddon than inside a mall.
This episode is great because it’s a turning point on multiple levels. After suffering one of the biggest emotional blows of her life—and having it hammered home repeatedly by Angelus’ cruel taunts—Buffy finds the strength to fight back with a damn rocket launcher. On top of that, we get one of the best Buffy-Giles moments of the entire series. After the battle is over, Buffy, still ashamed, says this is all her fault. Giles’ reply is so good that I’m just gonna put the whole thing here: “I don’t believe it is,” he says. “Do you want me to wag my finger at you and tell you that you acted rashly? You did. And I can. I know that you loved him. And, he ... he’s proven more than once that he loved you. You couldn’t have known what would happen. The coming months are, are going to be hard, I suspect on all of us. But if it’s guilt you’re looking for, Buffy, I’m not your man. All you will get from me is my support. And my respect.”
As the series progresses, one could make an argument that its handling of sex becomes fraught. Buffy gets punished for it, um, a lot. But in this case, the show tackles a very real phenomenon that many young women face—men behaving differently and treating them poorly after they’ve had sex—and the associated guilt. Giles, as Best Dad, rejects that guilt. He offers only understanding, support, and most importantly, respect. He sees Buffy as more than just a Reckless Teen. She’s a capable young woman who deserves to be treated as such.
Runners up: “Graduation Pt. 1 & 2"; “Becoming Pt. 1 & 2"; “Lover’s Walk”; “Fool For Love”
Buffy’s strength—both the literal punch-throwing kind, and her self-actualized demeanor—tends to intimidate the men in her life. Sometimes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer can be laughably un-subtle in demonstrating that problem, but the fifth season’s “Buffybot” arc managed to illustrate its point in a quick, haunting way. Is it a bit on-the-nose for Spike to commission a robot version of his slayer crush so that he can act out his fantasy of being with Buffy? Yeah, sure. But the episode doesn’t land too heavily on its commentary about control, choice, and consent, although that commentary is certainly there. Instead, the story focuses in on the sadder truth, which is that for Buffy, this is normal. She’s used to men losing their minds over how she’s, like, totally not a damsel or an object. She’s also used to having men in her life who pine after her inappropriately (lookin’ at you, Xander) and who can’t get over their own insecurity about her power and her specialness (*cough* Riley). That doesn’t mean Buffy isn’t still disturbed when she finds out Spike’s got a Buffybot. She’s disturbed as hell. But is it any surprise that she ends up hooking up with him anyway? This is how the men in Buffy’s life treat her.
Okay. Except for Giles, who is—shockingly—not a selfish dick who makes everything about himself. Talk about a twist, especially for a paternal figure in a genre fiction show.
Runners up: “After Life”;“Superstar”;“Band Candy”;“Doppelgangland”
Video games give us the ability to try something again if it doesn’t go right, a feature I wish life had. I love “Tabula Rasa” for that same reason: at the height of so many things going wrong, everything just gets a restart. Buffy and the gang gravitate to each other in weird new ways, uninformed by their histories, but some things stay the same, too. It’s fun, but it’s also unbearably sad. You know that past is going to come rushing back and everyone is going to have to carry around the weight of themselves and their choices again. Once the fun is over, nothing is fixed, and in fact a lot of things are worse than before. The end of “Tabula Rasa leans into that darkness like so much of early Season 6 does, and it’s raw and sad and way too human for a show about the supernatural.
Runners Up: “Angel Season 3 Wesley Wyndam-Price”
Season 5 finale “The Gift” is an expertly crafted piece of television. Intended as a series finale before the show moved from the WB to UPN, the entire season has built its myth arc towards this moment, where the titular Buffy Summers’s character development propelled her towards a tragic, but unavoidable decision.
Buffy always tended towards a martyr complex, but here she is an actual, very literal, martyr. Episodes earlier, she was told that “death was [her] gift,” and here the meaning of that is revealed. Buffy isn’t a death dealer nor a death seeker, but someone who gives of herself for others, and she does it without hesitation. She started the show with serious angst that she’d never have a “normal life.” Now she knows that some things, like family, are more important than herself. As she says, “This is the work that I have to do. … You have to take care of each other. You have to be strong.”
Runners up: “Restless”; “Passion”; “The Wish”; “Fool For Love”